Top 10 Tips for Preparing for the ELAT

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The English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT) is an admissions test for applicants pursuing an English undergraduate course at either the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge. The test happens pre-interview. It is one aspect of the application that admissions tutors use to decide if they would invite an applicant for an interview.

It is a paper-based test of a duration of 90 minutes and tests an applicant’s ability to form and articulate an educated and well-informed response to unfamiliar literary material. Furthermore, it also tests the applicants’ close reading skills. 

The test format gives applicants six passages from drama, prose that could be non-fiction or fiction, as well as poems. Test takers then select two from the six passages, before comparing and contrasting both texts. You need to highlight distinctive features of style, language, and structure.

Our Oxbridge application experts have compiled a list of top 10 tips. This includes dos and don’ts for your preparation for the ELAT for the 2024/25 application cycle. 

General Advice for the ELAT

As with any test that you would be taking, early preparation is key when taking the ELAT. That being said, the test is not testing how well-read you are. Neither is it conducted and created with the assumption that you would have done prior texts or literature before you take the text. Hence, especially if you are an international student who is not familiar with the United Kingdom’s syllabus or A-level texts, do not worry. It is a test of your essay writing and language skills. 

Instead, you should focus on your ability to recognise certain literary devices such as that imagery, and allusion. You would also need to be familiar with literary elements such as syntax and language. The form and structure of the text are also important. The ELAT also require you to go further and beyond that, by comparing and contrasting these skills to two chosen texts.

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Top 5 Tips for your ELAT

Follow a good structure when writing your essay

Any good essay would have a clear and concise structure to it. This increases readability and allows you to communicate your ideas to your reader well. It also gives you a good guide to frame your thoughts and ideas. For example, a recommended structure that you can follow is to introduce both the chosen texts in the introduction and briefly highlight your main points. In your multiple body paragraphs, you can then spend each paragraph explaining a key similarity or difference between the two texts. Lastly, you can conclude by wrapping up your essay and summarising what you have written.

For each of your body paragraphs, you can follow a PEEL structure. This means that you can start the paragraph with your main point (a similarity/ difference) before you list an example and its associated literary device or element. This can then be followed by elaborating on how the evidence you have chosen is a key similarity or difference. Lastly, conclude the paragraph by linking it back to your point.

Be flexible

There are exemplar essays that are available online for you to peruse and study. However, do not go into the examination having memorised particular points or paragraphs. This is because it could come off as unnatural in the essay. Or you could risk being completely incorrect in your analysis when you try to force-fit certain ideas or analyses that you have memorised.

Instead, when studying exemplar essays, try and learn how they explain certain concepts or ideas. This would be more useful as the explanation of certain literary devices is more translatable when writing a different essay. Understanding what a good writing style or structure is also more valuable than force-fitting ideas instead.

Practise, practise, and practise!

There are actual past year ELAT papers that are available for you to view and try online, at the official Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing website. It is available at this link: Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing. Practising as many past year papers as possible would allow you to be more familiar with the format of the paper, reducing stress and anxiety on the actual test day itself. It can also give you a better idea on what test markers are looking out for.

Do note that when trying out these practice papers, it would be valuable for you to replicate as many examination requirements as possible. This includes doing it within the restricted time limit, and attempting the paper as close to examination conditions as possible. This also includes not having access to your phone or music when doing the test.

Remember to reference the text

When explaining and elaborating on your points, do remember to reference both texts. You can do so by quoting certain phrases in the text. However, please note to not quote multiple sentences at once (best to keep it to 10 words maximum!). When you do, use quotation marks when doing so.

This is because the marking scheme includes the need for candidates to illuminate references to the text. The most simple and direct way of doing so is through using quotations. If they are not used, it would also be difficult for the reader to identify which part of the text you are referring to when you are unpacking both passages. Remember, you want to make the marking process as simple as possible for the marker. Giving the reader extra work in searching for what you are referring to can cause them to be frustrated and mark you down!

Ensure that you display an understanding of literary features

The examiners mark your essay based on an assessment of your ability to demonstrate skills of close reading of both texts. This means that you should display your ability in identifying features of the structure, language and style. This also includes being able to identify the tone and rhythm of the passage, as well as the literary devices that are used. For example, this could include repetition, allusion, metaphors, imagery, alliteration, and many more. It is also important to highlight the emotions that the text would evoke from the reader. Keep in mind that there is a purpose and aim behind every text that is written. It could be to convey a certain idea, to educate on a certain topic, etc. Identifying it could be useful when noting similarities and differences between texts. 

Top 5 things to AVOID for your ELAT

Choose the more ‘difficult’ or ‘unpopular’ text with the assumption that you would be marked more favourably

Just because certain texts are popular amongst test takers, or just because a text seems too simple or easy to understand, it does not mean that you should avoid that text. Do not choose your texts with the assumption that test markers would mark specific tests more favourably. Instead, you should choose the text that you feel most comfortable with, and one that you understand the most.

A good way to decide which two texts to choose is by highlighting, underlining, or scribbling down certain literary elements and devices that you can identify when scanning through the text. You can also jot down the main themes or ideas of the text. Afterwards, compare all the notes that you have jotted down. Choose the two texts that would give you the most material or points to write about. 

Sacrifice conciseness and readability for fancy vocabulary

Because this is an English Literature test, you might feel pressured to use certain types of words or vocabulary in order to dazzle the test marker. However, this might actually work against you and get in the way instead. Imagine this: your test marker would be marking hundreds of scripts a day, and would be reading the same hundreds of essays. If you use vocabulary that is too difficult and hard to understand, it can confuse the reader and make your essay hard to understand.

Furthermore, there is no part of the marking scheme that awards you for vocabulary. This means that even if you use flowery language, you would not be given extra points for it. Instead, it could make your essay wordy and hard to read, working against your favour instead. 

Simply pointing out similarities or differences and not elaborating

In your essay for the ELAT, it is not sufficient to only list down similarities and differences between the two texts. It is also not enough to merely list down all literary devices and elements that you have identified. Instead, what test markers are looking for is your argumentative and analysis skills. This means that you must always elaborate on any point that you have, be able to summarise your argument or the idea that you are trying to convey, and develop your ideas well.

Avoiding a part or chunk of the text because it is complicated

If there is a certain part of the text that you are unable to understand, try to not select the text completely. If this is not possible, do not simply avoid and not mention it in your essay just because it is ambiguous or difficult to understand. Instead, you should try to engage with it instead.

You can try to elucidate the text by re-reading it, whilst thinking of certain literary devices or elements and noting if it is relevant to that portion of the text that you are reading. You can also inspire thought by thinking about why the text is written in that certain way– is the writer trying to convey a certain kind of message? What kind of emotions is he trying to evoke from the reader? You can try to explain the different possibilities for the style of writing.

Jumping straight into writing your essay once the test starts

Although there is a time limit on the test, do not let this pressurise you into immediately making a choice on the texts that you would be choosing. Instead, carefully read through and annotate the texts. Take about 5 minutes to make a clear plan for the essay that you are prepared to write instead. This could include jotting down a short overview (not full sentences!) of the essay that you intend to write. However, do not take more than 10 minutes planning your essay– after all, it is a time-based test, and you want to give yourself enough time to not only write the essay but also to check your work at the end.

Planning your essay is more valuable than saving that 5-10 minutes because you might find yourself being short on points, or forgetting what you intended to write halfway through your essay. This could either lead to an unfinished essay or force you to redo your whole essay, which would definitely not leave you with enough time. Always plan ahead!

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