Why settle for ordinary quarterly reports?

I believe that a stock's biggest factor in beating the market is to first beat the market's expectations. Leaving Wall Street's pros with puzzled expressions usually means that these companies had more in the tank than expected, and capital appreciation often follows.

Let's take a look at a few companies that humbled the prognosticators over the past few trading days.

We can start with Apollo Group (NASDAQ:APOL). The leading online educator was one of the few companies projected to grow its bottom line last week, and Apollo aced its quarterly exam. The parent company of University of Phoenix earned $1.26 a share in its latest quarter, well ahead of both the $0.85 it rang up a year ago and the $1.12 that Wall Street was targeting.

Post-secondary education remains a vibrant growth industry online. Apollo's success simply follows rivals American Public Education (NASDAQ:APEI), Strayer (NASDAQ:STRA), and Corinthian Colleges (NASDAQ:COCO) in easily surpassing market expectations in their latest quarters.

MSC Industrial Direct (NYSE:MSM) is another topper. Shares of the distributor of industrial products rose after the Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation posted a profit of $0.44 a share in its fiscal third quarter. That's a little more than half of what MSC rang up a year ago, but it's still more than the $0.38 that analysts were settling for.

Finally, we have MSCI (NYSE:MXB) making the cut. The investment indexing specialist announced net income of $0.27 a share during its latest quarter, flat with last year's showing. Wall Street? It was projecting a profit of just $0.24 a share.

So keep watching the companies that surpass expectations, since the market rewards the overachievers. That's the kind of story we look for in the Rule Breakers newsletter service. Want in? Check out a 30-day trial subscription. And come back next Monday to learn about more stocks that blew the market away.

MSC Industrial Direct is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of toppers. He owns no shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.