Frequently Asked Questions

The Program

Is TOPS an independent school?

The TOPS Program is a sub-division of Marc Garneau CI. Although TOPS doesn’t have any classrooms or facilities dedicated specifically to the program, there are certain areas within the school where TOPS students and teachers can be found most of the time. While this makes it very easy to integrate with other students of the school, it also allows for a tight-knit group of friends within TOPS. There is a very distinct community at Marc Garneau, and TOPS is an integral part of it.

What special facilities does TOPS and MGCI have at its students’ disposal?

Marc Garneau is lucky to house nine science labs with a wide array of equipment and scientific instruments for student use. There is an active and vibrant music program that operates the school’s music facilities. The school is proud to host a newly-renovated autoshop, a greenhouse that is maintained year-round, and a weight-training room. Marc Garneau C.I. also hosts the Canadian Space Resource Centre, a facility that supplies educational institutions across Canada and the US with teaching materials and academic information on Canada, it’s space program, and space in general.  Also in the school is a film studio, a drama studio room, eight computer labs, art studios equipped with dark rooms, and a wood-shop. TOPS also owns special scientific probes for field experiments. Marc Garneau Collegiate’s second and third floors were entirely rebuilt in the fall of 1997, thus our classrooms and science labs conform to modern standards. To sum up, TOPS has a plethora of facilities and tools at its disposal and no student is ever unable to complete a project, a lab, or try something for lack of equipment or space.

How is TOPS funded?

In general, the yearly parent contribution for the TOPS Program is used to fund the major field trip for a particular year, in addition, funds are used for some smaller trips and to support the senior trip in grade 12. The program undertakes some fundraising of its own in order to cover additional costs. However, this is not enough to accomplish what is required for the enrichment activities of the program; hence the yearly fees. Please note that students have never been refused admittance to the program on the basis of a financial need.

Will the enhanced curriculum inhibit my chances of being accepted to university?

Not at all. In fact, although the courses are more challenging, TOPS classes typically have the highest averages school-wide, and TOPS students consistently enjoy acceptance into their program of choice in Ontario universities. While our primary aim is the exceptional preparation of students considering a math-science type career, our students are often young people of exceptional accomplishment and character. As a result, they often attract recognition in the form of many scholarships.

Can I take courses in other areas besides math and science?

Of course! While many TOPS students choose to stick primarily to the math and science courses, it is by no means mandatory. In addition to the enriched Math and Science courses, other subjects such as History, English, Geography, Tech and Computer Science/Engineering, are also enriched for TOPS students. Despite the math and science orientation of the program, there are some students who also enjoy arts courses like Art, Business, Law, Media Studies, Music, Drama, French, World Issues, and History. In summary, regardless of the academic path, TOPS/MGCI engenders an excellent learning environment.

Will I have time for other things than school?

Certainly. One of the things that TOPS specifically looks for during the application process is individuals who are well-rounded and involved in their community. TOPS students are the first to get their volunteer hours submitted, many are involved in the school or in community programs, many take music lessons, or belong to dance clubs, Cadets, or play sports.

The TOPS curriculum sounds pretty rigorous, will my marks drop?

Although this touches on a point already addressed above, we would like to re-emphasize it. We cannot guarantee that your marks will not drop, for the most part students’ averages remain around the A level. Although TOPS courses often go far beyond that of the normal high school course, the pace never reaches a point where it can no longer be managed. Our teachers are excellent, and it is rare that anyone should ever find themselves in a place where they simply cannot keep up. But if, for whatever reason, someone does lag behind in a TOPS class, the teachers are very accommodating and will do all they can to help the individual. Beyond the teachers, there is another important part of the safety net: The rest of the people in the program. All people in TOPS are very supportive of each other and will often do all they can to help their friends.

The Application

Can my teacher write me a letter of reference that I can put in my profile?

No. For many years we required two teacher references. These were a single sheet of paper that required the teacher to rate a candidate in 6 areas. In addition, there was a small area at the bottom that allowed a teacher to make some comments. We prized these recommendations and found them very useful and an important counterpoint to the more stilted report card data.

However, two years ago, the Toronto District School Board issued a directive that specifically prohibits our consideration of such documents; including letters of reference. We regret this decision by the Board and find it especially lacking for students who have newly arrived in Canada and who may be exceptionally suited to the TOPS program, but may not have had the opportunity to participate in a breadth of extra-curricular activities as might have been the case had they be raised in Canada.

How do I apply for the TOPS Program for Grade 10 (currently in Grade 9)?

The application process is the same as applying for Grade 9, with the exception being that you need your report cards from the June of Grade 8 and the fall of Grade 9 (if available) instead of your report cards from the June of Grade 7 and the fall of Grade 8.

Can I type and print out my student profile?

Yes, you can type and print out parts of your student profile or the entire student profile. Keep in mind that you, the applicant, should be the one completing the profile. We encourage you to get advice, but the final product is expected to be solely your own work.

What is the information collected from the entrance exam registration form used for?

All the information collected by registration form will remain strictly confidential. The form only collects information that is necessary for administrative purposes relating to the entrance exam; without it, the application cannot be processed. Most of it is basic contact information needed to provide important information and updates to the student and parents throughout the course of the admission process.

Is there a limit to our student profile?

There is no limit to the student profile. You are welcome to attach more documents or other types of media if you wish – remember that more does not mean better. Most students selected submit only the profile sheet.

I am not currently under the TDSB, can I still apply?

You are free to apply to TOPS even if you are not a student in the TDSB.

Can students apply for Grade 11?

If you are in Grade 10, you cannot apply to TOPS. The overwhelming majority of students selected for TOPS are in Grade 8 applying for a position in Grade 9. Some Grade 9 students apply for a Grade 10 position, but since we have virtually no attrition, very few, if any, positions for Grade 10 are available.

Which report card do I copy for the application process?

We ask that students bring their Grade 7 Final Report Card. You should also submit the Grade 8 term 1 report card if it is available.

Is the optional attendance form to be handed in with the profile?

Yes, the optional attendance form must be handed in with the profile. Optional Attendance forms apply only to TDSB students who do not have Marc Garneau as their home school. Students from Independent schools, the TCDSB, Peel, Halton, York or Durham will have to register as new students to the TDSB. We will send everything you need when you are accepted into the program.

Can I hand in parts of my application after exam day?

We would prefer that you submit all of your application on the day of the exam. If you are unable to do so, send the outstanding information AS SOON AS POSSIBLE to the school. Write your “TOPS ID” number on everything you send to us. However, if this information does not appear prior to the selection process, selection decisions shall be made with the information at hand. Selection decisions will not be reviewed for late submissions of information. If you have a unique circumstance, please contact the TOPS leadership in advance.

Exam Day

What time is the TOPS Exam and how long is each portion of the TOPS Exam?

The TOPS exam is from 9:00am to 12:00pm, but you must arrive before 8:30am. The math, science, and English portions of the exam are each 45 minutes long.

What does the $20 for the TOPS exam go to?

Renting chairs, buying food for events, photocopying – the deposits are all used for administrative purposes, and any extra money is added to the TOPS Enrichment Fund. This fund goes towards any students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend trips in the program.

How should I prepare for the TOPS exam?

To be honest, we don’t suggest that students take on any extra work to prepare for the exam. The exam tests intuitive knowledge, and although brushing up one’s spelling, grammar and math skills can never hurt, it may not necessarily help with the exam. Buying PSAT, SAT preparation books will not help you. The best advice is to get a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast before the exam. Keep in mind that the exam, the essay section, the profile, and the report card are all important. One aspect is not more important than the others.

I cannot attend exam day, is there an alternate day?

We can only accommodate students unable to write the TOPS exam day due to religious considerations. Please contact the school (416-396-2410) if this applies to you.

Are marks deducted on the exam?

The math and science exams are multiple choice. There are 4 marks awarded for a correct solution, -1 for an incorrect response, and a blank response receives 0 marks. We are not looking for a particular mark for admittance, but rather looking at the way questions are approached. You will find the exam challenging!

Does TOPS take ESL into account on the entrance exam?

Yes, we do. Also, the English portion of the exam isn’t so much concerned with one’s English skills, but rather the student’s ideas and thinking processes.

I just wrote the TOPS Exam. When will I know whether I was accepted into the program?

Applicants will be notified early in the new year. Applicants who were accepted into the program will receive a telephone call. Applicants who we were unable to accommodate into the program this year, will receive a letter. We would kindly request all parents and applicants not to email or phone the school directly inquiring about the admission status of an applicant as all students shall be notified in due course.

Can I receive my results for the exam?

Students NEVER receive the results of their TOPS entrance examination. Due to the number of applicants, we are unable to provide individual feedback on any aspect of their application. The exam is only one part of the application and may not have been what we considered a point of weakness or strength and is used for internal purposes only.

About the Entrance Exam

What is the general philosophy behind these exams?

Writing an admissions examination is a different matter than writing a test at school. Here we are attempting to measure typically a very able group of students. If many students were to get close to 100%, for example, it would produce a result that is meaningless. How would we decide which student’s 100% is more impressive?

Rather, we create a test that is in sum much harder than a standard school test that will ‘challenge’ even the best applicants. This then gives us a much better sense of the preparation and abilities of the applicant pool. Given the acceleration in mathematics that occurs in the TOPS program, it is essential that we make a fairly rigorous evaluation of a candidate’s mathematical literacy. Candidates whose current preparation is advanced (either in competence or content) for their grade will be thus rewarded.

What curriculum is covered on the Mathematics Exam?

This exam is based on five strands. Four of these are taken from the Ontario curriculum in Grade 7 and 8. Geometry, Algebra, Number Sense and Probability. We have created an additional strand of atypical questions that do not easily fit into one of the above 4 strands in the mathematics curriculum. Largely these concepts are beyond the elementary curriculum.

In each strand, 7 questions were developed that range in difficulty from comparatively easy to quite challenging. In the challenging questions, the concepts are still from this area, but are used in a more involved way than you might expect in a grade 7 or 8 math class. These questions are presented randomly on the exam paper so there is no “Geometry Section” for example.

The fifth category is designed to reward students who have made the effort to accelerate their mathematical training. These questions deal with high school mathematical concepts such as: trigonometry, quadratic equations, sequences and series, exponential, rational functions, elementary calculus and aspects of linear algebra.

It should be said however, that no student has been denied entry explicitly due to a lack of background on advanced concepts. You might also say, “… but my math grade 8 math class has yet to cover one or more of these strands …” This is true, in fact it will be true for everyone writing the test, so we feel this remains fair for all.

What curriculum is covered on the Science Exams?

The TOPS Science exam measures the interest and ability that candidates have in four core areas of science learning: Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy. While elementary students have not studied some of these sciences specifically, they certainly have studied aspects of them from a young age.

In addition: there are three other strands woven across these concepts above: Data Interpretation, Scientific Terminology, Computations and Process. Furthermore, we would expect such motivated students to have augmented their science education with external resources such as: Internet, magazines, documentary programming and such like. We find that it is essential that students enjoy science given the amount of and the academic level of science they will be undertaking in the ensuing four years.

What is the purpose of the Mathematics Exam?

The TOPS program is a very demanding academic program in the sciences, mathematics and English. We wish to ensure that a successful candidate is sufficiently prepared and of the ability level that would be indicative of success in the TOPS Program. Our senior TOPS mathematics courses are on par or more difficult than first university studies in calculus, algebra or statistics.

What is the purpose of the Science Exam?

TOPS is a science, mathematics and English focus program. While the government requires Ontario students to take only 1 senior (Grade 11 or 12) science course, TOPS requires its students to take 5 senior science credits and many of our students take 7. We want to make sure that you have an abiding interest in science. The TOPS Science test is designed to measure your scientific ability as well as your interest.

What is the purpose of the English Exam?

The TOPS English essay, is designed to see how you think, how well you express yourself, perhaps even how willing you are to take a risk or two! It is an essay, but the topics are either word or photographic prompts. You will need to adapt and to think on your feet. Non-electronic dictionaries are permitted.

How are the Mathematics and Science exams marked?

Both of these exams are multiple choice. They are marked using a computer-based scanning system. You are identified on your scan sheet by a “TOPS ID Number” that will be issued to you on exam day.

On either exam there are 4 marks awarded for a correct answer, and 1 mark is deducted for an incorrect answer. If a question is left blank, then no marks are given. This practice is statistically fair in that someone who randomly guesses on all questions would receive a grade close to zero.

How is the English exam marked?

ALL English exams are read by highly experienced educators who are also very familiar with the TOPS program. The cover page of the exam is removed and the candidate is identified only by their TOPS Identification Number. Therefore your name and elementary school is unknown to the person marking your English response.


Why do you not release my scores on the examinations?

The exams you write are only ONE aspect of the selection decision. The ultimate decision is a consensus. In the past we have rejected a number of candidates who, while they enjoyed an excellent exam performance, were found wanting on their report cards or their profile. The reverse is also true, where a student who may have had an ‘average’ day on the exams, but presented a terrific profile with very solid grades might be given positive consideration.
Thus these marks are for internal use only.

How will I find out if I have been selected to the TOPS Program?

You will receive a telephone call from one of the selection committee offering you admission to the TOPS program. You will have a reasonable amount of time to accept or reject his offer. If you are not selected, you will receive a letter in the mail. Last year, selected students were called in December and the incoming class was finalized by the end of the first week of school in January.

Why are only a maximum of 60 students accepted given that so many apply?

Our school is overenrolled and although we would like to serve more students into the program we are restricted to no more than 58-60 new TOPS students each year.

Why are there so few entries permitted into Grade 10 TOPS?

Again, we are strictly limited to no more than 58-60 students per TOPS year.

Historically VERY few students leave the program and if they do so most will because their family has moved out of the area. The small number of openings in Grade 10 are a direct result that when in the program so many young people have a great time and meet new friends and do not want to leave!

Why are students not permitted to join TOPS in Grade 11 or Grade 12?

TOPS is a significantly accelerated and enriched program, by the completion of grade 10, TOPS students have completed three years of mathematics in two with enrichment. In Grade 11, TOPS students take the AP equivalent TOPS Calculus course. More than 2/3’s of them opt for the more difficult of the two calculus options. Either way, these courses are full first year university equivalents and are significantly enriched compared to the high school “Calculus and Vectors” course. Thus, students in the regular stream have not had enough mathematical preparation to pursue studies in grade 11 TOPS.

In grade 12, the academic divide between the preparation of TOPS students and standard program has further enlarged. Physics courses for example, use the calculus that was taught in grade 11 to explain and solve problems.

How are students for the program selected?

Please read the information regarding the selection process here

How many students apply to TOPS, and how many are accepted?

Approximately 550 students apply annually to TOPS. However, this number is gradually increasing each year. Unfortunately, there is only room for 60 people, so be very careful how you write your application!