Yale Adopts ‘Test-Flexible’ Policy

Slowly but surely, standardized testing is creeping back into elite college admissions.
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Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D., is a senior writer and higher education analyst with BestColleges. He has 30 years of experience in higher education as a university administrator and faculty member and teaches writing at Johns Hopkins University. A former...
Updated on March 7, 2024
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  • Yale University announced it is reinstating standardized test requirements.
  • Beginning next fall, students can submit SAT or ACT scores, or AP or IB exam results.
  • The university believes mandatory test requirements can help level the playing field for disadvantaged students.
  • This announcement comes weeks after Dartmouth College reinstated SAT/ACT requirements.

Following in Dartmouth College's freshly trodden footsteps, Yale University announced it is reinstating its standardized test requirement, but with a twist.

Yale has officially become "test-flexible."

What, exactly, does that mean, and what are the implications for other highly selective schools?

Details on Yale's New Policy

Starting this fall, Yale will require test scores but will allow students to submit Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exam scores in lieu of the SAT or ACT.

Applicants will thus have four options for submitting standardized test results.

Students opting to submit AP or IB scores must include results from all completed subject exams.

The university says it does not prefer one test over another and doesn't penalize applicants who lack particular test scores. In other words, submitting SAT or ACT scores instead of those from AP or IB exams, or vice versa, doesn't strengthen a student's application.

Why is Yale reinstating its test requirement? Like Dartmouth College, Yale determined that, contrary to popularly held beliefs, such a policy can actually bolster diversity.

"When used thoughtfully as part of a whole-person review process," Yale's statement claims, "tests can help increase rather than decrease diversity in our class," while inviting students to apply without test scores "can, inadvertently, disadvantage students from low-income, first-generation, and rural backgrounds."

As did much of higher education, Yale went test-optional in 2020 thanks to the pandemic. In the ensuing years, the university determined that requiring the SAT and ACT prior to 2020 "likely discouraged some promising students from underrepresented backgrounds from applying."

Yet since the university went test-optional, its applicant pools have been larger than ever and have featured "record numbers" of first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented minority students.

Still, standardized tests have the potential to strengthen applications from these student populations. As Yale's statement points out, students from poorly resourced schools don't have the array of curricular and extracurricular options students from highly resourced schools enjoy, nor do they have the same level of personalization in teacher evaluations.

In such cases, high-achieving students are well-advised to submit test scores, even if they fall below the Yale median range.

That's in part because Yale has found that test scores — including the SAT, ACT, and AP and IB subject-based exams — are the "single greatest predictor of a student's future Yale grades."

Will Other Elite Colleges Follow Suit?

Among the Ivy League, Yale becomes the second member to reinstate standardized tests, following Dartmouth's announcement earlier this month.

Last year, Columbia University announced it would remain test-optional permanently.

Harvard also remains test-optional, at least until the class of 2031 applies, as does Princeton until at least 2026.

The University of Pennsylvania has yet to announce its policy for next fall.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has long since returned to standardized testing, as has Georgetown University.

Many more elites might join them. A recent study from Opportunity Insights, a research group based at Harvard University, found that standardized test scores have more "predictive power" for academic success in college than high school grade point averages do, particularly at highly selective institutions — confirming Yale's findings.

Using admissions records and first-year grades from several "Ivy-Plus" colleges between 2017 and 2022, the group determined that keeping all other variables equal, students who scored highest on the SAT and ACT earned college GPAs 0.43 points higher than those with more modest scores.

These two arguments — that standardized tests accurately predict academic success at elite schools and that talented, disadvantaged students can use test scores to help level the playing field — may be enough to persuade more Ivy-Plus institutions, along with other highly competitive colleges, to reinstate testing requirements.

Their decisions become even more scrutinized now that the U.S. Supreme Court has banned race-conscious admissions, leaving institutions scrambling to discover any measures that can promote diversity within legal parameters.

Perhaps some will adopt Yale's hybrid "test-flexible" approach, while others might align with Dartmouth and MIT in demanding the SAT or ACT.

For those who rejoiced when colleges jettisoned tests amid the pandemic, believing that COVID's silver lining might be the demise of tools long believed inaccurate and biased, the unfortunate news is that it seems these tests are slowly but surely making their way back.