Certamen is a Knowledge Bowl-style competition. Teams of three or four members answer questions on the Latin language as well as Greek and Roman civilization.
There are two levels of competition. The Lower Division is open to teams of Latin I and II students. Upper Division teams may have members of any level Latin, but in most cases they are composed of Latin III, IV, and V students.
Each round of competition consists of fifteen toss-up questions. Teams are sequestered before their round begins, as the same set of questions is asked in each round in order to provide an equal chance to acquire points. The first contestant to hit the buzzer is given an opportunity to answer the question. He or she must answer immediately. In the case of an incorrect answer, the other teams have a chance at the question. No points are lost for an incorrect response, but the team is no longer eligible to attempt that question. Toss-up questions must be answered by the individual who buzzed in and are not open to team discussion or aid. Players on teams which did not buzz in on the first reading may ask the moderator for a re-reading, spelling, or clarification of a question.
In the event the moderator is in the middle of a question when a contestant buzzes in, the moderator stops speaking and gives the contestant a chance at the question. If the answer is incorrect, one of two things may happen: if another team also buzzed in early, they receive the question in its incomplete form. If the other teams did not buzz in, the moderator will repeat and finish the question for them.
When a contestant correctly answers a toss-up question, his team receives two bonus questions related in topic to the toss-up. These may be discussed among the team members and are to be answered only by the team captain unless he or she defers to a specified teammate. These questions are directed to one team only and cannot be answered by the others. The team receives points for each bonus question answered correctly, in any combination.
Ten points are awarded for each correct toss-up question, and five points for each correct bonus question. After two rounds of play, the three teams with the highest point totals (both rounds combined) go on to the final round. The winning team is determined solely by the results of the final round. In the case of a tie in finals, play will continue with extra questions until the tie is broken.
In addition to a moderator who reads the questions, determines correctness of responses, and generally manages the competition, judges consist of a timer and a scorekeeper.
No challenges may be made to the moderator’s decision which is final. The moderator may eject any player or team who challenges his judgment or complains of his decision during play. Teams are advised to come prepared to address judges in a courteous and respectful manner and to demonstrate their skill through an overall high performance rather than on a close decision.