You’ve probably heard many people say that Latin is a dead language. So why do we bother teaching it anymore?

Well, as it turns out, “dead” is a matter of perspective. Sure, it may not help you when you travel (unless you’re heading to a convention of Latin speakers), and it isn’t really spoken anywhere anymore outside the Vatican. But that doesn’t mean it is useless.

In fact, it might even be useful if you're looking at how to improve SAT scores.

Learning Latin lets you learn more about ancient Roman culture, the foundation of Western civilization, and means that you can read some of the foundational texts of our society in their original language. Latin challenges you to think critically, and it even can help you better understand English grammar and structure. If you're interested in learning more about Latin, Brainscape's Latin flashcards are the best place to start. Check them out.

Latin definitely still serves a purpose in our education, but can it actually help improve your SAT score? As it turns out, the answer is yes – but there may be better ways to use your SAT prep time than learning the whole Latin language.

[See also: Brainscape's adaptive SAT Prep Flashcards, the most effective way to study on the web or on your mobile phone]

How to improve SAT scores using Latin roots

According to a series of studies of SAT scores, students of Latin consistently score significantly better than the average across all sections of the SAT, even better than students learning French, Spanish, German, or Hebrew. So why does learning Latin roots help your SAT score?

Latin roots help boost your SAT vocab score

Latin language roots could improve sat scores
Wondering how to improve SAT scores? Learning Latin roots can help. 

Vocabulary may no longer serve as big of a role in determining your SAT score as it once did, but as anyone will tell you, vocab skills still have a large impact on your overall SAT performance. One of the best ways to boost your SAT vocab knowledge in addition to drilling flashcards is to learn the Latin roots of the words.

About 60% of all English words derive from Latin. That means that when you know Latin, you automatically increase your English vocab as well, especially when it comes to those tricky, less common words that appear on the SAT test.

For example, “perfidious,” one of the 100 most common words to appear on the SAT, means treacherous or deceitful. In English, it isn’t a word we use very often. If you know Latin, though, the meaning is pretty clear. Perfidious comes from the common Latin word perfidiosus, that means faithless or dishonest. One glance at the English word pretty easily jogs your memory of the Latin.

Even when the word differs quite a bit in English from its original Latin form, Latin roots can make figuring out the English meaning much easier. Take the word “soliloquy,” for example. It has two Latin roots: “sol” from “solus” or alone and “loqu” from “loquor” or to speak. If you combine the two and get “speak alone,” it should be pretty easy to figure out the correct answer in a question involving the word, since it refers to a speech in literature where the speaker is talking to himself, or “speaking alone.”

Most SAT prep books have a short crash course on Latin roots for good reason. They make it much easier to figure out the meaning of other words. If you have studied Latin for over a year, these roots come naturally—much more naturally than they would to someone skimming them during SAT prep. If you learn Latin roots for SAT reasons, you'll also improve your English—both grammar and vocab.

Latin helps improve cognitive skills

All of the crossover between Latin and English vocabulary makes it clear why Latin could help your verbal score, but that doesn’t explain why learning Latin could improve your overall score. Here is the reason: studying Latin improves your overall cognitive skills.

That’s not to say Latin automatically makes you smarter, but it does help improve the way you think and go about solving complex problems. That’s because, as you already know if you are a Latin student, Latin is hard. There are so many rules in Latin that when you are translating a sentence, you are forced to interpret and apply those rules logically in order to get the correct meaning. Only a student who has mastered abstract thinking and learned the value of hard work will make it past the first level of Latin.

By sticking with Latin, you are training your brain to think more carefully and analytically, skills that are vital to success on the SAT. In fact, mastering Latin makes you a more detail-oriented and methodical test-taker, which is bound to help you do better on the SAT (which is known to have some tricky questions up its sleeve).

[Caveat: This benefit may be experienced by those learning any language, not just Latin. Check out Brainscape's adaptive foreign language flashcards to learn any of them faster and more efficiently from a computer or mobile phone!]

Latin serves the greater goal of getting into college

Learn latin roots for SAT and college admissions

So does Latin help your SAT score? Absolutely. But even if you don’t see a noticeable boost in your SAT score from taking on Latin, it’s still worth taking it as a high school student.

You probably are working on improving your SAT score for one major reason: to get into a good college. Here’s a not-so-well-kept secret: college admissions officers love to see Latin studies on your transcripts. Especially those at elite universities.

According to William Fitzsimmons, Harvard University’s dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid, in an interview with Bloomberg Business, studying Latin really makes you stand out as a candidate for admission into any college—even the most competitive Ivy League and state universities.

[Here are 22 more tips that every future college student should know]

In large part, that’s because studying Latin makes you unique. Few students take Latin seriously, so more than a year of Latin studies makes you more desirable to colleges everywhere.

Plus, colleges know that Latin challenges students to think more critically and work harder than other languages. This is evidence that you will excel in their programs, which is what all admissions officers are ultimately trying to decide. Choosing Latin also shows that you are willing to tackle unique learning opportunities and have more creativity than similar candidates who chose not to study Latin. All other things being equal, Latin can be the deciding factor that will get you into your dream school.

Prepare effectively for the SAT

If you’re looking for looking for a subject that will make your SAT skills top-notch, Latin is a great choice. If you’re looking for a way to stand out as a college applicant, Latin is an even better choice.

But most importantly, Latin can help you develop the critical thinking skills that help you succeed once you do get into college. If you are just starting out learning Latin, you can boost your knowledge with Brainscape’s complete Latin language flashcards. Even if you have a few years of Latin under your belt, the confidence-based repetition model will help you master Latin easier than just about any other method.

Looking for more information on how to improve your SAT scores? Brainscape has flashcards for brushing up your Latin .... but we can also help with the SAT as well.

In fact, it's likely that just extensively studying English vocabulary will be as helpful or more for your SAT verbal scores, and likely to be more applicable to your communication skills for the rest of your life.

To really improve your SAT verbal and math skills, check out Brainscape's SAT Prep flashcards, and prepare to enter the exam with full confidence that you've learned as effectively as possibly.