I'm an international student expecting a Physics score of 900+. My academic credentials are not outstanding overall, but my last 1.5-2 years have been exceptional. I have taken all of the most advanced courses available in high energy theory and I have topped each one of them.
Out of the 3 recommenders, 2 have clearly indicated that they are going to write me the strongest letter they can write (I hope they mean something like: the applicant belongs to top 1%, etc.). The third recommender says that he'll write me a 'strong' letter but not the strongest.
My question is how strong should the recommendation letters be for an applicant to have a considerable chance of getting in a top 10 program? I mean I don't have the strongest credentials - I have no publications plus I've got only 4-5 months of research experience so far. What kind of recommendation letters really convince the admissions committee that an applicant, despite being devoid of any real research work so far, will prove to be an outstanding student in their department?