What does implication mean? An exploration of undergraduates’ vocabulary size and academic achievement

University students need a rich vocabulary to read and understand texts for their degree courses. Specifically, they need to know around 98% of the words in a text in order to understand it (Schmitt  et al, 2011). However, estimates of receptive undergraduates’ vocabulary sizes from previous research have varied immensely from 215,000 words (Hartman, 1946) to 11,000 (Treffers-Daller & Milton, 2013).  Studies have also shown there is a relationship between vocabulary sizes and academic achievement (e.g. Bleses et al, 2016).

Given the range of vocabulary size estimates and the importance of vocabulary in student learning, this empirical study investigated the average receptive vocabulary size of English-speaking undergraduate students (N= 389) using a test devised from dictionary sampling methods (Goulden et al, 1990).  It also examined whether there is a link between vocabulary sizes and academic achievement, measured by expected final degree classifications.

The data revealed that undergraduates do not have a ‘large’ vocabulary size, but this does not appear to hinder achievement. This paper will discuss the findings from the study and their implications for both practitioners and students.