In this blog, we continue our discussion of the test-optional policy many colleges instituted during the 2020 and 2021 pandemic years. Like it or not (as we discuss in Part I of this blog), colleges will continue this policy for the 2022-23 admissions cycle, despite the increased anxiety and headaches it causes many applicants.
Blue Stars wants to help parents and students navigate the bumpy terrain in this open-ended landscape. In short, how does an applicant decide when to submit scores to test-optional schools vs. when not to?
Here’s our advice: if an applicant’s score is at or above the 50th percentile for a college, we advise our students to submit scores.
What is the 50th percentile?
How do students and parents find out the 50th percentile for schools?
Are there ever exceptions to this rule?
Read on for more Blue Stars insights!
Decoding the 50th percentile
When publishing their admissions data, colleges report the 25th and 75th percentile SAT and ACT scores for their admitted students. The what?! Let’s look at an example; here is a table of SAT scores for Boston College students in 2020.
Boston College Admitted Students for 2020
|SAT||25th Percentile||75th Percentile|
|Evidence-Based Reading & Writing||660||730|
What do all these numbers mean? Colleges categorize each admitted class into four groups of students, with an equal number of students in each quartile:
One-fourth of the entering class achieves scores at the “25th Percentile” or scores lower than these. 25% of Boston College students scored at or below 1340 – the orange area on the graphic below.
Another one-fourth of students are labeled “75th Percentile,” achieving scores at the indicated levels or higher. 25% of Boston College students scored at or above 1500 – the blue area on the graphic below.
The middle “double quartile block” (not depicted in the above table but shown in yellow on the bell curve graphic below) means that 50% of the students at a college scored between these two numbers: 50% of Boston College students scored between 1340 and 1500.
For the visual learners among us, here is how this can be depicted:
While the specific “50th percentile numerical score” itself – indicated by the dotted line on the graphic – is not indicated on a college’s “quartile chart,” it can be easily calculated as the midpoint of the 25th and 75th percentile scores for each subtest score and for the total score.
How? Add the 25th and 75th percentile scores and then divide by 2.
Here’s how to calculate the 50% numerical scores for Boston College:
- 660+730 = 1390 and 1390/2 = 695, the actual 50% numerical score for the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score
- the 50% numerical score for the Math section would be 725
- the 50% total score would be 1420
If the student’s scores are below the 50th percentile numerical score (orange and yellow areas to the left of the dotted line), they should not submit.
Any student who scores above the 50th percentile score (the blue and yellow areas to the right of the dotted line) should submit.
If we were working with a student applying to Boston College who scored a 1450 on the SAT, we’d advise this student to send their scores. Why? Because 50% of all admitted students scored at or above this level. Of course, admissions officers look at so much more than test scores. Our point is that a score that sits at or above 50% will help an applicant’s chances.
So far so good? What about all the other schools on an applicant’s target list?
Get the Information Needed to Make a Smart Decision
Deciding whether to send standardized test scores in a test-optional environment is best handled through a systematic, yet simple process.
Find the 25th and 75th Percentile scores for each schools’ most-recently accepted class
Calculate the midpoint “50th percentile” scores for each school as explained above
Compare data across schools
Some colleges may have this data on their website (go to a college’s website search and plug in “Common Data Set”), but it is frequently hard to locate. Blue Stars offers two alternative sources:
- ThoughtCo. This website provides valuable information about colleges, including SAT/ACT scores for admitted students. Type the college’s name and “SAT” or “ACT” in the Search function. The next page will display a link to that college’s dedicated page. Scroll down on the page to a table that looks like the one above. There will be one table for the SAT and one for the ACT.
- Common Data Set (CDS). The Common Data Set is a set of standardized statistics as defined by The College Board, U.S. News & World Report (USN&WR), and Petersen’s, and compiled by most colleges. To find the CDS for a specific college, enter “Common Data Set Name-of-College” into a search engine. Standardized test score data can be found in Section C9 within this data set.