Vocabulary Quizzes, a Follow Up

Way back in September, I had written shared various thoughts about how to best assess vocabulary.  These thoughts all came back to me after the first week of school when I gave a vocabulary test on all the vocabulary from last semester, and the students did miserably.  Admittedly, part of the problem was the number of words, but I also thought that part of the problem was the format of the test.  At the same time, I happened to read Rebecca Harrison’s article “Exercises for Developing Prediction in Reading Latin Sentences,” Teaching Classical Languages, Fall 2010, 1-30.  The article advocates using activities that encourage students to think in Latin and choose the most appropriate word based on the Latin sentences–so, what would a Latin reader expect to follow in this sentence.  I used these ideas to improve how I encouraged students to learn about comparative adjectives with multiple choice questions.

Ex.  Puella puerum belliōrem quam _______ desīderāvit.
A. illum               B. illō

But I also remembered that my English vocabulary had be tested with multiple choice questions.  Therefore, inspired by Harrison’s article, I thought I would try this method with Latin vocabulary to see how my students would fare.

Ex. 1. _______ lūx in caelō est.
A. Sōl       B. Nepōs      C.  Mēnsa       D. Lēx

Ex. 2. Fīlius fīliī est ___________.
A. pater    B. māter       C. nēpos         D. soror

Advantages of the new method

  • It lets me test multiple vocabulary words in the same sentence.  For this quiz, both sōl and lūx were new words.
  • It encourages students to think in and be more comfortable with Latin word order or various constructions that you might slip into the sentences.  Most of my sentences used the typical Latin Subject-Object-Verb order, but Ex 2 happened not to.
  • It gives students more practice with reading Latin–a major student learning objective of any class.
  • It allows us to subtlely communicate which meanings of a word may be more common than others.  You can also suggest more nuance in a word this way by using it in a Latin context.  You cannot always do this with vocabulary assessments.
  • It does not encourage the false belief that all Latin words have a direct one-to-one English equivalent.  It makes students think of Latin words in a Latin context.


  • It only tested one meaning of a word–but students needed to know all of them because they didn’t know what I would test them with.
  • It requires us to write several Latin sentences that clearly define Latin words or have clearly predictable Latin answers.  This may be challenging to do, and is partly why most of the answers in Ex 1 are clearly bogus.

Finally, after today’s vocabulary quiz when I first used this method for them, I asked the students how they felt about it.  About half the class was willing to say they preferred this method.  Several students wanted to wait until they saw their grades.  One or two wanted to try it again before passing their final judgment on it.  However, overall, all my students scored better with this method.  Therefore, I think it will be a much more common method for testing my students’ vocabulary knowledge.

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