Music and Increased Performance on Standardized Academic Tests

Students taking a testIt has been suggested that students engaged in musical activities out-perform students who are not musically engaged when it comes to standardized tests.  Strong evidence for this was provided by a study that was carried out in three phases over the course of nearly 20 years.  Each phase involved administering the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) to over 5000 fifth-graders; almost 25% of the students were participating in the instrumental music program at the time of the study.  These students performed better in all areas of the standardized test relative to students who were not enrolled in the music program.  Furthermore, results showed that the longer a student had been in the music program, the higher his/her test score was in comparison to students not in the program.

The same effect can occur among high school students.  In 1996, students who had been involved in musical performance at some point in their lives scored higher than the national average in both the math and verbal sections of the SAT.

Of course, we cannot ignore the familiar question that plagues all research: causality or correlation?  Causality, of course, presumes that one factor results in (or causes) another, while a correlation indicates a relationship between two factors (when one factor changes, the other factor also changes in a predictable way).  Does musical participation lead to increased test performance, or is it the other way around?  Or is there another third variable that influences both?  It is often hard to differentiate between causation and correlation, and researchers do not always acknowledge the dichotomy.  As discerning learners and knowledge-seekers, it is therefore our responsibility to keep the distinction in mind.

It should also be noted that this blog post does not assume that standardized test performance necessarily reflects overall intelligence, as there are, after all, many different types of intelligence.  The connection between music and other measures of intelligence will be the topic of future blog entries.  A new entry is added each Friday, courtesy of Flatts & Sharpe, provider of music lessons for children and adults in Chicago.


Yoon, J. N., 2000, Masters Thesis: Music in the classroom: Its influence on children’s brain development, academic performance, and practical life skills.

Research Report: Justify Your Program

~ by flattsandsharpe on March 23, 2012.

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