I spent some time recently talking with Bobby Nicholson of Knoxville-based ACT test prep company Outlier’s Advantage. Bobby’s company publishes a guide called “It Pays to Prep” outlining the various merit-based scholarships available at Tennessee public and private colleges and the criteria for being considered for those awards.
When I asked Bobby if there was any one secret ingredient to boosting ACT readiness, he said without hesitation that it’s reading fiction. Students should start reading fiction intentionally in middle school with a goal of having 100 fiction books read by their junior year (the key year for the ACT test).
Here’s the entire interview:
1) How did you decide to start It Pays to Prep?
We realized that so few parents or students understand how scholarships work now. When parents were in school, they had to fill out essays and applications for different scholarships. Now, so many scholarships are guaranteed. This means that if the student has the right ACT and GPA, they are guaranteed a certain amount of scholarship money at that school. We put the scholarships in an easy-to-read format so that parents understand how they work, and students are motivated to put in the work.
2) What do you see as the primary utility of your guide?
The primary utility of It Pays to Prep! is helping families understand how much money there is available to them if they get their ACT scores up. Many families are unaware that students don’t even need to have a high ACT or GPA. For example, Maryville College gives $19,000 a year ($76,000 over four years) for a 19 on the ACT.
3) What’s the ONE thing you want families to know as they are preparing to send a child to college?
It will pay off tremendously if parents can get students reading fiction daily for at least 20 minutes by the start of middle school. Contrary to what most think, GPA is NOT a good indicator of success on the ACT. Ultimately, it is a timed test, and a student who reads twice as fast will score higher. A student who has 100 fiction novels under their belt by the time they hit their junior year will be in a great position to achieve a 28 or above. Students with less than 50 are usually going to score below a 24 no matter how good their GPA is. As unexpected as it may sound, reading fiction daily is the magic ingredient.