The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, recently announced the SAT and ACT standardized tests will once again be required for students seeking admission starting next school year.
That is a change from the last two years, as MIT and thousands of other colleges and universities decided to give students the choice to send their scores. That is because testing centers closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many schools say they will continue the policy for at least a while.
A group that opposes testing, called FairTest, noted last autumn that over 1,800 colleges and universities were test optional this year. Even before the pandemic, the University of Chicago made test scores optional.
In fact, both the University of California and California State University, Cal State, took it one step further. They removed the test requirement. The two university groups manage over 30 colleges and universities in California and teach about 700,000 students each year.
In announcing the decision in March, the top Cal State leader, Steve Relyea, known as the chancellor, said the move will “level the playing field” and permit more students to get a “high quality” degree.
Bob Schaeffer is the leader of FairTest. He said many universities in the U.S. will soon “follow [California’s] lead.” He called the movement to eliminate tests “no accident.”
Against the trend
However, MIT, one of the highest-rated schools in the U.S., is going against this movement.
Stu Schmill is MIT’s head of admissions. In a message on the school’s website, Schmill said the SAT and ACT give the school a way to judge whether students are ready for MIT. In addition, he noted, the tests help MIT find students who are able to succeed, but may have come from high schools that are not able to teach “advanced coursework.”
In a conversation with MIT’s news service, Schmill said test scores, especially in math, permit the school to predict a student’s performance. He did say, however, that MIT is not looking for students with perfect scores, but the scores are an important extra piece of information.
Also, Schmill said, since many students took classes by video over the last two years, it was hard for teachers to give correct grades. The tests are now more valuable than the grades in some cases.
Critics of standardized tests say wealthy students have an advantage and do better than poor students. Wealthy schools often have advisers who help students learn the tests. Both the California universities noted this criticism as a reason to eliminate the tests.
Schmill, however, said the SAT is a good way for the MIT admissions department to see that a student is prepared for college even if they have not taken the hardest science and math classes.
“The SAT/ACT can actually open the door to MIT for these students, too,” he said.
An expert opinion
Tiffany Blessing is an adviser for IvyWise, a company in New York that helps students think about colleges. She is a past assistant director of admissions at MIT.
Blessing said the MIT decision will not affect most students who were already planning to apply.
“In general,” she said, “students plan on taking standardized tests and use the test-optional [choice] when the test scores … do not turn out to be the way they intended.”
Blessing said the decision will help international students show they are comfortable with a test in English and an American style of evaluation.
“It helps a college or university understand just how strong an ‘A’ might be in a situation where almost everyone in the applicant pool has ‘A’s’.”
Blessing also noted that students who are thinking about going to MIT will also send in other scores. American students will send in Advanced Placement test scores and international students will send in scores from their own countries. For a student from Great Britain, for example, MIT will look at scores from A-level exams and IGCSE tests in different subjects.
Schmill said, the test is a “tool,” and the school will make changes if better tools become available.
As he told the New York Times recently: “I’m not saying this is the right decision for any or every other school. But for us, we think it is the right decision.”
I’m Dan Friedell. And I’m Faith Pirlo.
Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English with information from the Associated Press, MIT and his own interview with Blessing.
Words in This Story
standardized –adj. something that everyone must do and is the same for all
admission – n. the act of admitting or allowing someone entry to a school or university
option – n. the chance to choose between two or more things
level the playing field – phrase. the idea of making sure everything is fair
eliminate – v. to remove something
pool – n. a group of people who do the same job or activity together, such as students applying for admission to a school