Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS)

Does your student score at the top of the class on most standardized tests? Earning such high scores feels excellent, but it is also one indicator that your student may have already mastered the curriculum for their grade and needs more challenging material. Just how much more challenging? BESTS can help you figure it out.

About the Program

Every child deserves to learn something new every day, including the ones that ace every test. It's often the case that bright students are ready to learn things beyond the level of the grade they are in -- but how can you tell what level would be more appropriate for a particular student? The Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) uses above-level testing to uncover information about a student's academic abilities and learning needs, helping parents and teachers discover what that student is ready to learn. Students anywhere in the United States are welcome to test through BESTS.

"Above-level testing" is exactly what it sounds like: Give a younger student a test that was developed for older students.

Academically talented students tend to perform extremely well on tests developed for their own age group. They do so well that they get everything (or almost everything) right, and we don’t really know what the extent of their talents might be. Psychologists call this "hitting the ceiling" of the test. An above-level test, one that is developed for older students, raises the ceiling for that talented student and allows them to show the full extent of what they know - and what they don't yet know. In other words, above-level testing reveals what the student is ready to start learning.

Knowing how students performed on an above-level test helps us give students, their families, and their educators better advice about the kinds of educational options the students might need. For example, does this student need educational enrichment? Would that student benefit from moving up a grade level or two in math? Would another student benefit from grade-skipping? The Belin-Blank Center has developed reports to help educators and parents understand the student’s above-level test scores and relate them to appropriately challenging educational options. In just one or two hours of testing, we are able to get important information about the student’s academic abilities, which allows us to make good recommendations about the types of educational challenges the student needs.

Above-level testing has other benefits, as well! The results can help parents and teachers advocate for the student, develop a course plan, or differentiate the curriculum in the classroom. As an added bonus, those who score highly on an above-level test through BESTS may receive an invitation to be honored at the Belin-Blank Center's annual Recognition Ceremony!

BESTS is available to students in grades 4-9 who have scored at the 95th percentile or higher in at least one subject of their grade-level standardized tests, such as Iowa Assessments. Occasionally, third graders meeting the criteria may also test. For questions about eligibility, contact

4th - 6th Grade

Eligible 4th-6th-grade students can take I-Excel, an online test designed for 8th graders. Teachers can arrange to test a group of four or more students at once in their own school. Alternatively, parents can arrange to test their child individually at a location of their choosing -- including the Belin-Blank Center on our special June test date.

After the test, we provide an extensive interpretation of scores allowing teachers and parents to make data-driven decisions and differentiate for their students through curricular intervention and enrichment. Iowa students who score highly on I-Excel may be eligible to take courses online through the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA), which provides above-level coursework online without a course fee.

Teacher-Arranged Testing

Teachers can arrange to test a group of four or more students at once from the convenience of their own school. Here are the major logistics you'll need to know! If you have additional questions, please contact us at


Teachers schedule a group testing session at their own school, during a time that is convenient for them and their students.


Testing dates are arranged with the Belin-Blank Center. A few blackout dates apply. We recommend planning five to six weeks or more before you'd like to test.


The fee for in-school testing is $45 each ($22 for students who qualify for Free/Reduced-Cost Lunch). Some sites may have their own specialized pricing in cooperation with the Belin-Blank Center. Fees are payable to the Belin-Blank Center and can be made by the parent or school via individual checks, individual credit cards, or a check or PO from the school.

Time Commitment

Testing takes approximately 2.5 hours but may be split over two days, shortening the amount of uninterrupted time needed.

Parent-Arranged Testing

Parents can arrange to test children individually, at a time and place of their choosing. Here are the major logistics you'll need to know! If you have additional questions, please contact us at


Parents schedule an individual testing session at a location of their choosing, often at a school or testing center.

Test Proctors

When arranging for testing, parents are responsible for finding a licensed educator who is willing to proctor the test. Acceptable proctors include full-time teachers, tutors, and college professors. The proctor must be a college graduate and cannot be a relative. To initiate these arrangements, parents must submit a request form to their designated proctor.


Testing dates are arranged with the Belin-Blank Center, and a few blackout dates apply. We recommend planning three weeks or more before you'd like to test.


The fee for individual testing is $90 per student ($45 for students who qualify for Free/Reduced-Cost Lunch). If the reduced fee for qualifying students is still too great a financial burden, the Belin-Blank Center will work with the family to make a financial arrangement that allows the student to participate. Fees are payable to the Belin-Blank Center and can be paid via credit card.

Time Commitment

Testing takes approximately 2.5 hours but may be split over two days, shortening the amount of uninterrupted time needed.

How to Register

  1. Be sure to read through all BESTS policies.
  2. Set up your test date and submit payment:
    • If you're a teacher setting up a test date, email
    • If you’re a parent who would like to arrange testing, submit a request form to your designated proctor. If the proctor agrees, the proctor will set up the test date. Belin-Blank Center staff members will provide the proctor with instructions for the testing.
    • If your child's teacher set up a test date, they will send you a registration link.
  3. Keep an eye on your inbox for emails from us with all the logistical details you'll need. Be sure to check your spam folder if you're not seeing any communication from us.

7th - 9th Grade

Eligible 7th-9th-grade students can take the ACT, a test designed for college-bound high school students. Typically, parents register their child and the test occurs at a national ACT testing site.

ACT is prioritizing testing the 11th and 12th graders who have been unable to test due to COVID-19 delays, and they have announced they will not allow talent search organizations like ours to register 7th-9th graders for the ACT for the 2020-21 school year. We hope to be able to offer our usual streamlined registration again in the fall, but we do not yet have confirmation from ACT that this will be possible.

In the meantime, if your child is 13 or older, you can register for the test directly through ACT. Please note that space is particularly limited for ACT test dates this year, and registrations may be changed or canceled at ACT's sole discretion.

If you register to test through ACT, you can also purchase a helpful report through our IDEAL Solutions website. Once you receive your child's ACT scores, you can enter the test scores and receive the Belin-Blank Center's complete test score interpretation.

If you would like to be notified in the fall when we know whether we will have ACT registration available, please email us at


The ACT is a secure test and only available through national testing dates established by ACT. Locations are available across the United States. To find a location convenient for you, use ACT's Test Center Locator.

Time Commitment

Testing takes approximately three hours to complete. Special accommodations are available for eligible students.

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