Learning from our mistakes

After a long and busy first half of the year, we’re nearly at the first exam session for our Year 9 students. This is the first taster of serious assessment for most of our boys. Last year, my Latin class really struggled to read and follow instructions and underperformed as a result – leading to tears in places! However it was obviously a valuable experience because, in the final exam at the end of the year, the class improved on average by 15%. 

To prepare for this exam I gave my two classes a translation test to give them an idea about how they’re tracking. Unfortunately one class was disrupted by a fire alarm! Once I started marking the papers of the other class, I noticed that a lot of them were making the same consistent mistakes and so I came up with (what I thought was) a cunning plan.

A bit of background first – my Year 9 Latin classes have just met the imperfect and perfect tenses (Stage 6 of the Cambridge Latin Course is an important turning point!) and, after translating stories where everything is happening in the present, they now have to pay close attention to verb endings. The tests showed, however, that a lot of them weren’t doing this. I wanted them to really focus on where they were going wrong, and came up with a worksheet to help. I should also note that the students are given all the vocabulary they need for the test, but it is up to them to figure out what the verb/noun endings mean so that they can translate it correctly. 

When I mark translation tests, I split the story up into sentences or chunks. Each chunk can get up to two ticks (if it’s completely right), and ticks are deducted for errors. Then I put the answers into a table like this:

The students then went through their marked translation and wrote down how many ticks they got for each chunk. Where they made a mistake, they needed to categorise it according to the following key:

  • T = tense
  • N = number
  • P = person
  • C = case
  • O = omission
  • V = vocabulary
  • E = English
  • U = unfinished
  • ? = other

I gave them this as a Pages document via iTunes U, so that they could tally their results and enter them into a pie chart to get a visual representation of where they were going wrong. The results were fascinating! Here’s an example of one student’s findings:


This student was one of the better performers in the class, but it was very easy for him to see how much he could improve by paying closer attention to tense. Doing this kind of analysis and looking at results in a visual format really revealed a lot of patterns.

It was very interesting to talk to the students about their results and what their focus should be for improvement. Some came to the realisation that they had a tendency to skip out words or sentences, so needed to translate more slowly and carefully. Verb tenses was probably the biggest issue, but others realised just how many marks they lost because they hadn’t finished. When we discussed potential reasons for this, a couple said that they spent too much time double checking the words in the vocabulary list – even though their instincts were correct a lot of the time! 

I’m really looking forward to seeing how they do in their exam translation after this exercise. This year is the first time that I’ve taught two classes of the same level and subject and, thanks to the fire alarm, I’ve now got a control group!

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