Torch: U.S. LXXI Spring 2022 | Page 12

Spring 2022 · Torch: U.S. · HOW TO PREPARE FOR CERTAMEN



by Dr. Ron Roessler

FJCL Certamen Player, 1989-1992

WJCL Certamen Coach, 2015-present

[email protected]

When I returned to Certamen as a coach, nearly thirty years after I played as a student, I was amazed at all the study guides, online flashcards, and social media dedicated to preparing for Certamen. In my day, I relied on the relentless efforts of my teacher to create study materials for me, but now there is so much material that one might not know where to start. In this regard, I hope to be of assistance.

After playing a few practice rounds - there are many available online - I recommend picking a specialty. First, discover what you enjoy. If you aren’t having fun, you shouldn’t be playing Certamen. Second, commit yourself to becoming an expert. This will take at least 5-10 hours/week, more in the summer, but with added knowledge and practice, you will gain the speed needed to become an expert. Good teams have at least one expert in grammar, History, and Mythology. At the Novice and Intermediate level, a fourth player might specialize in Roman Life or help out by memorizing random facts. At the Advanced level, a Latin Literature expert is needed. It is also nice if each player can have a secondary area of interest. This helps with bonus questions, mixing and matching teams, and filling in if a team member can’t attend a tournament. Some players choose to start off as an “all around” player, but as the year progresses, it is hard to beat the best players around the country if you don’t focus on an area of expertise. I advise specializing.

Regarding what materials to use, your teacher/coach might already have study guides for you. In addition, I advise going to the NJCL Certamen website. You can also find excellent

materials online, provided by established Certamen programs, such as Michael Howard’s Certamen Starter Kit (CSK), FJCL Regional Study Guides, and resources on the Wisconsin JCL website. Websites hosted by Yale, Duke, Princeton, and Harvard Certamen also contain links for an abundance of study materials. 

If you decide that grammar is your best area, bookmark the NJCL Certamen Language Syllabus, an outstanding online guide compiled in 2021 by several Certamen experts. It contains hyperlinks for every topic in Novice and Intermediate Grammar. Next, you may choose to read through one of the many classroom texts available. Make sure to focus on expanding your vocabulary, learning principal parts, genders, and exceptions right from the beginning. Only after you are fairly well versed, perhaps before nationals, should you try to learn from the ultimate source, Allen and Greenough’s New Latin Grammar. Of course, both as a student and a coach, I never go anywhere without my “A&G”, but it is too daunting of a book to start with.