Sequential testing, always-valid $p$-values, and confidence sequences promise flexible statistical inference and on-the-fly decision making. However, unlike fixed-$n$ inference based on asymptotic normality, existing sequential tests either make parametric assumptions and end up under-covering/over-rejecting when these fail or use non-parametric but conservative concentration inequalities and end up over-covering/under-rejecting. To circumvent these issues, we sidestep exact at-least-$\alpha$ coverage and focus on asymptotically exact coverage and asymptotic optimality. That is, we seek sequential tests whose probability of ever rejecting a true hypothesis asymptotically approaches $\alpha$ and whose expected time to reject a false hypothesis approaches a lower bound on all tests with asymptotic coverage at least $\alpha$, both under an appropriate asymptotic regime. We permit observations to be both non-parametric and dependent and focus on testing whether the observations form a martingale difference sequence. We propose the universal sequential probability ratio test (uSPRT), a slight modification to the normal-mixture sequential probability ratio test, where we add a burn-in period and adjust thresholds accordingly. We show that even in this very general setting, the uSPRT is asymptotically optimal under mild generic conditions. We apply the results to stabilized estimating equations to test means, treatment effects, etc. Our results also provide corresponding guarantees for the implied confidence sequences. Numerical simulations verify our guarantees and the benefits of the uSPRT over alternatives.
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