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!***


2 Responses to “My Spanish DELE exam review”

  1. Charbel Kamal says:


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