The day after my oral exam, I sat the reading, listening and writing parts of my B1 level DELE Spanish exam, the internationally recognised diploma issued by the Instituto Cervantes. I was in a room with three Danish girls and a Norwegian. The atmosphere was tense. We were given scrap paper, and we asked for a clock for some of the girls who didn’t have watches.
The reading comprehension, which came first, was straightforward, although I’ve noticed that unlike other language exams, the five tasks are not in order of difficulty, not exactly. The first was harder than the second. And the hardest is always a text with missing sentences which was Task 4 in my exam. You have to fill in the gaps using some of the options below the text. It’s deadly because they all look like possible options. If you get it wrong, the resulting text wouldn’t be grammatically incorrect, but it should sound disjointed. My brain was already feeling disjointed from the beginning, so it was quite arduous. Still, I reread it all at the end and it seemed to make sense.
The invigilators were not very vigilant, I think they were covering several rooms. I only saw four staff members in all, and there were at least six different levels being tested in different rooms. But unless you have sent your native Spanish twin to sit the test for you, there’s not really much one could cheat on in the reading or writing. Looking a word up on your phone? Maybe, but you would lose precious time. It’s quite a fast exam. So overall it is a true test of ability. Even the scrap paper got little use, as there’s no time to actually do any rough drafting, though I used it to test out some conjugation or spelling I was unsure of.
After Task 5, I noticed that there were more pages in the exam booklet. It suddenly occurred to me there might be more tasks, if it had changed format like the oral. But it was the listening part of the test. It was tempting to look ahead to prepare the first listening task, as the listening test can slightly compensate for a poor score in the oral, my weakest point. But since that part hadn’t officially started yet, I would have lost some satisfaction in the result, so I just rechecked the reading comprehension part with the few minutes remaining. I already felt I had probably failed the oral the day before, but was still up for giving the exam my best shot.
After a five minute break it was the listening exam, very fast. Then a 20 minute break during which I was glad I had shoved a bar of chocolate in my bag. I’d been up in the night with a vomiting four-year old and having breakfast before 8am with a feverish two-year old clinging to me was never going to happen, so the calories were welcome. The writing has two tasks, the first was an email about an end-of-year university party. I couldn’t keep count of how many times parties and festivals came up in the exam. One of the photographs looked like it had been sourced on Facebook. I suppose it’s to keep the interest of young students, but I really wouldn’t mind fumbling when arranging a party with friends. It’s managing professional relationships that I’d prefer to test and perfect.
The email began by raising the issue of the party which “we”, the writer and I, had apparently promised to organise. When and where would we do it? How would we organise the food? What entertainment would we have? How was I getting on with revision for my finals? His flatmates were too loud, did I have any advice for him? I began with a cheery ¡Se me lo había ovidado lo de la fiesta! trying to mirror his tone of a forgotten commitment. I worked carefully through the points, answering all his queries. Only at the very end did I notice in the pointers that I was apparently to tell him that I had NOT forgotten about the party. So I stuck in a “no“. I also changed the construction to the simpler No me he olvidado… as I wasn’t sure of the other version and wanted to play it safe. By that time I had already told him that te hubiera dicho que vinieras a mi casa to study in peace, but I too had a noisy flat because of the traffic. It was quite daring given my very recent grasp of the various subjunctives, so I thought I would leave it at that.
For the second part of the written exam, I had a choice of two tasks, out of which I chose a blog comment about my first job. I can’t quite see myself leaving a 150-word comment on a blog. But, at least it was about work. Phew. Not a festival or party or show. I had 35 minutes left to complete it. I got stuck in. The scrap paper came in useful to list the tenses I wanted to squeeze into the writing part, as pictured above. Obviously, the last part had a lot of imperfect and some simple past, but it took more thought to get in the present perfect, future, passive voice and subjunctives. For the party email there were plenty of conditionals, and the future was easy to slip in, but I also ticked off a pluperfect. Sometimes just thinking about which tense I wanted to use gave me ideas of what to say, which helps break the writer’s block you can get when you have to write cold about a surprise topic.
If you want to test your level and read more about the exams, here are a few links:
Note that the Spanish version has detailed Guías de examen for each exam level, while the English version of the site doesn’t.
Test your level
2) or here up to B2,