FAQ: Standardized Testing Reactivation

When Dartmouth suspended its standardized testing requirement for undergraduate applicants in June 2020, it was as part of a pause taken by most selective colleges and universities in response to an unprecedented global pandemic.

At the time, based on research into the appropriate role of testing in our holistic evaluation process, we imagined the resulting “test-optional” policy as a short-term practice rather than an indefinite policy.

Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process as well as its value as a prediction of student success at Dartmouth, we are lifting that extended pause and reactivating the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission, effective with the Class of 2029.  For Dartmouth, the evidence supporting our reactivation of required testing is clear.

Analysis of Dartmouth’s admissions data over many years commissioned by Dartmouth President Sian Beilock and conducted by Dartmouth economists Elizabeth Cascio, Bruce Sacerdote, and Doug Staiger and educational sociologist Michele Tine confirms that standardized testing is a valuable element of Dartmouth’s undergraduate application—especially when assessed using the local norms at a student’s high school.

Their analyses show that standardized testing is among the most reliable indicators for success in Dartmouth’s curriculum, surpassing high school GPA. They also found that test scores represent an especially valuable tool to identify high-achieving applicants from low-income, first-generation college-bound, and rural backgrounds, as well as applicants from under-resourced high schools across the increasingly wide geography of our applicant pool.

Researchers have found that a) SATs are very useful for predicting how well students perform academically in college and beyond and b) that relationship is quite similar for students from diverse backgrounds. Harvard economist Raj Chetty and coauthors found that the SAT is highly predictive of post-college success at Ivy Plus institutions and analysis of  broader Ivy Plus data by some of the Dartmouth researchers has shown the SAT is highly predictive of college grades (much more so than high school GPA), and that this predictive ability doesn’t differ as a function of a student’s socioeconomic background. 

Also, Saboe and Terrizzi (2019) study data from “all four-year public and private, not-for-profit, baccalaureate-granting institutions of higher education” for the years 2009 to 2014. The data, obtained from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, include 127 test-optional and 1,649 test-requiring institutions. They conclude that “SAT optional policies … have no significant effect on diversity or enrolled student quality.”

What is particularly new and noteworthy in the Dartmouth research is the finding that high-achieving, less-advantaged students are hindered by test score-optional policies. Less advantaged students under-submit scores and are disproportionately harmed as a result. A key to developing this finding was the ability for researchers to observe test scores that students asked not be used in the admissions decision, and that Admissions did not use as a result.

In the aggregate, the growing body of research suggests that test-optional policies lead to less fair admissions processes with less information about students, especially at Ivy Plus schools.

The study found that standardized tests can be an especially helpful tool in identifying applicants from historically under-resourced high schools who might thrive at colleges and universities like Dartmouth. That finding was unexpected and challenges the long-standing perception that testing inhibits access to higher education for less advantaged students. The finding also reinforces the importance of the Dartmouth Admissions Office’s well-established practice of considering standardized test results as a single factor within the broader context of a holistic individualized review. 

The faculty researchers write: “Our overall conclusion is that the use of SAT and ACT scores is an essential method by which Admissions can identify applicants who will succeed at Dartmouth. Importantly, these test scores better position Admissions to identify high-achieving less-advantaged applicants and high-achieving applicants who attend high schools for which Dartmouth has less information to interpret the transcript.” 

They also note: “The data suggest that, under an SAT/ACT option (hereafter test-optional) policy, many high-achieving less-advantaged applicants choose not to submit scores even when doing so would allow Admissions to identify them as students likely to succeed at Dartmouth and in turn benefit their application.” 

These statements also rang true to our admissions officers, who had observed the same situation during our test-optional admissions cycles.

Our experience with optional testing at Dartmouth has been enlightening. As with the other optional elements of the Dartmouth application—including an alumni interview and a peer recommendation—each student’s decision to share testing during the pandemic was an individualized one; however, we observed that students often withheld testing from consideration when those results could, in fact, have been illuminating and informative to their candidacy. As Cascio, Sacerdote, Staiger, and Tine, the Dartmouth researchers, write, “Some low-income students appear to withhold test scores even in cases where providing the test score would be a significant positive signal to admissions.”

Although we withheld testing means and ranges during the test-optional period from published forums, conventional wisdom was harder to break: Our post-admission research showed that students with strong scores in the context of their high schools often opted for a test-optional approach when scores fell below our typical mean or mid-50% range.

Differential access to SAT and ACT preparation reflect inequality in society and in education systems across our nation. The research does not dispute that. However, the research findings challenge the longstanding critique that standardized testing inhibits rather than expands college access; contextually strong testing clearly enhances the chance of admission for high-achieving applicants from less-resourced backgrounds when such scores are included in the application.

The finding that standardized testing can be an effective tool to expand access and identify talent was unexpected, thought-provoking, and encouraging.

The research also reinforces the value of Dartmouth’s longstanding practice of considering testing within our broader understanding of the candidate as a whole person. Especially during the pandemic’s test-optional period, Dartmouth Admissions sharpened its awareness of local norms and environmental factors, as well as the degree of opportunity available at a student’s high school and in their community. Those contextual elements of discovery and assessment were among the many fortuitous by-products of an extended moment when admission officers were forced to rethink traditional guidelines and practices. Knowing what we now know, it is an approach we will preserve as we move forward. Contextualized testing is a key element of individualized, holistic review.

Research by Raj Chetty and coauthors examined the value to admissions officers of inputs such as a student’s highly polished essay or a strong teacher recommendation letter, or long lists of accomplishments outside the classroom as part of their application. They found that these inputs correlate with coming from a high-income family and/or attending a private well-resourced school. Access to that form of privilege is not necessarily predictive of later outcomes, while SATs are. The Dartmouth research, reinforcing Chetty, found that SAT coupled with high school performance was the strongest predictor of academic success in the Dartmouth curriculum and following graduation. 

Beginning with the Class of 2029, Dartmouth will once again require applicants from high schools within the United States to submit results of either the SAT or ACT, with no preference for either. As always, the results of multiple test administrations will be super-scored, which means we will consider the highest result on individual sections of either exam regardless of the test date. 

For applicants from high schools outside the United States, results of either the SAT, ACT, or three Advanced Placement (AP) examinations OR the predicted or final exam results from the International Baccalaureate (IB), British A-Levels, or final results of an equivalent standardized national exam are required.

This distinction between students attending a school in the U.S. or outside the United States acknowledges the disparate access to American standardized testing—as well as a lack of familiarity with such testing—in different parts of the world. Dartmouth’s English language proficiency policy remains unchanged: For students for whom English is not the first language or if English is not the primary language of instruction for at least two years, students are required to submit an English proficiency score from TOEFL, IELTS, Duolingo, or the Cambridge English Exam.

The reactivated testing requirement will take effect beginning with current high school juniors applying for admission to the Class of 2029 in the 2024-25 admissions cycle. 

No. The reactivated testing requirement will take effect beginning with current high school juniors applying for admission to the Class of 2029 in the 2024-25 admissions cycle. 

Dartmouth is test-optional for applicants to the Class of 2028. If a student applying to the Class of 2028 has taken standardized testing, we encourage the student to submit scores regardless of how they may compare to scores on historical Dartmouth class profiles.

Dartmouth has practiced holistic admissions since 1921, and that century-long consideration of the whole person is unquestionably as relevant as ever. As we reactivate our required testing policy, contextualized testing will be one factor—but never the primary factor—among the many quantitative and qualitative elements of our application. As always, the whole person counts, as do the environmental factors that produced that person. And, as always, we will evaluate and reframe Dartmouth’s undergraduate admission requirements as the data and the evidence inform us.

We expect the number of applications to decrease, although we do not expect a drop in quality. 

When we say “environmental factors,” that means the Dartmouth Admissions Office considers a student’s application for undergraduate admission, including test scores and other data within it, through a lens that incorporates socioeconomic and geographic data drawn from the U.S. Census, via the Landscape resource from the College Board.

Super-scoring means we will consider the highest result on individual sections of either exam regardless of the test date. Admissions will look at an applicant's best results of multiple exams. Super-scoring applies to both the SAT and ACT. 

Beginning with the Class of 2029, Dartmouth will once again require applicants from high schools within the U.S. to submit results of either the SAT or ACT, with no preference for either. 

For students at high schools outside the U.S. results of either the SAT, ACT, or three Advanced Placement (AP) examinations or predicted or final results from the International Baccalaureate (IB), British A-Levels, or final results of an equivalent standardized national exam, are required. This distinction between students attending school in the U.S. and those enrolled in a school outside the U.S. acknowledges the disparate access to American standardized testing—as well as a lack of familiarity with such testing—in different parts of the world. 

Dartmouth will pair its restoration of required testing with a reimagined way of reporting testing outcomes in ways that are more understandable for students, families, and college counselors.

For example, when testing was submitted as part of our Early Decision round for the Class of 2028, 94% of the accepted students who submitted testing scored at or above the 75th percentile of test-takers at their respective high school. More significantly, this figure was a full 100% for the 79 students attending a school that matriculates 50% or fewer of its graduates to a four-year college. 

Accordingly, we will develop a new testing profile that seeks, in part, to disrupt the long-standing focus on the class mean and mid-50% range, with hopes of empowering students to understand how a localized score aligns with the admissions parameters at Dartmouth.

Before–and even during–the test-optional admissions cycles, Dartmouth admissions officers considered applicants’ scores, when provided, in relation to local norms of their high school (e.g., a 1400 SAT score from an applicant whose high school has an SAT mean of 1000 provides valuable information about that applicant’s ability to excel in their environment, at Dartmouth, and beyond). Contextualized testing is a key element of individualized, holistic review.

Reactivation of the testing requirement will apply to all applicants. Athletics and legacy connection continue to be one factor among dozens that Dartmouth considers when evaluating applicants; those categories include academic performance, qualitative information from essays and recommendations, extracurricular engagement, geography, and academic interests, among others. 

Dartmouth is grateful to have an increasingly diverse alumni body that makes for an increasingly diverse group of legacy applicants. In recent years, more than 25% of Dartmouth legacy admits are typically people of color. 

By long-standing practice, a “legacy” at Dartmouth is defined as the child of an undergraduate alum. Siblings, grandchildren, nephews/nieces as well as alums of the graduate/professional schools do not qualify for legacy status.

While Dartmouth will continue to follow the guidance and policies of the Ivy League regarding testing requirements for applicants who expect to participate in the varsity athletic program, all athletes must submit tests.  


We’re complying fully with the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action.

The hiatus on requiring test scores, which began in 2020, allowed us to look at our admissions data over several years—years in which the SAT/ACT was required and years in which it was optional. Analysis of this data by Dartmouth economics and sociology professors and similar analyses examining students at a number of Ivy Plus institutions (here and here) has led us to believe that our holistic admissions approach to identifying the most promising students, regardless of their background, benefits from a careful consideration of testing information as part of the application package. 

In particular, the research shows that the SAT/ACT can be especially helpful in identifying students from less-resourced backgrounds who would succeed at Dartmouth but might otherwise be missed in a test-optional environment.

A wide variety of colleges and universities require standardized test scores for applicants. In 2022, both MIT and Purdue reinstated standardized test requirements for admissions. Georgetown never paused its requirement. 

We will continue to examine our own admissions practices, as well as the resulting classes we admit, and follow the science to ensure we are finding the most promising students who, with a Dartmouth education, can go on to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.


Dartmouth has many resources to support students once they arrive on campus:

  • The Learning Fellows Program creates partnerships among professors, undergraduate students, learning designers, and faculty developers to design and deliver active and collaborative learning environments. Learning Fellows support faculty by helping small groups of students interact positively with each other and engage more deeply in the course material through in-class problem-solving sessions, discussions, projects, and other activities.
  • Our FYSEP and King Scholars students take a class called College Knowledge during the month-long FYSEP program, taught by the director and associate director of the Academic Skills Center. 
  •  We strongly recommend the Academic Skills Center's Learning at Dartmouth series of workshops for our students, which are held throughout the year.
  • We have a First Generation Office individual tutoring program that we run in collaboration with the Academic Skills Center.
  • We have presentations from Dartmouth Emerging Engineers (free STEM tutoring), The Writing Center, the Teaching Science Fellows, and the Student Academic Support Center, all of which see many of our students each term.

Dartmouth also offers robust Student Support Services, and specifically for writing, and STEM and for STEM and underrepresented minorities.  

As part of undergraduate orientation, Dartmouth this year successfully launched "We are Dartmouth," which engages all students in conversations around diversity and belonging to deepen their connections to themselves and others. 

Also, last fall, Dartmouth held its inaugural Intercultural Engagement Conference, which provided educational workshops and self-development opportunities to foster connections among students who represented various cultures and communities and allowed them to share their stories and embrace the stories of others. Dartmouth has also begun a workshop, Living Forward @Dartmouth, that provides all students a closer look at the services, programs, and leadership opportunities provided by the Native American Program, Tucker Center, and OPAL. For the fall of 2024, OPAL is planning a Diversity Leadership Retreat for students to promote inclusion and belonging.  

Dartmouth has a variety of advising areas that intersect with students who identify as African, Caribbean, international, Afro-Latino, mixed race, etc., and we offer a variety of advising areas for students to select along with programming for each area. 

Dartmouth also recently charged a committee to develop a mentorship program called the  Dartmouth Intergenerational Mentorship Experience (DIME) centering marginalized and underrepresented populations at Dartmouth. We expect to launch a pilot this summer.