For admissions tutors

UKLO and university applications

This page is intended to help admissions tutors who see UCAS applications that mention the UK Linguistics Olympiad. Please use the form at the foot of this page to leave comments on how UKLO is affecting your applications – how many applicants report their UKLO performance, how this affects your judgements, how relevant this performance is to later undergraduate performance.

How does UKLO work?

The competition is open to all schools, and as of late 2014 just over 400 schools are registered to take part. 60% of these schools are state schools. The competition takes place each year in early February, and pupils may be entered at any of four different levels of difficulty:

  • Breakthrough: typically taken by KS2 (mostly Year 5 or 6)
  • Foundation: typically taken by KS3 (i.e. Year 7-9)
  • Intermediate: typically taken by KS4 (i.e. Year 10-11)
  • Advanced: typically taken by KS5 (i.e. Year 12-13)

At each level, about 25% of pupils are from state schools.

The Advanced competition, which is marked centrally (by volunteers mostly from universities), leads to various distinctions:

  • The top 16 are selected for a residential weekend which includes Round 2, the competition for the team of four who represent the UK at the International Linguistics Olympiad.
  • The top 33% win an award certificate, distributed as follows:
    • Gold: 5%
    • Silver: 12%
    • Bronze: 17%
  • The remaining 66% win a participation certificate.

In addition, you may find that some schools award their own internal awards for the best performances at the lower levels of difficulty.

How high are the standards?

The standard of ability demanded by a linguistics olympiad is comparable to the demands of olympiads in the STEM subjects (maths, physics, etc.), though it is probably slightly lower because the overall numbers are much smaller (but rising fast).

In the International Linguistics Olympiad, our competitors have performed well. In 2012, our four competitors won one Silver and three Bronze medals.Click here for our overall record.

What abilities are needed?

The assumption behind all linguistics olympiads is that school children do not study linguistics at school, so they cannot be tested on content that is specific to linguistics (such as the IPA or any particular scheme of grammatical analysis). On the other hand, it is clear that most of our outstanding performers already have a relatively deep, though unformalised,  understanding of language structure from learning a foreign language.

The general thinking skills that a linguistics olympiad tests are:

  • pattern-recognition
  • generalisation
  • analysis
  • lateral thinking
  • attention to detail
  • attention to the larger patterns

At a lower level of difficulty, a problem requires an analysis of presented data which allows the competitor to generalise and go beyond the data. But at higher levels, competitors have to not only make these analyses mentally, but also put them into words in an explict explanation of how the underlying system works.

For examples of past problems, click here.