The National Latin exam is a tricky thing. Imagine taking thirty students, and teaching them to work on cars. Each student is trained only on one car. One student learns to repair Hondas. One student learns to repair Jeeps. One student learns to repair Volvos, and so on. Now, imagine we take all the students, who have never worked on any other car models, and test them with a national test. Much of the material on the test would be familiar. Much would not.
It is the same with the National Latin Exam. The test is designed for students in the public school system, using public school textbooks. There is much variation among these textbooks. The National Latin Exam does not mesh perfectly with any textbook.
It gets even more complicated when you add Visual Latin. Here’s why:
Visual Latin was designed to help students push through Lingua Latina, by Hans Ørberg. Lingua Latina is the best Latin textbook out there, in my opinion. It is a novel, written entirely in Latin. The author takes students from simple Latin to complicated Latin by the end of the book.
There is one major problem. Lingua Latina contains no English instruction at all. This actually not a problem. The text is an immersion text. However, after attempting to teach it for years, I only frustrated my students. They wanted, and needed, English explanations of the grammar in Lingua Latina. Eventually, we created Visual Latin. Visual Latin is the English explanation of the grammar in Lingua Latina.
This is where Visual Latin and Lingua Latina bump against the National Latin Exam. Hans Ørberg essentially ignores Latin verbs and all verb tenses until chapter 15 of his book. Visual Latin pushes the verbs and all their tenses off to lesson 30.
The National Latin Exam, which is designed to work with the standard Latin textbook, emphasizes verbs and all their tenses immediately. This is the modus operandi of the standard Latin textbook. Verbs, and all their tenses, show up early.
For this reason, I recommend Visual Latin students wait until they finish Visual Latin before taking the National Latin Exam. At the very least, they should wait until they have finished lesson 45. By lesson 45, they are familiar with the complicated Latin verb tenses.
However, if you want to start practicing, you can do so right away. All of the old National Latin Exams (and the answer keys) are available on the National Latin Exam site. Here is the link: http://www.nle.org/exams.html#previousexam
Using these exams, you give yourself a competitive edge. I recommend taking one exam each week. Start with the introduction exams, and work your way through each level. In this way, you are able to determine your level. This keeps you from registering for the wrong exam.