Preparing for the Latin for Common Entrance at 13+ exam
By Bob Bass MBE
26 Apr
Bob Bass MBE, is the Senior Master and Head of Classics at Orwell Park School, Chief Setter of ISEB’s Common Entrance and Common Academic Scholarship papers, and author of more than 20 books targeted at young classicists.

Ahead of the June 
Latin for Common Entrance at 13+ exam, Bob shares invaluable tips on how to approach the varying question types set out in the exam, which include comprehension, translation and grammar. Bob also offers his thoughts on the resources he believes will help children prepare ...

Thorough acquaintance with the prescribed vocabulary and grammar underpins everything at Common Entrance: there are just no short cuts around this inescapable fact! However, there is a wealth of material from Galore Park to offer support with this.
As to vocabulary, there are various approaches. Your key resource is Galore Park’s
Latin Vocabulary For Key Stage 3 and Common Entrance, which lists the vocabulary alphabetically as well as by word-type and Level number.  An old-fashioned but still effective method of learning is to make your own set of flashcards, with Latin words on one side and their English meanings on the other – colour-coded if you wish. This has the advantage of being personalised. For a higher-tech approach – if you are an Apple person – download the app Pipiatum from the app store; this is available for all three levels of the Common Entrance prescription, and delivers good results.  Another option is to go to, or, search for 'Common Entrance Latin', and work through one of the options there. Some games based on Common Entrance vocabulary can be found at
The key to success is to avoid exam panic: resist the temptation to rush. Take your time and think things through logically. Do not write rubbish or nonsensical English!


Question 1  – The Comprehension Questions

(15 marks)
This is the easiest part of the paper – a gentle warm-up, if you like. It’s simply a case of vocab-spotting – and the relevant piece of Latin to help with your answer is even given on a plate for you to look at.

1) Read the title at the top of the passage. It outlines the story – without giving too much away. Look at the ‘free’ vocabulary given in the right hand margin.

2) Don’t dive in and start writing straightaway – read the Latin passage through at least twice. This will give you a rough idea of what's going on.

3) Look at the mark allocation (in brackets on the right-hand side of the page). The length and detail of your answer must match the mark allocation.

4) Remember that complete sentences are not required!


Question 2  – The Translation Passage

(30 marks)
This is the most valuable part of the paper – 30 marks (40% of the exam) – so pay due time and attention to it.

1) Read the title at the top of the passage. It outlines the story and gives you the English spellings of some of the people and places involved.

2) Look at the free vocabulary given in the right hand margin.

3) Don’t start writing right away – read the Latin passage through at least twice. This will give you a rough idea of what's going on.

4) The key to unlocking every Latin sentence is the verb – which will usually be found at the end.  Spend a minute highlighting all the verbs you can find in the passage. In your translation they must NOT be translated at the end: move them further forward towards the front of your English sentence. Failure to translate the verb in the right place is at the root of most incorrect translations.

5) The subject (doer of the verb, nominative) will be stated at or near the start of the sentence. If it isn't, the subject will be the same as the one at the start of the previous sentence.

6) Watch out – at the end of a sentence – for verbs of wanting (cupio), deciding (constituo) and ordering (iubeo). If you find one, look out for another verb ending in  -re just in front of it. This is an infinitive and must be translated as 'to...' There will always be at least one of these sentences in the passage.

7) Know your adverbs! Don't confuse tandem ('finally') with tamen ('however'), or saepe  ('often') with semper ('always').

8) Remember: Latin is NOT a left-to-right language when it comes to translating into English.


Question 3  – The Grammar Questions

(20 marks)
Public school teachers will tell you that this section of the exam is usually the worst done, because young pupils do not know their grammatical terms (e.g. case, person, number, tense) and/or the grammar itself. The questions are usually predictable and follow the same pattern – so looking over past papers and familiarising yourself with these would be a good idea.
As with the other sections, don't dive in and start writing right away. Read the title – it will give detailed information about the story-line – and the vocabulary in the right-hand margin. Then read the Latin through at least twice in order to get an idea of how the words fit together to make sense.
The English-into-Latin sentences:
Remember to put the verb at the end – this will gain you an extra mark!


Question 4  – The Background Section

(10 marks)
The first, essay-type question of each is worth 8 marks. The second, personal response-type question of each is worth 2 marks. Study past papers – the questions follow the same sort of pattern – and decide which section you are going to revise for – your teacher will give you guidance on this. Jot down Latin technical terms or key Greek mythological figures – it will impress the examiner if you can spell these correctly! Colourful, personalised mind-maps are a good way of embedding key facts in your mind.

Good luck – and remember to master that grammar and vocab!

Bob is the author of many popular Galore Park titles including 
Latin Pocket Notes and Latin Vocabulary for Key Stage 3 and Common Entrance. Most recently, in 2015 we published his Latin for Common Entrance Exam Practice Questions range. In these books, Bob has written exam-style questions and model answers to allow pupils to practise for the 13+ ISEB Latin exams. They cover a huge range of questions including translation (both from English to Latin and Latin to English), grammar and vocabulary, and comprehension. His books are endorsed by ISEB and include a complete vocabulary list for the exams.


Latin for Common Entrance at 13+ Exam Practice Questions

Tags: 13+ Common Entrance, 13+ Latin, 13+ Revision, Bob Bass

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