Frequently Asked Questions

When should students start to prepare for the PSAT – SAT -ACT?

This takes a long answer, but stay with it, please.
Many students and parents may not realize it, but in reality, students begin their college test prep as soon as they enter kindergarten! The PSAT and SAT and ACT measure skills gained over many years, skills developed in the classroom and through extra-curricular activities. Parents of elementary school-age children can help by encouraging their children to read a lot for pleasure and take the most challenging courses they can handle. Students should continue this during middle and high school. Chances are, though, many students don’t start to focus on any formal PSAT or SAT preparation until they begin high school or even sometime later.

Is freshman or sophomore year too early to begin to prepare?
Absolutely not. In fact, it’s an ideal time to start. We had our grandson take our Semi-private Tutorial in the summer between his freshman and sophomore years. We also had him take his first PSAT in grade 10 as a baseline and to see where he would need help. We didn’t want any last-minute surprises! He maintained a more relaxed prep schedule and saw steady improvement and has been able to get his best possible scores (over time) with the least amount of stress!
When students get serious about these exams while they are in grade 9 or 10, the process and the end test results are much better than when they postpone their preparation until grades 11 or 12. Many students who attend our test prep courses are freshmen and sophomores. When students begin more formal preparation early in high school, they experience much less stress and can work a little each month without the pressure of trying to cram. Why is cramming less effective than working over an extended period of time? The SAT and PSAT and ACT are tests of reasoning skills. Just as musical or athletic skills are developed over time, so are reasoning skills.

A great plan looks something like this: Freshman/ sophomores: Students start by taking the PSAT during the freshman or sophomore year , and have the score report results evaluated by us. This Initial Consultation provides students and their parents with a great deal of information that will help with long-range college planning. The early PSAT or ACT scores serve as excellent baselines and help families determine how much preparation might be required to reach the SAT score goals. A typical scenario for freshmen or sophomores might be to begin with occasional private tutoring or a school-based course, then meet with one of our tutors every two or three months. Students then take the PSAT or preliminary ACT again in the fall of junior year —for the last time—and return to us for a follow-up evaluation. At this time they will know how much progress has been made and can determine how much additional review, instruction, or practice might be needed in order for students to be prepared for their first test. This long-range approach involves some homework but it is spaced out over a long period of time, so students feel no excessive amount of pressure. This works great because it means students work at a regular, but more leisurely pace, plus they get support services of quality tutors. They continually instruct students in new techniques and offer suggestions for continued improvement. This allows students to stay fresh, continually learn and practice and gain a considerable amount of confidence.

Is senior year too late to start to prepare? Starting in grade 12 is starting late, but sometimes we have no choice. Getting help late is better than getting no help at all. We cannot turn back the clock, but even when students start as late as senior year, there are many strategies and techniques that can help raise scores. There might be more work required in a shorter amount of time for students who wait this long, but even last-minute tutoring can greatly reduce anxiety and increase confidence levels. This can help students score their best on test day.

Do you guarantee score gains?

No tutor or course can guarantee score gains, although some say they do. Why not? The teacher cannot guarantee that a student will absorb material taught. He or she cannot guarantee that the student will complete practice tests. Also, instructors cannot guarantee that they can overcome student phobias or severe test anxiety. Dr. Gagnon can guarantee to deliver the best instruction possible, based on the latest information about the PSAT and SAT. She guarantees that she and her associates make every attempt to motivate each student and to instill confidence in each student.

How does your course compare to other courses?

You must be the judge of this, but if you do your homework, you will see that   not all SAT courses or tutors are the same.  The professional background, experience and track record of the tutor all play a very important role in determining who the best tutors might be.

Become an informed consumer by considering the following when selecting a course or tutor for your student: the credentials of the instructor(s), the length of time instructors have been teaching SAT prep, whether the instructors teach SAT prep full-time or part-time, recommendations of others who have used the instructor’s services, the learning style of your student, amount of money you are willing to pay, the amount of time your student has available to attend a course or tutoring session.

Biographical Information and comments about Martha E. Gagnon, Ph.D.

Martha Gagnon holds a doctoral degree in Higher Education Policy and Planning from the University of Maryland at College Park (1990), a M.Ed. from Loyola College, a B.S. from Towson University. She is the former Director of Admissions at Loyola College in Baltimore and the former Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College.) She was a classroom teacher in Baltimore for five years. For 18 years she worked as a Staff Consultant to the College Board, makers of the SAT. She conducted hundreds of teacher and counselor in-service training workshops on the topic of the PSAT and SAT.

During the past 20 years, she has maintained a private practice in Howard County, Maryland, specializing in SAT preparation, college placement, and career counseling. She has served as an education consultant and workshop presenter to hundreds of parent groups, school administrators and teachers throughout the entire Middle Atlantic region.

Some Comments about Dr. Martha Gagnon:

“I have known Martha Gagnon for more than 20 years and consider her professionally competent and conscientious. She displays energy, enthusiasm and good judgement. People making college and career decisions have turned to Martha for guidance and have found a counselor with patience, experience, and a sincere desire to help.”

Rev. Joseph A. Sellinger, S.J. President, Loyola College (1990)

“Martha Gagnon demonstrates a high level of professional competence, and she performs her work with impressive confidence and style. She is intelligent, humanly sensitive and deeply committed to her work as a tutor and counselor.”

Dr. Ralph C. John, President Emeritus, Western Maryland College (1990)

“Martha Gagnon’s extensive experience in college admissions combined with her deep personal interest in attaining the best possible opportunity for each student places her at the top of the list of college admissions consultants. I find her completely dependable, involved and effective.”

Rev. James McAndrews, S.J. former president Loyola High School

“Martha Gagnon was a crucial factor in getting my son into Wharton (School of Business-University of Pennsylvania). His sessions with her boosted his knowledge and his confidence, allowing him to increase his SAT scores dramatically, while securing a high score on his first SAT II Writing exam. This was a worthwhile investment.”

Ms. Patricia Fiori, Charles Town, West Virginia

“Dr. Martha Gagnon was a member of The College Board staff for 18 years, updating students, parents, educators on preparing for the PSAT and SAT. Year after year she received top ratings for her knowledge and teaching style. She has an excellent perspective combining theory and practice.”

John A. Diamond Jr., former Director of Higher Education, The College Board, Dean,Alvernia College, Pennsylvania

“Dr. Gagnon has been instrumental in helping our children find a college that matched their varying interests. Without Dr. Gagnon’s assistance and knowledge, we would have been lost in the process. Thank you, Dr. Gagnon, for creating order out of chaos.”

Mr. Chris Kline, Ijamsville, Maryland

“Dr. Gagnon is a wonderful teacher. She helps you learn material you have trouble understanding. I think the best thing she helped me with was believing in myself.”

Mr. Patrick Davis, Student, Ellicott City, Maryland

“I have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Gagnon as both a high school principal and parent. She provided SAT preparation to both of my sons. After being impressed by the job she did with my oldest, I had her guide my youngest, as he became a National Merit Commended and National Achievement finalist. She is highly competent and professional with students and parents. She has provided SAT courses to groups of Oakland Mills High School students and has been a factor in several becoming Merit finalists. She is truly a results oriented counselor.”

Mr. Marshall Peterson, Principal, Oakland Mills High School

“Dr. Gagnon has been conducting SAT prep classes at our high school for several years. Not only has her instruction been instrumental in improving our students’ scores, but her generosity in donating a portion of each student’s fee to our PTSA has made her program one of our most lucrative fund raisers.”

Ms. Lynne Sepich, Volunteer, Mt. Hebron HS PTSA

“Our daughter is a special needs student who had a goal of attending college. Dr. Gagnon helped her improve her score on the SAT by 300 points and provided information that allowed our daughter to take the SAT with extended time. Not only did she get into the college of her choice, she was also awarded a scholarship in part due to her SAT scores.”

Ms. Kathleen Anderson, Ellicott City, Maryland

“Dr. Gagnon has conducted our SAT prep classes for more than a decade and the feedback that I’ve received from students and parents has been very positive. The course is always conducted in a very professional manner and students frequently comment very favorably as to their satisfaction with the instruction.

Mr. Jack Murtaugh, Director of Counseling, Calvert Hall College, Towson, Maryland

“I have had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Gagnon since I was an undergraduate at Loyola College. As the admissions director, she was very helpful and professional. Now that I have had the opportunity to work with her in my position as Director of Guidance, I am glad that she was the one who helped me 20 years ago. Dr. Gagnon has provided excellent service to my students. Not only has she taught SAT prep courses at our school, but she has also conducted very successful workshops for parents on analyzing the PSAT and SAT. She has been an invaluable resource.”

Mr. David Glenn, Howard High School, Ellicott City, MD

“Not only did Dr. Gagnon analyze and identify our son’s relevant academic strengths and weaknesses, she most aptly developed a personalized stystem of study for the SAT that ensured positive results. While honing our son’s essay writing skills in preparation for the SAT II exam, she seeded the concentration and confidence necessary for a successful testing experience. We greatly appreciate her efforts and results and have already engaged her services for our daughter.

Dr. and Mrs. Lawrence S. Schieken, Columbia, Maryland

“Dr. Gagnon has provided an invaluable service to Glenelg’s students and parents for many years. Our community has come to rely on her to deliver the latest information and trends in SAT’s. Although they can’t all raise their scores by 400 points (as did one young man 2 years ago), the students who participate in her classes are all well served by her competence!”

Ms. Ruth Drucker, Guidance, Glenelg High School, Glenelg, Maryland

“For the last four years, Dr. Martha Gagnon has facilitated our SAT review for a group of high achieving students in their sophomore year. Her vast knowledge as an educator, administrator, counselor and consultant came together to focus all her expertise and talents on developing the skills of our students. Her desire, dedication, and nurturing presence contributed to our students’ phenomenal gains on their PSAT and SAT. In addition, her test interpretation skills have been a great benefit to our staff and aided them in the revision of our curriculum. Dr. Gagnon genuinely cares about the impact of her program, as evidenced by her dependable follow up.”

Ms. Susan MacPherson, Guidance Director, St. Elizabeth H.S., Wilmington, Delaware


May my son or daughter take just the Reading/Writing-language part, or just the Math part of the course?

Yes. The tuition is adjusted a little,  but you still pay the full fee for materials as well as the registration fee.

When should my student take the PSAT? SAT? ACT?

Your high school counselor will clarify the school’s policy. If not, consider this traditional schedule: Typically, high school sophomores and juniors take the PSAT in October. In 2020, the PSAT was offered in October in many schools. In other schools (because of Covid), the test was postponed until January 2021. Check with you high school to find out when it will be giving the PSAT to students. Ask if the test will also be given to sophomores or freshmen, if you are interested in taking while you are in grades 9 or 10. Juniors take the SAT in the spring and again in the fall of their senior year. There is no limit to the number of times a student may take the SAT. Students have some flexibility with regard to reporting their scores to colleges. Check with each college’s admission office for the policy.

The SAT administration dates: usually the last Saturday in August, the first Saturdays in October,  November, December, usually either a March or April Saturday, first Saturday in May and June. See website for exact dates and registration procedure.

The Question and Answer Report (an excellent resource to purchase) is only sold for the October, March and May SAT administrations. It provides the actual questions as well as the student’s answers and the correct answers with explanations. A different report (Answer Report) is sold on the other SAT test dates, but it does not include the actual questions.

The ACT administration dates: usually early September, late October, early December, February, April, June and mid-July. The TIR (Test Information Release) is basically the Q and A booklet and is available to purchase for the December, April and June ACT. See ACT web site for exact dates and registration procedure.


Does this course prepare my student for the ACT?

Yes! Our courses help students prepare for all 3 exams: the ACT, SAT and the PSAT. In fact, just ONE course helps students develop the skills so they can then choose which test they like better (or try one of each to see which on they feel more comfortable with and which one yields scores that represent them better.)  Most colleges will accept either the SAT or the ACT.

What is the difference between the SAT and the ACT?

Each is an admission test that may be required or accepted by colleges as part of the admission process.  Good news: most colleges accept either test!

The SAT was significantly revised in 2015 so now we find that the skills the SAT is measuring are about the same skills being measured by the ACT. The formats are a little different, but not a lot. The SAT has 4 sections: Reading, Writing/Language, Math (calculator allowed), Math (calculator NOT allowed). Scores for SAT range from 200-800 for 2 major categories: Reading/Writing and Math. Colleges consider the 2 sub-scores separately. They do not average them or add them together.  The optional written essay on the SAT has been DISCONTINUED.   Some colleges Super Score and will consider sub-scores from one test date to another. Check with your college.

The ACT has 4 sections: Reading, English, Math, and Science. Each section is scored between 1-36 and the Composite score is the average of the scores for the 4 sections. Colleges consider the Composite Score and do not Super Score sub-scores from one test date to another. There is an optional essay but most colleges do not require it.  Check with your college. The ACT is accepted by all colleges where the SAT is accepted.

Do you recommend group classes or private tutoring for students with disabilities?

That depends on the type and extent of the disability. Students with mild learning disabilities should benefit from the either our School-based class or our Semi-private Tutorial (possibly supplemented with some private tutoring).

Students with more pronounced learning disabilities should consider private tutoring. Dr. Gagnon and her associates have been teaching students with many types of physical and learning disabilities for over 20+ years. If your student has a special concern, please call Dr. Gagnon to discuss your options.

The PSAT, SAT and ACT offer special testing arrangements for students with special needs. If you believe your child may need some type of accommodation, please contact Dr. Gagnon for more details about how to apply for the accommodations. It can be a lengthy process, so allow sufficient time for possible testing, filing the application and receiving a decision from the test developers (several months before the exam the student plans to take.)

Does this course prepare my student for the SAT (Subject Tests)?

The College Board recently announced that they will soon be discontinuing the SAT SUBJECT TESTS sometime in 2021. Please check with the colleges you plan to apply to and inquire as to whether or not you might still need to take them before they are discontinued.

How will I know which exams my student has to take?

Each college has different requirements. Contact the admissions office of the college to which your son or daughter plans to apply. It is necessary to confirm the exam policy by speaking with someone directly.

Many colleges require the only SAT results.  Most will accept either the CURRENT SAT or the REDESIGNED SAT scores.

Some also require one or more SAT Subject tests, in addition to the SAT.

Please see the Question & Answer regarding the CURRENT versus the REDESIGNED SAT for recommendations for students graduating in 2016, 2017, 2018 and beyond.

What is the difference between the SAT and SAT (Subject Tests)?

The SAT  is an admission test required by many colleges as part of the application process. It measures reading, writing-language and math skills. There is an optional essay (soon to be discontinued in 2021) . Check with the colleges where you want to apply to see if they require the written essay part of the SAT before it is discontinued. The College Board recently announced that it will also soon be discontinuing to give the Subject Tests. Check with the colleges you want to apply to and see if you need to take any Subject tests before they are discontinued in 2021.

Do you recommend a group course or private tutoring?

Most students begin with the group course and supplement with semi-private or private tutoring for the types of questions that give them the most difficulty. Students with moderate to severe learning disabilities may benefit more from private tutoring.

Does this course prepare my student for the PSAT or just the SAT, or just the ACT or are there separate courses to prepare for each of these tests?

The course helps student prepare for ALL 3 exams: PSAT, SAT and ACT. No need to take 3 separate courses!

What is the difference between the PSAT and the SAT?

The PSAT is the practice exam designed to help students become acquainted with most of the types of questions included on the SAT. It is used by the National Merit Corporation as the qualifying exam for their national scholarship (the junior year PSAT score is the qualifying examination score). The organization that offers the PSAT does not send PSAT scores to colleges, so this test offers students a safe way to practice for the actual SAT which may later be sent to colleges as part of the application process. Scores for (PSAT/NMSQT) Reading/Writing and Math range from 160-760.

The PSAT includes the same types of questions that are on the SAT, but it does not include a written essay.  The SAT has an essay optional section.  Some students will have to write the essay if the colleges to which they want to apply require it.  The essay will be the last section of the SAT. Scores for the Reading/Writing and Math range from 200-800.

Will this course help my son/daughter do better on the SAT, PSAT or ACT?

That depends. Certainly, it is designed to improve scores, however, the student must put forth some effort doing follow-up practice. It’s logical to assume that in most cases, if a student practices a little after the course is over, then the scores should improve a little. Similarly, if a student practices a moderate amount, scores should moderately improve. Likewise, if a student practices a lot, the scores could improve a lot, depending upon the original scores.