Ever since I started getting fluent in Spanish, taking a DELE exam became a goal of mine. I took the DELE C1 Spanish exam a few years ago and it was a really good experience – I got to get an extra qualification while focussing on and improving my Spanish! But I have to say that although my Spanish seemed fairly good at the time, preparing for and passing the exam was not so straightforward. So, here is an in-depth guide of everything you need to do to get ready for, and then pass, your DELE Spanish C1 exam.
What is DELE?
DELE stands for “Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera”, which means Diplomas for Spanish as a foreign language. This diploma is awarded for passing a standardised test introduced by the Spanish Instituto Cervantes as a way to recognise the Spanish ability of foreigners, and encourage it to be taught. This is equivalent to the French “DELF”. The exam is all about making sure you can use Spanish to engage with and understand genuine, authentic materials. Although the DELE originates from Spain, it is by no means testing the Spain dialect only, and you should have knowledge of all Spanish dialects to do well in this test.
What is C1?
The C1 level is part of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for foreign language learning. This consists of 6 levels, from A1 (beginner) to C2 (master). Fluency is thought to be achieved by level B2, with C1 being advanced fluency and C2 being academic and professional fluency. Because C2 is so advanced, many native speakers never even achieve it, especially those who haven’t received university-level education in that language. So, the C1 level is pretty much the highest attainable proficiency level for the casual language learner. Now, if you have studied a Master’s in a Spanish-speaking country, or like to read classic literature, you might qualify for C2.
If you’re not sure which level you should study for, you can test your Spanish level here.
Why take a DELE Spanish C1 exam?
I’ve had some people ask me why I bothered to take this exam since I had absolutely no external need to do it. While some people are required to take the exam for work or for residence applications, those are not the only reasons a DELE Spanish C1 exam could be beneficial . There are many reasons to take this exam, but here are just a few:
- Gives you motivation to improve your Spanish: Once you get to a good enough level to communicate in Spanish, it can be hard to find motivation to keep advancing. The DELE gives you an incentive to keep studying and to push your Spanish to an even higher level. - Forces you to focus on your weaker areas in Spanish: The good thing about the DELE is that it focuses on all areas of language learning. If you are great at speaking and listening, you might find yourself relying on that to communicate more than you should. This can be at the expense of your reading and writing skills. The DELE will make sure you are well versed in speaking, listening, reading, and writing, making you an overall better Spanish speaker - Gives you an extra qualification: It’s one thing to claim you can speak Spanish, but to have something on your CV that certifies that you really do know the language stands out a lot more for most employers. - Rewarding experience: Pushing yourself to the limits of what you can achieve (and then achieving it) is incredibly satisfying. - Officially know your level: You can always estimate which CEFR level you think you are at, but until you have passed the exam, you won’t really know for sure.
How to pass a DELE Spanish C1 exam: steps
1. Find out where and when the nearest exam will be held
DELE exams are held in exam centres all over the world. The main exams are generally sat in November, with some places also offering them in April. You can see where the nearest exams are held, and when they will be on this webpage.
2. Sign up for the exam
For the 2020 exams, you will need to fill in this form. It’s all in Spanish, which shouldn’t be a problem for you if you near the C1 stage. You then need to pay a fee, and send proof of this payment, plus some ID and your form to the nearest DELE headquarters (it can be sent by email). The nearest to New Zealand is Sydney.
3. Get your study materials ready
DELE online resources
The DELE website has some great resources which you should definitely check out, including details about the contents of the exam and a model paper. Their Youtube channel provides some examples of oral exams with candidates, which is really useful as well. This is another Youtube playlist focused on tips for the DELE Spanish C1 exam. You can also see my posts on how to improve your Spanish vocabulary and the differences between Iberian and Latino Spanish.
Dele practice exam books
You are going to need to familiarise yourself with the format and style of language of the exam. You can purchase the official practice questions book as well as the answer book on Amazon for relatively cheap. I personally bought both of these for my exam preparation and they were incredibly helpful. There are a lot of practices in there so if you do one or two a week every week leading up to the exam, you should be well prepared by the time the exam rolls around.
Books are also good for honing in on your grammar and vocabulary skills. I thought my grammar was pretty good but this grammar book really opened my eyes to the different structures there are. It is also very focused on the kinds of structures you would be likely to find in the DELE Spanish C1 exam. This vocabulary book was also extremely helpful for expanding my vocabulary and finding different ways to say things. All of the books I recommend are books I actually bought and used to prepare for the DELE Spanish C1 exam, and which helped me pass. They were all suggested to me by my tutor, which brings me to my next point.
4. Get a tutor
Yes, it is possible to pass the exam without a tutor, but it will make things a lot harder. Sure, you can mostly work on your own, but what happens when you get something wrong and you don’t know why? Or worse, you don’t even know you’re getting things wrong? Most importantly, a tutor will be able to help you with specific skills that you just can’t perfect by yourself, like speaking and writing.
It’s important to not only have a tutor, but to find the right tutor. Ideally, you want someone who understands and has experience with DELE exams, particularly the DELE Spanish C1 exam. This is because even someone who is fluent in Spanish and a great teacher might not know all the ins and outs of the DELE. I was lucky enough to find a tutor who also worked as a DELE examiner so she knew exactly what I needed. However, she got really busy during the middle of my preparation period, and I had to try to find another tutor. The two tutors I talked to during that time were not so familiar with the exam. In fact, they seemed shocked about how advanced my Spanish was every time I spoke (not helpful).
To find a tutor, try searching DELE on LinkedIn, putting up some classified ads, or searching tutoring websites. I found the experienced teacher I had on LinkedIn.
The Instituto Cervantes also offers some support. They have the official preparation courses, which are offered all over Spain. There are online Skype courses offered for other places, including Australia and New Zealand.
5. Practice, practice, practice
Ideally, give yourself at least 3 months with your online resources, books, and tutor to prepare properly for the exam.
Once you get to a certain level of fluency in Spanish, it can be easy to just “get by” with what you know. You can rely on the words and grammar structures you are confident with to communicate effectively. This means that you can express everything you need without having mastered all the grammar and vocabulary. This is a valuable communication skill, but unfortunately it’s not going to help you so much in the DELE C1 Spanish exam.
You’ll need to push yourself to introduce new words into your vocabulary and get comfortable with different types of structures. To do this, you should first use your books to discover new words and grammar structures, and then actually try to use them in conversations, either with native speakers or your tutor. This might feel weird and unnatural at first. Over time, though, it will expand your abilities and your confidence in expressing yourself in Spanish. It’s a bonus that this is what you will need for the exam!
6. Take the exam
What to expect in the DELE Spanish C1 exam
- Reading comprehension: In this section, you have to read some texts and then answer some short-answer questions about them. Beware, though, the texts used are quite often very formal or academic and use complicated vocabulary. Your only saviour for this part will be having studied a lot of vocabulary beforehand. - Listening: The next part is very similar, except that instead of reading, you have to listen to conversations or monologues played out loud. These will be played twice, and then you have to answer some short-answer, multi-choice questions. Beware, though, you have to answer the questions pretty fast because they don’t give you that much time before moving on to the next audio. - Writing: In this section, you have to write two essays of around 200 words each. Be aware that DELE is quite strict about the word count and the style of writing they ask for, so make sure you read the instructions properly. Here, it is important to stick to well-structured argument, use correct grammar, and limit yourself to formal language. - Speaking: The speaking test is conducted separately to all the other tests. You will sit in a room on your own for 20 minutes where you have time to read a text and take notes on it. You will be expected to form an opinion about the text and be able to back it up with facts and figures from the article. Once again, reading comprehension here is essential because if you don’t know a main word, you will be screwed. The goal is to prepare a 3-5 minute speech summarising the text. After that, you still need to be able to have another 4-6 minute conversation about it with the examiner. After that, you will have a mini debate with the examiner as part of a roleplay. I personally found that part a lot easier. The speaking is the most nerve-wrecking section for a lot of people, so remember to take a deep breath before going in, smile at the examiner and make eye contact, and be confident in what you are saying.
Meaning of DELE SPANISH C1 exam results
Each of the four sections can obtain a maximum score of 25. For reading and writing, you need to get more than 30 overall, and the same goes for listening and speaking. If you get 30 or more in both of those sections, you will get an “apto” which is a pass overall. This means you’ve earned your diploma – yay! Your certificate will be available online as well as a physical version which you can pick up or have sent to you.
If you are going to be sitting the DELE Spanish C1 exam soon, I’d like to wish you the best of luck! I hope this article has been helpful to your preparation. If you have any questions, or any insights you’d like to share with others, leave a comment below!