Tip 5: Tackling Translations 2

A276 – Learning Latin – Exam Technique – Tip 05


If you followed last week’s tip you’ll hopefully by now have fully marked the translation (Question 6) on the 2018 Specimen Examination Paper; and you’ll also have some double-A4 lined paper set out ready to start answering it. If not, then do go back to last week’s tip and prepare all that. It was only scheduled to take a few minutes each day so you should be able to zip on through it in a couple of half hour slots and then come back to this week’s advice to see what to do with it.


You should have found you could divide the translation into about 35 sentences, or parts of sentences. And, for each of these, you have a line ready set out across the full width of a double page of A4 lined paper. Because you’ve numbered each of these 35 or so segments of text, and you’ve numbered the corresponding lines on your answer paper, you can now start translating those 35 or so short segments of text in any order you like.


Aim to do 5, 6 or 7 of them each day this week and you’ll have them done in 5, 6 or 7 days! I’d advice tackling one and one only at a time: say, one first thing in the morning, one last thing at night, one at each mealtime in between, and perhaps one during a mid-morning and mid-afternoon break. And that’s just a couple of minutes maximum at a time. Overall that adds up to a bit more than an hour spent in total on it all. That’s quite a bit longer than you’ll have to spend on it in the actual exam. That’s fine, though – you’ll still be building up this technique, step by step, little by little, day by day. There’s still plenty time left to apply it to a few proper practice runs under exam conditions. And remember – you can translate your daily short segments of text in any order you like.


This means you can dive in an choose the easy/easier/easiest segments first and rattle through them and then, as you have to start to think more about the more challenging ones, you can afford to slow down a little and then, towards the end, you can spend all the time that’s left puzzling over the trickiest of all that you might find you’re stuck on. It is crucial to realise that this is the best way to manage your time most efficiently and effectively.


By taking the time to read through, and mark up the text, and set out the answer paper ready, you have made sure that you have got the overall sense of the whole passage (even if only vaguely so) and that will help enormously when you go back over it to write down your translation segment by segment. You’ll already have a feeling of familiarity for it. So, it is most definitely not a waste of time doing this bit of preparation properly first.


Now imagine if you forced yourself to work through the translation work by word in order. What if the very first sentence just happened to be the trickiest one in the whole passage? The chances are you might spend ages puzzling over it, make little progress, give up, move on to the rest of the passage, find that much easier, but then run out of time before you finish, and then kick yourself because you know the last bit you didn’t get to do was easy but you couldn’t get it written down. So, you’ve wasted time and lost marks. Best to tackle it segment by segment: easiest ones first and leave the hardest ones ’til last. That way you will make the very best use of the time available and so maximise your score, too.


So, what do you do with a sentence, or part of a sentence, which you’re struggling with. The answer is that it depends to an extent on what’s causing the problem.


If you know how a particular word should fit into place but you’ve simply forgotten what it means then you can pop the Latin word in with a question mark after it and then, in brackets after that, add anything about the grammar that you can:



agricolae puellas in tabernam sequuntur.

the farmers follow the girls into the/a taberna? (acc. s. f.; acc. to show motion towards after preposition ‘in’)


agricolae puellas in tabernam sequuntur.

the farmers sequuntur? (3rd pl. pres. ind. dep.; verb of motion) the girls into the inn


If you know the meaning of the word but not the grammar then you can guess:



agricolae puellas in tabernam sequuntur.

The girls followed the farmer into the inn.


Or you can make it clear what you do and don’t know:


agricolae puellas in tabernam sequuntur.

agricolae = farmer(s?) (subj./obj.?); puellas = girl(s?) (subj./obj.?) sequuntur = they follow in tabernam = into the inn


Now you can see why it is useful to have the whole of a great long line right across the double-width of two lined A4 pages if you want to respond like this in attempting to translate a sentence, or part of a sentence; it leaves you plenty of room!


Whatever you do, if you can’t work out exactly how to translate the whole of the segment you’re dealing with do not just leave it out entirely. Do give us much information as you can about the meaning and grammar of every word. And if you are really and truly wholly stuck then you must still guess! Even if you know your guess is wrong. It just might get you a mark or a half mark here or there. Examiners do love to see evidence of a real trier, of sheer determination. It brightens up there dreary marking day no end! 😉


One last reason why it’s important to do this is to think in terms of the mark allocation for each word in a translation. The Specimen Examination Paper guidelines do not make this clear. However, I would suggest that the following might well be applied:


  • simple short word like ‘et’ and ‘sed’ are likely to be awarded ½ a mark. But there are usually quite a lot of them in the whole passage. So it is vitally important not to miss even just a few out or it could make the difference of a whole grade in your final score.
  • nouns and adjectives are likely to be awarded two or three ½ marks for case, number, and meaning e.g. puellarum = of [½] the girl[½]s[½], or the girl[½]s[½]’[½]; tabernam = the inn[½] + [½] for not making it pural + [½] for making it the object of the sentence or for following the preposition ‘in’ with the sense of motion ‘into’.
  • verbs are likely to be awarded a number of ½ marks depending on how complicated a form they are in e.g. amabantur = they [½] were [½,½,½] loving [½] / they [½] love[½]d[½,½,½]  = 3rd person plural [½] imperfect [½] indicative [½] active [½] meaning [½]; amati essent = they [½] may [½] have [½] been [½] loved [½] = 3rd person singular [½] perfect [½] subjunctive [½] passive [½], meaning [½].


DO NOT try to get your head around this! It will cause you untold grief if you start trying to identify each and every ½ mark you think a word might be worth. My point in showing you this is simply to do my best to encourage you, if you are stuck in any part of the translation, to tell the examiner as much as you possibly can about the meaning and grammar of any words – that way you can hoover up the absolute maximum number of marks you possibly can.


One last word. However scary this may sound I have to say it…


You have only a month or so until the exam!


If you haven’t sorted out your revision by this stage then it’s not too late – but only just! Get cracking now. Anything and everything you do could make a real difference. Look back over all the advice you’ve been given.


If you haven’t had a good look at the Specimen Examination Paper and started thinking about how you are going to approach the exam itself on the day then, again, it’s not too late – but it soon will be! Do catch up with all the Exam Technique Tips and stay up to date with the rest that follow.


Here’s to clearing those crucial last couple of hurdles… 😊

Steven Havelin (13.05.18)