How to Prepare for the ELAT

The English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT) is an admissions test used by Oxford University to assess candidates’ close reading skills and ability to shape and articulate an informed response to unfamiliar literary material. As well as the challenge of analysing unseen material in the ELAT, you’ll also need to be able form a clear and well-structured written response in just 90 minutes, so there are many skills required to succeed.

That’s where The Profs’ expert ELAT 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 ELAT and secure a place on your chosen course at Oxford.

What is the ELAT?

The ELAT (English Literature Admissions Test) is an essay-based admissions test used to assess candidates’ suitability for English degree courses at Oxford. It is a 90-minute test in which candidates are presented with six passages of text in a range of forms. They then write a response based on two of these passages.

The ELAT is entirely based on the texts included in the paper, not on your wider knowledge of texts or on what you have previously studied, however there are still many skills you need to develop in order to succeed in the exam and maximise your chance of receiving an interview offer. Read on to find out how to prepare or get straight in touch with our team of ELAT experts to get started today.

Which courses require the ELAT?

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

  • English Language and Literature
  • Classics and English
  • English and Modern Languages
  • History and English

Note that the ELAT is not the only required admissions test for most of these courses. Classics and English also requires the CAT, English and Modern Languages also requires the MLAT, and History and English also requires the HAT. These tests need to be registered for separately – check our helpful guide to which admissions tests are required for your course and links to further guides on how to prepare for each.

What is included in the ELAT exam?

The ELAT is a paper-based test which includes six passages of text (labelled (a) to (f)) on the same theme – this theme will be provided in the introduction of the test. You will be asked to write one essay comparing two of these passages, focusing on elements such as language, imagery, syntax, form and structure.

Although the six passages will be on the same theme, they will be a mixture of different forms – there may be poetry, drama, and prose (fiction and non-fiction), though there won’t necessarily be examples of each of these every year. The passages will also date from different time periods.

You will be given the names of the authors and the dates of publication, as well as the type of prose (novel, essay etc.) for each passage. You are not expected to refer to any other texts or authors other than those included in the passages you choose to analyse.

Oxford University recommends that candidates spend 30 minutes reading and annotating the passages of text provided and the remaining 60 minutes on writing a well-structured, well-written response. For support in practising your essay-writing skills or preparing for other elements of the ELAT, get in touch with our team of ELAT experts.

How is the ELAT marked?

The ELAT paper is marked out of 60. Each paper is marked by two examiners, with each examiner giving a mark out of 30. Then, these two marks are combined to give you an overall score out of 60.

Unlike many school-level English exams, you will not be expected or awarded marks for evidence of wider reading or prior knowledge of the texts or their contexts. Instead, you will be marked on a range of factors, including your ability to:

  • Respond perceptively to unfamiliar writing of different kinds
  • Demonstrate skills of close reading, paying attention to the effects of structure, language and style
  • Construct a well-focused and structured essay based on comparing and contrasting two passages
  • Write fluently and accurately

ELAT results fall into four bands. These bands represent how likely you are to successfully receive an interview offer, with band 1 consisting of candidates who are highly likely to be called for interview and band 4 consisting of candidates who are less likely to be invited to interview.

The number of marks you need to reach each band changes very slightly each year, depending on the cohort of students and the exam paper. In 2020, the scores for each of the four bands were as displayed in the table below.

Band Number of marks (2020)
1 50 to 60
2 43 to 49
3 36 to 42
4 0 to 35

When is the ELAT?

The ELAT usually takes place on a set date in 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 ELAT. 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 ELAT?

To register for the ELAT, 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 the beginning of September and you must have your candidate entry number as proof of entry by the end of September.

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

How much does the ELAT cost?

Oxford University does not charge candidates to take the ELAT. 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 ELAT results?

Your ELAT 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.

5 tips for preparing for the ELAT

1. Take practice tests under timed conditions

Taking practice tests under timed conditions is one of the best ways you can prepare for the ELAT, as it gives you an understanding of the types of texts you’ll be presented with and the questions you’ll be asked. You can find every past paper from 2007 to 2020 on Oxford University’s ELAT page.

Completing practice tests under timed conditions will also help you to gauge how fast you need to work in the exam and learn strategies for analysing the texts, planning your response, and writing your essay. Getting all of your ideas down onto paper in the 90 minutes allowed is one of the main factors students taking the ELAT struggle with, so ensuring you are well-prepared for this will give you an advantage.

Top tip: Oxford University recommends spending at least 30 minutes reading and annotating the passages before beginning your answer. This will not only ensure that you choose the right passages to base your answer on, but also give you time to prepare a well-structured essay that incorporates all of your best analysis.

2. Read widely and in a range of forms and genres

Reading widely and familiarising yourself with a range of forms and genres is invaluable preparation for the ELAT. In the exam, the passages you will be given will be a mixture of different forms and may include poetry, prose (fiction and non-fiction), and drama, so it’s important that you are able to apply your close reading and analysis to all of these types of text. The passages in the ELAT will also date from different periods, so reading texts from different literary eras and time periods will help you improve your understanding of different types of language, much of which you won’t find in modern texts.

3. Use the examiners’ comments to guide your practice answers

Unlike many Oxford admissions tests, for the ELAT the university provides details on what you will be marked on in your answers. You can even find sample essays with examiners’ comments on Oxford’s ELAT page, so make the most of this in your preparation!

When you’re practising answering practice questions, refer to the mark scheme as you write to help guide your answer. You should specifically be looking at how well you respond perceptively to the different forms of writing you’re presented with, whether you demonstrate skills of close reading and attention to the effects of structure, language and style, and whether your essay is constructed in a well-focused and structured way, comparing and contrasting the two passages.

Using the four results bands (see the ‘How is the ELAT marked?’ section above), try to see the essay from your examiner’s perspective and mark it objectively. You can also ask a parent, teacher or professional ELAT tutor to mark your answers to help you better identify where your strengths and weaknesses are and what you can improve on. You should be aiming for answers that fall in band 1 (50 marks or more) for the best chance of receiving an interview offer.

The Profs’ ELAT tutors have many years’ experience and expertise helping students learn how to write answers that are graded in band 1. Reach out to our team to start your ELAT preparation today.

4. Practise analysing passages in your own reading

As well as analysing the tests in the past papers provided, you can also develop your close reading skills by writing about short passages of your own reading. This will help you to practise the techniques you are developing with texts from a range of genres and formats. It will also help you to practise describing the decisions authors have made in their texts and the effect of the techniques they use, both of which you will be assessed on in the ELAT.

5. Get help from a professional ELAT tutor

How you perform in the ELAT 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 ELAT preparation due to a lack of experience, expertise or resources. As a result, we advise seeking a professional ELAT tutor to help you through the process.

The Profs’ ELAT tutors have many years of experience preparing students for the ELAT 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, the best university in the UK for English Literature. 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 ELAT, but also achieve top A level or IB grades and perform well in your interview. Reach out to our team today to get started.