The ELAT is a great opportunity to demonstrate your skills as a student of literature; this is your chance to show off what makes you unique as a writer and thinker. The range of questions allows you to choose texts with which you are most comfortable, and to come up with some creative comparative work.
Firstly, I recommend visiting the ELAT website, downloading some past papers and also printing off the notes made available for candidates and teachers. Here you'll find invaluable advice from the admissions testers on just what they're looking for in your exam script. Familiarising yourself with the marking criteria is also a great way to make sure you know exactly how to approach the exam.
Now you're organised, it's time to get some exam practice under your belt so you'll arrive on the day feeling as prepared as you possibly can be. I really believe that the benefits of exam practice extend far beyond the initial academic reward - you'll feel a lot more peaceful on the day if you've familiarised yourself well with the task at hand.
My top tips for exam practice are:
1) Get rid of your phone, laptop (unless you're allowed a word processor in the exam), iPod/ iPad, and anything else that might distract you. Try and create an environment as close to your school’s exam conditions as possible. Let your family/the people you live with know what you’re doing so hopefully they won’t disturb you either.
2) Do the paper under timed conditions. It’s really important you get to grips with the time limit so that you know roughly how much you can write within the allocated time. A good starting point for many people it to have a goal to write at least an introduction, 3 clearly argued distinct points, and a conclusion, but you need to figure this out for yourself.
3) As time is of the essence, think about how you can best use yours. Do you want spend time reading and planning before you begin, or will you just launch in? I recommend the former! Spend at least 15 minutes reading the texts provided and sketching out a plan for yourself. You don’t have much time so this doesn’t need to be, and should not be, an incredibly detailed plan – you just need to have a strong sense of what your argument will be and where your essay is going. During your exam practice, figure out what the right balance is for you between planning and actually writing; don’t be afraid to spend a bit more time thinking before you get going with your answer – it really does pay off.
4) Practice writing about a variety of genres. If you know poetry isn’t your strong point, or that, for you, nothing could possibly be worse than answering on a play, then do look towards the novels etc. first on the day but this approach can be very limiting. It’s good to get used to writing about different types of texts from a variety of periods in order to give yourself the best shot when it counts. How you perform in these practice tests doesn’t matter so really challenge yourself to tackle tricky questions.
5) Don’t wait until the week before to start looking at papers! The ELAT takes place around the beginning of November so, if you’re at school/college, this is during quiet a busy time. Try to organise yourself sufficiently well so that you can keep on top of your usual work, get a strong application into UCAS, and maintain a steady level of ELAT practice. Starting in advance will impress your teachers too and they might be more inclined to take a look at and mark some of your work – let them know you’re preparing for the ELAT (don’t assume someone else will have told your English teacher!) and seek as much help as possible.
6) It’s really important that you do write some full essays in preparing for the ELAT but in those moments when you’re running low on time, just practising planning some essays can be very helpful too – it only takes 15 minutes and will get you used to skim reading, thinking critically, and formulating an argument within very little time.
Read, read, read! One of the best things you can do to prepare for the ELAT, and any university interviews you might have, is to read widely and creatively. Don’t be a passive reader – approach texts with a critical eye and think carefully about what you do and don’t like, and why. It can be helpful to keep a brief reading journal so you can reflect on this when it comes to writing your Personal Statement. Don’t be afraid to read texts that are a bit off the beaten track (this can be a real strength!) but also don’t read something just because it’s a bit different. Be guided by your own taste as these are the texts you’ll be able to talk about best at interview, and will help you immeasurably in coming across as genuinely interested. If you enjoy a book, try and find out more about the author, what else they’ve written and who they might have read before approaching their own writing. An awareness of context is an aid to any literature student and will be a big help in the ELAT as you’ll be able to roughly place the given texts within a certain literary movement, and, more importantly, will have some idea of what that the repercussions of that might be.