Tip 4: Tackling Translations

A276 – Learning Latin – Exam Technique – Tip 04

The first thing to do when you’re tackling a translation question is to put a big cross ‘X’ in the margin on alternate lines of your answer paper.


This reminds you NOT to write on these lines. Your translation goes on the lines in between. This leaves a blank line above every line you write. This leaves room for the examiner to write in the marks awarded above each and every word you have written.

If you’re quite confident at translating you might then launch in at the beginning and just work your way on through the text. If you get stuck here and there you can simply plough on, leaving a bit of space to come back to later to have another go at it; or, if all else fails, at least have a guess.

However, if you find translating a real challenge, you may find it easier to tackle particular sentences, or parts of sentences, at a time. Normally you’d do that bit by bit, in any order, in rough; and then write it all up in the right order at the end. However, that is very time consuming in an exam. There is, instead, a far better method. BUT you DO need to practice it two or three time to get the hang of it. I’ll go through it here. You need to then apply it to the past exam papers to be sure that you are happy with it before the real exam.

The trick is to ‘mark up’ the translation on your exam question paper. This means chopping the text up into short sections that you can number. You can then set your answer paper out with corresponding numbers in the margin. This then allows you to tackle sentences (or parts of sentences) one at a time, in any order, and to be able to keep track of what you have and haven’t done as you go. That’s particularly helpful if you come back to the translation to do some checking and correcting at the end, if you have time.

What’s more is that you work across a double page in the answer booklet in the exam. The left hand page is for writing your translation of each sentence, or part of a sentence, line by line, on alternate lines. The right hand page is for you add notes or corrections to help the examiner see what you were thinking; and, hopefully, hoover up a few more marks in the process.

You therefore need to set your booklet pages out like this…


How many pages you need will depend upon how many sentences, or parts of sentences, you split your text up into. It may also seem like a horrendous waste of space and paper. But it does at least structure your approach to doing the translation as efficiently at effectively as possible under the time pressures of the exam.

Unfortunately, because of copyright restrictions, I can’t actually show you the text of the Specimen Exam Paper marked up in the way I’m about to describe. Instead you’ll have to follow my description of what’s involved, instead. So here, goes…

Put a red vertical line just after every piece of punctuation in the text except an opening quotation mark ‘ or “. Any piece of punctuation combined with a closing quotation mark counts as just one piece of punctuation: ?’ or !’ or ,’ etc.

Then go back to anything which still looks a bit long. Have you missed a piece of punctuation? If not then look for an ‘et’ or an ‘ut’ or a ‘qui’ (or any other relative pronoun) in the sentence and then add a green vertical line just before the ‘et’ or ‘ut’ or ‘qui’ (or other relative pronoun).

Finally, go back though the whole text and add a little number in a circle at the start of each sentence or part of a sentence. That means writing ‘1’ at the start of the text; ‘2’ immediately after the very first vertical line you added; ‘3’ immediately after the second vertical line you added, and so on…

Now you know how many numbers to go up to; how many lines you’ll need in your booklet, and so how many pages of your booklet you need to use.

Spend this week going through a few lines of the translation each day; marking them up with red and green vertical lines; adding numbers to the sentences or parts of sentences you identify; and setting out some double-pages of lined A4 paper while you go (sticky-tape two sheets together to give you a mock ’booklet double-page’ if you want).

If you work your way through 3-4 lines that should take you just a minute or two. Do that every day for the next week and you’ll have your text marked up and your answer paper all set out ready for what I’ll move on to do with it next time.


Steven Havelin (06.05.18)