Aerobic scope represents an animal’s capacity to increase its aerobic metabolic rate above maintenance levels (i.e. the difference between standard (SMR) and maximum (MMR) metabolic rates). Aerobic scope data can be presented in absolute or factorial terms (AAS or FAS, respectively). However, the robustness of these calculations to noise or variability in measures of metabolic rate can influence subsequent interpretations of patterns in the data. We explored this issue using simple models and we compared the predictions from these models to experimental data from the literature. First, we investigated the robustness of aerobic scope calculations as a function of varying SMR when MMR is fixed, and vice versa. While FAS is unexpectedly robust to variability in SMR, even in species with low aerobic scopes, AAS is less sensitive to variation in SMR than is FAS. However, where variation in MMR is the main concern, FAS is more robust than AAS. Our findings highlight the equal importance of minimising variability in MMR, rather than just the variability in SMR, to obtain robust aerobic scope estimates. Second, we analysed metabolic rate accounting for locomotor speed and body mass for swimming fish. The interactions among these factors in relation to AAS and FAS are complex and the appropriate metric is dependent on the specific eco-physiological context of the research question. We conclude with qualified recommendations for using and interpreting AAS and FAS.