To prepare the writing part of the DELE exam I have been churning out as many writing pieces from old exam papers as possible. About three texts a week is all I can manage, although in the C1 exam I’ll need to produce two pieces within 80 minutes. It takes me an hour of absolute concentration per piece (not to mention the preceding hour of procrastinatory coffee-making and paper-shuffling), 40 minutes to write, plus extra to work myself up to it and ensure I won’t be interrupted. Mentally, it’s tougher than facing up to a sinkful of dirty pans. In fact it made attacking the mess in the attic room look positively manageable.
What I’ve noticed, working with a stopwatch and counting the words at the end, is that there is no time to write about anything outside of the pautas, the guidelines. By the time I’ve covered the four to six points in the description fairly succinctly, I’ve not only run out of time, I’ve hit the upper word limit. Especially if you take the trouble to link the different ideas in (hopefully) a natural way. You are only given a certain number of answer sheets to write on (three for task 1 and two for task 2) so you can’t just write an essay even if you are a perfectly fluent speed-writer. You obviously don’t want to waste time counting words in the exam so (now the printer is working) I have been printing the official answer sheets from the website and using them each time. That way I have a clear idea how full the pages have to be, so I can see at a glance how I’m doing in the exam and I can adapt while I’m writing.
Speaking of word limits, nobody can quite agree on the exact figures. Task 1 is usually listed as 220-250, and task 2 is down as either the same, or less: 180-220. El Cronómetro disagrees with itself on the issue (see p.45 vs p.46), and no wonder because the official DELE website is not entirely consistent. The teacher I paid specifically to prepare me for the oral seems to think it is impossible to know. Apparently there has been a change in recent years so I’m sticking to the current guide which gives the longer word limit (sigh) for both and ignoring old test papers that give a lower limit.
I’ve also discovered that in contrast to what it says in El Cronómetro (p.47), there is NO time to write a draft copy – no way. This website corroborates. A brief outline maybe, but then again the pautas act as a rough outline anyway. There are fewer instructions for the first task, the one based on a 5-minute audio, because a lot of the information has to be surmised from the audio. Usually the instructions could be summarised as the following: What does the speaker argue and what do you think and why.
The official website is helpful with old exam questions and an example of a failed prueba and one which passed. From this I was able to work out that I should make more direct reference to the speaker in the audio, saying thinks like: “El punto de vista expuesto por el conferenciante es que…” Or “En la conferencia se exponen tres perspectivas…” It is important to present clearly in the text which ideas are from the speaker and which are your own.
Since Tarea 1 includes a 5-minute audio which is played twice, I figure that text will take me more than half of the 80 minutes, so I need to practise completing Tarea 2 in around 35 minutes. Tarea 2 often includes the option of a letter; I was told by one teacher that you should put your address at top of the page (as in real-life letters) but the example text marked APTO in the official guía only bears the place of writing and date, so I will not be wasting time on a full postal address.
I get my texts corrected and then I review the corrections, sometimes recopying them in categories. Although it’s been a struggle to find the time and the quiet to work, I’ve been buoyed by a noticeable improvement in my writing. I find now I can start a sentence without knowing exactly how I will end it and yet I still manage to end it. I’ve also seen my word count rise very slowly from below 200 in February to 250 words in 40 minutes, and I feel like my texts are more nuanced than before.
I want to keep up the writing practice until the exam, but I somehow have to squeeze in some proper Oral and Listening practice too. If nothing else, this autonomous exam prep is forcing me to be more self-disciplined. And the attic looks a lot better now.