The ELAT might seem daunting but it’s simply a chance for you to show what you can do with material on which you haven’t been taught. We introduced ELAT in order to give candidates a further opportunity to show what they can do, in particular any candidates who are happy writing but are more nervous and less articulate in interview. ELAT is just one of a range of assessments we’re looking at, and the greater the range the more chance for every candidate to show their individual skills.
ELAT is a very straightforward exercise. The paper simply consists of a collection of passages, poems or excerpts that share a common theme – past themes have, for example, included food, murder, and the city. Your job is to select any two passages and to write a comparative essay on them. Don’t expect to recognise the passages – we try hard to select texts that you are unlikely to know in order to see how you respond freshly to new material – your own analysis and thinking, not what you’ve been taught. It’s just about reading your chosen passages closely and carefully, and structuring your thoughts on them into a clearly argued essay, rooted in detailed attention to the material in front of you. You won’t get any credit for bringing in reference to other texts or wider contextual details, so just relax and focus on your extracts.
My advice on approaching the paper? Do one or two practice papers in advance, but no more – just to get used to the timing and the format. Take at least 30 minutes to read the paper, to jot down ideas and interesting features. Think about how each passage approaches the material. Think about tone of voice, imagery, perspective, atmosphere and emotional texture, and even humour (it’s all too easy to miss when you’re writing under pressure). You also need to give a rationale for why you’ve chosen your two passages – which often makes for a good starting point for your introduction.
Plan your essay carefully before you start writing, so you know what you’re going to say and in what order. Support your argument with close reference to the texts, but don’t waste time copying out long quotes – remember, unlike closed book exams, you’re not getting extra points for quoting! Make your points clearly, then move on to the next point. Don’t waste time repeating yourself.
And my best tip – steer into difficulty. If there’s something ambiguous or complicated in the extract, don’t avoid it or skip over it. Engage with it. If it’s ambiguous, explain how and why. If the tone is uncertain, again explain the different possibilities. As Oscar Wilde said, criticism is not like the answer to a sum – more than one interpretation is valid, so it’s your response and your ideas that we’re looking for.