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    Based on a post I made before the ELAT 2009. Now updated with more advice given before the ELAT 2010.


    In this post I summarise the information given on the ELAT website, attempt to explain what is expected of you in the test, give some ideas for preparing for the ELAT, and work through the sample paper as an example.

    None of the advice contained here is in any way authoritative, because it only comes from me. To minimise the possibility of my bad advice leading you astray I've stuck like a limpet to the information given by Cambridge Assessment. You should go to their website first. The intention of this post is the allay any worries that you may have about the test.


    The Test



    The test for applicants this year will be at 9am on the 3rd of November, 2010. You will need to be registered through your centre for the test by the 15th of October, which is the same date as the deadline for Oxford applications.

    From the ELAT website:

    The ELAT is a pre-interview admissions test for applicants to undergraduate courses in English at the University of Oxford. The test is designed to enable applicants to show their ability in the key skill of close reading, paying attention to such elements as the language, imagery, allusion, syntax, form and structure of the passages set for comment.
    ...
    ELAT is a 90-minute test, candidates write one essay comparing two or three passages. This is not a test of wide reading, nor is it based on the assumption that there are certain texts that all students should have read by this stage in their education. Marks will not be awarded for reference to other texts or authors, nor will candidates be expected to try to apply any theoretical frameworks to their essay.
    ...
    Candidates will be given six poems or passages from prose and/or drama. The prose may include fiction and non-fiction. The six passages will be linked in some way, and this link will be made explicit in the introduction to the passages.
    ...
    There will be a single task worded as follows:

    Select two or three 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. In your introduction, indicate briefly what you intend to explore or illustrate through close reading of your chosen passages.
    The most important resource on the website is the sample test, which can be found here. If you have not done so already, I suggest that you sit the sample paper as if it were the real thing, and then ask a teacher very nicely if they can mark it for you. The marking criteria for the ELAT is here. Your teacher probably won't be able to give you a score but they can at least give good feedback.

    I am going to be using the sample paper as a running example from now onwards, so if you are yet to try it stop reading otherwise I'm going to be giving you ideas and ruin it. Click the spoiler for more...

    Spoiler:
    Show

    You have an hour and a half in which to write one essay. The sample paper says: "You should spend at least 30 minutes reading and annotating the passages and in preparing your answer." Obviously, the first thing you need to do is read over the extracts carefully. It will help if you immediately note anything interesting. They will all be "linked in some way", and the "link will be made explicit in the introduction to the passages". With the sample paper, we are told: "The following poems and extracts from longer texts present views of fathers, mainly as seen by their children". As you read through them, think about this "link" and which passages you think would work well being 'compared and contrasted'. There may also be links between some of the extracts which are more subtle than the main link stated at the start of the question paper.

    For example, in the sample paper, within the "link" of "views of fathers", we can see that in B, D and F (and possibly E), the 'father' has died. If you look closely, none of them is solely about "views of fathers", so doubtless there are further thematic links between the extracts in the sample paper that could be drawn out.

    You need to "select two or three of the passages" to "compare and contrast...in any ways that seem interesting to you". The last part - "any ways that seem interesting to you" - is both daunting and somewhat exciting. Essentially, it means you can use the vehicle of the "compare and contrast" exercise to bring out any aspect of your chosen passages that interests you. It doesn't have to be brilliant or completely original. Read the passages carefully and choose something that you think you can talk about confidently and interestingly. With a "compare and contrast" exercise, you have the freedom to draw passages together that are actually quite different, and since the passages in your question paper are carefully picked it is likely that any combination of two or three passages will bring out something interesting. With that in mind, I don't think there is anything wrong with limiting your extracts to help you choose. If, for instance, you're not very confident about prose, stick to the passages of poetry. Only comparing two isn't going to be limiting yourself at all, as there will still be plenty to say.

    Once you've picked your passages and decided on what you "intend to explore or illustrated through close reading of your chosen passages", you can write your introduction: "indicate briefly what you intend to explore or illustrate through close reading of your chosen passages". Be brief. Writing an introduction like this can feel a bit awkward, but it will help the examiner see where you intend on going with your answer.

    It will help to have a rough plan, but don't expect to have it all planned out before you begin. It is likely that half of your ideas will come as you are writing, and you might even find yourself changing as you go along. It is better to produce a good idea at the expense of structure than to ignore something interesting that comes to you simply because it will disrupt your plan. In the pressure of the exam it is better to lay down your ideas as quickly and clearly as possible, rather than worrying about their arrangement or the argument. In whatever plan you do come up with, it is best to concentrate on what you think are your main, strong points, that is, which points of comparison or contrast that you think you can discuss most confidentally to produce an interesting analysis and interpretation. Start with these points, and then bring in the more minor areas later. Basically, you don't want to be sat there for half an hour writing a little prefatory wander through, say, the similar and contrasting features of the syntax, simply because that was in your 'running order', when the most interesting things are happening with the imagery.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, remember with a "compare and contrast" exercise that you are looking at both features that are similar and features that are different, so don't get so caught up on finding the key to all mythologies, on explaining how they are similar that you miss out on how they differ. Showing differences is sometimes a very fruitful way of bringing out how a text works. Also, remember that there is no merit in merely spotting things or naming features; you need to go further and say what the feature does.

    With our example: in D, we could talk about the idea of objects taking the place of the absent father: we have "I have the things you made/and she has made us see you in them./I have the ivory statues and the pictures/telling stories of African ancestors,/a birth, flights into Egypt". Following the final line of B ("take a life immortal from my verse"), which has the idea of a poem itself out-living its subject or its author to be a 'memorial' to them, you could link that with those ideas of the father being remembered in objects, in saying how the passages themselves are memorials to their author's fathers. The timelessness common in those passages seems to work well with this idea, especially with the repeated 'circle' image in D. This idea of literature defeating mortality isn't a particularly new one in literature, but since marks "will not be awarded for reference to other texts or authors", you needn't go out of your way to list other texts that feature it.

    Try to be thorough, but, as I said before, don't point features out for the sake of it. In literature, we are looking for how form and content work together.

    For example, in B from our example, if we look at the last two lines:

    For my life mortal, rise from out thy hearse;
    And take a life immortal from my verse.
    It is not enough to say: "The last two lines rhyme. This is called a couplet." You should say "The last two lines form a rhyming couplet, which gives a sense of resolution to the end of the poem. In rhyming 'hearse' and 'verse', the poet shows the change of his father's location, going 'from out' of the 'hearse' to 'take a life immortal' in the 'verse'."

    The websites mentions that you should be looking at "language, imagery, allusion, syntax, form and structure". (There is a possible issue with "allusion" with regards to the complete eschewal of references to external texts in the mark scheme, but if there is an obvious reference to another text, such as Biblical referencesm there's no harm in briefly pointing them out and saying what they achieve.) It really doesn't matter if you don't know your anapaests from your anaphora, just stick to which features you think are interesting and relevant, and how they achieve what they do. There's only an hour so stick to the important bits.

    Keep an eye on the time as you work. Try to stop at about five minutes before the end, and bring your essay towards a close. When you've been frantically scribbling to get as much down as you can it's easy to forget structure but try to write a conclusion. Almost any conclusion will be better than writing up to the time limit and then just st...

    If you have time left, go over your essay to correct any errors. Then you're done.


    You will receive your results on the 14th of January, 2011, which is most probably after you have heard from your college whether you have an offer.

    Preparation


    If you have not done the sample test yet, do it! Also you could ask your English teacher into finding a some unseen pieces of poetry or prose with a common theme that you could look at then give to them to mark. If you don't have a teacher you could ask and you're really desperate you could always try posting in this thread, and someone might be able to come up with something for you.

    You can do some reading to improve your close reading. At the least, there are plenty of articles on The Internet that purport to explain close reading (such as this, or this, or this, or this). This webpage is very good: a 'virtual class' by Cambridge's English faculty. Like most things, there is no authoritative method to a close reading, so looking at more than one will give you an idea of the essential features. If you want to do more than this, you could try a book on the subject. Some have been recommended by other users, such as How to Read a Poem by Terry Eagleton.

    If you have time for even more reading, the various 'introductions to literary theory' in my reading list for prospective English applicants will help you to think about literature in a more sophisticated way. However, remember: "Marks will not be awarded for reference to other texts or authors, nor will candidates be expected to try to apply any theoretical frameworks to their essay". You don't need to produce psychoanalytic readings, for instance, to get good marks in the ELAT.


    Final Encouraging Remarks


    Even if you don't get time for much preparation, don't worry about it. Close reading is a skill that, without really knowing it, you've been learning in your English lessons throughout school, and even in your everyday reading (since, as a good English applicant, you will always be reading with a critical and incisive mind). The ELAT isn't set by nasty Oxford to trick you out; Oxford can only find the best applicants if they provide you with a platform to really show off your skills, even if you didn't know you had them. As we saw in the worked example above, the passages have been put together to provoke a good result from you. Even if you think it's going badly, the chances are your answer is more interesting than you think.

    That said, doing badly on the ELAT is not a catastrophe:
    a) because, although it is important, it isn't the only factor in your admission
    b) because, although it is quite nice, Oxford isn't the only university in the world.


    Resources


    From admissionstests.cambridgeassessm ent.org.uk/adt/elat (all .pdf):
    - sample paper
    - marking criteria
    - glossary of 'ELAT terms'
    - leaflet (to distribute amongst your friends and relatives)
    - a POSTER of "key dates" (you can put it on your wall and everything)

    From ox.ac.uk:
    - Oxford application timeline
    - Specific English application information


    Post in this thread if you have any comments or suggestions about this guide, and please ask if you have any questions which aren't answered above. If you found this helpful, press the thumbs up at the bottom.
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    (Original post by MSB)
    Based on a post I made before the ELAT 2009.
    Some Opening Remarks

    None of the advice contained here is in any way authoritative, because it only comes from me. To minimise the possibility of my bad advice leading you astray I've stuck like a limpit to the information given by Cambridge Assessment. The intention of this post is the allay any worries that you may have about the test.
    That should be 'stuck like a limpet.:p:[/pedantic]
    Anyway, stickied. Well done for taking the time to compile all that information.
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    I'm really confused and have an urgent question..I'm applying to university of cambrdige for literature.. do i need to give the elat? i know that its written for oxford, but do ppl who apply to cambridge give it?
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    (Original post by ishterz)
    I'm really confused and have an urgent question..I'm applying to university of cambrdige for literature.. do i need to give the elat? i know that its written for oxford, but do ppl who apply to cambridge give it?
    No. Only Oxford uses the ELAT. Some Cambridge colleges do their own written tests during interviews, though.
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    Oh ok thanks. If I'm not applying to Oxford and am going for UCL, do I do the ELAT anyway?(although ELAT is only for Oxford) UCL can't really interview me because I'm an international applicant.Is there a particular advantage to do so?
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    (Original post by MSB)


    Post in this thread if you have any comments or suggestions about this guide, and please ask if you have any questions which aren't answered above. If you found this helpful, press the thumbs up at the bottom.
    Thanks so much for this. I was just wondering if you have any sample answers? Thta would really help. If not, is there any way you can show us an intro? Or some parts from the main body?
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    The ELAT will take place on 2nd November 2011 at 9.00am GMT.

    International candidates should check with their centre to confirm the start time.
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    (Original post by torryton)
    The ELAT will take place on 2nd November 2011 at 9.00am GMT.

    International candidates should check with their centre to confirm the start time.
    Erm, what exactly are you trying to say there?:erm: Today's the 10th, so the ELAT 'will' not take place on the 2nd, it already has. And anyway, why post this?
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    (Original post by ishterz)
    Oh ok thanks. If I'm not applying to Oxford and am going for UCL, do I do the ELAT anyway?(although ELAT is only for Oxford) UCL can't really interview me because I'm an international applicant.Is there a particular advantage to do so?
    no. It's an Oxford test.
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    (Original post by sundogs)
    no. It's an Oxford test.


    It used to be. From this year on, Cambridge colleges (except the 4 "mature" ones) will use it too.
 
 
 
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