MLAT: University entrance exams

Posted 11th July 2017 by Alice Farrell

MLAT

MLAT

Students will need to take the Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT) if they apply for an undergraduate degree in Modern Languages, Linguistics and their joint schools at the University of Oxford.

The MLAT is made up of different tests for different language and Linguistics courses, as well as a Philosophy test for the joint course of Philosophy and Modern Languages. The Philosophy test is 60 minutes long, and the other papers are 30 minutes long. Students will need to take a maximum of two papers.

In this article, we’ll explain the content of each of the different tests your student might take, and share some advice from our tutors who have recently passed the tests themselves.

Which tests will my students need to take?

Find out which test(s) students are required to take for your desired degree course here.

  1. Applicants for single language courses will need to take a test in the language for which they have applied
  2. Applicants for the single language course in Russian will also need to sit the Language Aptitude test
  3. Applicants for courses combining two modern languages will need to take tests in both the languages for which they have applied
  4. Applicants for Philosophy and Modern Languages will need to take the Philosophy test

The language tests are designed to assess students’ knowledge of the basic structures of the language. If they are applying for a joint course with Linguistics or a single language where the first-year course includes the compulsory study of Linguistics, they will be required to take the Linguistics test. This test is designed to assess how students approach different kinds of unfamiliar linguistic data and set about analysing them.

If your student is applying to study a language from scratch, they will be required to take the Language Aptitude test. This test is designed to test their ability to analyse how languages work, in a way which doesn’t depend on their knowledge of any particular language.

The language test(s) are designed to test students’ knowledge of the language(s) they wish to study. Encourage your students to read as much as they can in the language(s) they’re applying to study – newspapers, novels, and plays are all good options.

Encourage your students to read as much as they can in the language(s) they’re applying to study – newspapers, novels, and plays are all good options.

In the test(s), students’ grammar will be tested, and they will be asked to translate from English into the foreign language, and from the foreign language into English. The translations are not designed to test the size of students’ vocabulary; so students should focus on grammar, not vocabulary.

Students should begin by doing one of the past papers under test conditions (i.e. without a dictionary or grammar book). This will help them to work out what they need to revise. Encourage students to use a grammar book to revise the topics they’ve struggled with in the past paper before moving onto another one. Remind them that these exercises will also help them with their A Level (or equivalent) later on!

Here are some tips from some of our tutors who have recently passed the language test:

“Don’t be lazy – getting your head round more difficult grammar, such as the pluperfect subjunctive in Spanish, will pay off. The tutors want to see who’s gone the extra mile, so revise in detail – yes, that means learning your irregular verbs. Focus on revising grammar, not vocabulary – you can’t cover all the vocabulary that might come up, and nor are you expected to. When you come across an unfamiliar word in the test, don’t panic – use the context in which the word is used to make a good guess. The tutors don’t expect you to know everything already! On the day, be a bit wary of each question. The test is supposed to be challenging, so if a question seems too easy (i.e., it doesn’t seem to be testing something at least a bit tough), think again because you might have missed something.” – Isabella S, Spanish & Russian at Queen’s College, Oxford

The Linguistics test is designed to be accessible by applicants who haven’t studied Linguistics before, and aren’t familiar with the technical terms used by linguists. The test assesses students’ ability to examine and interpret different kinds of unfamiliar linguistic data. Again, students should use past papers to get used to the style of the test. Applicants can start by doing 2016 past paper under test conditions, and then using the answers to understand where they went wrong.

“For the Linguistics test, you’ll be asked some questions which might seem a bit crazy for a beginner – often, they give you a totally made up language or a really obscure one that only 100 people speak or something. This test is designed to see what you can learn from phrases or sentences when you don’t even know what any of the words mean. To prepare, I’d recommend looking at the United Kingdom Linguistics Olympiad (UKLO) test papers and problems, because the exercises are very similar to the ones in the Linguistics MLAT. I got a Bronze when I took the UKLO and I found the MLAT Linguistics test really quite easy, and if you’re a fan of Linguistics and/or languages in general, the UKLO is fun anyway! There will probably also be a more theoretical Linguistics question. To prepare for this, I’d just recommend reading around! You should be doing this anyway if you’re applying to study Linguistics.

“This test is designed to see what you can learn from phrases or sentences when you don’t even know what any of the words mean.”

In my MLAT, I was given a question about how a child would interpret 2 pictures, one of a juggler throwing a ball to a girl, and one of a juggler and a girl standing separately. I was asked why children would point at the first picture when hearing the sentence ‘The juggler is gorping the girl’, and at the second when hearing the sentence ‘The girl and the juggler are gorping’. It was all to do with the fact that in the first picture, the juggler was doing something TO the girl, whereas there was no sign of a subject-to-object relationship in the second picture. It might seem a bit complicated, but it really does make sense when you start looking in more detail!”Maddison S, French & Linguistics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University

If your student is applying to study a language from scratch, they will need to take the Language Aptitude test. The Language Aptitude test is designed to test their ability to make sense of a new language. The test will introduce them to an invented language, tell them a bit about how the invented language differs from English, and then ask them to translate from English into the invented language, and from the invented language into English.

Encourage your student to do a past paper to keep up to speed with the kind of careful reading they are required to do, and to get used to spotting and interpreting the differences between similar forms.

Encourage your student to do a past paper to keep up to speed with the kind of careful reading they are required to do, and to get used to spotting and interpreting the differences between similar forms. Essentially, your student will need to make sense of the invented language by comparing and contrasting similar phrases.

“The Language Aptitude test is a challenge, but a fun one – it’s about spotting patterns. You need to work out what words mean, and when things like prefixes and suffixes are used, and then you need to use your knowledge of the invented language to translate into and out of the invented language. Be open-minded – the grammar of the invented language is likely to be very different from the grammar of the language(s) you know. Write down everything you work out as you go along; you’re working with an invented language, so you won’t be able to remember everything! I think my knowledge of the Latin case system really helped, because I was used to working out if a noun or pronoun was a subject, a direct object, or an indirect object. If you haven’t studied a language like Latin before, I’d suggest looking up case. You aren’t given a lot of time to complete the test, so it’s important to stay calm and focus throughout the test.” – Isabella S, Spanish & Russian at Queen’s College, Oxford University

In the test, you’ll have to unearth the structure of the invented language from a series of phrases in that language – an understanding of the structure of languages in general will help you do this!

“The Language Aptitude test is essentially a puzzle. Revising the grammar of the language(s) you are already studying is good preparation for the test, but it’ll also help to start thinking about grammar in general, especially if you haven’t studied a language with a case system (e.g. German) before. In the test, you’ll have to unearth the structure of the invented language from a series of phrases in that language – an understanding of the structure of languages in general will help you do this! To begin with, watch this video to get an understanding of what subjects, direct objects, and indirect objects are – in the test, you’ll probably need to look for the subject of each sentence.” – William S, German & Italian at Exeter College, Oxford University

Written by - Alice Farrell

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