We hear about i compiti (accent on the first syllable) in videos about school and family.The singular il compito (the assignment, the task) can refer to classwork, or a written test: il compito in classe: I compiti is the plural of il compito and generally refers to homework when in the plural: i compiti a casa (homework, assignments).
Alla scuola di polizia lui non aveva molta voglia di studiare
At the police academy he didn't have much desire to study
e io facevo i suoi compiti e i miei.
and I did his homework and mine.
Captions 48-49, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP1 - Un delitto perfettoPlay Caption
Un compito can also refer to an assigned task that has nothing to do with school. Sometimes it’s just a job to do.
Mi crede così ingenuo da affidare a Lei un compito così delicato?
Do you think I'm so naive that I would entrust such a delicate task to you?Play Caption
“A job” in English is often translated as un lavoro:
Non aveva un lavoro fisso lui, no.
He didn't have a steady job, no.
Caption 54, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP3 - Rapsodia in BluPlay Caption
But if you can replace “job” with “task,” then compito can work in Italian.
In the example abaove, it’s not possible. A job is a job — an occupation. Someone has a job, or does a job, and (hopefully) gets paid for it, or somebody goes to work.
In English we often use “job” to mean “task,” or “responsibility.” So, if I say, “It was my job to look at the proofs.” then I use compito:
Era il mio compito guardare le bozze.
A task is something you do whether you are paid or not, and it can be momentary or recurring. This can either be translated as un compito (a job to do), or un lavoro (a job) that needs doing.
Compito, used as a noun, actually comes from the past participle of the verb compire (to carry out, to finish), so it makes a certain amount of sense. Two other verbs, compiere and competere sound similar and are also relevant. We'll look at these in an upcoming lesson.
In Europe, there is a tradition of final exams being oral rather than written, or in addition to written ones, and this carries over into the schoolroom as well. Oral quizzes are the norm, but they’re not always surprise quizzes, they’re often announced so that the students can prepare (or plan to be absent). They don’t always know whom the teacher will call on.
The Italian verb for this oral quiz is interrogare, which sounds a bit like a police station or torture room, but is just a normal everyday classroom happening. In the following example, it's a girl student who is asking the question.
Professoressa, potrei essere interrogata domani?
Teacher, could I be quizzed tomorrow?Play Caption