So you’ve done your personal statement, got it in (just about) on time, and the first step is over. Now comes the dreaded ELAT. It may seem daunting, as it feels different to any other exam you’ve done so far. Gone are the very specific questions and the Point-Evidence-Explanation paragraph structures of GCSE and A-Level, and instead you are faced with a prompt of different texts with the instruction to just…write about them. Of course, there is more to it, but that is what, at their core, the examiners want. They have already seen your written submission to see how you respond to a specific question or brief, and now they want to see the raw talent and passion for literature that you have. Go where you think is interesting, make links between texts that you may think are too ‘out there’ for an exam essay, and, basically, have fun.
All that is well and good – and probably what you have already been told – so here is some practical advice too. Spend a while annotating the passages given and try to find connections between them you find interesting – these will form the basis for a great essay, and is essentially you coming up with your own question to respond to. Make sure these connections aren’t just similarities, as you want to be able to compare and contrast. Try to include a mixture of types of analysis – they are looking for the way in which you respond to structure, language and style at every level. Don’t, however, get too caught up in ticking boxes – you won’t be able to include every type of analysis, and it’s better to go deep into something you find really fascinating than to skim over lots of points because you are trying to hit all bases. Quotation analysis is very important – and should probably make up a decent amount of your essay – but needs to be accompanied by a wider point you are making about the links between the texts, as does analysis of the structure of the passages. It differs for everyone, but having three solid, unique, but linked points to make in one essay can be a good rule of thumb if you are really unsure of how to structure the essay. One concern many people have is how they can fit all this into the timeframe, and here is the one place where I would say your A-Level exam skills come into play – you know how much you can write, and so don’t go in expecting to write any more than you do in normal exam conditions. If anything, you may write a little less, because the format of the exam is so unfamiliar.
The most important thing, however, is to know that these exams are designed to get the best result out of you; their entire purpose is to draw attention to the people with real talent and passion for literature, not just those who have spent ages preparing, or who are especially good at taking exams. As long as you respond creatively to the passages given, in ways that you find interesting, you will perform the very best you can.
So when the test comes around, remember to enjoy it. Above all else, it is a chance to really get away from the formulaic approach taken to A-Level English exams, and just enjoy writing about what you love – literature! Good luck!