MIT Brings Back Testing, and it Makes Sense

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MIT brought back test requirements that were paused during the pandemic. (Courtesy of Unsplash)

Cole Dilts, Contributing Writer

When I heard that Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was reinstating standardized test scores I had only one thought: I had no idea that MIT had ever taken them away in the first place. Since then, I researched the subject and discovered that a lot of institutions were eliminating the SAT requirement due to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic made it all but impossible to take the SAT and ACT in person. The test providers then tried to transfer the test to an online format, but that didn’t work too well, so most universities just decided to make testing optional.

Now MIT is on the chopping block for reinstating it. Those who have always been against standardized testing say the decision to reinstate the tests is appalling. Those who are in favor of standardized testing, however, think the decision is the right one. Following MIT’s decision, the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not other schools will follow suit. 

The answer: maybe. The schools that will reinstate it will most likely be top-tier schools like Harvard and Yale. They’ll most likely reinstate testing requirements in order to maintain their exclusive reputation. And even the universities who remove the requirement for an SAT score will still most likely recommend taking the test. Then when it comes to administration time, those with a good GPA and good SAT score will beat out the person who has just a good GPA. With this logic, it’s easy to imagine a world in which nothing really changes from this lack of requirement, except that the universities can pretend to be generous by not requiring a score, while still basically requiring a score.

Should these requirements exist? This is too broad of a question to answer here, so I will attempt to answer it with a focus on the case of MIT. 

While the SAT and ACT may not be able to predict the next great playwright or painter, they do a pretty good job at figuring out a decent engineer. Engineers and software designers are incredibly good at working within an already-established system. This means that they are a perfect test subject for the SAT and ACT, where the entire test is designed to test ability in mathematics or grammar. In other words, if you are the type of person that would make a good engineer, the SAT and ACT shouldn’t really be a problem. That’s not to say the test itself is easy for them. What I mean is, if you are the type of person that is willing to spend a lot of his/her time studying for and eventually achieving a high score on the SAT, you are likely the type of person that MIT is interested in. 

Without the SAT and other standardized tests, MIT has one less way of determining who is truly worthy of getting in. Their aim is likely  to maintain premium quality, and the SAT is a pretty good way of making that determination.

The counter to this idea is that the SAT isn’t foolproof as it does persecute certain groups such as creatives and those who face economic hardships. This is true. People who devote themselves to creative work — work without a rigid, established study — are less likely to do well on the SAT. However, the painters and the screenwriters don’t have to worry, since any college aimed at creative people is mostly interested in your portfolio. When it comes to students with lower-income backgrounds, the answer is tricky. Studies show that wealthier families tend to produce higher SAT scores than lower-income families due to things like costs, academic support and time constraints. 

However, and unfortunately, MIT is not willing to risk the many for the few. In order to get the students they want, the best solution available so far is standardized testing. I don’t suspect this will be the case in the future. Organized institutions are slowly beginning to adopt practices that democratize studies. In the next few years, I suspect college will get cheaper as more people will stop enrolling. Institutions will be forced to streamline everything because the services available online are becoming superior to those in-person.

In the end, is MIT reinstating testing requirements a bad thing? Not really. Is it perfect? Certainly not, but it’s the best they can do right now. Sure, it’s inconvenient for the students, as it creates one more obstacle to what determines their futures. But there’s really not much you can do unless you get rid of requirements altogether, which wouldn’t work either. All in all, if you want to get into institutions like MIT, you have to play the game. So let’s hope the technology coming out of MIT today will make the game obsolete in the future.

Cole Dilts, FCRH ’23, is a film and television major from Houston, T.X.