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Going Classical with the National Latin and Mythology Exams

By Joyce McPherson
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #91, 2009.

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Joyce McPherson


The Latin language and classical studies are making a comeback, and three national exams are available to homeschoolers who want to encourage the pursuit of the Classics. For students in third through ninth grades the National Mythology Exam tests knowledge in Greek and Roman myths. For students in first through sixth year Latin (traditionally taken during seventh through twelfth grade of school), the National Latin Exam gives students the chance to earn certificates as well as silver and gold medals. There is also a new Exploratory Latin Exam for students in third through sixth grades of school. Over the years our children have benefitted from these tests, not only in rewarding them for their work in homeschool, but also in teaching them how to prepare for and take standardized exams.

I was blessed with a terrific teacher for a single year of Latin in high school. I then went to college and forgot most of what I had learned. When I started homeschooling I was intrigued by the Classical Christian model. In those days, there were few Latin curricula, especially curricula marketed to elementary-age homeschoolers. I began with a very simple program that taught a few paradigms and a lot of basic vocabulary. I learned alongside my students—literally turning the page each day to see what we would learn next. We made flash cards for vocabulary and inched through the curriculum. If any group could demonstrate that ten minutes of study a day could add up to something, it was our class!

As I was researching Latin resources I came upon the American Classical League and the National Mythology Exam. One of my elementary-age children especially enjoyed mythology and I asked her if she would like to try it. She took the exam and realized that she had never learned how to fill in the circles on a test form with multiple-choice questions. (My husband laughingly pointed out that this is something homeschoolers need to learn.) My daughter enjoyed the exam so much that she took the exam every year thereafter until she was too old. Her little brothers also participated. It made our visits to art museums very lively as everyone tried to remember the details of the various myths portrayed in art. They also pounced on allusions to mythology in literature.

We soon added the National Latin Exam. The Latin Exam begins with an introductory level which suited our slow-motion Latin. Once we got the hang of it, the test provided a goal for us to reach each year. (We took the level one and two exams two years each because we advanced so slowly.) We finished one curriculum and started over with a new high school level curriculum when our oldest student entered ninth grade. We found a great benefit in going over all the basics again. We continued taking the Latin exam each year, steadily moving up to higher levels. By the time my first Latin class graduated from high school, we had our second and third classes started, and I have not stopped learning Latin yet. Along the way the American Classical League exams have been a rewarding part of our homeschool experience.

So how can you participate? Both exams allow for homeschool participation, though the exams are more cost-effective if taken as a group. This would be a good opportunity for a co-op or group of families to work together. Also, for those who are not ready for the introductory Latin exam, a new exploratory exam in Latin for grades 3–6 is available through the same standing committee of the American Classical League, “Excellence Through Classics,” which administers the National Mythology Exam.

For the National Mythology Exam and the new Exploratory Latin Exam, you can visit www.etclassics.org for an application. Exams are $3 each with a $15 shipping and handling fee. The deadline for the mythology exam registration is the second week of January and exams are held about the last week of February through the first week of March. The basic text for the mythology exam is d’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths and Guerber’s The Myths of Greece and Rome. Each year the exam assigns topics for the final section and sub-tests, and gives a bibliography for these materials. The exam contains 30 general questions and ten questions on the assigned topic, followed by sub-tests which are only required for students in sixth grade and above. This year grades 10–12 were admitted to take these tests as well. The Exploratory Latin Exam has more flexible test dates and registration. The syllabus is sent upon registration.

The National Latin Exams are $4 for each exam plus $10 for shipping and handling. Registration is due by the second week of January and exams are to be administered about the second week of March. (Early administration is available.) Proctoring the Latin exams can be challenging because the teacher cannot be present. A neighbor or the other parent may administer the exam, and their names should be recorded on the registration form for both “exam administrator” and “principal.” Also, N.B.: When the test packet arrives, it cannot be opened by the teacher.

The National Latin Exam has forty multiple-choice questions which must be completed in forty-five minutes. The Introduction to Latin Exam covers half of a Latin I curriculum. The first through sixth year exams include grammar, comprehension, history, derivatives, mythology, culture and questions based on a short Latin passage. You can download practice exams, syllabi for the various levels, and registration forms at www.nle.org. We used the practice exams as part of our daily school (half an exam three days a week) from January to March. They are an education in themselves.

My daughter, who went on to minor in Latin in college, felt that the yearly exams gave her something to aim for in her studies. The knowledge she gained through participation in the exams gave her an advantage in many areas of study from art appreciation and English literature (where mythological allusions abound) to English composition (where Latin grammar and derivatives form the backbone of the English language.) We also learned that by studying a little every day we could make great progress and even earn gold medals.

On each certificate awarded by the American Classical League are the words: Labor omnia vincit. Indeed, effort overcomes everything.

Joyce McPherson is the creator of the online programs “Homeschool Tools” and “Shakespeare Tools,” as well as the author of a series of biographies for Greenleaf Press. With her husband, Garth, she homeschools their nine children. She can be reached through Here or at mcpclan@comcast.net.


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