DELEhelp Blog

How to Plan your DELE / SIELE & OPI Preparation


Hitting the bull’s-eye with your Spanish DELE exam preparation, or for its online twin the SIELE or the American OPI depends a lot on having a proper STUDY PLAN.

But what do you need, to be able to plan? And how do you go about it? (The DELE and SIELE share the same curriculum and scoring criteria, and that of the OPI package of tests is very similar, so for convenience only the DELE will be named from this  point on).

WHAT YOU NEED FOR PLANNING: To plan properly, you need to know and understand the knowledge and skill sets that  the  “examen DELE ” curriculum requires of candidates at your level.  Hand-in-hand with that, you need to identify your own shortcomings in relation to those knowledge and skill sets, as measured in a proper diagnostic, against the four scoring criteria that examiners will use to assess you. Then you have to identify the resources that you will require to overcome your shortcomings.  Lastly you have to build in a feedback mechanism, to assess whether your draft plan is adequate, and thereafter to monitor your progress (so that you can continuously adapt, as and when necessary).

To comprehend the knowledge and skill sets that DELE requires, you have to be very clear about the system’s goals, as well as  the  structure, curriculum, and scoring criteria for your level of the exam. Our free DELEhelp Workbook #9 entitled “DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips” is a great resource for these topics; this one-of-a-kind DELE exam preparation book is in English, which helps a lot  because the original curricula and scoring guidance documentation are written in high Spanish (by academics, for academics).

Click on image to ask for FREE Workbook

Once you know the DELE exam system inside out, you have to look at the other side of the coin – namely the extent of your own existing knowledge and skills as measured against all the things listed as required in the curriculum inventory and scoring criteria (because your plan evidently needs to focus on learning what you don’t yet know, and practicing what you cannot yet do i.t.o. communicative skills). But this is one of the most difficult things to do on your own – how do you know what you don’t know? How well are you actually communicating?

This essential initial diagnostic feedback is an important part of the value that an experienced tutorial service with expertise in DELE exam prep can add. Without clarity about the shortcomings in your  knowledge of Spanish, plus clarity about the curricular and scoring requirements for your level of DELE, your “planning” will be like shooting blindly into the dark (see our blog post about the need to know the DELE curriculum for more on this).

Be aware, though, that in preparing for the DELE exam, planning how to acquire the relevant knowledge of Spanish and its cultural context that you still lack, isn’t enough. This is because of  the unique nature of the DELE system. It isn’t so much WHAT you know that’s tested (in other words, it’s not your typical school exam format).  Rather, it’s your ability to APPLY that knowledge in real-world communicative settings, that’s being assessed.  Therefore, in addition to acquiring the relevant knowledge, you particularly need to plan to acquire and practice those communicative skills as well.

THE “DEMAND SIDE” VERSUS THE “SUPPLY SIDE” OF YOU PLAN: It is only once you understand WHAT you have to learn about Spanish and the Hispanic world, as well as how you will be MARKED, plus what SKILLS you have to hone,  that you will have assembled all the ingredients required to draw up what we may call the “demand side”  of your own individualized DELE exam preparation plan.  Remember that your plan needs to help you to meet all of the knowledge and skills demanded by the four sets of pruebas (tests) of which DELE consist.  Because in order to pass the exam, you have to obtain a pass grade for each section, namely reading comprehension, audio comprehension, expression in writing and oral expression.

Click on image to go to this blog post

With the demand side of your plan drawn up,  you next have to look at the “supply side” – you have to identify appropriate RESOURCES for acquiring the relevant knowledge and for helping you hone the required skills. Here it is important to keep in mind that your DELE preparation plan needs to be much more than merely scheduling hours of study; above all, you have to practice applying that knowledge. Because the DELE is first and foremost a practical test of your ability to actually communicate in Spanish, and not of merely possessing theoretical knowledge about it.

By matching the supply/demand and resources elements of the equation to your available time, you will arrive at a draft DELE exam preparation plan.

BUILDING IN A FEEDBACK LOOP: But how will you know whether your draft DELE exam preparation plan is appropriate? You can wait for the exam results to come out, and then judge – but that may mean that you had  invested a lot of time and effort, preparing on the basis of a defective plan that missed key requirements, or which wrongly assessed your own strengths and weaknesses.

To be safe rather than sorry, you need expert assessment and feed-back at the very start on both your current level of Spanish and on your draft plan. You need this BEFORE you start investing time and effort in preparation based on perhaps an inadequate plan. Thereafter, once you’re practicing what you’ve planned, you need regular assessment and feed-back about how well your preparation is actually going, so that you can adapt where necessary. Ideally, therefore, you need experienced guidance from the word go in setting out designing the right DELE exam preparation plan for your particular needs, followed by regular feedback during your implementation of it, showing how well your preparation is progressing. You don’t want to be bluffing yourself…

The good news is – there’s no need to re-invent the wheel with regard to all of this, trying to do it all on your own: get help.  DELEhelp.

Who are our typical students? They are independent, self-motivated individuals, who can do things for and by themselves. They are way beyond needing to sit in a classroom, in order to learn something. They want to study in the comfort of their own homes, without having to abandon family, business or workplace for any stretch of time just to go back to some school to muddle along with laggards in group classes.  Neither do they want the additional cost of travel and accommodation that goes with attending classes at a residential school. What they want to do is guided self-study, with access via Skype to an expert tutor for regular assessment, guidance, practice and feed-back.

Our students want their tutors to be practical and goal-orientated, trained to view the DELE challenge from the student’s perspective, not that of the typical Spanish grammar maestra.  Their time is valuable, so our students  want quality time with their tutor, who must provide personal attention based on an individualized study plan designed for their particular needs. Because they are busy, our students want flexible time schedules. And because our students know that money doesn’t grow on trees, they want affordable rates (which we can offer, being based in competitively-priced Guatemala – only US$12 per hour of actual Skype time, with our study material included free).

So, after that quick commercial break, let’s get back to helping you draft a  DELE exam preparation plan that’s appropriate for you as individual.

DRAWING UP YOUR DELE EXAM PREPARATION PLAN: In coming to grips with the demand side of the plan, it is important to know that the DELE system is part of the Common European language learning policy framework (the CEFR). This includes a very well developed, highly detailed curriculum inventory for each DELE level. Contrary to what is commonly believed, this curriculum isn’t limited to grammar and spelling.  These are the actual curriculum inventory chapters for Level B: (1) Grammar; (2) Pronunciation; (3) Spelling; (4) Functional Language Usage – i.e., the important “can do” statements; (5) Tactics and Pragmatic Strategies; (6) Genres of Discourse and Textual Products; (7) Generalized and Specific Notions; (8) Cultural References; (9) Socio-Cultural Knowledge and Behaviour; and (10) Intercultural Dexterity.

It is unfortunately true that the original source documents are in academic Spanish that may be beyond the grasp of most students. Our FREE Workbook #9 summarizes the curriculum plus scoring criteria in English, in some 96 pages – it is available free and without obligation, as a download from DropBox (you can click on the promo image above and use the convenient contact form to ask for it).

To properly assess one’s own existing knowledge of the material prescribed in the curriculum, in order to ascertain what you don’t yet know, is extremely difficult to do by oneself.  The best way is by doing model DELE exams. For  this you will need the assistance of a qualified tutor, because an important part of the exam consists of assessing your ability to express yourself orally and in writing. This means that someone will have to listen to you and read what you’ve written, and judge from it your strengths and weaknesses. Even the comprehension portion of the exam – which consists of multiple choice questions – requires the guidance of a tutor if you want to understand why certain answers arre correct, and others not.

Doing as many model exams as you can fit in, with guidance from a qualified tutor, needs to be an important part of your DELE exam preparation. Not only is it the best way of familiarizing you with what to expect, but it also is the best diagnostic tool for ongoing assessment of your progress and thus for guiding adaptations to your preparation plan, where necessary.

RESOURCES AND TIME ALLOCATION: In addition to the reference materials regarding the curriculum and scoring criteria that we’ve already mentioned, you will have deduced by now that one of your principal resources will be a good personal, 1-on-1 tutor. This is true not only for assessment, but also for assisting you with grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, Hispanic history and culture, and practicing the very essential presentation skills that you will need. A tutor will be able to help you with your shortcomings in grammar, suggesting suitable resources like handbooks  and guiding your grammar practice. For making your practicing of the written and oral expression tasks functional, the tutor as your interlocutor is indispensable. Fortunately these services are readily available from us, on flexible schedules via Skype, for as little as US$12 per hour.

Our emphasis on the need for expert guidance and practice with your tutor must not leave the impression that DELE exam preparation can be sufficiently accomplished by merely sitting at the feet of some guru.  Two-thirds of your available preparation time should still be allocated to SELF-STUDY. One of the  real keys to success in the DELE exam is VOCABULARY – knowing the right word, how to pronounce it, and how to spell it. That is why we say, in the blog post linked to below, that the best single thing you can do as prep for the DELE exam is to EXPAND YOUR VOCABULARY (click on the image to go to the blog post)

Your self-study will take two forms – passive and active. For expanding your vocabulary and your background knowledge of the Hispanic world, you need to expose yourself as much as possible to spoken Spanish, having talk radio or TV on for as much of the day as possible, and  reading Spanish for relaxation whenever you have a free moment (when you read, read out loud – it helps you practice articulating at the same time).

On the active side, you need to reserve lots of time for researching new words you’ve encountered while reading/listening, recording them on flashcards, and memorizing them. You also have to actively do grammar exercises, do comprehension tests, read up on Hispanic traditions, culture and history as prescribed for your level in the DELE curriculum, plus practice your oral and written presentation skills. An excellent resource for familiarizing yourself with the Hispanic background prescribed in the DELE curriculum, is the MS-Office “Smart Lookup” tool – our workbook covering the curriculum inventory is structured in such a way that you can highlight the given keyword in the text (i.e., something like Iguazu waterfall), right-click on it, and then click on “Smart Lookup” in the drop-down menu, which will immediately give you a succinct description of the event, place, person or issue, plus links to more detailed resources.

For practicing your oral presentation skills, a recording device is essential (most modern phones can capture video, or at least audio). You need to include ample practice time for oral presentation (recording yourself, and then reviewing it). This is in addition to the guided presentation practice that you will get with your tutor, simulating with her the oral expression tasks in the model exams during your 1-on-1 Skype sessions.

Doing the initial diagnostic exam needs to be simulate as realistically as possible the actual exam time constraints. Ideally, you need to set aside a sufficient block of time on some day of the week, to be able to do the entire exam in one sitting (as you will eventually have to do at the exam centre). This is essential for practicing your timing of doing the different tasks – the DELE exam can rightly be described as a race against the clock. Especially at the upper levels these exams are  also intellectually draining, so by continuing to do model exams while observing the time constraints, you will get “fit” for concentrating for the duration (and not in the least to get your fingers used once again to writing for extended periods by hand – given that in our modern world we are used to text or type, rather than write).

So – how many hours of preparation do you need for the DELE exam? There can be no rule of thumb, because every plan needs to be individualized, based on the strengths and weaknesses of the particular candidate, as well as on how high he or she wants to try and reach (the DELE exam levels need not be taken in sequence – one can enrol straight away for the highest level C2, without being near that level yet; the preparation will then need to be so much more extensive and intensive, but it can and has been done).

The best advice is to start drafting a plan, commence your preparation and assess your progress well in advance of the exam date you may have in mind. The experience you gain of how fast you are progressing, and seeing in practice how much time you actually have available per week,  will allow you to realistically choose an exam date (fortunately there are now many exam sittings through-out the year, particularly with the SIELE and the OPI packages). For the self-study student this would be the most practical approach, allowing the necessary preparation time to be spread over the time actually available to you, taking into account work and other obligations.

THE NECESSITY OF ONGOING FEED-BACK: One of the greatest leaps forward in modern systems analysis, was the introduction of the concept of a feedback loop. This can be illustrated with the analogy of a radar-directed automatic anti-aircraft gun. The gun is obviously aimed with the intent to hit the target first time (just as the student will obviously plan his DELE exam preparation with the aim to pass). The gun may indeed hit first time, but it is quite likely that external influences will impact the initial calculation, causing it to over- or undershoot. This is where the feed-back from the radar comes in, to inform the necessary adjustment. Your  tutor is your radar. Without a knowledgeable, experienced tutor, you will find it as difficult to hit your target as the gun would, without radar guidance. As with the radar, the tuition needs to be dedicated, one-on-one, for best results.  Sitting in group classes where the lowest common denominator rules, is less than rewarding and can be very frustrating.

You can obtain more information about our services on our secure website: The landing page introduces our team and our mother institution, Excellentia Didactica; you can then go on to the DELEhelp sub-page by clicking on the DELEhelp link.

If you would like to receive our free 95-page DELEhelp Workbook # 9.2 about the DELE exam goals, structure, curriculum and scoring criteria, please complete the convenient contact form you’ll access by clicking on the promo image above, or the link below. We will be glad to send it to you, gratis and with no obligation on your part:

As a summary, we have prepared an INFOGRAPHIC which succinctly sets out the steps for planning and practicing your exam preparation. It can be downloaded from DropBox with this link.

Thanks for reading – we look forward to your questions and comments!


Willem Steenkamp
Director of Studies at Excellentia Didactica online language institute; retired ambassador and former head of diplomatic academy of South Africa. D. Litt. et Phil., DELE C2 (SIELE exam center coordinator & OPI proctor)

6 thoughts on “How to Plan your DELE / SIELE & OPI Preparation


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  4. avanti

    I am a beginner to the Spanish language can I opt for level b 2 directly on self study if yes then how should I and from which book to study

    1. Willem Steenkamp Post author

      Hola Avanti – one does NOT need to take the DELE exams in sequence, working up from A1; so yes, you can jump straight in and try B2. You may want to consider, though, whether you shouldn’t first try the DELE’s online twin brother, the SIELE exam, which is multi-level and will thus give you a proper indication of your skill level in each of the four communicative competencies that these exams test – that way you will avoid the potential disappointment of just receiving a “no apto” (failed) result in the DELE B2. Have a look at our posts in this DELEhelp blog on the SIELE and its benefits. As regards the right study material, the best approach is to have a proper diagnostic done of your level, aptitude and learning preferences, from which an individualized study plan can then be developed to suit you and your needs.

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