How it works

How it works

General preparation

  • Click here if you’re completely new to UKLO and want a brief summary of what you need to do.
  • You register yourself and your school permanently, to make sure that we have your contact details so that we can communicate with you. You can do this at any time. This also gives you a personal account on our portal where you will communicate with us by:
    • adding and updating your contact details and information about yourself and your school
    • receiving and uploading test material
    • registering students
    • being put in touch with your marker (for Advanced entries only)
    • telling us your scores for non-Advanced entries.
  • You choose the ‘levels‘ for your current year’s entries. As a rough guideline,
    • Breakthrough level is for KS2-3
    • Foundation level is for KS3-4
    • Intermediate level is for KS4
    • Advanced level is for KS5.

But any pupil may in fact be entered at any level, and you may make entries at as many different levels as you want. Only the Advanced level qualifies for Round 2, so these scripts are marked centrally, while you mark your own Breakthrough, Foundation, Intermediate and Other scripts.

The levels use overlapping sets of problems from the same pool of ten problems, so each level gets a taste of the next level up:

  • Breakthrough: Problems 1-3 (three problems)
  • Foundation: Problems 2-5 (four problems)
  • Intermediate: Problems 4-7 (four problems)
  • Other: any combination of problems to suit your local needs.
  • Advanced: Problems 6-10 (five problems)
  • You arrange for round 1 to be taken in school.
    • If you enter pupils at advanced level, then you must arrange a time and place for a 2.5 hour test under normal exam conditions during the test week (announced here).
      • ‘Normal exam conditions’ as for an internal exam, with invigilation by a teacher; external invigilators are not necessary.
      • Allow extra time for pupils who would normally be given extra time in public exams.
    • For breakthrough, foundation and intermediate tests, the conditions and timing are up to you; but we recommend 90-120 minutes and letting younger pupils work in teams of 2-4, but encouraging individual working as pupils get older.
    • We also allow individual problems to be taken either singly or in non-standard combinations, e.g. so as to fit into an ordinary teaching slot. This is called the ‘Other’ level.


  • Thanks to our generous supporters and a great deal of volunteer labour, the entire competition, including Round 2 and the IOL, is free to both schools and competitors.

Round 1: Advanced level

  • If you are entering pupils at Advanced level, you must do the following steps by the relevant deadlines on the list of dates for the current year:
    • you notify the estimated number  of candidates on the portal.
    • you notify the names and demographics (sex and national curriculum year) of individual candidates on the portal.
    • you download the test material when it is released, and print out the Advanced problem paper in whatever quantities you need.
    • you supervise the Advanced test :
      • 2.5 hours
      • under strict supervision, as in a public exam.
      • You may need to provide extra blank sheets for some candidates to write on.
    • At the end of the exam:
      • Collect in all material, including the problem sheets as well as the answer sheets.
      • Keep the problem sheets if you think you want to go through the questions with the pupils.
      • Make sure that candidates have written their names on both sides of their answer sheet, because they’ll be separated in the scanning process.
    • you scan the scripts (that’s just the single sheets containing the candidates’ answers – not the problem sheets) and upload the scans to the portal.
    • you find your marker and negotiate with them about  whether or not to send the actual scripts by post. (Our markers are all unpaid volunteers, mostly academics or students in linguistics departments.)
    • you relax and wait for the results to be announced on the relevant date. On the same day, you will be able to download and print out your Advanced certificates.

Round 1: Non-Advanced levels

Marking: marks and points

  • Scoring : marks and points
    • Our marking schemes tell both markers and teachers how to assign points. These follow the internal logic of the problem, such as the number of items requested. So if a problem asks for 13 words to be translated, we might allow one point per word, giving a maximum of 13 points.
    • But you will see that the problems themselves are given a certain number of marks, reflecting their relative difficulty: 5 for an easy (Breakthrough) problem to 25 for a very hard (Advanced) one.
    • We then apply a formula to convert points into marks: m = (p/P) x M (where m and p are the actual marks and points, and M and P are the maximum marks and points). This conversion is done automatically by the portal when the points are uploaded.

After Round 1

  • After round 1:
    • Advanced level:
      • On the announced day, we announce the results of the Advanced competition:
      • You can download the marks for each of your competitors.
      • You can also download and print certificates  for all Advanced candidates, including award certificates for about 35% of Advanced candidates in the ratio 1:2:3
        • Gold for (about) 5%
        • Silver for 10%
        • Bronze for 20%.
      • On the same day, we’ll announce that those who won a Gold certificate in the Advanced competition are invited to take part in Round 2, a similar competition held in schools which selects the UK squad of eight for the International Linguistics Olympiad.
    • Breakthrough, Foundation and Intermediate levels:
      • Certificates:
        • On the portal you can download certificates as printable pdfs  for participation at Breakthrough, Foundation, Intermediate and Other levels. Once the national thresholds for these levels have been announced, award certificates will be available for Gold, Silver and Bronze awards (as in the Advanced competition explained above).
        • Some schools produce their own internal awards, applying the same formula that we use nationally for the Advanced level: 5% Gold, 10% Silver, 20% Bronze.


[NB The arrangements below were introduced in 2020, for first application in 2021.]

  • We are planning to provide coaching throughout the year.
    • Some coaching material will be available online.
    • We’re also hoping to be able to offer individual coaching.
    • We also hope that this will be available to anyone who wants it, regardless of level (Breakthrough to Advanced) and age (pupil or teacher).
    • Coaching is especially strongly recommended for those who are invited to take part in Round 2.

Round 2

  • Round 2, like Round 1, is held and invigilated in the competitors’ school and the scripts will be marked centrally, but unlike Round 1:
    • It is by invitation only.
    • Business will be conducted via email with the teachers concerned, rather than via the portal.
    • It will take place (during term time) in late March.
    • It will take place on a single day, but there will be some flexibility in the timing.
    • The results help in determining membership of the squad chosen to represent the UK at the International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL).
    • The problems will reflect the special demands of the IOL competition.

The training camp

  • A training camp will be arranged for the top 12 performers, from whom we will select 8 for the UK squad.
    • It will be residential and hosted by a university.
    • It will take place in during the April school holiday.
    • It will last for three nights, plus half of the days before and after.
    • It will include training in problem-solving techniques and in team work.
    • There will be twelve participants, from whom we will select the eight members of the UK squad.
    • There will be at least three experienced tutors.
    • Like everything else in UKLO, it will be free to competitors and their schools.


  • The International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL) is held in July.
    • We normally send two teams of four, subject to the cost of travel.
    • The squad travels together to the IOL with one responsible adult for each team of four.
    • The trip is entirely free to the competitors and their schools.