Assessment in Medieval Latin
In recent years concern has been expressed at the inadequate level of Latinity seen in medieval studies, both in doctoral theses and in published work. This is clearly serious in a subject in which most of the primary sources (documentary, narrative, philosophical, theological, and literary) are in Latin: essential material may be either ignored or misunderstood. One step towards improving the situation would be an internationally accepted standard of competence, against which potential medievalists could measure themselves. The logistic problems of establishing such a standard, however, would be formidable. Therefore, the Centre for Medieval Studies in Toronto has decided to make its own examinations in Medieval Latin (held twice annually) available to the medieval community at large, and will issue `statements of proficiency’ (at Level One and Level Two) to successful candidates. ‘External’ candidates will take the same examinations as Toronto students and at the same time.
The Medieval Latin program at the Centre for Medieval Studies was established in 1969, and its Level One and Level Two pass standards have been maintained since then. The program is administered by the standing Committee for Medieval Latin Studies. The committee includes three elected students (who do not participate in the examination discussions) in addition to regular faculty members. Examinations are set by two faculty members, but the pass list is decided by the whole committee.
Separate examinations are set at Level One and Level Two.
A Level One pass indicates that the candidate has a firm command of basic grammar (accidence and syntax) and a reasonable working vocabulary; the student needs no more formal instruction in grammar.
A Level Two pass is not given lightly: only a mark of 80% or above is a safe guarantee of a pass. The Committee will only pass papers if it is reasonably certain that, if the candidate had had more time and the use of a dictionary, he/she would have written a near-perfect answer. A student who passes at this level can be trusted to read Latin sources – or at least will know when a problem is so difficult that expert advice must be sought. Often, students at this level could teach Latin, though it must be stressed that a Level Two pass does not of itself indicate a specialization in Latin language or literature, merely a competence to read Latin.
The examinations are marked and ranked by two appraisers independently. They submit their list to the Medieval Latin Committee, which decides on the pass list on the basis of its collective memory of the standards. In the committee meeting the best paper is read out first (to give the committee a chance to review the passages). Then the lowest recommended passing paper is read out; if this is deemed acceptable, the committee proceeds to hear scripts below that level until it agrees that it has reached the cut-off point. Conversely, if the lowest recommended passing paper is not accepted by the committee, we proceed up the list, eliminating candidates until we are satisfied. It is usually necessary for the committee to listen to five or six scripts, sometimes more.
The initial grading and ranking of Toronto students (for whom the examination is a departmental requirement and sometimes contributes to a course grade) is done by two faculty members. External papers will be initially graded and ranked by an experienced Teaching Assistant, who will then consult with the chair of the Latin Committee to assure that the pass line among these papers is consistent with that drawn by the committee for Toronto candidates.
The examination meeting of Toronto students takes place a week after the Level One examination; this meeting will be attended also by those Teaching Assistants who will rank the external students, in order to observe the standard set by the committee. The examination meeting for the external candidates will be held as soon as the scripts have been ranked, probably three to four weeks later, depending on the number of scripts to be marked.