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Ultimate Guide to the AP Latin Exam

The Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum is a set of standardized courses designed by the College Board and delivered at high schools throughout the country and abroad. Of the 38 available AP classes, eight are world languages and cultures courses. For more information about the Advanced Placement curriculum and why you should consider it, check out CollegeVine’s What is an AP Class?


The AP Latin course, though not hugely popular overall, still attracts a steady stream of students each year, as it has done since its first administration in 1956. In fact, the exam has had a near constant registration of approximately 6,500 students each year since 2010. Prior to 2013, the curriculum consisted of two courses. One of these was a prose course called AP Latin Literature, and the other was a poetry course titled AP Latin Vergil. In 2013, the courses were combined and AP Latin students can now expect to study both poetry and prose during a single school year.


About the AP Latin Exam

The course is intended to provide you and other advanced high school students with a rich and rigorous Latin curriculum, approximately equivalent to an upper-intermediate college or university course. A class of this level would generally be taken during the fourth or fifth semester of college-level studies. In this course, you will learn to read, understand, translate, and analyze Latin poetry and prose.


The previous versions of the class, wherein the two genres were taught separately, made structural sense in that poetry and prose in Latin have distinctly different features. Combining both curriculums into a single course, however, is indicative of the belief that a strong student should understand the broad features of both genres. As such, the syllabus of required readings includes a work of poetry and a work of prose to ensure that students will be confident in handling both.


Each year, the AP Latin course uses the same required selections from the same two classical texts. The poetry selection is always the Aeneid by Augustan author Publius Vergilius Maro (also known as Vergil or Virgil). The prose text is always Commentaries on the Gallic War, by Gaius Julius Caesar, commonly referred to simply as Caesar. During the course, selections from these texts will be studied in both Latin and English. Be sure to check the Required Reading List for exact details about which selections will be required in which languages. In addition to reading and translating these seminal works, you will also need to place them in a greater historical and literary context.


There are no prerequisites for the AP Latin course, though you will need to have enough proficiency in Latin to read and understand the required texts. For most students, this typically means that you’ll need to be in at least your fourth year to undertake the required work.


The AP Latin exam is one of the longer AP exams and lasts for three hours. The first section contains 50 multiple-choice questions, which you’ll have one hour to complete. This section is worth 50% of your total score. The second section, called the free-response section, contains two translation prompts, one analytical essay, and approximately 12 short-answer questions. You will have two hours to complete this section and it will account for the remaining 50% of your score.


In 2016, the curve for AP Latin scores was generally in line with the average AP score curve. Of the 6,500 students who took the exam, 65.6% passed the test by receiving a score of three or higher. Only 12.7% of all students received the highest score of a five, while nearly a third of all students scraped by with a three. Students receiving the lowest score of a one accounted for 11.5% of all test-takers.


Before you begin your studying for the AP Latin exam, review the College Board course description to help shape your understanding of the course content and exam format.


Read on for tips for preparing for the exam.


Step 1: Start with Assessing Your Skills

Start your studying for the exam by taking a practice or diagnostic test. It might seem counterintuitive to dive straight into test-taking when you haven’t even reviewed the material, but the easiest way to narrow in on content areas that need your attention is to get a realistic and objective score through a formative assessment. Check out CollegeVine’s What is a Formative Assessment and Why You Should Be Using One To Study? for more information.


You can find some sample test questions in the College Board course description, but to get a more comprehensive picture of the work ahead, you might choose to also take more practice test questions about Vergil’s Aenid or practice test questions about Caesar’s Gallic War.


Once you’ve taken some kind of diagnostic test, score your answers and make a list of areas that need more studying. Use this list to target content that will shape your studying.


Step 2: Study the Material

In the case of the AP Latin exam, your studying will focus on four major skills applied to the seven major themes of the course. The skills that you will need to develop are: reading & comprehension, translation, contextualization, and analysis of texts. These skills will be used in the context of the seven themes, which include:


  • Literary Genre and Style
  • Roman Values
  • War and Empire
  • Leadership
  • Views of Non-Romans
  • History and Memory
  • Human Beings and the Gods


As you study, you should concentrate in part on vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. These hard skills will make it easier for you to prepare and translate the required Latin readings with accuracy. In addition to translating known selections from the Latin texts, you will also be required to read and comprehend passages at sight. This doesn’t mean that you will have to precisely decode each word, but you will need to be able to get the general gist of selections that are not familiar to you.


You will also need to practice your critical reading skills, since the exam will test your ability to build clear and coherent arguments supported by evidence from the text. It will also assess your mastery of the many terms that have been devised by scholars and teachers over the years to describe and analyze Latin grammar, syntax, and literary style.


In order to build these critical analyses, you should be able to place the readings in the broader context of Roman history and civilization. The two required texts (Gallic War and Aeneid) were selected specifically to allow exposure to some of the important people, events, and literary genres of Roman times, focusing on the core periods of the late Republic and the early Principate.


Aeneid is widely regarded as the most influential work of Latin literature for both its model of Latin poetry and its deep reflection on Roman history and civilization. Similarly, Gallic War provides a pure and straightforward example of prose in the historical context of controversial themes such as war and peace, leadership, and ethnicity.


Unlike the case for most AP exams, it is difficult to find a high-quality, commercial study guide that is widely used for the AP Latin exam. There are many relevant study materials available, but few produced specifically for the exam. The two primary study guides that were produced for the exam are Vergil’s Aeneid: A Fully Parsed Vocabulary Guide for the AP Latin Exam and Caesar’s Gallic War: A Fully Parsed Vocabulary Guide for the AP Latin Exam.


These books were developed by a former university professor who spent several years grading the exam, and they contain complete vocabulary lists and detailed grammatical and historical notes. They do not, however, contain sample questions, quizzes, or practice tests.


More study materials can be found online. Many AP teachers have posted complete study guides, review sheets, and test questions. There is also a large database of materials used in one high school AP course. Navigate through the menu in the left-hand margin to find materials related to Caesar and Vergil, along with sample multiple-choice questions. Another helpful site for perfecting your grammar and vocabulary is also available. Although it wasn’t specifically developed for AP studying, this website contains many Latin phrases, abbreviations, proverbs, and maxims along with links to more study materials on other sites.


You should also take advantage of the materials provided by the College Board. Be sure to review the official course Learning Objectives, beginning on page seven of the course description. Also look through the vast compilation of study materials listed on the teacher’s AP Latin Web Guide.


Finally, a fun and easy way to brush up on your vocabulary and grammar can be through the use of the many apps available on your mobile device. These range widely in price and quality, so be sure to read reviews before downloading one. The SPQR Latin app is one that consistently receives high marks.

Step 3: Practice Multiple-Choice Questions

Once you have spent some time focusing on the theory behind the exam, you’ll be ready to put it to use by practicing some multiple-choice questions. You can find 30 sample questions beginning on page 41 of the course description. More are available on the AP Latin teacher’s Sample Passages and Multiple-Choice Questions page.


The multiple-choice portion of your exam will consist of 50 multiple-choice questions that include both readings from the syllabus and sight reading. Approximately 20 questions will focus on Vergil and Caesar selections from the required readings while about 30 will contain sight readings. As you review questions, keep a running list of vocabulary, grammar, and skills that are still tripping you up. These will be areas for further review when you go back over the materials one last time.


Step 4: Practice Free-Response Questions

Before you begin practicing for the free-response section of your exam, make sure that you know what to expect on it. The first two free-response questions will be literal translations of required course readings. You will be asked to translate one given selection from the Caesar text and one given selection from the Vergil text as verbatim as possible. Each selection will be approximately five lines long, and you will be provided with any particularly unique vocabulary terms. It is recommended that you spend about 15 minutes on each of these translations.


The next section of the free-response will require you to write an analytical essay based on a selection from the course’s required readings. As you build your argument, you will need to refer specifically to the Latin text by writing it out and/or citing line numbers. You must also translate, accurately paraphrase, or otherwise make clear in your discussion that you understand the Latin that you are using. It is recommended that you spend about 45 minutes on the essay.


The final two sections of the free-response portion will ask you a series of short-answer questions about one selection from Vergil and another selection from Caesar. In the past, these questions have included translations, identifying stylistic devices, and making inferences about character intentions, among others. You should plan to spend about 15 minutes answering questions for each selection.


The best way to prepare for the free-response portion of your exam is to practice by using the many available free-response questions from past administrations of the exam. You can find all of the past free-response questions dating back to 2013, including authentic examples of student responses, scoring explanations, and scoring statistics available at the bottom of the exam page. Review the free-response questions and the scoring criteria from one year to get started. This should give you a good understanding of what you’ll be expected to perform on this section and how your answers will be evaluated.


Using this knowledge, you should then read and reply to the free-response questions from another year, trying your best to stay within the recommended time constraints. Score your own responses after reading the scoring guidelines for that year, then have a friend score your responses too. It can be difficult giving yourself an objective score, so having a classmate to trade scores with is a good idea. Continue to practice free-response questions from prior years until you feel confident in your approach.


Step 5: Take Another Practice Exam

Though it is difficult to find complete practice tests for the AP Latin exam, you should be able to cobble one together using some of the resources for multiple-choice questions listed above, and the released free-response questions from previous exams. Try to make as realistic a practice test as you can, then score it with a classmate to identify content areas that need more studying or practice.


With your list of areas to review, repeat the steps above to incrementally increase your score.


Step 6: Exam Day

In 2017, the AP Latin exam will take place on Friday (May 12) at 12 PM.


For information about registering for the exam, especially if you have self-studied or are a homeschooled student, read CollegeVine’s How to Register for AP Exams (Even If You Didn’t Take the Course).


For specifics about what to bring with you to the exam, read CollegeVine’s What to Bring To Your AP Exam.


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For more about APs, check out these CollegeVine posts:


Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.