How to Prepare for the OLAT

2023 update: The OLAT has been cancelled. It carried a lot of similarity to the MLAT which is still running. Check out our article on how to prepare for the MLAT.

The Oriental Languages Aptitude Test (OLAT) is an admissions test used by Oxford University to assess your ability to analyse how languages work and your aptitude for learning new languages quickly. It is a particularly unfamiliar and time-pressured test for many students, so it’s important that you prepare for the challenges and learn actionable strategies for success.

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

What is the OLAT?

The OLAT (Oriental Languages Aptitude Test) is the admissions test used by Oxford University for a range of Oriental Studies courses. It is a short exam, lasting only 30 minutes, which aims to test your problem-solving and language-learning skills. It doesn’t seek to assess your knowledge of or aptitude in any particular language – rather, it is looking for your ability to identify patterns in and learn new and unfamiliar ones.

Despite not requiring specific subject knowledge, we strongly advise all students sitting the OLAT to practise and prepare for the exam in advance. Read on to find out how to prepare or get straight in touch with our team of OLAT experts to get started today.

Which courses require the OLAT?

The OLAT is only required by Oxford University for courses which include the study of Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Arabic or Jewish Studies. These courses include:

  • Oriental Studies
  • Classics and Oriental Studies
  • European and Middle Eastern Languages
  • Religion and Oriental Studies

You may also encounter the OLAT when applying for other language courses, such as Japanese and Chinese. It will not be used as a required admissions test, but may instead be used as a pre-interview test – your interviewers may then ask you about your answers in the interview. If you are applying to study any course in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford, we therefore recommend that you familiarise yourself with the OLAT ahead of your interview. Reach out to one of our OLAT experts to find out more about how you should prepare.

What is included in the OLAT exam?

The OLAT is one of the shortest admissions tests and usually consists of just three sections. These sections will focus on one made-up language, presenting a range of words and sentences for you to find patterns in. Then, you must answer questions about the language, which may include:

  • What is the meaning of [word/phrase]?
  • Translate this English sentence into [language]
  • Translate these phrases/sentences into English

The OLAT requires you to not only identify similarities and differences between the language presented and English, but also identify markers relating to certain properties of the text, including gender, tense, and person.

When is the OLAT?

The OLAT takes place on Wednesday 2nd November. You must ensure you have registered for the test through an authorised test centre (see below) before 30th September to ensure that you are eligible.

It is not possible to re-sit the OLAT. 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 OLAT?

To register for the OLAT, 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 16th September. 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 1st September and you must have your candidate entry number as proof of entry by 30th September.

Please note that registration is not automatic for any admissions tests at Oxford, including the OLAT, so you must register through a test centre before the 30th September.

How much does the OLAT cost?

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

Your OLAT 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 OLAT

1. Take practice tests under timed conditions

Taking practice tests under timed conditions is one of the best ways you can prepare for the OLAT, as it gives you an understanding of the types of questions you’ll be asked and the environment you’ll face in the real exam. You can find every past paper from 2008 to 2021 on Oxford University’s OLAT page. There are also test solutions for the 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 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, as you’ll only have a short time (30 minutes) to complete the questions. Time is one of the main factors students taking the OLAT 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, the gender and plurality of words are common properties you will need to decipher in order to translate the language, so you know that learning the different ways gender and plurality are coded in language will most likely be useful.

Top tip: While you should aim to complete the test in the time provided, it’s best to focus on quality over quantity. Many students do not make it through the whole exam in 30 minutes, and it’s better to build a solid comprehension of the language and its structures in order to answer the questions accurately, than to rush through the questions, not grasping the key information.

2. Scan through the paper before attempting the questions

When you’re preparing for the OLAT, we suggest getting into the habit of scanning through the paper before attempting the individual questions. Often, the sight of an unfamiliar language can feel overwhelming, but if you give yourself just a couple of minutes to scan through, you’re sure to start noticing similarities such as common words and structures almost immediately.

It’s also worth noting that often the questions in the OLAT build upon each other. For example, section A might be asking for individual meanings of words, but by section C, you may be being asked about tenses or more complex translations. If this is the case, we suggest working through the questions methodically, rather than skipping ahead and doing questions out of the order they’re asked in. This will ensure that you don’t miss any key pieces of information about the language.

3. Read about and study Linguistics in your own time

Linguistics is the study of language and is what the OLAT 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 OLAT 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)

4. Find a strategy that works for you

Use your preparation to find a strategy that helps you to work quickly and efficiently. This might be highlighting words that mean the same thing in the same colours, identifying the word order (for example, Subject Verb Object or another combination), or creating a quick table with each of the words translated down the side to refer back to throughout the questions.

Don’t be afraid to annotate and make notes on your exam paper and always ask for extra paper if you need it. Showing your working out or your thought process in a clear way will not only help you keep track of the translations and rules you have worked out so that you can apply them later in the test, but it can also help the examiner to see that thought process, which is an important part of what they are assessing.

Top tip: Using the information provided about the language at the start of your test can also give you a clue as to what you should be focusing on first when approaching the text. For example, the language you are given may be unlike English in that it does not distinguish between simple and progressive tenses, so the same word can mean, for instance ‘I see’ and ‘I am seeing’. Taking note of this will ensure that you are not spending time looking at tenses and instead focusing on the obvious differences in the language.

5. Get help from a professional OLAT tutor

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

The Profs’ OLAT tutors have many years of experience preparing students for the OLAT 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 second best university in the UK for Asian Studies. You’ll also gain invaluable independent study skills that will prepare you for higher education, as well as a deeper and broader understanding of Oriental Studies.

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 OLAT, but also achieve top A level or IB grades and perform well in your interview. Reach out to our team today to get started.