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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

The Pandemic Gave Renewed Attention to Standardized Test Scores: Should They be a Requirement?

Many universities stopped requiring the submission of standardized test scores during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recognizing the burden the pandemic might have on students' abilities to access the tests, let alone study for the tests, colleges decided to prioritize other aspects of the application. However, as COVID-19 cases have slowed, schools are beginning to reevaluate their COVID-19 policies.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has just announced that they have resumed their testing mandate. The reinstated requirement to submit SAT or ACT scores will affect those applying for Fall 2023 admission. It does not affect the incoming class of 2022, who had an acceptance rate of just 4%.

On the other hand, Harvard University has recently announced that they will not require the reporting of standardized test scores through Fall of 2026. Harvard also found themselves with an admission rate of around 4% for 2022 as so many students applied when scores weren’t required. Harvard has explained that they will reevaluate reinstating the requirement for the Fall of 2027 class of applicants depending on how the next four years pan out.

The Argument for Test Scores

MIT has explained that their reinstatement of scoring mandates is due to a few reasons. First, it provides another data point from which to assess students holistically. Second, as most students still sent their standardized test scores when it wasn’t required, the reinstatement of the mandate is not presumed to have a large impact on students. Third, the scores are an important indicator of how prospective students may perform mathematically. This is incredibly important for a STEM focused school like MIT.

MIT requires every student to take (and pass) two semester-long calculus classes. Therefore, if students are ill equipped to handle a math class of that caliber, admission to MIT wouldn’t be the best option. MIT reports that 75% of their admitted students scored a minimum of 780 out of 800 in the quantitative portion of the SAT and/or a 35 out of 36 on the math portion of the ACT. These scores are clearly a helpful predictor of which students may excel in a mathematically rich undergraduate experience.

The school emphasizes that their reinstatement of the requirement isn’t a reflection of the competency of the students admitted when scores were optional. It is simply a shift back into a more comprehensive application experience.

Other schools such as the University of Florida, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Georgetown University have also reinstated their testing requirements. Time will tell how many more universities will follow suit.

The Argument Against Test Scores

There are many reasons people express concern surrounding the reinstatement of standardized test scores as a required component of the application process. Some argue that highly intelligent students may not do well on standardized tests and that these are not an adequate measure of knowledge. Others are concerned about accessibility as some students can’t afford tutoring or test practice books to prepare for the exams. Additionally, some have expressed that the effects of the pandemic have not yet dissipated and therefore more time is needed before we reintegrate testing.

Schools have started experimenting about the most effective ways to slowly incorporate tests back into the complex admissions process. For instance, Cornell University is offering a mixed approach. At Cornell, some programs will have a test optional policy whereas others will not accept test scores at all. Although Cornell has specified that this policy won’t be permanent, they’ve also said the results from the current “experiment” have been encouraging.

For Harvard, students are still allowed to submit test scores within their applications. It is simply that choosing not to submit the test scores won’t lead to any kind of penalty. Columbia University, another Ivy League, has also enacted the same policy.

Contrarily, the University of California has announced they are implementing a test-blind policy. This means that even if students choose to submit test scores, they will not be considered as a part of the application process.

Looking Forward

It’s hard to predict where things will go from here. Although some have said they think we’re heading toward a national shift away from standardized testing, others argue that this is just a temporary shift due to the necessities of the pandemic.

Regardless, COVID-19 has certainly brought renewed attention to the issue. As different schools investigate different testing requirements, we may be provided with more concrete answers surrounding the benefits and potential harms of requiring score submissions.

The next few years will be a bit of a national experiment as each school determines whether score requirements, optional scoring, or test-blind applications are the best approach for their university.


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