The Classics Admissions Test (CAT)
What is it and who is it for?
The Classics Admissions Test (CAT) is one part of the application process to study Classics at the University of Oxford. It is designed to test an applicant’s language ability, with a particular focus on the ancient languages of Latin and Greek. It is also open to those who haven’t yet studied Latin or Greek.
Anyone applying for one of the following courses will need to take the CAT:
– Classics & English
– Classics & Modern Languages
– Classics & Oriental Studies
What does it involve?
The CAT is split into 3 different papers, each of which lasts for 1 hour and is sat under timed exam conditions. You will have to sit at least 1 of these papers.
Precisely which paper(s) you have to sit will depend on which ancient languages – if any – you currently study, and whether you are applying for Classics I or Classics II. More information on this can be found below:
Paper 1: Latin Unseen Translation Test
Sat by those applying for Classics I who study A Level (or equivalent) Latin.
Paper 2: Greek Unseen Translation Test
Sat by those applying for Classics I who study A Level (or equivalent) Greek.
Paper 3: Classics Language Aptitude Test (CLAT)
Sat by those applying for Classics II who study neither Latin nor Greek.
So, if you do not study Latin or Greek at A Level (or equivalent), you will only need to take one paper: Paper 3.
If you study both Latin and Greek at A Level (or equivalent), you will need to take two papers: Paper 1 and Paper 2.
If you are applying for Classics & Oriental studies and you study both Latin and Greek at A Level (or equivalent), you will need to take all three papers: Paper 1, Paper 2 and Paper 3.
How do I register?
Registration usually opens on September 1st and closes on October 15th (the same deadline for submitting your UCAS form).
You will need to register through your school, college, or an open test centre. In most cases, your school or college will arrange everything for you, but do check that this is the case.
It is worth noting that any access requirements, such as a modified question paper, will usually need to be declared by September 30th at the latest.
When is it sat?
The test takes place on a specific date each year, which is usually the first Wednesday of November – a fortnight or so after the personal statement deadline. It is taken when applicants are in Year 13.
What does it cost?
There is no charge from the University of Oxford to take the test, so if your school or college arranges the test for you, it will be free. However, if you take the test through an independent test centre, you may be charged an administration fee.
How difficult it is?
Oxford University states that the test is around the same level of difficulty as A Level (or equivalent), but you should expect at least some of the test to be slightly harder than this.
Don’t let the thought of the test being difficult put you off; it’s deliberately designed to be this way. This is so that the admissions tutors can select the best of the best for their courses. You should feel more stretched than you would at A Level, as this is the whole point of a university degree.
How important is it to my application?
Though your performance on the test does matter, it isn’t make or break. In fact, if you don’t register in time or don’t attend on the day of the test, your application will still be considered. However, not taking the test will have a significantly negative impact on your chances of being selected. This is because the admissions tutors will be comparing you to applicants who have fulfilled all of the requirements for a course that is already very competitive.
You can’t re-sit the test if you think you didn’t perform as well as you would have liked to. That said, if you were ill during the test or experienced some kind of disruption at the test centre, you can submit a special consideration form within 5 days of the test date.
What mark do I need to pass?
Because the test varies year to year and is just one part of your application, there is no set pass mark for it. You will be marked relative to your cohort and your performance will be considered alongside other parts of your application, such as your personal statement, essay submissions and interview.
How do I prepare?
You will not be allowed to use dictionaries, grammar books or notes during the test, so it’s important to learn and practise vocabulary, grammar and translation skills as early as possible.
Use of GCSE and AS Level vocabulary lists is highly recommended. Links to books and websites can be found under ‘Useful Resources’ at the bottom of this page.
For Paper 1, you will need to translate 2 short passages – 1 verse and 1 prose – from Latin into English.
For the verse passage, you are likely to be tested on how well you know case endings, singulars, plurals and genders.
For the prose passage, which tends to contain more difficult syntax than the verse passage, you are likely to be tested on how well you know your tenses – including the subjunctive. Knowledge of reported speech conventions and indirect constructions is also important here.
Reading and translating passages from actual Roman writers is a great way to prepare, because this will enhance your knowledge of idiomatic phrases and contractions.
For Paper 2, you will need to translate 2 short passages – 1 verse and 1 prose – from Greek into English.
Knowledge of regular and irregular verbs, tenses and participles is key here. One way to help you to learn this is to actually practise translating English into Greek; although this won’t be a part of the test itself, it will make you much more efficient at accurately translating from Greek into English.
Equally, reading and translating passages from actual Attic (Greek) writers is a great way to prepare. This is worth doing once you feel more confident and you want to stretch yourself beyond A Level.
For Paper 3, you will need to demonstrate your ability to quickly learn the conventions of a new language. Because this Paper is sat by those who do not currently study Latin or Greek, you will not be tested on your knowledge of any particular language. Rather, you will be assessed on how effectively you can learn and apply certain patterns and rules.
Section A is based on a real life language, and usually tests your ability to learn its nouns. In 2021, for example, candidates were required to form plurals of Romanian nouns based on examples given. Look for patterns by focusing on the last few letters of a noun, and find a rule for how to form the plural. It’s worth getting help from any friends who learn a language at A Level for this. If your friend studies French, for instance, you could borrow a grammar book from them and look for grammatical patterns and rules.
Section B is based on a fake language, and also tests your ability to find and apply patterns and rules. So the preparation you do for Section A will also help for Section B.
Section C is based on the English language, and usually tests your knowledge and understanding of words that have different meanings in different contexts. It is therefore worth familiarising yourself with words like ‘to’, ‘up, ‘in’, and ‘behind’, using them in as many different sentences as you can, and working out which uses are similar and which are not.
One of the best ways to prepare for the test is to go over past papers, which can be found on the Oxford University Classics website (see links for these under ‘Useful Resources’ at the bottom of this page). Being familiar with the format of the test, knowing what level of difficulty to expect and practising answering questions will help you to feel better equipped to deal with it. Completing past papers under timed conditions is also a great way to prepare, as it will help you to work out how much time to allocate to each section and what pace you should be going at.
The following courses require the CAT test:
|University of Oxford (O33)
||Q800 Classic I Q810 Classics II QQ38 Classics and English (3-year course) QQH8 Classics and English (4-year course) Q8T9 Classics with Oriental Studies Any Classics and Modern Languages course
Courses and CAT Tuition are delivered 1-1 for the CAT with past paper practice an expert advice from past Classics Degree Graduates from Oxford and Cambridge Colleges. Many of our tutors hold PhDs and other postgraduate qualifications in teaching the Classics both as teachers and tutors, indicative both of their passion for, and expertise in, the subject.
Asking for help from your teachers is also an excellent way of getting ready for the test, as well as the application process more generally. They can support you in this process by offering advice, pointing out useful resources and helping you to further refine your exam technique.
Mayfair Consultants provides tutors with PhDs and other postgraduate qualifications in Classics. Our tutors are passionate experts in language and grammar, offering tailored, one-to-one support to those preparing for the CAT. Having passed the test themselves and with extensive experience in tutoring Greek, Latin and other languages, they will guide you through past papers and help you to refine your skills so that you have the best chance of success.
If you’d like arrange private lessons or have any questions about our CAT tuition services in London, Oxford and Cambridge, please call us on Tel: +44 (0) 207 665 6606, or send us an email via our contact form.
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Oxford University Courses: Classics
Oxford University Courses: Classics & English
Oxford University Courses: Classics & Modern Languages
Oxford University Courses: Classics & Oriental Studies
GCSE Classical Greek Vocabulary List
Latin Beyond GCSE by John Taylor (book)
Greek Beyond GCSE by John Taylor (book)