AP Latin - Guide for College Instructors

This guide is meant to help college instructors better understand incoming undergrads who took AP Latin in high school. Instructors and advisers can use this guide to set placements for incoming students. A large portion of this guide is devoted to promoting teaching strategies especially applicable to AP Latin students.

Dygo Tosa, The University of Texas at Austin

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What is the AP Latin exam?

High school students take the AP Latin exam, administered by CollegeBoard, at the end of an AP Latin course that prepares them to translate, identify grammar, and understand the context of specific passages from Latin literature. From 2009, the AP Latin Literature exam was dropped to focus only on selections from Vergil’s Aeneid. In 2013, passages from Caesar’s De Bello Gallico were added to the list of required readings. The exam also includes sight passages that requires students to demonstrate their working knowledge of the Latin language.

The AP Latin exam is designed to encourage colleges and universities to award credit for upper-division college courses by assessing students on their knowledge and application of Latin grammar, translation, and literature. The 2013 exam is made up of two halves: multiple choice and free-response. The multiple choice section has questions on four readings: a syllabus passage from Vergil, a syllabus passage from Caesar, a sight passage from poetry, and a sight passage from prose. The free-response section has two translation sections from the syllabus readings (Vergil and Caesar), an analytical essay (looking at a common theme in two selected passages, likely one from Vergil and one from Caesar), and two short answer sections from the syllabus readings (Vergil and Caesar).

In other words, the exam is only half multiple choice. Students must be able to write out translations and students must be able to use analytical skills which involve readings in Latin including sight passages. Students are expected to use Latin words and phrases from the passages to illustrate their arguments in the analytical essay. While many standardized tests do not directly test classroom knowledge or critical thinking skills, the AP Latin exam is designed specifically to test students on what they have learned in an AP Latin class.

The AP Latin exam underwent significant changes in 2012 with the result that the 2013 exam is quite different from the one offered from 2009-2012. Students entering college starting fall 2013 will have taken this new exam. The previous exam’s syllabus of readings from Vergil is outlined below for comparison.

What are students expected to read in an AP Latin class?

Syllabus for current exam (2013):

Vergil, Aeneid

Book 1: Lines 1-209, 418-440, 494-578

Book 2: Lines 40-56, 201-249, 268-297, 559-620

Book 4: Lines 160-218, 259-361, 659-705

Book 6: Lines 295-332, 384-425, 450-476, 847-899

Books 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 12 in Translation

Caesar, Gallic War

Book 1: Chapters 1-7

Book 4: Chapters 24-35 and the first sentence of Chapter 36 (Eodem die legati . . . venerunt.)

Book 5: Chapters 24-48

Book 6: Chapters 13-20

Books 1, 6, 7 in Translation

Syllabus for the older exam (up to 2012):

Vergil, Aeneid

Book 1: Lines 1-519

Book 2: Lines 1-56, 199-297, 469-566, and 735-804

Book 4: Lines 1-448, 642-705

Book 6: Lines 1-211, 450-476, 847-901

Book 10: Lines 420-509

Book 12: Lines 791-842, 887-952

Books 1-12 in Translation

Teachers of AP Latin courses are expected to assign all required lines in their syllabus as well as set aside time to translate sight passages in class. It is entirely up to the teacher’s preference whether they read Caesar or Vergil first.

According to CollegeBoard, recommended authors for sight translation are:

Prose: Nepos, Cicero, Livy, Pliny the Younger, Seneca the Younger, and Caesar

Verse: Ovid, Martial, Tibullus, Catullus, and Vergil

The following authors are significantly less likely to appear on the sight translation passages:

Prose: Tacitus, Sallust

Verse: Horace, Juvenal, Lucan

Teachers for AP Latin courses are free to pick any authors they wish from these lists.

When do students take AP Latin in high school?

AP Latin courses are usually offered at the 4th year of a language in high school (“Latin IV AP”). Some schools offer a 3rd-year course that is geared specifically towards getting students ready for the AP level (“Latin III Pre-AP”). Smaller schools and programs may have combined classes which place students at different levels in the same classroom (“Latin III-IV AP”). Students who begin Latin in middle school may be able to take a 5th year course (“Latin V”) in which they read additional authors and explore literature in more depth.

Teachers must take a 30-hour certificate course during the summer to teach an AP course. AP Latin teachers must also register their AP course syllabi with CollegeBoard.

Placement for AP Latin students

Placement for students depends entirely on each individual student’s skills and abilities. This section is meant as a general guide. It is important for instructors to take into account a student’s current active performance. A thorough review of grammar and vocabulary is beneficial at every level of language acquisition.

At the University of Texas at Austin

Students receiving a 5 on the AP Latin exam receive credit for:

            LAT 506, 507, 311, 312 --> Recommended placement in LAT 322

Students receiving a 4 on the AP Latin exam receive credit for:

            LAT 506, 507, 311 --> Recommended placement in LAT 312

Students receiving 3 or less do not receive credit.

            --> Recommended placement in LAT 507 or LAT 311

            Students who have not taken Latin in the previous two years are likely to benefit from the extensive grammar review which takes place in LAT 507.


Questions to ask an AP Latin student

  • What can you translate without a dictionary?
  • Which authors have you read in Latin?
  • When was the last time you took Latin?
  • How many lines of Latin can you translate in an hour?

College instructors and advisers should keep in mind that it can be very difficult to change sections and courses after the first week of classes, especially with the regulations from the registrar and financial aid. Students may be overwhelmed during the first week and opt to take a class far above or below their actual ability.

  1. During the first day or two of class, ask students about their background in Latin.
  2. Encourage students to take the class: 1) in which they can succeed and 2) that will enable them to reach their goals for taking Latin.
  3. Be flexible: allow students to sit-in and observe higher or lower level classes to see if they can find a class most appropriate to their level.
  4. Make sure you yourself can advise students about their placement by having accurate information about the different courses offered in the department.

Teaching AP Latin students

Ideally, AP Latin courses provide high school students with the skills to succeed in upper-division college Latin courses. The ease of this transition depends on the rigorousness of the high school program, the skills and abilities of the student, and the expectations of the college instructor. College instructors should aim to develop critical thinking skills in addition to language proficiency for use at the graduate level. The following are a number of strategies that can help college instructors create more productive lessons for students who have already had experience with Latin in high school, building upon common high school instructional strategies.

Reading Latin for depth

Many AP Latin teachers in high school find themselves moving very quickly through the lines of Vergil and Caesar because of the requirement to complete certain lines each day. This means many AP students will not get a chance to explore individual lines or words in much depth. A lot of focus is on reading comprehension rather than on the language itself. Take time to digest and discuss the significance of specific words, syntax, and an author’s individual style. Students are asked on the AP Latin exam (as well as in their English courses) to identify literary devices; college instructors should also identify them (or even better, push the students to do the identification), but then go the extra step to discuss the significance or effect: could Vergil or Caesar have done something differently? How does the literary device support the rhetoric of the passage? Encourage developing interpretations based on a close reading of the text.

The translation of passages should almost always be based on understanding the grammar rather than from a known translation. Students will read and write down translations of lines, especially if they did not get a chance to translate it on their own, and the prevalence of free translations available for ancient texts can lead to students memorizing English translations for exams. Many students will also write interlinear translations because they feel that they have to translate at a level beyond their actual proficiency. It may also be a high school habit, where students are expected to write out and submit their translations for daily grades.

  • Take time to examine and review Latin lines to analyze style and context rather than trying to read for completeness.
  • Avoid giving translations to your students in class: instead discuss how to translate a given sentence or passage accurately.
  • Ask students to translate actively in class.
  • Aim for students to read Latin texts without interlinear translations as soon as possible.

Teach how to use a dictionary effectively

Most Latin textbooks used in high school have vocabularies appended to the Latin texts. For sight translation, students are encouraged to guess or predict from context. On the other hand, upper-division Latin courses in college require students to know how to use dictionaries efficiently and effectively. Study of fragmentary works and literature at the graduate level cannot be done without knowing how to examine the diachronic definition of a Latin word.

  • Require students to purchase a college-level dictionary.
  • Demonstrate and model proper usage of a dictionary in class. Simple strategies such as looking through definitions and looking for precedence can prevent students from attaching one-to-one definitions for Latin words.

Introduce text commentaries and the critical apparatus

Students have very little exposure to the critical apparatus of a text in high school because they are not assessed on it. High school teachers without graduate school experience are also less likely to discuss manuscript variations and ancient scholarship of texts. While these aspects should not be the focus of an undergraduate-level course, questioning the manuscript is an excellent exercise in critical thinking. College instructors can also demonstrate their own expertise if they have worked closely with the text before.

  • Take time to discuss manuscript variations.
  • If there is a question about the sense or grammar of a line that cannot be easily resolved, bring in multiple commentaries to compare scholarship.
  • Discuss what ancient scholars and authors may have said about a text.

Continue to develop study skills

It is an unfortunate trend that many high school administrators ask teachers to reduce homework due to increasing extracurricular demands. In an informal survey at the AP Summer Institute, homework assigned averaged anywhere from none to thirty minutes a night. Most college instructors are aware that they cannot cover all the material on the syllabus during class time and require students to do extensive reading on their own time. Be aware that this expectation that students spend serious time on their own must be taught, not taken for granted.

            Students who succeed in a college course will find themselves encouraged to pursue their studies in that field. The study skills they gain in one class will be carried on to the next level, and in some cases, transferred to other subjects that they study. Anything and everything from developing a better grasp of grammar to setting a more structured daily schedule can be invaluable life skills.

  • Ask your students to set aside time on a daily basis to complete their assignments.
  • Be consistent with your assignments and be reasonably considerate of students’ circumstances.
  • Teach study skills that have been successful for you and your students.

Share your research expertise

Many college instructors, whether graduate students or professors, are actively involved in research of their own in various fields and disciplines. Involvement with regular conferences, colloquia, and seminars can keep instructors aware of exciting new trends and finds in the field. While your expertise may not be directly applicable to the topic of the course, college instructors can still share material that they have come across in their own studies at the graduate level and beyond. These connections are often implicit in the examples an instructor uses, and by making students actively aware of these links, an instructor can stimulate interest in the field while opening their minds. Many students decide their college major based on what they gain and enjoy in their first or second year courses: illustrate by example what a classics major can do.

  • Incorporate examples from your own research when appropriate.
  • Maintain positive relationships with your peers so that you can refer questions and students to experts.
  • Encourage students to pursue topics of their interest.

Some last thoughts

This guide is not meant to be an exhaustive guide to the AP Latin exam or a comprehensive curriculum guide for college Latin courses. Rather, it is meant to encourage college instructors to build on their strengths and understand their students’ backgrounds. Better transitions between high school and college encourage students and instructors to succeed in the classroom. If you have any suggestions, questions, corrections, or would like to use this guide at your institution, please contact the author at:

Dygo Tosa,

Special thanks

This document was drafted as part of the Magistra Instructional Resource Website of the Department of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. Funding for attendance at the AP Summer Institute was provided by the Marilyn White APSI Scholarship offered by the UTeach Liberal Arts program and a Professional Development Grant by the Texas Language Center. The author is grateful for all the support and feedback he has received from his colleagues, teachers, and students.