How to Prepare for the LAT Section of the MLAT

3 min read

Written by Joseph Watt for Oxbridge Mind

The Language Aptitude Test (LAT) is usually the most unfamiliar section of the University of Oxford’s Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT). It therefore requires particular MLAT preparation. In this article, we take you through everything you need to know about the LAT. How the section is structured, how best to prepare for it and how to do well on test day.

Do I have to sit the LAT? 

Remember, you only have to complete either 1 or 2 sections of the MLAT depending on the course that you are applying to read. So, not everyone who sits the MLAT will have to complete the LAT in order to apply to study Modern Languages at the University of Oxford. In fact, you only need to complete the LAT if you are applying to read a language that you won’t have studied up to A-Level (or equivalent) standard. The only exception to this is if you’re applying to read single honours Russian. Regardless of your current ability, you will need to complete the LAT on top of the individual Russian language section.

Check out our article ‘What is the MLAT?‘ detailing which sections of the MLAT you’ll need to complete. Visit the University of Oxford website to find out more. 

What is the LAT? 

Spanning 2 pages and lasting 30 minutes, the Language Aptitude Test assesses a prospective student’s ability to learn a new language. Each year, a member of the Oxford Modern Languages department devises a made-up language governed by its own specific set of grammatical rules.

In the LAT, the exam will give you an invented language through a series of phrases and sentences. It will evaluate your comprehension of how the language functions according to the information provided. You will need to complete a series of translation exercises. These will ask you to translate a series of words, phrases, and sentences from the given language into English and vice versa.

Given that the language is entirely invented for the purposes of the LAT each year, this will likely seem a fairly alien task. Therefore, getting comfortable with the format through past papers before exam day is vital. Here are a few tips to help you prepare:

Before the Exam

Practise, practise, practise 

The best way to get comfortable with the format of the LAT is to practise. The LAT give candidates a language invented for purpose each year so the best way to practise is by going through past papers. Oxbridge Mind offers a range of MLAT past papers and mark schemes free to access.

Try to sit as many LAT sections in exam conditions as you can before taking the MLAT. This means giving yourself 30 minutes with no distractions to complete each one. Make sure to go through your answers using the relevant mark scheme. This will mean that you can fully understand the grammatical rules of each given language.  

During the Exam 

Exam Technique

Though the invented language used in the LAT portion changes each year, there are certain techniques that you can employ to help when trying to get to grips with grammatical functionality. Here are a couple:

Focus on the Stems 

A ‘stem’ is the root form of a word which contains its core meaning removed from all affixes. For example, in the word ‘undoing’, ‘do’ is the stem detached from the prefix ‘un-’ and the present tense suffix ‘-ing’.

Remember that locating a stem doesn’t always involve removing affixes though. For example, do is the stem for did. In this case, did is past tense without an attached suffix. So the LAT might present the stem ‘bron’ meaning ‘I do’ changed to either ‘bronto’ meaning ‘I did’ and ‘brontana’ meaning ‘we do’. Or they could present ‘brėn’ meaning ‘I did’ and ‘broon’ as ‘we do’.

When looking at each word, phrase and sentence, try to isolate the stems from any word-altering grammatical particles. Thinking about these grammatical particles when categorising words in this way will help you to understand the grammatical functionality of the LAT language. For the most part the answers to each question in the LAT won’t be found directly in the text. You will need to produce the correct answer by understanding the grammatical rules governing the invented language.

When marking the LAT, examiners are looking to see how well you can understand and apply rules that you can locate in the given language. Breaking down words, phrases and sentences in this way will help you to demonstrate just that.

Use your time wisely 

When practising for the LAT, you’ll find that 30 minutes is not a lot of time to get to grips with an entirely new language. In order to succeed, you’ll need to learn to use your time efficiently. You won’t need to use all the vocabulary provided when answering the questions. Instead of spending precious minutes making vocabulary and stem lists. Try to translate vocabulary as and when you are asked to in each exercise.  

Remember: the reason there is no set mark required for candidates to secure an interview is because examiners are looking for candidates who can gain a good grasp of grammatical functionality in a short space of time. They’re not necessarily expecting you, nor are you required, to complete the entire section. It is more important to showcase a greater understanding of the rules governing the given language than to completely finish the LAT.

This doesn’t mean you should spend all your time on the first few questions. Rather, try and complete as much as possible as accurately as possible.

After the exam 

The MLAT is an important part of your application to study Modern Languages at the University of Oxford, but it is not the only thing that matters. There’s no point agonising over the paper after you’ve sat it. You also can’t compare your performance on test day with previous papers since each year is different so, after test day, try your best to forget about it.

For more information on the MLAT as a whole make sure to check out our other MLAT articles. Good luck!

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