standardized test scores

My colleague recently had a student ask whether or not he should be sending a Math I Subject Test with a score of 740 and a percentile rank of 89 or a Math II Subject test with a score of 760 and a percentile rank of 64. While the student’s raw score was stronger on Math II, the percentile reached was higher on Math I.

This is a question we get all the time at College Coach and it’s honestly mindboggling to us, simply because we never would have looked at percentiles. When reading college applications, we all only looked at raw scores earned.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a sampling of the responses sent to my colleague when she double-checked her own answer with the team:

“We never looked at the percentiles at Penn, just the scores themselves. Go with the higher one.”

“At College of the Holy Cross and Babson we never looked for or saw the percentiles. We only made decisions based on the scores.”

“I’d definitely send the higher score. Discussing percentiles, if they were discussed at all in committee, was usually a side conversation at MIT and Caltech; they were not something we paid attention to all that much.”

“I agree. Percentiles were meaningless at Swarthmore as well. We felt that it was mostly the super selective schools that required these [Subject Tests], so it’s the 64th percentile of a really talented pool.”

And the same was true where I worked, Reed College. At Reed, we didn’t even require SAT Subject Tests, so the only way I would have seen a student’s scores was if they chose to self-report them in the Common Application testing section—and there’s only space there for the raw scores, not the percentiles!

So there you have it. From our experience working in college admissions, raw scores, rather than percentiles are used when looking at standardized testing.


Written by Abigail Anderson
Abigail Anderson is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Abigail received her bachelor’s in sociology from Colby College. Prior to joining College Coach, Abigail worked as a senior admissions officer at Reed College and Emma Willard School.