Testing Policy Announcement

Yale’s new flexible testing policy

February 2024

For nearly four years Yale’s undergraduate admissions process has been test-optional. The experience, originally necessitated by the pandemic, has been an invaluable opportunity to think deeply about testing policy and to generate new data and analyses. With testing availability now fully restored for prospective applicants around the world, we have reevaluated our policy with the benefit of fresh insights.

The task of selecting students from an applicant pool containing tens of thousands of highly qualified students—many more than we can admit—requires an open mind and a healthy dose of humility about our ability to predict the future. For our standardized testing policy, we have tried to take the same approach.

As we worked to identify a policy we felt would best serve our applicants and our selection committee, our top priority was advancing our mission to assemble a group of high-achieving students whose strengths and differences contribute to a rich learning environment that “develops their intellectual, moral, civic, and creative capacities to the fullest.”

The product of four years of research and reflections is a new policy, announced this week. Yale will again require students to include scores with their applications. But, for the first time, Yale will allow applicants to report Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exam scores in lieu of the ACT or SAT. 

What a test score can and cannot do

Let’s start with what we know to be true: every standardized test is imperfect and incomplete. No exam can demonstrate every student’s college readiness or perfectly predict future performance. Yale has not, does not, and will never rely on testing alone to assess student preparedness. We read applications holistically, using all the information available to paint a picture of a student’s strengths and potential to contribute to a college community. An application is like a jigsaw puzzle: the picture is not complete without all its pieces.

A student’s transcript tells our committee much about a candidate’s preparation. But testing can fill in additional parts of the picture. Tests can highlight an applicant’s areas of academic strength, reinforce high school grades, fill in gaps in a transcript stemming from extenuating circumstances, and—most importantly—identify students whose performance stands out in their high school context.

Our experience with both test-optional and test-required policies has persuaded us of three things. First, when used thoughtfully as part of a whole-person review process, tests can help increase rather than decrease diversity in our class. Second, a narrow focus on only the ACT and SAT can discourage promising students from considering colleges like Yale. Finally, inviting students to apply without any test scores can, inadvertently, disadvantage students from low-income, first-generation, and rural backgrounds.

Here’s how we reached these conclusions.

Evidence and emphasis

Prior to the pandemic, requiring tests had not impeded Yale’s ability to significantly increase the diversity of our student body. Between 2013 and 2019, the number of first-year undergraduates eligible for a Pell Grant increased by 95%, first-generation college students increased 65%, and under-represented minority students increased 52%.

Our positive experience of reviewing applications without ACT or SAT scores also taught us that requiring only those tests prior to 2020 likely discouraged some promising students from underrepresented backgrounds from applying. The most recent four applicant pools have been the largest ever and have contained record numbers of applications from students who will be the first in their families to attend college, who live in lower-income neighborhoods, and who identify as members of underrepresented minority groups.

While evaluating all these applications, our researchers and readers found that when admissions officers reviewed applications with no scores, they placed greater weight on other parts of the application. But this shift frequently worked to the disadvantage of applicants from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

This finding will strike many as counterintuitive. To understand the dynamics, it helps to consider the diversity of high schools our applicants attend.

For students attending well-resourced high schools, substitutes for standardized tests are easy to find: transcripts brim with advanced courses, teachers are accustomed to praising students’ unique classroom contributions, and activities lists are full of enrichment opportunities.

In other high schools, high-achieving students quickly exhaust the available course offerings, leaving only two or three rigorous classes in their senior year schedule. Teachers with large classes may use positive but generic words of praise in recommendation letters. Students’ out-of-school commitments may include activities that demonstrate extraordinary leadership and contributions to family and community but reveal nothing about their academic preparedness. With no test scores to supplement these components, applications from students attending these schools may leave admissions officers with scant evidence of their readiness for Yale.

When students attending these high schools include a score with their application – even a score below Yale’s median range — they give the committee greater confidence that they are likely to achieve academic success in college.

This confidence is founded on evidence: Yale’s research from before and after the pandemic has consistently demonstrated that, among all application components, test scores are the single greatest predictor of a student’s future Yale grades. This is true even after controlling for family income and other demographic variables, and it is true for subject-based exams such as AP and IB, in addition to the ACT and SAT.

The right policy for Yale’s whole-person review process

Our applicants are not their scores, and our selection process is not an exercise in sorting students by their performance on standardized exams. Test scores provide one consistent and reliable bit of data among the countless other indicators, factors, and contextual considerations we incorporate into our thoughtful whole-person review process.

With our new flexible policy, we hope to empower applicants to put their best foot forward, and to help admission officers respond to excellent students from all contexts. We think the policy better reflects how we consider scores: in combination with other information, mindful of a student’s high school environment, and with the flexibility to admit those promising students whose scores don’t fully represent their potential.

To learn more about the policy and how officers incorporate scores when evaluating applications, review our testing webpage, read an interview with Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan, and listen to new episodes of our podcast, Inside the Yale Admissions Office