Student Advice

What is the ELAT?

Ben Maples  · Aug 25th 2023  · 4 min

The ELAT is one of the general admissions test that Oxbridge applicants have to fill out. The test is designed to be taken by all English literature and language applicants.

What is the ELAT?

The ELAT is a compulsory admissions test that all students must sit if they are to attend Oxbridge. More specifically, the ELAT is required for students who wish to study English language or literature courses.

Previously, the exam was only required at the University of Oxford. However, since 2016, the University of Cambridge has also required students to sit the exam.

What is the ELAT?

The ELAT is the English Literature Admissions Test. It is a subject-specific admissions test for those looking to study English literature courses or English language courses at either the University of Cambridge or the University of Oxford.

The test is only for undergraduate applicants. Generally, the ELAT is held in and around October or November as part of the pre-interview stage of applying to Oxbridge.

What is the format of the ELAT?

The ELAT is a 90-minute test that is taken on the computer. The test assesses a student’s reading skills, as well as their ability to form responses to works of literature that they are unfamiliar with.

For the literature students, they must interpret from six drama, prose or poetry extracts. The student must write an essay comparing two of the extracts. In this essay, the student is expected to focus on allusion, form, structure, imagery, language and syntax.

Previously, students could compare three passages, however, this was changed to two in 2018. Students are allowed to reference other authors or texts but are not awarded for any additional marks for having done so.

How is the ELAT scored?

Two external examiners mark the ELAT. Students are scored out of 60; each examiner gives a separate mark out of 30, and then the two marks are combined to form the full score. If there is a difference of 5 points or more between the two scores, then a third examiner will mark the work, and then the two nearest points are then thrown together.

Below is an example of three examiners marking, and which two marks are chosen.

Examiner 1's score Examiner 2's score Examiner 3's score Scores used Overall score
25/30 17/30 22/30 1 & 3 47/60

The two universities break down the scores differently. The University of Oxford breaks candidates down into four different bands, while the University of Cambridge does not. They will select candidates on their own internal scoring policies.

The bands at the University of Oxford are:

  • Band 1: The candidates most likely to be called for a university interview.
  • Band 2: Candidates who should probably be invited to interview.
  • Band 3: Candidates who may not be called to interview.
  • Band 4: Candidates who are less likely to be called to interview.

Admissions tutors will then receive a full breakdown of their scores. Students can also ask for their own results back.

How can I prepare for the ELAT?

Although you will be reading texts you have never seen before, it is still possible to prepare for the ELAT. You can prepare for the ELAT the same way as you would for any other examination, so use the revision techniques that you have learned over the years.

Take practice tests

Revising using practice papers is a tried and tested revision method. Many students prefer to take the test under exam conditions and we would recommend you do the same when studying for the ELAT.

Oxford University’s ELAT page has every past paper from 2007 to 2022 available for students to use. This will allow you to see what kinds of texts you will need to read.

Read as much as you can

Reading as much as you can is a great way to prepare yourself for the ELAT. Take a look through previous papers and see what kinds of prose, poetry and literature you typically need to read and see what you find. Who knows, you may luck out and find that one of them is in the reading list!

Use examiner’s comments

Also on the ELAT page at the University of Oxford, is the general examiner’s comments. These comments will describe to you exactly what they are looking for from submissions, and how they are scored.

It is possible to have past papers marked by an actual ELAT examiner. The costs may vary depending on who you ask, but generally, this is free. Otherwise, a parent or teacher can step in.

How much should I write for the ELAT?

Generally, students tend to write between two-and-a-half or three pages for their ELAT. This is usually equivalent to 800 to 1,200 words.

There is no limit on how much you can write. Remember, it is quality over quantity that Oxbridge are looking for.

How difficult is the ELAT?

This will depend on you and your opinion. Generally, the ELAT is considered to be challenging, as it is designed to assess how students are able to interpret text.

You also have to consider where you are applying. The university entry requirements for Oxbridge are incredibly high, therefore their admissions tests are usually scaled with their entry requirements.

What is the cut-off score for the ELAT?

The cut-off scores or pass marks will vary depending on the year you are applying. There is no set cut-off score, as they change with each academic year. Your score will also be weighted against your application.

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