English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT)

What is the ELAT?

The ELAT is a 90-minute exam (unless you have special requirements that mean you need extra time) for those applying to English undergraduate courses at the University of Oxford. You will be asked to write one essay, where you will compare two extracts of the same theme.

The ELAT will test your ability to closely read a text and write an articulate response to texts you have not seen before.

How is the paper formatted?

You will always be asked the same question:

Select two of the passages (a) to (f) and compare and contrast them in any ways that seem interesting to you, paying particular attention to distinctive features of structure, language and style. 

When you open your paper, you will be presented with a list of six different extracts ordered chronologically, ranging from fiction, non-fiction, poetry, prose and drama although you won’t get examples of each type of text every year. The texts are all related to each other by theme. The theme will be made clear to you on the page listing the texts in your booklet. The following pages will have the text extract themselves. You will write your answer in a separate booklet.

For example, the theme in the 2019 paper was ‘parting’. The candidates were given a range of unseen texts linked to this theme, including a poem written in 1663 and a non-fiction memoir written in 1931. These texts have been chosen because they are unfamiliar to most candidates but still accessible and thought-provoking, so don’t worry if you don’t recognise an author or their work.

What is the assessment criteria?

Generally, here is what the examiners are looking for:

  • understanding of the passages
  • analytical skills and responsiveness to the literary quality of the writing
  • ability to structure your comparison clearly and effectively.

In other words, the examiners will be looking at how well you analyse the text, the quality of your quotes and how you move between one passage and the next. They also want to see a well-structured essay. It is crucial that you reference the ways in the writer has used structure, language and style to express their ideas.

How to approach writing your essay

This is a comparative essay, so the purpose is to closely compare and contrast your two chosen extracts throughout your writing. You are advised to spend about half an hour reading the texts, planning which two texts you want to write about and planning your answer. That will leave one hour to write your essay.

Your essay should be organised so that key similarities and differences between the texts are apparent. The purpose is to be comparative, so avoid spending the first half of your essay discussing one extract and the second half discussing the other text. Instead, you should decide on where connections lie and structure your answer around that. Given that the questions asks you to think about structure, language and style, it is also important that you think about how the author expresses their ideas using these features.

In terms of structure, to start with, think about the ‘big idea’ tying together your essay. In other words, what do these extracts tell you about the theme? Explain this idea in your introduction. Break this idea down into around three sup-topics: these sub-topics will form the basis of each paragraph in your essay. For each paragraph, it can be useful to use a ‘point, evidence, exploration’ model, so that essay is easy for the examiner to follow and also so that you sustain your analysis throughout the essay. For each paragraph, provide evidence from both texts side by side and weave your exploration of each extract together, so that you are always comparing the texts rather than discussing them separately. Make sure your quotes are verbatim (i.e., copy quotes from the text exactly how they are). By far, the most important part of your essay is the exploration, as this is where you can offer your own ideas!

Start with the most important point as your first paragraph, and then taper down in importance. This is a good way to express your response to the theme but it also ensures that, if you run out of time, your most important points are covered!

Spend roughly the same amount of time on each extract in your answer and choose quotes from the text that you think illustrate the point you are making well. Avoid referencing any other reading in your comparison of the two texts- you will not be awarded more marks if you make reference to texts you have read in school.

Advice on how to prepare

You don’t need to do any specific preparation for the ELAT, however here are some helpful resources:

For an overview of ELAT, please visit this website: https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/elat/about-elat/. You can also watch this video: (2) ELAT Overview - YouTube.

There are lots of past papers and examiners comments on the ELAT website: https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/tests/elat Remember, the structure of the test changed in 2018!

For a detailed walk-through of the ELAT, watch this video of current students discussing an ELAT paper: (2) ELAT Workshop - YouTube

Here are some recollections and advice from students and a tutor: https://www.english.ox.ac.uk/advice-taking-english-literature-admissions-test-elat#collapse2043011