How Latin will Help you Pass the RHS Exam

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Amaryllis against a black background

If you’re sitting the RHS Level 2 exams like me this year, you might be surprised by the amount of botanical names we have to learn. ‘Surely,’ you might think to yourself. ‘Surely I’m not expected to learn ALL of these scientific names!?’

Well, I did some clever math-magic and I’m afraid the answer is, ‘Yes, you are.’

On average there are 54 marks available over the eight exams just for knowing the botanical names of plants. The total mark for each module is usually 60, so you should be devoting as much time to learning the names across the whole theory course as you are to studying for each individual certificate. The pass mark across all of the exams is 285. That means if you know all the scientific names you have ⅕ (19%) of the marks you need to pass already.

In some cases, you will have trouble passing the exam without knowing the names. For example, R2112 gives an average of 15 marks for producing botanical names (25% of the total mark!). The total mark for the paper is 60, and the pass mark is 30. If you know all the botanical names, you only need 15 out of the other 45 points – easy!  But if you don’t know your botanical names, you need 30 of those points – that’s much harder.

So how do we learn a list of names? It is a bit different from learning the lessons, and everyone has a different strategy. Definitely, if your college has a botanical names short-course it would be worth doing that. It’s such a big element of the diploma, the RHS should just add a certificate for it really. A general Latin course is not quite as useful. I’ve found my knowledge of Latin has made terms like Buxus sempervirens easy to remember. However, this doesn’t help with some names. I still have to keep checking how to spell Campanula portenschlagiana for example. Not all botanical names are in Latin, so we need to find a specialist botanical name course if we want to spend extra time on this.

Some people like to read the names out-loud. Sometimes the name just sounds right. Lilium regale is just grand enough for the huge king’s lily. Plus, it sounds like a Harry Potter spell when you read it out (lil-ee-um ray-gar-ley). Other people like to just write them down again and again – they will eventually go in! If you’re using this tactic remember to write the category first. It’s no good just learning to identify the botanical names because you need to produce them in the exam, not just know them when you see them.

Sometimes it can help to do a word association. Viola x wittrockiana is easy to remember if you just think of it as the violet with-rockets. In my mind, this flower is a super-violet that will one day launch off and fly through space, only to return to visit me in my dreams. Maybe this method is best for my more imaginative gardener friends!

Whatever method you choose, if you are doing the RHS exams this June don’t forget your botanical names.

If you are looking for a challenge, our RHS Level 2 course is available to take online from home. Give it a try!

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