The MLAT Guide: What are they really testing?

So your child wants to study Modern Languages at Oxbridge and they need help with the tests? This MLAT guide will help you better understand the exam so that your child has the information needed to be successful in their modern languages application.

What is the MLAT? Guide to the exam

MLAT stands for Modern Languages Aptitude Test and is a requirement for all applicants looking to study Modern Languages at Oxford.

To apply to study Modern Languages at Oxbridge, your child will have already studied the language at A-level. As part of the application process to an Oxbridge university, your child must also take this MLAT to qualify for interviews.


The Format of the MLAT:

It’s a fairly straightforward 30-minute language test that is marked out of 50.

The questions range from vocabulary to grammar but, as it says on the Oxford website, the MLAT tests “are always designed to test knowledge of basic structures of the foreign language; they are not primarily a test of vocabulary”.

That means you should not feel compelled to tell your child to learn pages and pages of vocabulary beforehand. They are trying to see what your child knows; not what they have crammed in the night before!

The Ultimate MLAT Guide from the Experts

The MLAT can be a tricky (and daunting) exam for your child. Knowing what the test expects of an applicant is just one way they can get that one step ahead.

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Part one of the MLAT

The questions are compiled as a combination of sections (usually there are four). Each section focuses on a different aspect of the foreign language. There are fill-in exercises in the MLAT, such as choosing an appropriate word that would make sense with the sentence, or a preposition test. These initial exercises may seem a bit deceiving. It’s not just about putting in a random word. Your child must use a word or phrase that would make sense when read with the rest of the sentence.


Part two of the MLAT

The second half of the MLAT is designed to test grammar, vocabulary and translation skills. In this section, the sentences move in and out of the target foreign language to test your child on whether they can construct short phrases that sound idiomatic and are grammatically correct. Your child needs to remember to take their time and not rush!


How to help your child revise for the MLAT:

When it comes down to preparing for the MLAT, vocabulary is not the easiest thing to learn quickly in a short period of time (and it is not necessarily the most useful either!). I would say that the most practical MLAT guide to preparing for the test is to read a grammar book with your child. Mark out the areas of the language and grammar that they find most challenging and do some short exercises on each so that they feel more comfortable with these areas.

They will not be testing your child on anything harder than A-level standards. They want to ensure your child knows the basic structures and constructions before the next stage- the interviews!

What the MLAT is for?

The MLAT is not a clear-cut grammar test, but it is more a look into how well the applicant understands the construction of languages and whether they have a good eye for detail.

Therefore, it is essential that your child doesn’t feel that the need to rush through the exam. Whilst 30 minutes is not very long, there is always time to carefully, and concisely, analyze the language and choose a suitable answer.

What is more, the test is not terrifying or very extraordinary. The MLAT simply checks if your child’s basic language skills are appropriate for the Oxbridge Modern Languages course.

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