This guide is for anyone applying to sit Oriental Languages courses at the University of Oxford. In the sections below you can find out if you need to sit the test and how you go about doing that. There is also advice on how best to prepare for the OLAT and how important the test will be to your application to study at Oxford.
What is the OLAT?
OLAT is the Oriental Languages aptitude test. The key word here is ‘Aptitude’: the test is meant to highlight your potential for language learning. It isn’t something you can or should try to cram information for, so you can relax on that front!
Which universities require you to take the OLAT?
The OLAT is for entry to Oxford University. It is taken by applicants to courses in Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish or Persian. If you are applying for any of the following course titles at Oxford, you will need to do the OLAT: Oriental Studies, European and Middle Eastern Languages, Oriental Studies with Classics, Theology and Oriental Studies.
What is the format of the OLAT?
The OLAT involves questions on a made up language with a structure rules that no candidate will have experienced before. It is 30 minutes long, so pretty short. There are usually three or four sections to the test. Each section builds on the last, so you will need to work through them chronologically.
How difficult is the OLAT?
The OLAT is designed to put everyone on a level playing field, regardless of educational background. Of course the high pressure of an exam means it’s bound to be a bit stressful. Remember this is a high level puzzle meant to stretch budding linguists, so it should be challenging. Thirty minutes is very short time: you won’t be able to do the test ‘perfectly and you may not be able to answer every single question. Imperfections don’t mean you haven’t done well – the test should highlight the quality of your attention to details of language and your thought process. If you can keep your cool, and keep a steady pace through the questions, the OLAT can help you confirm that your course choice really suits you. If you are a language lover and natural linguist, the OLAT can feel like a fun word game!
What is a good score on the OLAT?
The average score can vary, but in 2020 at Mansfield College for example, the mean score for applicants who sat the OLAT was 59.2. The mean score for shortlisted applicants was 60.0, and 61.4 for those who went on to receive an offer, so the differences were pretty tight. The College did not look at the OLAT scores prior to shortlisting, but used them after in order to differentiate between shortlisted candidates. There is no score that can guarantee you will get short-listed: many contextual factors are considered, including the quality of the applications in the cohort of applicants and the difficulty of the test that year.
How important is the OLAT?
The Oxford admissions process is very thorough. Thus the OLAT is one part of a big picture: interviews, essay submissions, perhaps other tests if you are combining with another subject. It is hard to weigh up which parts are more ‘important’ than the others. It will help you to see each section of the process as a new chance to shine, rather than a chance to be ‘caught out’.
Is the OLAT an online test?
The OLAT is to be taken in a registered test centre (usually your school). It is normally done on paper rather than online. You must register for it separately to the normal UCAS form.
Where can I find practice tests and past papers for the OLAT?
On the Oxford website there are plenty of practice papers to get used to the format and style of the test. Don’t overdo it though, the paper is designed to make prior knowledge unnecessary. You will have plenty of preparation to do for your main school exams at this time, so don’t neglect those!
What are the best ways to prepare for the OLAT?
The OLAT requires you to
-Attempt to ‘translate’
-Spot patterns to infer grammatical rules
-Apply those grammatical rules in new contexts
It will be useful to remind yourself of the key ‘parts’ of language: nouns, verbs, adjectives and particles, case endings and so on. Being able to pick out what class of word you are looking at can help you straight away to translate more accurately.
Especially, if you are not yet familiar with the idea of genitive, nominative and accusative cases from the languages you have already learned than give them a google! Many of the made up languages include case markers, so it is very helpful to have a grasp of how those might work across languages.
You could consider practicing some translation for your current languages if you don’t have much experience of that yet. Think about what is required to translate between languages: it can’t simply be done ‘word for word’ or google translate would have taken over by now! Rather, there are rules of grammar to take into account. Where does the subject have to go? Does the adjective come before or after the noun? This will prepare your brain to consider the same things might be happening in the unfamiliar language.
The most important characteristic of an expert linguist is tolerance for ambiguity. This means opening your mind to what is in front of you and trying to make sense of it without getting overwhelmed or discouraged. Let this be your mind set for the OLAT and you cannot go far wrong.
Tutors for the OLAT
Keystone has a range of specialist tutors who can assist students approaching Oxford university aptitude tests including the OLAT. Our OLAT tutors have extensive experience with the exam, both through having successfully sat the test and then gone on to tutor it. Contact us to find out more.