My Spanish DELE exam review

I’m not quite sure why I set my mind on the DELE C1 with the amount of peace that small kids afford. Motherhood also rhymes with guilt, so even though I gave up my job for my kids, I often wish I could do more for and with them. Still, I’ve noticed that when parents slave away doing everything for their kids to have a better – easier – life, it often isn’t appreciated either in the short term or the long term. So I hope at least they will learn by example that if you want something enough, you have to work hard for it yourself. Carve out the time, be self-motivated and all that.

Ideally I would have written a review right after I took the DELE Spanish exam, as I would have remembered more details about the topics covered, but I walked out of the exam to face a mountain of other stuff I had put aside in order to swot up for Spanish. Here, then, are just a few thoughts on the exam itself that have managed to survive the post-deadline avalanche.


Brass band in Madrid

Brass band in Madrid preparing to film an advert

The Oral


I was fortunate with the time of the oral – 3.30pm on the day before the rest of the exam. I was happy not to be one of those with the Oral on the same day as the rest. They told me to come 15mn before but I turned up at 3pm to be safe. Immediately they had me fill in a form alongside a woman from Bangladesh and an English woman who had been in Spain 40 odd years and should have been doing the C1 in my place. Both were in fact doing the basic A2 level so they could apply for Spanish nationality.

Straight after, the staff took me into the preparation room where I was told I had about 15mn to prepare. I pointed out it was 20mn, as per the official exam web. The lady responded “quince a veinte minutos” which I thought odd. The website is pretty clear, and it really does make a difference. Turns out they only had two students for my level, so I can understand the mix up. All those doing the level below were supposed to have 15mn. Still I was a bit flustered, and had I arrived at 3.15 as instructed, it would have been even more rushed. As it was I raced through my prep in case. I was offered the choice of two texts, one on ecotourism and one on the selfie culture. I chose the latter.


The interviewer and examiner were kind and pleasant making it easier to deal with the nerves, though the interviewer spent a long time on the chit chat meaning that the other parts had to be shorter than I was used to. I felt like everything flowed pretty well which was a huge relief, but I may have made a lot of errors without realising it. I realise now I will need a lot more practice to get to the point that I can talk freely AND grammatically!


the kids' favourite part of Madrid - scaffolding in Plaza Mayor

the kids’ favourite part of Madrid – scaffolding in Plaza Mayor


The Rest


The next day I had to be onsite at 8.15, which meant leaving soon after daybreak for the next town, as the examination centre in my town had no free places. I sped along the motorway as the sun rose hoping for a convenient parking spot and a coffee at the café attached to the language school. When I arrived the café wasn’t open, so I ate a Mars bar. Which reminded me that the last time I ate chocolate bars was a year ago doing the B2 DELE exam. The same taste of chocolate, nerves and adrenalin. Over the next hour we had our ID checked and were separated into groups according to the level of exam we had signed up for. Our group was taken to a very small classroom. That’s when I found out there were only two of us doing C1. The other guy was Chinese, about 20 and had obviously been schooled in Spain. I felt a bit more nervous.


The Reading was considerably harder than doing practice tests at home, even though it’s the part I feel most comfortable with. I remember finding the same with the B2 level exam. I think it just requires a level of concentration that is somehow hard to maintain in a strange room along with nerves, although you’d think it would be a lot easier than braving the chaos of small children to complete a timed test at home. It took me the full test time of 90 minutes, compared to about 50 at home. But I felt I couldn’t go too far wrong.


The Listening followed and I was grateful for all the practice exams because there is nothing quite like knowing the layout. I read ahead as much as possible, but it the pace was very fast. After the listening exam, we were accorded a break which the moderator suggested we shorten to 20 minutes. The other guy seemed raring to go and ready to almost do without, so I took what I could get. To my great disappointment, the café was still closed, and I didn’t have time to go and find some caffeine at a local bar, so I ate another Mars bar.


five-star scaffolding

five-star scaffolding

By then there was just the Writing left. I had practised a great deal but it was always going to be hard work. Unfortunately the official writing test answer papers, which were labelled with our names and numbered, were not quite the same layout as those on the official website, so I couldn’t accurately estimate the word count the way I’d planned. Another surprise was that the audio for Tarea 1 was a young guy with a heavy Argentine accent – I was prepared for that in the listening when at most it might cost you one of the five tasks, but this was the basis for one of the two written pieces I had to produce. I understood most of what was said, but not some parts near the beginning which could have been vital.


Just as I got underway trying to make sense of the bits I had heard and trying to imply the bits I hadn’t but could imagine were in there, the other guy raised his hand. He had written on the wrong page. And he had written a whole dense paragraph already. The moderator didn’t know whether to give him new sheets or have him re-write it on the correct sheet. She got another staff member into the tiny room and there was quite some debate while they fixed it. Twenty minutes later the same thing happened. The moderator faffed around a lot and made a point of coming and checking up on me rather theatrically for each page to make sure I hadn’t made the same mistake. The other guy raced on undaunted and finished ahead of time. I, on the other hand, ended up working with my hands over my ears, struggling to retain the thread of thought, and rather disappointed with the result.


In August I’ll find out the actual results. In summary, I feel like I had the levels of grammar and reading comprehension and even listening comprehension that were required, but didn’t perform well in the Writing and didn’t have the accuracy required for the Oral. After all, the C1 is just one level below C2 which is native-like mastery. I know, it was extremely ambitious.


Toledo, aka Sword City

A group of uni students from Oman visit Toledo, aka Sword City

Although I think I failed because I really needed to be fully fluent, like someone who has worked in the language for a few years, I’m willing to sit it again another year. For now I’ll take the summer off - some travel and some learning Urdu, while entertaining the kids throughout their nearly 3-month summer holidays. Later on I’ll work out how to move forward. Whatever happens, I won’t forget the feeling of driving along the motorway into the rising sun, ready to put my preparation to the test – a victory over baby brain and the quagmire of domestication, and perhaps a small triumph for motherhood.


***UPDATE: Just got my results, a mere two months after the exam, and somehow I passed!***


DELE prep books: Preparación vs El Cronómetro

In the flurry of preparation for the DELE C1 Spanish exam, about the time those doubts set in and I started wondering why on earth I’d signed up, I ended up buying a second book, the aptly named Preparación al Diploma de Español Nivel C1, published by Edelsa. This was in addition to El Cronómetro which I had been hoping would get me through.

my DELE prep books

my DELE prep books

I had managed to book myself ten private sessions of an hour each to practise the Oral, and although the teacher told me I was at the right level for the exam, she also reminded me that the mark only shows how good you are on the day. And to be honest, most days I really didn’t feel the right level. The teacher also pushed for me to do model listening exams during my sessions but there was no way I was going to waste 20 euros on a practice listening test when I could buy six of them for 25 euros, along with the rest of the six model exams that are found in Preparación.   So I did just that. I had worked my way through most of El Cronómetro (you can read my review of the Cronómetro B2 version here), and I figured that the extra practice I’d get from the listening exams in a second book was a good compromise between what I needed most and what I could feasibly fit into my schedule around the kids. I didn’t cover all of Preparación. I have plenty left to do in case I fail! But I did use parts and especially the Listening. So here is a brief comparison of both exam prep books side by side:

Contents of El Crono

Contents of El Crono


Contents of Preparación

Contents of Preparación

Preparación Pros:

  • There are six model exams, compared to four in El Crono.
  • The answer booklet (sold separately) highlights why the answer is correct, and sometimes why the other options are wrong. It also includes transcriptions, which for El Crono are found online.
  • At least with a separate booklet, you cannot see the answers accidentally. In one or two places I found the Crono answers placed too close to the questions.
  • Each exam focuses on one theme – mundo laboral, bienestar y salud, educación y formación, etc. This isn’t realistic as of course they are mixed in real life, but each starts with a page of vocab for that theme, so I suppose that could help you to master a wide range in a consistent way.
themed vocab and exam - Preparación

themed vocab and exam – Preparación


  • The Listening exams were too easy. This was my main complaint. First of all, the audio felt markedly shorter and slower. In the Chronómetro audios, you had longer texts to listen to, making it harder to unearth the correct answers. Secondly, in Tarea 1, where you have to fill in gaps choosing from ten expressions to complete several sentences about the conference talk, the Preparación talk actually contained the same expressions which were the right answers. In El Cronómetro they used synonyms, which meant you had to understand the sense of the sentences.
  • It had no strong Latin American accents unlike the Argentine accent in El Crono only quite easy ones. You really do need some practice with these …as I found out in the actual exam (post coming).
  • From a practical perspective, the way the recording is organised does not reflect the exam. For one thing, you have to play each track twice manually rather than the CD having them recorded twice in the first place. This is fiddly when you are supposed to be filling in the answer sheet. Also, the tracks do not include the reading of the instructions, and at no time is there any time included to read the text before the audio begins, whereas the official website includes this. So you have to guess how long to leave yourself.  I tried to underestimate to be on the safe side and managed to complete the 50mn test in just 32mn while scoring 29 out of 30. Having done the actual exam, I’m pretty sure my score was a far cry from that!
  • The answer book comes separately, that is, costs more. About 5 euros on top of the 20 for the book, but this is comparable to the 24 euros I paid for El Crono. Possibly you could consult one owned by a friend or your language school.

El Cronómetro Pros:

  • It has a lot more exercises all the way through. I only got it four months before the exam but I could have done with more time for the exercises.
  • Working mostly on my own with very little feedback from teachers, I appreciated having a place to record your progress and compare your results from each section of the exam over time.


Resumen de preparación - El Crono

Resumen de preparación – El Crono

  • Listening audios are recorded in a very similar way to the official exams, so you can learn to judge approximately how much time you have to read ahead.
  • An Argentine accent represented in each listening test, albeit only one poor guy they dragged in each time.
  • It contains answer sheets at the back which you can photocopy and get used to filling in the little boxes with a pencil if you so desire.
  • It has several pages of idioms with a multiple choice definition quiz plus the answers.


Idioms - El Crono

Idioms – El Crono

  • It also has several pages of contenidos gramaticales, one of those things that looks really useful to go through as a checklist of learned skills, but somehow never made it into my top priority tray.
Los contenidos gramaticales - El Crono

Los contenidos gramaticales – El Crono

All in all, if I had to pick, I would definitely go with El Crono. I think it’s crucial to get the listening prep right because along with the oral, it’s one where if you get completely lost in Question 1 you could be thrown off course for the whole rest of the test from sheer nerves. So that weighs heavily in my consideration. In addition, it would be misleading to think that the level in Preparación is sufficient for the listening test, even though the other parts seemed in line with El Crono, and the actual exam. Either way, you will need back-up to correct writing pieces and give feedback on your oral practice.