Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Foreign Language Learning and SAT Verbal Scores Revisited

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Foreign Language Learning and SAT Verbal Scores Revisited

Article excerpt


The purpose of the study was to investigate the relationship between foreign language learning and verbal ability in English as measured by the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) Reasoning Test. Comparing foreign language students to nonforeign language students in this study, the effect of taking a foreign language on SAT verbal performance differed depending on how a student scored on the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) verbal subtest. Students with lower PSAT verbal scores had the greatest benefit from taking a foreign language, while students with higher PSAT verbal scores had smaller benefits. At the same time, within the range of possible PSAT verbal scores, students who took a foreign language outperformed students who did not. When the focus was on the language taken and the highest level attained by the end of junior year, the main effects for both foreign language taken and highest level were statistically significant though their partial eta squared measures suggested they had relatively low effect sizes. Pairwise comparisons indicated that outcomes for students taking Spanish were somewhat less than those for students taking Latin and German, and that students who took level III of their foreign language by the end of their junior year outperformed those who reached only levels I or II.

Key words: benefits of foreign language learning, foreign language acquisition, foreign language study, scores on standardized tests of English proficiency

Language: Relevant to all languages


Foreign language teachers maintain that language study has a positive effect on academic performance in general and also may be related to increased scores on standardized tests of English in particular.1 Data from Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) from the College Board show a positive relationship between years spent studying various high school subjects (including foreign languages) and SAT verbal scores, because SAT verbal scores are higher for those students who take more advanced courses. The highest SAT verbal scores of any of the subject areas are from students who have studied foreign languages for three or more years.2

Related Research

The positive relationship between high school foreign language study and SAT verbal scores, which is the focus of this study, has been investigated by Eddy (1981) and Cooper (1987) in an effort to answer the questions: Do brighter students naturally attain higher scores? Does studying a foreign language have added value?3

Eddy (1981) collected data from several measures of verbal ability to use as covariates for a sample of students from three urban high schools. These measures included students' scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Cognitive Abilities Test, which are standardized tests often used to measure students' ability in English before high school. Using regression analysis, Eddy (1981) reported the following results: First, when verbal ability was controlled, students who studied foreign languages for longer periods of time performed better on various SAT subtests and on the SAT as a whole than students who had taken fewer foreign language courses. Second, the study of two foreign languages had no significant effect on SAT scores, unless the length of study was also considered. Third, the particular language studied had no effect. And fourth, there was some evidence that higher grades in foreign language courses were related to higher SAT scores, especially in the reading and vocabulary sections of the SAT.

Cooper (1987) conducted another study on SAT scores. This study involved 1,778 students from a large metropolitan area in the southeastern United States. Of these students, 445 had not studied a foreign language in high school, while 1,333 had taken at least one year of French, German, Latin, or Spanish. All students in the sample had taken the SAT during high school and the California Achievement Test (CAT) during their seventh grade year. …

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