Latin Competition at Princeton

Lucas Glickman, Online Editor

Members of the HM community attended the second annual Latin competition “Certamen” at Princeton University for the first time this past Saturday. 

The competition involved multiple rounds of questions, in which teams of schools used a buzzer system to correctly answer questions about topics in their Latin studies, Dora Woodruff (11) said. 

The competition was grouped into three knowledge categories: Roman mythology, grammar, and Roman History, and students specialized in specific sections, Woodruff said.

Teams advanced by gaining points for questions answered correctly, World Languages teacher James McCaw said. The school team did not qualify for the final rounds of the competition, but competed in three rounds, the second of which they won, McCaw said.

“Certamen provided a wonderful opportunity to showcase our Latin skills and acted as a catalyst to study the language, history, and mythology of Rome even deeper,” Jacob Rosenzweig (11) said.

The school attended the competition for the first time under the guidance of McCaw, sending teams of three to four members in both the intermediate and advanced categories, Rosenzweig said. As several students had completed similar competitions in middle school and at other schools, many expressed interest in participating in Certamen, McCaw said.

“We wanted to go to see what it was like as an exploratory experience,” McCaw said.

The school’s Classics Society, a club dedicated to classical language and culture, was founded by Bradley Bennett (10) and Wilder Harwood (11) at the end of last year and has only been facilitating student participation in Latin-related activities like Certamen for the current school year, Rosenzweig said.

Students prepared for the competition both in and outside of the classroom, McCaw said.

“Students prepared out of class, but because the competition was so area specific, the classes aren’t designed solely for the Certamen,” he said.

Dedicated in-class preparation consisted of questions regarding mythology and history throughout the duration of the different levels of Latin courses, McCaw said.

Woodruff and Harwood specialized in Roman Mythology. Students collaborated more than preparing individually, Woodruff said.

“Wilder and I made a study sheet because we were both specializing in mythology, and we spent time together outside of school reading books like Edith Hamilton’s Mythology together,” Woodruff said.

The strategy to have certain students specialize in topics was not an effective strategy for the competition questions, which were very specific, Rosenzweig said.

“It was better to have a deeper understanding of one subject than basic knowledge of the rest,” he said.

Because it was the school’s first year of participation, most students did not score highly in their categories, Woodruff said.

“We didn’t know what to expect – the protocol and buzzer system was new to many of us, and the style of questions were very different from what we do in class, since there’s a lot more time pressure,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff and other participating students plan to use questions from this year’s competition as a learning experience so that they can study more effectively for next year, she said.

“We had a lot of fun and also learned a lot about Roman classics, and now we know what to prepare for next year,” Woodruff said.

To better prepare, students hope to learn more about specific dates and legislation in Roman history  and spend time getting faster at answering difficult grammatical questions, Woodruff said.

The Classics Society has further plans for the spring, including possibly hosting its own Certamen competition at the school, Harwood said.

“I know that HM at its core is a very STEM-oriented school, so the goal of going to this competition and the Classics Society in general is to broaden our perspective and reconsider the humanities,” Harwood said. “Certamen showed that the classics can have that same element of spirited competition as seen in team tests like Science Olympiad and math contests.”