Any candidate applying to study Modern Languages at Oxford or Cambridge will have to sit a written paper as part of the admissions process: The Modern Languages Aptitude Test (MLAT) at Oxford and the Modern and Medieval Languages Admissions Assessment (MMLAA) at Cambridge. There are big differences between the two tests, from the structure and what they are testing to when they are sat. This blog covers the Oxford MLAT. You can read our blog on the Cambridge MMLAA here.
What is the MLAT test?
The Modern Languages Aptitude Test (often referred to as the MLAT), is a 30-minute written exam taken by all candidates applying to study Modern Languages at Oxford. The exam is sat in school or college, and usually takes place a month before the interview period.
Candidates applying to study more than one language sit a separate test in each language studied to IB/A-Level. Any candidate applying to study a language Ab Initio (with no prior study) sits a generalised Language Aptitude Test at the same time.
Candidates applying to study Modern Languages at Cambridge will instead have to sit the Modern and Medieval Languages Admissions Assessment (MMLAA), whose structure differs slightly from the MLAT. Details of the MMLAA can be found here.
Structure of the Oxford MLAT
The MLAT is sat in school or college and usually takes place a month before the interview period. Candidates applying to study more than one language sit a separate test in each language studied to A-Level. Any candidate applying to study a language Ab Initio (with no prior study) sits a generalised Language Aptitude Test at the same time.
The test for each language takes 30 minutes and includes short Grammar and Translation exercises into and out of the target language. Grammar exercises tend to be gap-fills or require candidates to conjugate verbs or agree adjectives, for example. Translations are usually single sentences testing grammatical rules in context. Exact marks and weighting vary from language to language, but as a general rule, more marks are available in the Translation questions than in Grammar questions.
How to prepare for The Oxford MLAT
The MLAT is testing your technical and grammatical knowledge of the language(s) you want to study, so a solid, comprehensive knowledge of grammar is essential.
- Revise the grammar you have studied as part of your IB/A-Level course. Make sure you know all the basics but also review exceptions to the rules.
- Revise vocabulary. This includes not only vocabulary you will use regularly at IB/A-Level but also common vocabulary you looked at when you first started studying the language but don’t use often in your studies now. I have heard an Oxford tutor lamenting that a majority of candidates one year did not know how to translate ‘pillow’, so be prepared!
- Complete some past papers for practice. On its website, Oxford provides papers from the past few years as well as the solutions for some of them and these are crucial to understanding what you will be asked to do during the test. Complete at least two of them in timed conditions and look up any grammatical rules or vocabulary which you are unsure of afterwards.
- Miss anything out when translating. The absolute key thing in a translation is to convey the whole message so make sure you haven’t missed anything out from your translation that will affect meaning. If there’s a word you don’t know, try and find a synonym or use a more general term (‘bird’ rather than ‘pigeon’, for example). If you’re really stuck, use a different word that’s vaguely similar or even just fills the gap – it’s better than leaving a blank.
- Translate too literally. At IB and A -Level, translation exercises are often a way of checking that you’ve understood a passage in the target language. Oxford are expecting you to not only show that you have understood the sentence and all its grammatical quirks, but that you can render it in natural-sounding English. At a minimum, this means no translating word-for-word. A good test is ‘does this sound like it was originally written in English?’ If it doesn’t, jiggle it around until it does. To really get high marks, though, you can be a little bit creative with your English. If there is an idiom in the original sentence, for example, try and find a similar idiom in English which conveys the same meaning.
Is the MLAT difficult?
Candidates who are studying or have studied a language up to IB/A-Level tend to find some elements of the MLAT challenging but not inconceivable.
What is a good score on the MLAT?
The test for each language is typically out of 100 marks and there is no strict ‘pass mark’ so to speak.
It is important to remember that the MLAT is just one part of the Oxford admissions process; a candidate’s MLAT score will be used in combination with the rest of their application when deciding who is invited to interview, and who receives an offer. To hone in on this point, here are some statistics provided by the Vice Chancellor’s and Registrar’s Office at the University of Oxford showcasing real candidates from the 2019/20 intake:
Candidate A: scored 88% on MLAT, not invited to interview
Candidate B: scored 52% on MLAT, invited to interview, received an offer
Candidate C: scored 90% on MLAT, invited to interview, no offer
Is the MLAT an online test?
No, the MLAT is a written test that is sat in school or college. The exam usually takes place a month before the interview period.
Where can I find past papers for the MLAT?
You can find papers from the past few years as well as the solutions for some of them on the Oxford website.
Tutors for the MLAT
Keystone has a range of specialist tutors who can assist students approaching university aptitude tests for Oxford University including the MLAT. Our Modern Languages Admissions Test tutors have extensive experience with the MLAT, both through having successfully sat the test and then gone on to tutor it. Contact us to find out more.