One of the topics I cover in advising students about finding the right college is to look at the middle range of test scores to find if they are competitive for any particular college. This middle range is often called the 25% to 75% range. There are several issues that need to be understood with this issue.
First, is the danger of combining middle range of test scores in critical reading, math and writing. US News in their current ratings is an example of how this problem occurs. If college A reports that their middle range on the critical reading portion of the SAT is 650 to 750 we know that 25% of students scored above 750 on the critical reading section of the test and 25% scored below 650. If that same college reports that their middle range on the math section is 620 to 720 we can again determine how many students scored above 720 and how many were below 620. The problem occurs when we combine these two sets of ranges to say that the middle range for critical reading and math at school A is 1270 to 1470. This is not necessarily accurate because the student who scored 750 on critical reading did not necessarily score 720 on math. If this is student is strong in reading and weak in math they might have only scored 550 on math. Therefore in combining the scores you are presented with a false level of what the middle range is. Most likely the range is lower than stated because the person who does very well on one subject often does less well on the other subject. This combining of scores is what US News does in providing test scores averages for their ratings and thus the ratings are not accurate for comparing test scores.
Having a false range of test scores may cause some students to not apply because they believe there scores are too low compared to the average when in fact they might be solidly in the middle if breaking out the scores. Therefore, do not rely on ratings that combine scores from different test sections but rather compare your test scores from each section to see how they compare to the test score middle range for each section at that college. To find a breakdown by each test section for most colleges go to the College Navigator site of the US Department of Education.
A second potential problem is the question of exactly which test scores is a college submitting for use in these databases. Some colleges will provide the middle range of test scores of students they have accepted rather than the middle range of students that choose to attend. By showing the middle range of accepted students the scores are artificially higher than the scores of those who chose to attend because high scoring students usually have a variety of college options and will not necessarily attend a college where their test scores are higher than the average student. Some colleges will also not report all of the test scores of admitted students and will exlcude students that might have lower scores like recruited athletes or legacy students. Again, this will artificially raise the test scores for these colleges.
Comparing your test scores to those of the admitted students at any particular college can be a valuable thing to evaluate. However, be an informed consumer and if it is not clear with the information you are reviewing, contact the college in question and ask them exactly how they determine that middle range. That will give you a better feel for whether you are a competitive candidate for that college or not.