HOW TO PREPARE FOR CERTAMEN · Spring 2022 · Torch: U.S.
Learning over 1000 years of Roman History is a daunting task, but with a strategic approach, you can grasp the highlights in a relatively short period of time. Plus, there is only a small amount of source literature that survives, and, at least in the first two years, what you are expected to know is relatively limited. Consequently, I do not recommend learning history by reading a source book “cover to cover”. Instead, familiarize yourself with a brief overview of history, and then start learning dates. I teach students “Top 10”, “Top 20” and then “Top 40” dates, spaced throughout history in order to form a foundation and then gradually fill in the blanks. From there, learn just the highlights from brief study guides, such as the FJCL Regional Study Guides. After that, learn more details from these same study guides. Then, do the same using one of the comprehensive study guides available, such as the ones by Connor Harrison, available online. Eventually, you should start reading stories from source books, or better yet, primary sources, in order to “glue together” the facts you have memorized. Free podcasts such as Michael Duncan’s “History of Rome” can also help quite a lot.
For mythology, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology is short enough that beginners can start by reading this book. Just familiarize yourself with the stories at first. Then, start reviewing study guides and memorizing names. Use whatever method you learn from the best and test your memory often. Some students like Quizlet, while others like spaced repetition, using apps such as Anki. As you progress, read Morford’s Classical Mythology, followed by
Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Also, don’t forget about the epics - Aeneid, Iliad, and Odyssey. Certamen summaries and character lists for these are available online, including excellent guides by Nikhil Ranjan.
Latin Literature is a huge topic, and it takes most people more than one year to become an expert. Since there are no dedicated Latin Literature questions in Certamen until the Advanced level, students could start early, prepping for written tests at State or Nationals at the Novice or Intermediate level. Start by learning about 25 authors' names, their dates and cities of birth, dates and circumstances for their death, and at least one major work for each. Progress from there by studying one genre at a time, so you can group authors and their patrons. Next, use short study guides, such as the FJCL Regional Study Guide or the CSK. Learn everything on these guides before progressing to comprehensive study guides such as Ketan Ramakrishnan’s guide. Finally, read selected sections of source books and primary sources.
If you decide to pursue Roman Life, start with study guides such as the CSK and the FJCL Regional Study Guide. Then move on to reading Harold Johnston’s Private Life of the Romans. As with most of the source books, it is available for free online through the NJCL website and other sources.
Every player and every coach will likely have their own variation on the above recommendations, but having played and coached for a long time, I hope you find this guidance helpful. Jump in, play in a tournament, (especially while they are still on Zoom and you don’t have to travel), connect with others, and have fun! Perhaps the best part of today’s game is that so many people share their ideas, recommendations, and materials - on the Facebook Competitive Certamen Group, on Quizlet, over Discord, and in a number of other ways. If you do what you enjoy, commit yourself to studying throughout the year, and take advantage of all the JCLove around Certamen, you will hopefully find that what starts as memorizing facts can lead to a lifelong love for classics. It certainly did for me.