How to Prepare for the CAT

The Classics Admissions Test (CAT) is an admissions test used by Oxford University to assess your existing language skills in Greek and/or Latin, or aptitude for learning new languages.

The section/s of the CAT that you are required to take depends on the course you are applying for and your previous language learning experience. Each section requires its own preparation, so it’s important to know which section to take and how to prepare in advance.

That’s where The Profs’ expert CAT tutors can help. With first-hand experience of the exam content, tried-and-tested strategies for approaching the questions, and an understanding of how it fits into the wider admissions process, our tutors are able to help you perform well in the CAT and secure a place on your chosen course at Oxford.

What is the CAT?

The CAT (Classics Admissions Test) is an admissions test for students applying to study Classics at Oxford. It is designed to assess your level of Latin and/or Greek (sections 1 and 2), or if you haven’t yet studied an ancient language, then your aptitude for languages more generally (section 3).

Each of the three sections of the CAT is 1-hour long and requires different preparation. Read on to find out how to prepare or get straight in touch with our team of CAT experts to get started today.

Which courses require the CAT?

The CAT is required by Oxford University for courses which include the study of Classics. These courses include:

  • Classics (I and II)
  • Classics and English
  • Classics and Modern Languages
  • Classics and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

All of these courses are competitive at Oxford and not only require a strong performance in the CAT, but also an excellent application and successful interview. Reach out to The Profs’ admissions consultants to help secure a place on your chosen Classics course.

What is included in the CAT exam?

The CAT is a paper-based test which is divided into three sections: the Latin Translation Test, the Greek Translation Test and the Classics Language Aptitude Test (CLAT). Each section lasts 1 hour. The section you are required to take depends on the course you are applying for and what you have previously studied. See the table below for details on which sections you should take.

Course you’re applying for Section/s you should take
Classics I

You must take the paper(s) in the language(s) you are studying.
Classics II

You must take the third paper, the Classics Language Aptitude Test (CLAT).
Classics and English You must take the paper(s) in the language(s) you are studying.
Classics II and English You must take the third paper, the Classics Language Aptitude Test (CLAT).
Classics and Modern Languages You must take the paper(s) in the language(s) you are studying. If you’re not studying a language, you must take the third paper, the Classics Language Aptitude Test (CLAT).
Classics and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies All candidates must take the third paper, the Classics Language Aptitude Test (CLAT). Plus (for those studying Latin or Greek to A-level or equivalent) you must also take the Translation Test(s) in your chosen language (For both Q8T9 and T9Q8).

Greek and Latin Translation Tests

The two translation papers each last for one hour and consist of two questions. Question 1 will present a passage of poetry and question 2 will present a passage of prose in the target language. You must translate these passages into English.

The passages are intended to be suitable to A-level students (or equivalent), however they may include vocabulary or grammar you have not yet covered or are not familiar with. You are also not allowed to take dictionaries or notes into the test, so it’s important that you prepare thoroughly.

Classics Language Aptitude Test (CLAT)

The third section of the CAT is the CLAT. This section is designed to assess your ability to analyse how languages work and aptitude for learning new languages quickly. The CLAT lasts for one hour and consists of three sections:

  • Section A tests the workings of a real language. You will be given data from one or more existing world languages and be asked to do exercises based on that data, such as filling the gaps or choosing correct forms for words in that language.
  • Section B tests how well you will adapt to a new language. This is similar to the OLAT (which has been discontinued) in that it presents a made-up language and asks you questions based on the data presented to you. You will need to find linguistic patterns in the language.
  • Section C tests how well you know the workings of English. You will be given multiple exercises based on grammar, sentence structure, and other elements of the English language to complete.

How is the CAT marked?

Each section of the CAT is marked out of 100. Each of the language translation sections (Greek and Latin) allocate 50 marks for each question. The CLAT splits the total marks between its sections:

  • Section A: 25 marks
  • Section B: 50 marks
  • Section C: 25 marks

The questions in the CAT are right-or-wrong questions and there is little room for interpretation, which is why it is so important to prepare thoroughly. See our tips below for how to prepare.

When is the CAT?

The CAT usually takes place in early November. You must ensure you have registered for the test through an authorised test centre (see below) before the September deadline to ensure that you are eligible.

It is not possible to re-sit the CAT. If you feel you did badly due to extenuating circumstances, such as being ill on the day of the test, then your test centre can submit a special consideration form for you. However, application forms must be received within 5 days of the test date.

How do you register for the CAT?

To register for the CAT, you will need an authorised test centre to register you on your behalf. For most candidates, their authorised test centre is their school or college, however you should check this with your Exams Officer to make sure. If your school or college is not authorised, they can register to become a test centre at any time before the September deadline. Alternatively, you can find an open test centre to register with. You can find your nearest test centre via the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT) website.

In order to register, you will need to provide your personal details and UCAS number, as well as the name of the university (Oxford), course and course code, which you can find on UCAS or the individual subject page for your course. You can register from early September and you must have your candidate entry number as proof of entry by the September deadline.

Please note that registration is not automatic for any admissions tests at Oxford, including the CAT, so you must register through a test centre before the end of September.

How much does the CAT cost?

Oxford University does not charge candidates to take the CAT. However, some independent test centres do charge an administration fee to candidates, so contact your local test centre for details.

When can you find out your CAT results?

Your CAT results will not be automatically published, however you can request them as part of the usual feedback process. Oxford University will receive the results of all tests in time to make their shortlisting decisions in November, so you do not need to send your results to them separately.

4 tips for preparing for the CAT

1. Work on your translation skills

If you are required to take one of the translation sections of the CAT, it’s important that you work on your translation skills in preparation for the exam. Although the passages you’ll face in these sections are designed to be suitable for A-level students, it is likely that you will encounter vocabulary and grammar that you are not familiar with.

Try to use resources other than your school textbook/A-level work to practise your translation skills. You should also try to expand your vocabulary as much as possible and learn common grammatical structures that may come up. The more familiar you become with your chosen language, the easier you will find the CAT exam.

2. Read about and study Linguistics in your own time

Linguistics is the study of language and is what the Aptitude Test section of the CAT (CLAT) is rooted in. Although Linguistics is rarely taught at school-level (besides some elements if you are studying English Language), you can familiarise yourself with the kind of problems you will face in the CLAT by reading about and studying Linguistics, particularly grammatical and morphological structures, in your own time. This will help you to learn how to see languages from a technical perspective and identify patterns more easily. Here are some books to could use to get started:

  • Sentence Structure – Nigel Fabb (2005)
  • Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language – Steven Pinker (1999)
  • An Introduction to Linguistic Typology – Viveka Velupillai (2012)

Top tip: For section B of the CLAT you can use some of the past papers and tips suggested in our past OLAT preparation guide. The OLAT has been discontinued, however, it is similar to the CLAT so checking out this material can help enhance your preparation for the CAT.

3. Take practice tests under timed conditions

Taking practice tests under timed conditions is one of the best ways you can prepare for the CAT, as it gives you an understanding of the types of passages or questions you’ll be asked and the environment you’ll face in the real exam. You can find every past paper from 2010 to 2021 on Oxford University’s CAT page. There are also test solutions for the 2010-2020 papers which you can use to mark your practice tests.

Completing practice tests under timed conditions will also help you to gauge how fast you need to work in the exam. You’ll only have a short time (1 hour) to complete each section of the CAT, and time is one of the main factors students taking each of the sections struggle with, so ensuring you are able to complete as much of the paper as possible in the time allowed will give you an advantage.

You should also look at patterns in the past papers to see what is most likely to come up – and therefore what is most important to learn – in your own test. For example, there might be certain grammatical structures or tenses that come up in the translation exercises that you need to familiarise yourself with.

4. Get help from a professional CAT tutor

How you perform in the CAT will impact how likely you are to be offered a place on your chosen course, so it’s really important that you are prepared to do as well as possible in the exam. Unfortunately, schools and colleges are oftentimes not equipped to provide specialist CAT preparation due to a lack of experience, expertise or resources.

As a result of these difficulties, we advise seeking a professional CAT tutor to help you through the process. The Profs’ CAT tutors have many years of experience preparing students for the CAT exam, with many having actual experience as university admissions officers as well. Over these years, they have built a bank of previous questions and developed in-depth knowledge of the mark scheme, so they know exactly what examiners will be looking for.

If you work with The Profs, you are more than three times more likely to get into Oxford, which is ranked as the best university in the UK for Classics. You’ll also gain invaluable independent study skills that will prepare you for higher education, as well as a deeper and broader understanding of the subject area.

Plus, you can trust us to guide you through every stage of the admissions process to ensure that you don’t just succeed in the CAT, but also achieve top A level or IB grades and perform well in your interview. Reach out to our team today to get started.