What's the deal with CalTech et al not requiring standardized tests?

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In summary: SAT is less important because they are not as selective in their admissions process. In summary, Caltech is no longer requiring standardized test scores for admission. This decision is likely due to the fact that the SAT is not as meaningful as it once was, and that other prestigious universities have a good track record.
  • #1
swampwiz
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(NOTE: I had considered posting this in the STEM advising subforum; if that is more appropriate, I welcome the moderators to move it there.)

I had just read that CalTech (among other elite colleges) is no longer requiring students to submit standardized test scores for admission. How in the world can a place like CalTech ensure that the students that it let's in have demonstrated the best aptitude? More emphasis on high school grades would be the obvious answer, but hasn't the whole idea of standardized tests been as a way to get away from rewarding schools with the worst grade inflation? OK, maybe rank-in-class could be used, but wouldn't that hurt students whose parents had ironically chosen to spend more money to get into a better school district?

This is a development that I can't quite grok - and I aced the ACT Math & GRE Quantitative.
 
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  • #2
Given that the Caltech average is 1545 out of 1600, one could argue that is was not providing enough discrimination for prospective applicants. I couldn’t find a clean number, but I would guess that is 15000-20000 students, which one should probably (at least) double because it is an average.
 
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  • #3
caz said:
Given that the Caltech average is 1545 out of 1600
it's also hard to imagine that 1540 would fail and 1545 would succeed at Caltech
 
  • #4
I feel certain that a student for whom other indicators were not as good could still mention the test scores. But as a differential measure for most of their prospective students it would seem almost everyone was in the noise.
I firmly believe such tests measure something...sometimes it is difficult to ascertain exactly what...but I always ate them up!
 
  • #5
caz said:
I couldn’t find a clean number, but I would guess that is 15000-20000 students
This way too high a number for number of undergrads there.
Probably more like 2-3 k.
 
  • #6
BillTre said:
This way too high a number for number of undergrads there.
Probably more like 2-3 k.
Its undergraduate enrollment is under 1000 (250 per class). I was referring to the SAT pool they are drawing from.
 
  • #7
caz said:
Given that the Caltech average is 1545 out of 1600, one could argue that is was not providing enough discrimination for prospective applicants.
But it could provide a back-check against difficult to compare GPAs...which is kind of the reason to have them in the first place.

So perhaps the reason to get rid of them is that uniform/standardized comparisons are no longer desirable?
 
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  • #8
My guess is that at that small level of variability it is not a statistically significant pedictor of performance at Caltech or other future success. That being the case, why would you waste everybody's time? An overabundance of applicants to Caltech are capable. The rest of the admission process is largely devination: as much art as science.
Part of it is doubtless so little Johnny's father cannot point to little Suzy and say "but Johnny got ten points higher on the test" Much sound and fury (signifying nothing) thereby avoided.
 
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  • #9
hutchphd said:
An overabundance of applicants to Caltech are capable.
By what measure do we know that? Or more specifically, how do they know any particular candidate is "capable". And is "capable" enough?
 
  • #10
By capable I mean capable of graduating from Caltech and meeting all the requirements. Same with MIT, Stanford, and the Ivy League. Then the question is how to select the best One of the huge pluses in the USA is that this is left to these institutions because they clearly know what they are doing. There is no one-size-fits-all system that can compare, and historically this has served us well. Hopefully we can keep expanding horizons. Tests indicate the the past as predicate but these people are our future. Testing should not be determinative..
 
  • #11
I think your basic question is interesting, but I would strongly caution anyone to draw meaningful conclusions about academic admissions based on what CalTech does. Granted my experience is 40 years old, but CalTech has always been an extreme outlier in this area, and I see no reason to think it's different now. Suffice it to say that CalTech doesn't admit many "normal" students (there is also a lot of self-selection happening).

The SAT test just isn't that meaningful if everyone scores 800 on the math section and no one really cares what the verbal score was as long as it was high. I don't think this was a very meaningful decision by the admissions committee for this school.

Also, while it has a good track record, there are many other prestigious universities that have graduated outstanding scholars. It's not like they have the only secret formula in this regard.
 
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  • #12
Also I think that for the cadre of "state" colleges the more pervasive use of public monies requires a more demonstrably egalitarian and transparent selection process. Standardized tests certainly belong in this mix. But they come with the price of homogenization: teachers will teach to the test and students will hew to the line.
So we should celebrate the existence of MIT and Caltech and Antioch and Reed and Kenyon and Harvard (and even Liberty U). This is the true marketplace of ideas.
 
  • #13
Just search "Why colleges are not requiring SAT"

first hit (from 2019)

https://hechingerreport.org/questio...r-of-colleges-stop-requiring-the-sat-and-act/
Questioning their fairness, a record number of colleges stop requiring the SAT and ACT
Results are mixed, but suggest that making these tests optional is improving diversity on campus
...
One in four institutions no longer requires these tests for admission
...
The goal of going test-optional, for many of its advocates, is to increase diversity; low-income students typically have lower scores than their more affluent peers, putting them at a disadvantage in admission. This is because families with more money usually live in wealthier school districts with more resources and can afford tutors to help with test preparation and other educational assistance.

more recently:
https://thecollegepost.com/colleges...ng test-optional,by a standardized test score.
Two-Thirds of US Colleges Going Test-Optional in 2022: Report

Apparently, making the standard tests optional is not because all of the applicants score high. It is because some of the students they want to admit did not score high.
 
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  • #14
Here are the criteria that CalTech uses for admission.

https://www.admissions.caltech.edu/apply/first-year-freshman-applicants/academic-preparation

EDIT: The acceptance rate is less than 7%!
 
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  • #15
Well, some top universities have been basically ignoring test scores and grades for a long time, because admissions are so competitive that perfect scores are insignificant in terms of standing out, and they have been evaluating candidates on an individual basis.

Lower tier universities, on the other hand, had commonly been using test scores and grades to automate the admissions process.

Edit: And there are some people who get a rough start but go on to do great things (Isaac Newton, Steven Hawking, Albert Einstein, etc.). Cal Tech and similar top tier universities probably don't want to pre-filter the next Einstein.
 
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  • #16
Jarvis323 said:
Edit: And there are some people who get a rough start but go on to do great things (Isaac Newton, Steven Hawking, Albert Einstein, etc.). Cal Tech and similar top tier universities probably don't want to pre-filter the next Einstein.

If memory serves, they rescaled the scores in the nineties. Before then, only a handful of people got perfect scores and high scores were a better discriminate. High scores allowed people who had high school issues an alternative way to stand out.
 
  • #17
caz said:
If memory serves, they rescaled the scores in the nineties.

Someone told me (back in the 1970s) that the SAT scores were set such that 500 was the mean, with 600, 700, and 800 at 1, 2 and 3 standard deviations.
 
  • #18
gmax137 said:
Someone told me (back in the 1970s) that the SAT scores were set such that 500 was the mean, with 600, 700, and 800 at 1, 2 and 3 standard deviations.
My understanding is that number of standard deviations had increased and they returned to the original distribution in the 90‘s.
 
  • #19
gmax137 said:
Apparently, making the standard tests optional is not because all of the applicants score high. It is because some of the students they want to admit did not score high.

While this is certainly one reason why colleges are dropping the test requirements, it is not the sole reason. For example, some research suggests that test scores are not really a useful predictor of how well prospective students will do in college:

Research shows that grades are the best single predictor of how well a student will do in college, and grades are not as strongly affected by a family’s wealth and education as standardized tests. The College Board, which develops and administers the SAT, counters that a combination of grades and test scores is an even better predictor of who will fare well in college.

That conclusion paints with too broad a brush.

Researchers at UC’s Riverside campus — where nearly half the students are underrepresented minorities and 60 percent receive Pell grants — found that students with average SAT scores and top high school grades were almost as likely to graduate as their classmates with similar high school grades who had aced the test.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/08/04/satact-scores-college-admissions-diversity/

Here's some of the data cited from UC Riverside:
Among 1,807 UC Riverside students with GPAs of 3.75 or higher and SAT scores above 900 — the 32nd percentile — outcomes were not so different between those with higher- and lower-end SAT test scores:

  • The six-year graduation rate for those with SAT scores between 900 and 1090 was 81% compared with 83% for those with SAT scores between 1100 and 1600, the highest score possible.
  • The rate of students returning for a second year was 91% for those with the lower scores and 94% for those with the highest scores.
  • The first-year GPA was 2.78, a B-, for students with lower scores compared with 3.36, a B+, for those with the highest scores.
  • Students with SAT scores below 900, however, did noticeably worse. Their graduation and second-year retention rates were 10 percentage points below the group with the highest SAT test scores. Still, 73% graduated within six years compared with 65% of peers with higher SAT scores but lower GPAs.
https://www.latimes.com/california/...hich-is-a-better-predictor-of-college-success
 
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  • #20
Ygggdrasil said:
a useful predictor of how well prospective students will do in college
Well that seems like the right thing to be seeking.
 
  • #21
Here's something from their website

CalTech said:
https://www.admissions.caltech.edu/apply/first-year-freshman-applicants/standardized-tests

These standardized testing requirements changes are applicable to all first-year applicants, including international students, student-athletes, homeschooled students, etc.

Three*-year Moratorium on requirement and consideration of SAT and/or ACT test scores

In June 2020, Caltech enacted a two-year moratorium on both the requirement and consideration of SAT and/or ACT test scores as part of the undergraduate admissions process. *As of July 2021, the original two-year moratorium was extended an additional third year. This change, made in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and its continuing impact on access to these exams for students across the country and globe, will be in effect for all first-year students applying to Caltech for Fall 2021, Fall 2022, and Fall 2023 (updated as of July 2021).

Elimination of the requirement for SAT Subject Tests

In January 2020, Caltech eliminated the requirement for applicants to submit two SAT Subject Tests. These sections will not be considered in the application review process. This change is in effect for those students applying for the Caltech class that begins in the fall of 2021. Click here for more information about this change our admissions process.

Continued Emphasis on Curriculum and Academic Preparedness

In lieu of test scores, the Admissions Committee will increase its focus on the review and evaluation of a student's academic preparedness prior to applying to Caltech. We strongly suggest you https://www.admissions.caltech.edu/apply/first-year-freshman-applicants/academic-preparation for an understanding of how the Committee will assess your preparedness for the Caltech curriculum.

For more information about how these changes impact our holistic review process, https://www.admissions.caltech.edu/apply/first-year-freshman-applicants/holistic-review to read our philosophy on the admission process.

CalTech said:
https://www.caltech.edu/about/news/caltech-eliminate-requirement-sat-subject-test-scores-admissions

Caltech to Eliminate Requirement for SAT Subject Test Scores in Admissions
January 22, 2020
Caltech's Undergraduate Admissions office, with the support of the Faculty Committee on Freshman Admissions, has announced that it will be eliminating the requirement for submission of SAT subject test scores as part of the undergraduate admissions process. This change will be in effect for those students applying for the Caltech class that begins in the fall of 2021.

Caltech had been requiring students to take and submit scores in the SAT Subject Test in Mathematics Level 2, as well as one SAT science subject test in either ecological biology, molecular biology, chemistry, or physics.

"In reviewing our admissions requirements, we have come to the conclusion that the requirement for submission of SAT subject test scores creates an unnecessary barrier to applying for a Caltech education," says Nikki Chun, director of undergraduate admissions, noting that only a small percentage of high schoolers globally take the SAT subject tests. "We are guiding our focus back to long-term academic STEM preparedness based on coursework and grade performance."
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While Caltech continues to require the SAT or ACT for first-year admission, applicants will not be asked to pay for the submission of those exam results until and unless they are accepted and decide to matriculate at Caltech, Whitney adds.
 
  • #22
robphy said:
Here's something from their website
CalTech said:
https://www.admissions.caltech.edu/apply/first-year-freshman-applicants/standardized-tests

These standardized testing requirements changes are applicable to all first-year applicants, including international students, student-athletes, homeschooled students, etc.
"student-athletes" ? Funniest thing I've read in awhile.

Y'all may know this school for STEM scholarship, but they greatly surpass all that with the degree to which they suck at sports. Clearly the admissions staff and PR folks there (who, BTW, couldn't tell you what a logarithm is for) are spouting what they learned to say working at normal schools.

For example, this 2015 article. Which points out that CalTech turned itself into the NCAA and was subsequently barred from competing in post season tournaments and had to vacate all of their wins, with a baseball team that had an ongoing losing streak of 0-112. And no, they don't ever play UCLA or Stanford, those losses are from the likes of Cal Lutheran, Chapman, and San Diego Christian College.

I don't think your High School sports career matters in the least to them, unless, maybe, you are needing an excuse for why you only scored 780 on your Math SAT.
 
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  • #23
DaveE said:
I don't think your High School sports career matters
I do know that during my (Cornell) undergrad days (more than a few years ago) MIT had a world-class tiddly-winks team and the Cornell-MIT rivalry was intense. I believe it was the premier sport at the Massachusetts Institute...

A little Tom Lehrer would seem appropriate here:
 
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  • #24
I was at Caltech for a couple of post-docs.
They don't have athletes on scholarships (that's a joke). Maybe they have chess scholarships or something.
Or pranks. They (and MIT) are good at that. They should have a pranking Superbowl.

However, they do have an extensive intramural program.
Some of the intramural players were quite good, some not.
There was one competitive full professor (in neurobiology) who was very into fielding a good team.
There was a rumor that he recruited a post-doc to his lab for his playing ability. He was a great third baseman. Good arm, good fielding, very quick reflexes, good bat.
 
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  • #25
More from CalTech

https://spectrumnews1.com/ca/la-wes...dent-athlete--takes-on-new-meaning-at-caltech

'Student-athlete' takes on new meaning at Caltech
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Caltech is a member of NCAA Division III Southern California Intercollegiate Conference, or SCIAC, a Top 5 conference in the country across all sports.

Some highlights from the past couple of years include:

  • Men's and women's tennis - Top 25 national rankings in 2018-19, sent multiple individuals to NCAA National championships
  • Cross country, volleyball - 2019 best seasons in program history (XC 4th place SCIAC conference)
  • Women's basketball, women's swim and dive - 2018-19 best seasons in program history (swim and dive 6th at SCIACs)
  • Baseball, men's basketball - more wins in the last four years than the previous 70 combined
  • 3 former Olympians in track & field, 29 team SCIAC titles
  • Caltech also has 10 Nobel laureates recognized in the last decade.
(The last line reminds me of UChicago's obsession?:
https://www.uchicago.edu/who-we-are/global-impact/accolades/nobel-laureates )
 

Related to What's the deal with CalTech et al not requiring standardized tests?

What is CalTech's reasoning for not requiring standardized tests?

CalTech has stated that they believe standardized tests do not accurately measure a student's potential for success in college. They also believe that these tests can be a barrier for disadvantaged students who may not have access to the same preparation resources as their peers.

Will not submitting standardized test scores affect my chances of being admitted to CalTech?

No, CalTech has a holistic admissions process and considers a variety of factors, including academic achievement, extracurricular activities, essays, and letters of recommendation. Not submitting standardized test scores will not automatically disqualify a student from being admitted.

How will CalTech evaluate applicants without standardized test scores?

CalTech will use a variety of other measures, such as high school transcripts, to evaluate applicants without standardized test scores. They will also consider the rigor of the applicant's coursework and any additional information provided in their application.

Is this change permanent or temporary?

CalTech has stated that this is a pilot program and they will evaluate its effectiveness after a few years. They have not made a decision on whether this change will be permanent or temporary.

Are there any exceptions to the no standardized test score policy?

Yes, there are some exceptions for international applicants or students who are homeschooled. These students may be required to submit standardized test scores as part of their application.

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