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SAT and ACT Score Reporting: What Does the Middle 50% Mean?

Many high school students will opt to take an SAT or ACT even as the number of test-optional colleges increases.  Many want to see how they score and have the option to submit.  

When determining whether to submit scores, students will generally be advised to submit their scores if such scores land within a particular school’s middle 50% range of test scores. The middle 50% is the range of scores between the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile for a specific group, such as a group of enrolling students for a particular school in a particular year. The middle 50% range eliminates the top and bottom 25% outlying scores and gives prospective students good information about the group or pool. 

For example, Vanderbilt’s middle 50% testing range on the ACT for the class of 2018 was 32-34.  This means that of the approximately 1600 enrolled students, about 800 (or the middle half) had a score between 32 and 34.  You also know that about 400 enrolled students scored higher than this range (35 or 36) and about 400 scored 31 or below.  

Schools often opt to report the middle 50% range instead of an average score since averages can be statistically misleading and skewed by a small number of outlying scores.  Plus, reporting a single average score is often misinterpreted by applicants as a benchmark or cutoff. Remember, test scores are only one component of the application.  Schools prefer to use the middle 50% range, instead of an average or cut-off, to reinforce this important idea.