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National Latin Exam Musings #2

It is National Latin Exam time again! This test was given in 2013 in the United States as well as in the following countries: Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Taiwan, United Kingdom, Zimbabwe, and, for the first time, in Indonesia, Netherlands, Philippines, and Turkey (

2,670 homeschooled students in 572 homeschools took the test—the fastest growing group of the population!

The exam is an hour-long multiple-choice test that has questions on grammar (usually about twenty questions), geography (one to two questions), mythology (one to two questions), history (one to two questions), culture (one to two questions), derivatives (one to two questions), Roman numerals (usually one question), Latin phrases and oral Latin (one to two questions), and, finally, ten questions about a reading passage which students have not seen before.

If your student is taking the National Latin Exam, here are a few tips:

1) Make sure your student is acquainted with maps of the Roman Empire and of ancient Italy. I like the maps from Your student needs to know the major cities such as Rome, Pompeii, Brundisium, and Ostia as well as the Alps and Apennine Mountains, and seas/rivers.

2) Review Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, Bulfinch’s Mythology, or D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. Bulfinch’s Mythology has a free online version (

3) If your student is in Latin III or higher, he/she should review the lives of the Roman writers such as Vergil, Caesar, Pliny (elder and younger), and Cicero.

4) Your student should study Roman culture. My favorite book concerning culture is free online:

5) Each level has a reading passage and multiple-choice questions. Because the test is an hour long, students do not have time to translate the passage exactly. They need to use the multiple guess questions, the glossed words, and the title to help them. The questions cite the line numbers whence the answer is found. Students can use the choices from the questions to figure out what the passage says. (They need to know how to translate Latin to do this; however, good test taking comes into play here.)

6) The grammar questions will never have incorrect Latin. So, if you have choices such as A) senatores B) senatorum C) senatoris D) senatoribus for a question, then you know that this noun must be 3rd Declension. This helps greatly when you do not know the vocabulary!

7) Have your student take the practice tests from As they do, they should notice that there are stock questions. There will be a question about the verb sum and a question about dative with verbs of giving, showing, and telling (in previous years of the test, I have noticed dedit quite a bit).

8) Last year, when writing my annual National Latin Exam article, I posted some common phrases in Latin ( This year, here are some Roman cultural terms:

paterfamilias - head of household
materfamilias - female head of household
potestas - father’s power of life and death over children

praenomen - first name, not very many of these, related to attributes e.g. Postumus, Lucius, Sextus
nomen - ended in –ius; family name; Iulius, Octavius, Vergilius
Women - got feminine form of father’s nomen; took husband’s nomen later
cognomen - family or branch of gens; nickname, physical traits (e.g., Barbatus, Albus, Claudus, Benignus, Naso, Ventro)

bulla - child’s locket to ward off evil spirits
genius/juno - child’s guardian spirit
liberi - children
susceptio - father picks up child to show he accepts him
dies lustricus - day of naming
crepundia - baby rattle; thought to ward off evil spirits
ludus litterarius - school to learn “litterae” letters and numbers
ludus grammaticus - grammar and literature, Greek
rhetoric - learn how to speak well
paedagogus - tutor, took child to and from school, study in Athens after school, or do an apprenticeship

usus - common law marriage; husband and wife had to live together for a year without being absent from each other three nights in succession
coemptio - fictitious sale of wife to husband
confarreatio - elaborate patrician ceremony
tunica recta - wedding dress
flammeum - bright orange veil
Quando tu Gaius, ego Gaia - vows
mustaceum - wedding cake
deduction - leading of the wife to the husband’s house
hymenaeus - wedding hymn
versus Fescennini - poems with coarse jests meant to keep the gods from getting jealous
nodus Herculaneus - knot of Hercules

CLOTHINGtoga virilis
- formal dress of Roman male citizen

toga praetexta - bordered; worn by young boys, magistrates and priests
toga candida - made whiter by chalk; worn by candidates for office
toga picta - crimson and worn by generals in triumphal procession
toga pulla - dingy toga worn by person in mourning or threatened with some calamity—usually financial
soleae - sandals
caligulae - little boots
calcei - shoes
petasus - wide-brimmed traveling hat
stola - woman’s dress
palla - cloak

Nota Bene: This test, while it can help your student, will not hurt your student. It is a great exercise in Latin, in test-taking skills and in study skills. It behooves your student to do well for many reasons, such as the satisfaction of a job well done and a validation for their Latin curriculum for college. Also, as a senior, students who do well are able to apply for a scholarship.

For additional information and tips related to the National Latin Exam read another of Kathy's articles. Click here.

TIERS: challenge
CATEGORIES: Articles, Classical Christian Education, Dialectic Stage (ages 12 to 14), Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

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