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MIT staff blogger Dean Stu Schmill '86

We are reinstating our SAT/ACT requirement for future admissions cycles by Stu Schmill '86

in order to help us continue to build a diverse and talented MIT

At MIT Admissions, our mission is to recruit, select, and enroll a diverse and talented group of students who are a good match for MIT’s unique education and culture. Everything we do in our process is grounded by our goal to find and admit students who will succeed at MIT and serve the world afterward

After careful consideration, we have decided to reinstate our SAT/ACT requirement for future admissions cycles. Our research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants, and also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT. We believe a requirement is more equitable and transparent than a test-optional policy. In the post below —  and in a separate conversation with MIT News today —  I explain more01 In addition to the main text of the post, if you see any text highlighted in transparent red, you can hover over it on desktop (or tap, on mobile) to see a related annotation on the right hand side of the post (or inline, on mobile; note that the desktop/mobile UI is triggered by the width of your browser). The annotations are numbered, and repeated as endnotes at the bottom of the blog. We use this feature — which we developed with our designers at <a href="https://upstatement.com/">Upstatement</a> — to add additional commentary, evidence, and background information throughout the post, in case readers want to learn more than we could reasonably fit into the main body of text while still keeping it comprehensible. about how we think this decision helps us advance our mission. 


When we initially suspended our testing requirement due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote: 

This was not a decision we made lightly. Our reliance on these tests is outcome-driven and applicant-oriented: we don’t value scores for their own sake, but only to the extent that they help us make better decisions for our students, which they do. We regularly research the outcomes of MIT students and our own admissions criteria to ensure we make good decisions for the right reasons, and we consistently find that considering performance on the SAT/ACT, particularly the math section, substantially improves the predictive validity of our decisions with respect to subsequent student success at the Institute.

Within our office, we have a dedicated research and analysis team that continuously studies our processes, outcomes, and criteria to make sure we remain mission-driven and student-centered. During the pandemic, we redoubled our efforts to understand how we can best evaluate academic readiness for all students, particularly those most impacted by its attendant disruptions. To briefly summarize a great deal of careful research:  

  • our ability to accurately predict student academic success at MIT02 Our research shows this predictive validity holds even when you control for socioeconomic factors that correlate with testing. It also shows that good grades in high school do not themselves necessarily translate to academic success at MIT if you cannot account for testing. Of course, we can never be <b>fully</b> certain how any given applicant will do: we're predicting the development of people, not the movement of planets, and people always surprise you. However, our research does help us establish bands of confidence that hold true <em>in the aggregate</em>, while allowing us, as admissions officers, to exercise individual contextual discretion in each case. The word 'significantly' in this bullet point is accurate both statistically and idiomatically. is significantly improved by considering standardized testing — especially in mathematics — alongside other factors 
  • some standardized exams besides the SAT/ACT can help us evaluate readiness, but access to these other exams is generally more socioeconomically restricted03 Examples of these other exams include the AP/IB exams, international curricula like the IGCSEs, or the mathematical olympiads. However, access to these examinations generally depend on what is offered at your high school, and there are <a href="https://edtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Inequities-in-Advanced-Coursework-Whats-Driving-Them-and-What-Leaders-Can-Do-January-2019.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">immense disparities between schools in this regard</a>, and even <a href="https://www.smith.edu/sites/default/files/media/Francis_Counselors_BEJEAP_0.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">within schools for certain students</a>. relative to the SAT/ACT
  • as a result, not having SATs/ACT scores to consider tends to raise socioeconomic barriers to demonstrating readiness for our education,04 Although our analysis is specific to MIT, our findings directionally align with <a href="https://senate.ucsd.edu/media/424154/sttf-report-rev-2-14-20.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a major study conducted by the University of California’s Standardized Testing Task Force</a>, which found that including SAT/ACT scores predicted undergraduate performance better than grades alone, and also helped admissions officers identify well-prepared students from less-advantaged backgrounds. It is also consistent with <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/research/act-sat-for-all-a-cheap-effective-way-to-narrow-income-gaps-in-college/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">independent research compiled by education researcher Susan Dynarski</a> that shows standardized testing can be an effective way to identify talented disadvantaged students who would otherwise go unrecognized. Of course, there may be institutions for whom this research does not hold true, but the findings are very robust for MIT, and have been for many, many years. relative to having them, given these other inequalities

Our research can’t explain why these tests are so predictive of academic preparedness for MIT, but we believe it is likely related to the centrality of mathematics — and mathematics examinations — in our education. All MIT students, regardless of intended major, must pass two semesters of calculus, plus two semesters of calculus-based physics, as part of our General Institute Requirements.05 The GIRs are both a defining strength of the MIT education, and also the functional constraint on access to it. Because all MIT undergraduates, no matter their major, must pass challenging classes in calculus, physics, biology, and chemistry — as well as a rigorous humanistic and communication requirement — we believe we can only responsibly admit students who are prepared to do all of that work, across all of those fields, at their time of entry to MIT. It is perhaps worth noting that the GIRs are also the most basic point of entry in each of these fields: MIT does not offer any remedial math classes ‘below’ the level of <a href="https://ocw.mit.edu/courses/mathematics/18-01-single-variable-calculus-fall-2006/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">single-variable calculus</a>, for example, or physics courses ‘below’ <a href="https://ocw.mit.edu/courses/physics/8-01sc-classical-mechanics-fall-2016/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">classical mechanics</a>, so students have to be ready to perform at that level and pace when they arrive. The substance and pace of these courses are both very demanding, and they culminate in long, challenging final exams that students must pass06 In addition to final exams in the GIRs, first-year students also usually take several other exams. Most students also must take a separate math diagnostic test for physics placement as soon as they arrive on campus, and placement out of MIT classes is mostly granted through our <a href="https://firstyear.mit.edu/academics-exploration/advanced-standing-exams/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Advanced Standing Exams</a>, rather than by AP or transfer credit. As a member of our faculty once observed to me, “the first year at MIT is often a series of high-stakes math tests.” Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that the SAT/ACT are predictive (indeed, it would be more surprising if they weren’t). to proceed with their education.07 The vast majority of MIT students will then go on to take many additional quantitative and analytical courses within their program of study, even if they are not majoring in science or engineering. For example, an <a href="http://catalog.mit.edu/degree-charts/economics-course-14/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">economics degree</a> at MIT <em>requires</em> at least one course in econometrics, and a <a href="http://catalog.mit.edu/degree-charts/philosophy-course-24-1/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">philosophy degree</a> at MIT usually entails courses in set theory, modal logic, and/or infinities and paradox). To a degree unlike almost any other institution, MIT is a place where <em>every</em> student will have to do a <em>lot</em> of math (and math tests). In other words, there is no path through MIT that does not rest on a rigorous foundation in mathematics, and we need to be sure our students are ready for that as soon as they arrive.08 A reader might reasonably ask: well, can’t MIT do more to bring students up to speed? Why are you most focused on students who you think can <b>already</b> do well, and not those who <b>could</b>, if they had more help? To be clear, <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/meltdown/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">everyone will find MIT a challenge</a>, no matter how well-prepared. And MIT <em>does</em> provide support for its students through its excellent <a href="https://ome.mit.edu/programs/talented-scholars-resource-room-tsr2" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tutoring programs</a>, <a href="https://firstyear.mit.edu/first-generation-program/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">affinity networks</a>, <a href="https://studentlife.mit.edu/s3" target="_blank" rel="noopener">support services</a>, <a href="http://catalog.mit.edu/mit/undergraduate-education/academic-programs/freshman-year/#concoursetext" target="_blank" rel="noopener">alternative curricula</a>, <a href="https://ome.mit.edu/programs/interphase-edge-empowering-discovery-gateway-excellence" target="_blank" rel="noopener">summer programs</a>, and so on. However, our research shows there is a degree of preparation below which a student, <em>even with those resources</em>, is unlikely to be able to succeed. We feel it is our responsibility to make those difficult calls, and only admit a student to MIT if they are ready to undertake its education at this point in their educational development. Meanwhile, we continue to collaborate with <a href="https://ogcr.mit.edu/k12education" target="_blank" rel="noopener">our partners in K-12 education</a> to try and help interrupt persistent, intergenerational inequality where and how we can.   

To be clear, performance on standardized tests is not the central focus of our holistic admissions process. We do not prefer people with perfect scores; indeed, despite what some people infer from our statistics, we do not consider an applicant’s scores at all beyond the point where preparedness has been established as part of a multifactor analysis. Nor are strong scores themselves sufficient: our research shows students also need to do well in high school and have a strong match for MIT, including the resilience to rebound from its challenges, and the initiative to make use of its resources. That’s why we don’t select students solely on how well they score on the tests, but only consider scores to the extent they help us feel more confident about an applicant’s preparedness09 It is worth noting that since MIT opened in 1865, and until our public-health driven suspension in 2020, MIT has required some kind of entrance exam to demonstrate mastery of the material required to succeed in our education. As our blogger CJ has <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/course-catalogs-history/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">documented</a>, at the founding, applicants were required to show competence in "arithmetic, algebra, geometry, English grammar, geography, and the rudiments of French" on an entrance examination designed and administered by the Institute. These exams allow applicants to show their ability to succeed at MIT regardless of what was available at the high school they may have attended, and eventually transitioned to similar exams offered by the College Board by the 1940s, which evolved over time into the simpler set of tests we have today. So there is a long history of MIT tailoring its admissions requirements to pragmatic assessments of what is required to do well at the Institute. to not just to survive, but thrive, at MIT. 

At the same time, standardized tests also help us identify academically prepared, socioeconomically disadvantaged students who could not otherwise demonstrate readiness10 This may seem like a counterintuitive claim to some, given the widespread understanding that performance on the SAT/ACT is correlated with socioeconomic status. Research indeed shows <a href="https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED562860.pdf)" target="_blank" rel="noopener" class="broken_link">some correlation</a>, but unfortunately, research also shows <a href="https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-02-21/editorial-whats-less-fair-than-the-sat-you-might-be-surprised" target="_blank" rel="noopener">correlations hold for just about every other factor admissions officers can consider</a>, including <a href="https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abi9031" target="_blank" rel="noopener" class="broken_link">essays</a>, <a href="http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/liufall2013/files/2013/10/New_Perspectives.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">grades</a>, <a href="https://edtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Inequities-in-Advanced-Coursework-Whats-Driving-Them-and-What-Leaders-Can-Do-January-2019.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">access to advanced coursework</a> (as well as <a href="https://www.smith.edu/sites/default/files/media/Francis_Counselors_BEJEAP_0.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">opportunities to actually take notionally available coursework</a>), and <a href="https://curate.nd.edu/show/zw12z319c9t" target="_blank" rel="noopener">letters of recommendations</a>, among others. Meanwhile, research has shown <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5137751/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">widespread testing <em>can</em> identify subaltern students who would be missed by these other measures</a>. Of course, this area of research is complex and contested, but the main point is that for every aspect of every application, we <em>always</em> have to adjust for context: as one of the papers I linked above notes, "college admission protocols should attend to how social class is...encoded in non-numerical components of applications." Meanwhile, the predictive validity of these tests for MIT, coupled with their ability to identify (some) students who would not otherwise be ‘picked up’ by other indicators, means that we are able to use them to help diversify our class more than if we did not consider them. because they do not attend schools that offer advanced coursework, cannot afford expensive enrichment opportunities, cannot expect lengthy letters of recommendation from their overburdened teachers, or are otherwise hampered by educational inequalities.11 In general, we think it is important that the MIT education does not simply and unthinkingly reproduce an educational elite who have already had ample access to resources. In our process, we do not give preference to legacies, nor weight to demonstrated interest, nor an advantage to those who apply through our (non-binding and non-restrictive) Early Action process, nor other things that subtly correlate with socioeconomic advantage but are unrelated to a student’s ability to do well at MIT. And when we review applications, we always strive to evaluate each student’s accomplishments in context: we don’t care as much about what a student has done as what they have done <em>relative to what might have been expected,</em> given their resources. According to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/college-mobility/massachusetts-institute-of-technology" target="_blank" rel="noopener">research published in the <em>New York Times</em></a> a few years ago, there is more economic diversity and intergenerational mobility at MIT than at comparable institutions (although not quite as much as at some public institutions that deserve ample credit and recognition for their work); nearly 20 percent of our students are the first-generation in their family to attend college, as I was. We of course have room to do better, and we think the tests will help us continue to improve. By using the tests as a tool12 We know they are imperfect tools, of course. Tests can’t measure everything that is important about an applicant’s creativity, curiosity, or drive. But because all of our tools are imperfect, we have to account for all of their imperfections in our process. This is what makes admissions something a skilled human does, and not something amenable to a simple algorithm crunching numbers. Given all these imperfections, might we someday have better tools at our disposal? I hope so. I have supported reform initiatives such as the <a href="https://mastery.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Mastery Transcript</a>, <a href="https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/project/reimagining-college-access" target="_blank" rel="noopener">performance assessments</a>, and <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/the-first-year-application-for-the-mit-class-of-2026-is-now-live/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">schoolhouse.world certifications</a>. For many years, we have allowed students to submit <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/apply/firstyear/portfolios-additional-material/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">creative portfolios</a> — including our Maker Portfolio for technical creativity — to demonstrate unique interests and aptitudes not necessarily captured in their grades and scores. However, these alternative assessments are not yet widely available to students across the socioeconomic spectrum (relative to the SAT/ACT), and we do not yet have the research that would allow us to substitute them for the tests as a predictor of success at MIT even if they were. We will continue our advocacy and research in these areas, but for now, we find we still need to rely on conventional indicators like grades and scores, at least to some degree. in the service of our mission, we have helped  improve the diversity of our undergraduate population13 What it means to "improve diversity" is a complex question. As we say in our <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/policies/#diversity" target="_blank" rel="noopener">diversity statement</a>: "How much diversity is necessary to achieve our goals? Every student should feel that ‘there are people like me here’ and ‘there are people different from me here.’ No student should feel isolated; all students should come into contact with members of other groups and experience them as colleagues with valuable ideas and insights." For our purposes here, by "improving diversity" we mean we work to improve the recruitment and enrollment of well-matched and academically prepared students from a range of under-represented populations, including students of color, low-income students, and students who will be the first generation in their family to go to college.. We also value the diversity contributed by our many ‘New Americans’: a majority of MIT students are either immigrants themselves, or the child of at least one immigrant parent, and we believe their <a href="https://president.mit.edu/speeches-writing/immigration-kind-oxygen" target="_blank" rel="noopener">experiences and perspectives enhance MIT as well</a>. while student academic outcomes at MIT have gotten better,14 For example, <a href="https://ir.mit.edu/more-student-data/#retention" target="_blank" rel="noopener">rising graduation rates across all demographic groups</a>, and <a href="https://firstyear.mit.edu/academics-exploration/fifth-week-flags-and-beyond/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fewer students receiving fifth week flags</a> or <a href="https://web.mit.edu/acadinfo/cap/endofterm/decisions.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">otherwise subjected to academic review</a>, just in terms of things we can straightforwardly measure. too; our strategic and purposeful use of testing has been crucial to doing both simultaneously.15 In the past, we have publicly described this simultaneity — more diverse, <em>and</em> doing better — as there being no <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/diversity-or-merit/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">necessary tradeoff between diversity and merit,</a> as some unfortunately still seem to believe. Of course, in contemporary discussions of educational equity, the entire concept of "merit" — which appears as a keyword in our mission statement — has been critiqued as merely laundering intergenerational privilege. However, what <em>we</em> mean by "merit" in this context is something like: "someone who we think will do very well at MIT, and in the world afterward, based on what they have done with their opportunities, <em>relative to</em> what we would have expected given those resources." In other words, it is defined <em>pragmatically and contextually</em> for the specific needs of, and goals for, an MIT education, and is not intended to pass universal judgment of who "deserves" or has "earned" our education. Meanwhile, our research suggests the strategic use of testing can help us continue to improve both the diversity of our class and its collective success at MIT. The pandemic has only made this more clear, because classroom work and assessment have been just as disrupted as access to the tests, if not more so, and for longer periods of time, disproportionately affecting the most socioeconomically disadvantaged students. We know that the pandemic’s effects on grades and courses will linger for years, but the tests can give students a more recent opportunity to show that they have made up lost ground.   

Like all of you, we had hoped that, by now, the pandemic would be behind us. It is not, nor is it clear if or when it will be. However, the availability of vaccines for adolescents16 Prospective MIT students should note that all faculty, staff, and enrolled students must be up to date with their Covid-19 vaccines, or have received an exemption from vaccination, in order to work, study, and/or live on campus. “Up to date” in this context means a person has received all recommended Covid-19 vaccines. Additionally, Covid-19 vaccine boosters are required of all eligible MIT employees, faculty, and enrolled students, as well as anyone else who studies, works, or lives on MIT’s campus or who regularly accesses MIT facilities. For more on MIT’s vaccination policies, <a href="https://now.mit.edu/policies/vaccination/">click here</a>. has reduced the health risks of in-person educational activities, while the expansion of the free in-school SAT,17 Which is how <a href="https://reports.collegeboard.org/sat-suite-program-results#:~:text=remaining%20in%202021.-,SAT%20School%20Day,-SAT%20School%20Day">a majority of students in the United States now take the SAT</a>. and the forthcoming Digital SAT, have increased opportunities to take the tests. Given the crucial role these tests play in our process, we have — after careful consideration within our office, and with the unanimous support of our student-faculty advisory committee — decided to reinstate our SAT/ACT requirement for the foreseeable future.18 We know that this is cutting against the recent trend toward <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2022/01/24/will-test-optional-become-new-normal-admissions" target="_blank" rel="noopener">test-optional policies</a>. However, for reasons I’ve explained above, the tests greatly help us in our efforts to enroll a diverse and talented class. I say "for the foreseeable future" because we believe this policy is the best way for us to meet our mission given the facts on the ground as they are now, but also to acknowledge — as the pandemic has repeatedly taught us — that sometimes those facts change. We will continue to research all of our practices and outcomes to make sure we remain centered on our mission, and not the tests themselves. For example, a few years ago <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/a-special-announcement-about-sat-subject-tests/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">we made the decision to stop considering the SAT Subject tests in our process</a>. As I wrote at the time, we did this because our research showed the marginal additional benefit of the subject tests (in terms of predicting academic outcomes) was no longer worth the costs of access in terms of recruiting and enrolling our desired class (as long as we could still consider the SAT/ACT), because exogenous patterns of test-taking had changed. This hopefully helps explain how we think about our research informing our practice, guided by our values.

We are reinstating our requirement, rather than adopting a more flexible policy, to be transparent and equitable in our expectations. Our concern is that, without the compelling clarity of a requirement, some well-prepared applicants won’t take the tests, and we won’t have enough information to be confident in their academic readiness19 Again, our research suggests this is most true for our most disadvantaged applicants, whose other educational opportunities have been most disrupted by the effects of the pandemic. when they apply. We believe it will be more equitable20 By requiring everyone submit the tests, we reduce the socioeconomic advantage of students who have access to better advising about strategic score disclosure, while ensuring that students with less access to such advising are not left anxiously in the dark, wondering what they should do. This dynamic is why, when <a href="https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/a-special-announcement-about-sat-subject-tests/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">we stopped considering the SAT Subject Tests</a>, we did not move to a test-optional policy, but instead adopted what is sometimes called a "test-free" policy, where we do not solicit them from applicants, and proactively remove them from view when self-reported. if we require all applicants who take the tests to disclose their scores. 

So, if you are applying to MIT in the future, we will normally expect you to submit an SAT or ACT score. If you are unable to take the tests because of a disaster or disruption, because the SAT/ACTs are (still) unavailable or unsafe to take21 In addition to disruptions caused by natural disasters, political instability, and military conflicts, we know the pandemic continues, and not everyone around the world has been able to be vaccinated yet, or is able to mount an adequate immune response. <em>Please do not endanger yourself or your family to sit for these exams. </em>If you have to have to ask yourself whether or not you are in danger, exercise the precautionary principle and assume the answer is yes. in your region, or for another exceptional reason, we will give you space on the application to explain your circumstances, and we will still grant you a full and fair review. In such cases, we will not make any negative presumptions regarding your academic readiness based solely on the absence of SAT/ACT scores, but will instead draw upon the lessons we have learned during the pandemic to make the best, most informed decision we can by rigorously assessing other academic aspects of your application.22 Based on our research from the pandemic, the most important components to demonstrate academic readiness in the absence of SAT/ACT scores would be other standardized exams, such as the AP/IB/AICE exams in the United States, or (inter)national examinations such as the IGCSE, CAPE, WASSCE, KCSE, French Baccalaureate, Abitur, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Science_Olympiad" target="_blank" rel="noopener">International Science Olympiads</a>, and so on abroad.   

I understand that this announcement may dismay some readers for whom the tests can be a source of stress. As someone whose daughters went through the college admissions process over the last few years, I saw firsthand23 It was difficult enough for them, and they had a Dean of Admissions for a dad! the anxiety they can cause.24 Not only a stress but a burden — another thing to study for, and schedule, and do. We try to remove barriers from applicants wherever we can, and think of the tests as a bridge for reasons I described above, but of course, <a href="https://www.imtfi.uci.edu/files/articles/Star.pdf">infrastructures are relational:</a> a bridge <em>functions as</em> a barrier if you can’t cross it. For that reason, we continue to work with the College Board, Khan Academy’s tutoring team, and other agencies and institutions to reduce burdens, and pave paths, as much as possible from our position. I’ve heard from many applicants (and their parents) that requiring the tests can make it feel like we only care about a number, and not the person behind it. I also understand that our emphasis on academic preparedness in this post might make an applicant who does not score well feel inadequate, or like we think less of them as a student or a person. 

To those of you who feel this way I say: you are not your test scores, and for that matter, you are also not your MIT application, either. You are infinitely more than either of these narrow constructs could ever capture. When we talk about evaluating academic readiness for MIT, that doesn’t mean we are measuring your academic potential, or intrinsic worth as a human. It only means that we are confident you, at this specific moment in your educational trajectory, can do well in the kind of hard math and science tests demanded by our unusual education. Every year, we turn down25 Sometimes we do not admit students because we are concerned about their academic preparation, or match for MIT; given the strength of our applicant pool, though, it is more often the case we think they <b>can</b> do the work, but we simply don't have the space to admit all the well-qualified and well-matched students who apply. many outstanding applicants — people we think are truly awesome — who go on to thrive elsewhere. Remember: your MIT decision is never about us passing judgment on you as a person, just about us contingently selecting a particular team of people, at a particular point in time, to take on the challenge of MIT, together. 

We are announcing this decision now to give the prospective Class of 2027 (and beyond) time to prepare for their exams and otherwise make their college application plans. In the meantime, we will continue to welcome the newly admitted Class of 2026 —  especially at our first in-person Campus Preview Weekend since 2019 next week —  and wish all of you a healthy and happy 2022.  

  1. In addition to the main text of the post, if you see any text highlighted in transparent red, you can hover over it on desktop (or tap, on mobile) to see a related annotation on the right hand side of the post (or inline, on mobile; note that the desktop/mobile UI is triggered by the width of your browser). The annotations are numbered, and repeated as endnotes at the bottom of the blog. We use this feature — which we developed with our designers at Upstatement — to add additional commentary, evidence, and background information throughout the post, in case readers want to learn more than we could reasonably fit into the main body of text while still keeping it comprehensible. back to text
  2. Our research shows this predictive validity holds even when you control for socioeconomic factors that correlate with testing. It also shows that good grades in high school do not themselves necessarily translate to academic success at MIT if you cannot account for testing. Of course, we can never be fully certain how any given applicant will do: we're predicting the development of people, not the movement of planets, and people always surprise you. However, our research does help us establish bands of confidence that hold true in the aggregate, while allowing us, as admissions officers, to exercise individual contextual discretion in each case. The word 'significantly' in this bullet point is accurate both statistically and idiomatically. back to text
  3. Examples of these other exams include the AP/IB exams, international curricula like the IGCSEs, or the mathematical olympiads. However, access to these examinations generally depend on what is offered at your high school, and there are immense disparities between schools in this regard, and even within schools for certain students. back to text
  4. Although our analysis is specific to MIT, our findings directionally align with a major study conducted by the University of California’s Standardized Testing Task Force, which found that including SAT/ACT scores predicted undergraduate performance better than grades alone, and also helped admissions officers identify well-prepared students from less-advantaged backgrounds. It is also consistent with independent research compiled by education researcher Susan Dynarski that shows standardized testing can be an effective way to identify talented disadvantaged students who would otherwise go unrecognized. Of course, there may be institutions for whom this research does not hold true, but the findings are very robust for MIT, and have been for many, many years. back to text
  5. The GIRs are both a defining strength of the MIT education, and also the functional constraint on access to it. Because all MIT undergraduates, no matter their major, must pass challenging classes in calculus, physics, biology, and chemistry — as well as a rigorous humanistic and communication requirement — we believe we can only responsibly admit students who are prepared to do all of that work, across all of those fields, at their time of entry to MIT. It is perhaps worth noting that the GIRs are also the most basic point of entry in each of these fields: MIT does not offer any remedial math classes ‘below’ the level of single-variable calculus, for example, or physics courses ‘below’ classical mechanics, so students have to be ready to perform at that level and pace when they arrive. back to text
  6. In addition to final exams in the GIRs, first-year students also usually take several other exams. Most students also must take a separate math diagnostic test for physics placement as soon as they arrive on campus, and placement out of MIT classes is mostly granted through our Advanced Standing Exams, rather than by AP or transfer credit. As a member of our faculty once observed to me, “the first year at MIT is often a series of high-stakes math tests.” Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that the SAT/ACT are predictive (indeed, it would be more surprising if they weren’t). back to text
  7. The vast majority of MIT students will then go on to take many additional quantitative and analytical courses within their program of study, even if they are not majoring in science or engineering. For example, an economics degree at MIT requires at least one course in econometrics, and a philosophy degree at MIT usually entails courses in set theory, modal logic, and/or infinities and paradox). To a degree unlike almost any other institution, MIT is a place where every student will have to do a lot of math (and math tests). back to text
  8. A reader might reasonably ask: well, can’t MIT do more to bring students up to speed? Why are you most focused on students who you think can already do well, and not those who could, if they had more help? To be clear, everyone will find MIT a challenge, no matter how well-prepared. And MIT does provide support for its students through its excellent tutoring programs, affinity networks, support services, alternative curricula, summer programs, and so on. However, our research shows there is a degree of preparation below which a student, even with those resources, is unlikely to be able to succeed. We feel it is our responsibility to make those difficult calls, and only admit a student to MIT if they are ready to undertake its education at this point in their educational development. Meanwhile, we continue to collaborate with our partners in K-12 education to try and help interrupt persistent, intergenerational inequality where and how we can. back to text
  9. It is worth noting that since MIT opened in 1865, and until our public-health driven suspension in 2020, MIT has required some kind of entrance exam to demonstrate mastery of the material required to succeed in our education. As our blogger CJ has documented, at the founding, applicants were required to show competence in "arithmetic, algebra, geometry, English grammar, geography, and the rudiments of French" on an entrance examination designed and administered by the Institute. These exams allow applicants to show their ability to succeed at MIT regardless of what was available at the high school they may have attended, and eventually transitioned to similar exams offered by the College Board by the 1940s, which evolved over time into the simpler set of tests we have today. So there is a long history of MIT tailoring its admissions requirements to pragmatic assessments of what is required to do well at the Institute. back to text
  10. This may seem like a counterintuitive claim to some, given the widespread understanding that performance on the SAT/ACT is correlated with socioeconomic status. Research indeed shows some correlation, but unfortunately, research also shows correlations hold for just about every other factor admissions officers can consider, including essays, grades, access to advanced coursework (as well as opportunities to actually take notionally available coursework), and letters of recommendations, among others. Meanwhile, research has shown widespread testing can identify subaltern students who would be missed by these other measures. Of course, this area of research is complex and contested, but the main point is that for every aspect of every application, we always have to adjust for context: as one of the papers I linked above notes, "college admission protocols should attend to how social class is...encoded in non-numerical components of applications." Meanwhile, the predictive validity of these tests for MIT, coupled with their ability to identify (some) students who would not otherwise be ‘picked up’ by other indicators, means that we are able to use them to help diversify our class more than if we did not consider them. back to text
  11. In general, we think it is important that the MIT education does not simply and unthinkingly reproduce an educational elite who have already had ample access to resources. In our process, we do not give preference to legacies, nor weight to demonstrated interest, nor an advantage to those who apply through our (non-binding and non-restrictive) Early Action process, nor other things that subtly correlate with socioeconomic advantage but are unrelated to a student’s ability to do well at MIT. And when we review applications, we always strive to evaluate each student’s accomplishments in context: we don’t care as much about what a student has done as what they have done relative to what might have been expected, given their resources. According to research published in the New York Times a few years ago, there is more economic diversity and intergenerational mobility at MIT than at comparable institutions (although not quite as much as at some public institutions that deserve ample credit and recognition for their work); nearly 20 percent of our students are the first-generation in their family to attend college, as I was. We of course have room to do better, and we think the tests will help us continue to improve. back to text
  12. We know they are imperfect tools, of course. Tests can’t measure everything that is important about an applicant’s creativity, curiosity, or drive. But because all of our tools are imperfect, we have to account for all of their imperfections in our process. This is what makes admissions something a skilled human does, and not something amenable to a simple algorithm crunching numbers. Given all these imperfections, might we someday have better tools at our disposal? I hope so. I have supported reform initiatives such as the Mastery Transcript, performance assessments, and schoolhouse.world certifications. For many years, we have allowed students to submit creative portfolios — including our Maker Portfolio for technical creativity —  to demonstrate unique interests and aptitudes not necessarily captured in their grades and scores. However, these alternative assessments are not yet widely available to students across the socioeconomic spectrum (relative to the SAT/ACT), and we do not yet have the research that would allow us to substitute them for the tests as a predictor of success at MIT even if they were. We will continue our advocacy and research in these areas, but for now, we find we still need to rely on conventional indicators like grades and scores, at least to some degree. back to text
  13. What it means to "improve diversity" is a complex question. As we say in our diversity statement: "How much diversity is necessary to achieve our goals? Every student should feel that ‘there are people like me here’ and ‘there are people different from me here.’ No student should feel isolated; all students should come into contact with members of other groups and experience them as colleagues with valuable ideas and insights." For our purposes here, by "improving diversity" we mean we work to improve the recruitment and enrollment of well-matched and academically prepared students from a range of under-represented populations, including students of color, low-income students, and students who will be the first generation in their family to go to college.. We also value the diversity contributed by our many ‘New Americans’: a majority of MIT students are either immigrants themselves, or the child of at least one immigrant parent, and we believe their experiences and perspectives enhance MIT as well. back to text
  14. For example, rising graduation rates across all demographic groups, and fewer students receiving fifth week flags or otherwise subjected to academic review, just in terms of things we can straightforwardly measure. back to text
  15. In the past, we have publicly described this simultaneity —  more diverse, and doing better — as there being no necessary tradeoff between diversity and merit, as some unfortunately still seem to believe. Of course, in contemporary discussions of educational equity, the entire concept of "merit" — which appears as a keyword in our mission statement — has been critiqued as merely laundering intergenerational privilege. However, what we mean by "merit" in this context is something like: "someone who we think will do very well at MIT, and in the world afterward, based on what they have done with their opportunities, relative to what we would have expected given those resources." In other words, it is defined pragmatically and contextually for the specific needs of, and goals for, an MIT education, and is not intended to pass universal judgment of who "deserves" or has "earned" our education. Meanwhile, our research suggests the strategic use of testing can help us continue to improve both the diversity of our class and its collective success at MIT. The pandemic has only made this more clear, because classroom work and assessment have been just as disrupted as access to the tests, if not more so, and for longer periods of time, disproportionately affecting the most socioeconomically disadvantaged students. We know that the pandemic’s effects on grades and courses will linger for years, but the tests can give students a more recent opportunity to show that they have made up lost ground. back to text
  16. Prospective MIT students should note that all faculty, staff, and enrolled students must be up to date with their Covid-19 vaccines, or have received an exemption from vaccination, in order to work, study, and/or live on campus. “Up to date” in this context means a person has received all recommended Covid-19 vaccines. Additionally, Covid-19 vaccine boosters are required of all eligible MIT employees, faculty, and enrolled students, as well as anyone else who studies, works, or lives on MIT’s campus or who regularly accesses MIT facilities. For more on MIT’s vaccination policies, click here. back to text
  17. Which is how a majority of students in the United States now take the SAT. back to text
  18. We know that this is cutting against the recent trend toward test-optional policies. However, for reasons I’ve explained above, the tests greatly help us in our efforts to enroll a diverse and talented class. I say "for the foreseeable future" because we believe this policy is the best way for us to meet our mission given the facts on the ground as they are now, but also to acknowledge —  as the pandemic has repeatedly taught us —  that sometimes those facts change. We will continue to research all of our practices and outcomes to make sure we remain centered on our mission, and not the tests themselves. For example, a few years ago we made the decision to stop considering the SAT Subject tests in our process. As I wrote at the time, we did this because our research showed the marginal additional benefit of the subject tests (in terms of predicting academic outcomes) was no longer worth the costs of access in terms of recruiting and enrolling our desired class (as long as we could still consider the SAT/ACT), because exogenous patterns of test-taking had changed. This hopefully helps explain how we think about our research informing our practice, guided by our values. back to text
  19. Again, our research suggests this is most true for our most disadvantaged applicants, whose other educational opportunities have been most disrupted by the effects of the pandemic. back to text
  20. By requiring everyone submit the tests, we reduce the socioeconomic advantage of students who have access to better advising about strategic score disclosure, while ensuring that students with less access to such advising are not left anxiously in the dark, wondering what they should do. This dynamic is why, when we stopped considering the SAT Subject Tests, we did not move to a test-optional policy, but instead adopted what is sometimes called a "test-free" policy, where we do not solicit them from applicants, and proactively remove them from view when self-reported. back to text
  21. In addition to disruptions caused by natural disasters, political instability, and military conflicts, we know the pandemic continues, and not everyone around the world has been able to be vaccinated yet, or is able to mount an adequate immune response. Please do not endanger yourself or your family to sit for these exams. If you have to have to ask yourself whether or not you are in danger, exercise the precautionary principle and assume the answer is yes. back to text
  22. Based on our research from the pandemic, the most important components to demonstrate academic readiness in the absence of SAT/ACT scores would be other standardized exams, such as the AP/IB/AICE exams in the United States, or (inter)national examinations such as the IGCSE, CAPE, WASSCE, KCSE, French Baccalaureate, Abitur, International Science Olympiads, and so on abroad. back to text
  23. It was difficult enough for them, and they had a Dean of Admissions for a dad! back to text
  24. Not only a stress but a burden —  another thing to study for, and schedule, and do. We try to remove barriers from applicants wherever we can, and think of the tests as a bridge for reasons I described above, but of course, infrastructures are relational: a bridge functions as a barrier if you can’t cross it. For that reason, we continue to work with the College Board, Khan Academy’s tutoring team, and other agencies and institutions to reduce burdens, and pave paths, as much as possible from our position. back to text
  25. Sometimes we do not admit students because we are concerned about their academic preparation, or match for MIT; given the strength of our applicant pool, though, it is more often the case we think they can do the work, but we simply don't have the space to admit all the well-qualified and well-matched students who apply. back to text