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.
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. 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.
Why Does Latin Help Your SAT Score?
According to a series of studies of SAT scores, students of Latin consistently scored significantly better than the average across all sections of the SAT, even better than students learning French, Spanish, German, or Hebrew. So why does Latin help your SAT score?
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. By improving your Latin, you are improving 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).
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 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. 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.
In large part, that’s because studying Latin makes you unique. Few students take Lain 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.
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 deck. 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. And check out our SAT Vocab app as well!
Do you study Latin? Let us know in the comments what benefits you’ve noticed!
Brainscape is a web & mobile education platform that
helps you learn anything faster, using cognitive science. Join the
millions of students, teachers, language learners, test-takers, and
corporate trainees who are doubling their learning results. Visit
brainscape.com or find us on the App Store