10 Top Tips to Ace the MLAT

3 min read

Sitting the Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT) is an important step in the application process to study Modern Languages at the University of Oxford. There isn’t a specific mark that you’ll need to achieve for tutors to shortlist you for an interview. However, it makes sense that any candidate should want to score as highly as possible to boost their application and be in with the best shot of studying at Oxford. We’ve compiled a list of 10 top tips for you to follow to make sure you’re as well prepared as possible to ace the MLAT.

Our 10 Top Tips to ace the MLAT:

1. Find out which sections you’ll need to complete

The MLAT comprises 10 separate sections. 8 individual Modern Language sections, 1 Language Aptitude Test (LAT), and one Philosophy section for those applying to read Modern Languages and Philosophy. You’ll only need to complete 1 or 2 of these, depending on the course that you are applying to study at Oxford.  

There’s no point studying hard for the Language Aptitude Test (LAT) portion only to find out you never had to sit it in the first place. It’s important to be 100% sure of the required sections for you. Find out more about the structure of the MLAT, and the sections that you’ll need to study for, in our article ‘What is the MLAT?’, and on the University of Oxford website.

2. Get comfortable with the structure

As an exam, the MLAT might differ significantly from the Modern Languages papers that you’re used to sitting. Getting comfortable with the structure of the test before seeing it in the exam hall is vital. It’s no good practising Italian listening papers for the MLAT as the language sections feature only reading and writing questions. So make sure you’re aware of how each section is structured. Find out more about this in our article, ‘What is the MLAT?’.

Also, since it is based on a language made up each year specifically for the MLAT, the LAT section will look particularly unfamiliar and definitely requires significant attention.

3. Ace the MLAT with Past Papers

The best way to get comfortable with the structure of the MLAT is to sit it! Though the exam changes every year, there are similarities across each paper. Going through as many past questions as possible will mean that you’ll be well-equipped to nail it this year. Oxbridge Mind provides free past MLAT papers, along with their equivalent mark schemes, from 2011 to 2021.

4. Replicate exam conditions

In order to best prepare yourself for the MLAT, you should sit these previous tests in exam conditions. It’s no good answering every past paper question under the sun if you’re only used to completing them in double the allotted time with Instagram open beside you. You’ll be far more comfortable, and far less likely to panic when you’re sitting in the exam hall if you’re used to studying in exam conditions.

5. Practice your vocabulary

If you are required to complete 1 of the 8 individual language sections of the MLAT then you’ll need to spend a good amount of time practicing that language. These sections contain a mixture of grammatical and translation-based exercises. Going in equipped with a wide-ranging vocabulary will massively help you out. The key to retaining as much information as possible is to practise little and often. Try to spend 30 minutes every day specifically practising your vocab by reading books and articles written in your language. Going through flashcards or picking a list of words and phrases from the dictionary each day to memorise is also a good way to revise.

6. Speak the language

It’s no use possessing an extensive vocabulary in your target language if you don’t know how to apply it to conversational, grammatically correct sentences! The language sections of the MLAT require you to have a strong grasp on grammar and correct verbal conjugation. The best way to practise this is to converse in your target language as much as possible. Try to regularly chat with a classmate, teacher or someone you know who speaks your target language. See if you can solely converse in that language. This will help you apply your expanding vocabulary to fluid conversation.

7. Immerse yourself in the language

We all know that revising can be a bit of a slog, so it’s a great idea to discover ways that you can study away from your desk. Try and find a book that you can read, a podcast you can listen to or a TV show you can watch that will immerse you in your target language. Make sure to look up any words or phrases that you don’t recognise and make a note of them to try and commit them to memory. This is a great way of studying when the flashcard fatigue has set in!

8. For translation, focus on meaning and fluidity

Translation exercises make up a major part of each MLAT language section. While you can try hard to avoid this, you are bound to come across words, phrases and idioms that you can’t immediately translate. When this happens, it’s important not to panic. Remember: the MLAT is not a vocab test. Oxford tutors are looking for students with an ability to write and translate with confidently, not someone who can memorise, but not effectively use, vocabulary.

So, focus on trying to convey the meaning of the word, phrase or sentence as best you can with fluidity and grammatical accuracy. If you do, it’ll stand you in far better stead than someone who can translate a whole host of obscure vocabulary accurately but with little fluency and grammatical sense.  

9. Take breaks

Whilst revising and doing past papers will prepare you well for sitting the MLAT, overdoing it and burning yourself out will not. Our brains need time to rest and to let any information learned settle. Your revision will be much more effective if you take purposeful breaks during study sessions. For example, go for a walk, call a friend or meditate. Also, remember to take breaks to keep doing things that you enjoy like hanging out with friends, playing sports or making music. You’ll be much better off going in well rested and refreshed on test day than sitting the MLAT burnt out and unhappy.

10.  Don’t focus all your attention on the MLAT

Whilst the MLAT is an important part of your application, Oxford University isn’t looking for a one-dimensional student who can only ace a test. They want to admit well-rounded students who are truly passionate about their subject and want to get involved in college life. So, look beyond the requirements of the MLAT and engage with the broader reach of your course.

Most colleges publish up-to-date reading lists for each course on their website. For example New College has all of their fresher’s Modern Languages reading lists available. Search for your relevant reading list and research the items from it that most interest you. If you’re invited to interview, the Oxford tutors will appreciate your proactivity.

If you follow these top tips, you’ll be in good shape to ace the MLAT. Good luck!

Read our other articles outlining the MLAT and its various sections on our website.

Written by Joseph Watt for Oxbridge Mind

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