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The DELE and FUNCTIONAL LANGUAGE USE

DELE exam functional language use segment is a key part of curriculum

Why is “functional language use” an important curriculum component?

The DELE / SIELE exam curriculum consists of much more than grammar and spelling. The same applies to their American equivalent, the OPI. Because the DELE / SIELE & OPI test “communicative competency”, they are focused on what you can actually DO, more than on what you abstractly know.   (For the sake if convenience, from this point on I will refer simply to the DELE, instead of each time the DELE / SIELE & OPI).

In this blog post we will examine the DELE’s curriculum component that identify the “functional language uses” prescribed for every level, i.e., A1, B2, C1 etc. This means, which every day, functional uses of the Spanish language a student needs to master, in order to do well in the DELE exam (or, plainly put, which typical tasks of real-world communication – the OPI’s “can do” statements). Examples of such “can do” statements would be: can I identify myself to an official? Can I ask for directions? Order a cup of coffee? Introduce a toast at a wedding? (the latter at the upper levels, of course!).

“Functional language use” signifies the everyday communicative tasks that the student must be able to perform well, as assessed in terms of four scoring criteria:  fluency, coherence, correctness and sufficiently ample linguistic scope (i.e., knowledge of vocabulary and expressions).  Some more examples of these functional uses would be tasks such as to ask for information or for a favor. Or it could be to express an opinion or sentiment, such as disagreement or repentance. It includes how to relate socially, such as in the tasks of responding to words of welcome, or extending sympathy. It also includes influencing a situation, such as how to give an order or to deny permission. Another set of functional language uses relate to structuring a conversation – for example, tasks such as how to greet someone and how to respond to a greeting.

DELE curriculum is more than grammar

How important is “functional language use’ in relation to the other curriculum components? Very! Grammar and pronunciation/spelling are but the first components of the DELE curriculum, which has ten in all. The next main component is “functional language use” (i.e., the “can do” statements). Because the DELE exam does not pose college-style questions that test theoretical knowledge, what you should be expecting, is for your ability to perform these functional tasks to be tested instead.  These tasks happen to also be typical of communication in real life, so mastering them not only serves to help one in the exam, but prepares one for the demands of everyday interaction – which is exactly what the DELE system is designed to foster and measure.

What the section on “functional language use” also does, is to give a good, practical indication of the SCOPE of matter that must be mastered for each level of the exam. In that sense, it is like a built-in “exam spotting tool” that students so much wish to have.

Now, simply to be practical about this blog post, it should be evident that dealing here in detail with the required functional language use competencies as listed in the DELE curriculum for every single level of the DELE system would be too much ground to try and cover in one blog post. We will, therefore, focus here on Level B, because it sits in the middle of the range and students at other levels can get a good idea of what their level’s requirements would likely be (all three levels follow the same structure and headings in relation to this particular component on functional language use).  In addition, we will provide links at the end of this blog post to this curriculum component for each level, for your convenience.

Our purpose here is not to give you fully developed phrases as examples of the typical manner in which Spanish-speakers accomplish each of these functions. Again, this is because (even if we limit ourselves to level B) that would require the volume of a whole book, not a mere blog post.  The idea here, in this blog post, is to introduce and sensitize you to the TYPE OF FUNCTIONS that the DELE requires you to be able to perform. We will present these in English (because the original curriculum documents are, of course, in high academic Spanish) so as to make them more accessible to especially the lower-level students. The links to the “functional language use” curriculum segment for each of the DELE’s A, B & C levels – which we provide at the end of this blog post – will however lead you to the somewhat wider detail of the original documentation. But not even in the original curriculum itself, will you find full examples of the typical phrases you will need to be able to form and articulate in order to perform these everyday functional tasks – that, your expert 1-on-1 tutor will have to help you with, via Skype.

snappa_1467577824Related to the emphasis on mastering functional language uses in order to communicate competently, is a growing trend towards following a lexical approach as the best way to acquire a new language (“lexis” meaning internalizing “word chunks” or expressions and patterns of language, instead of mostly studying grammar rules – see our blog post: http://www.delehelp.org/learn-to-converse-in-spanish/).

This lexical trend plays into the DELE’s focus on tangible outcomes, not merely on abstract knowledge. Also important is tradition and culture, since clearly there are broadly standardized speech “formulas” / norms of good conduct, for how to appropriately perform these “functional language use” tasks, such as commiserating with a bereaved person, for example. The best way to master these everyday communicative functions (which is key to doing well in the exam, as well as in real life) is to practice with your expert tutor, doing simulations and role-playing.

Now please be aware that this blog post will, of necessity, have a somewhat weird look to it.  This is because we are now going to list (in abbreviated form, in English) the DELE functional language use tasks – doing so under the same headings as used in the original curriculum document.  Remember, this serves as an introduction, to give you a feel for the scope and nature of what is required (and, if you still labor under any illusion that the DELE’s curriculum is all about learning the rules of Spanish grammar and spelling, to disabuse you of that notion). For set 1, we will give some examples (as contained in the actual curriculum document) to illustrate what is meant under each function.

DELE Curriculum Level B: FUNCTIONAL LANGUAGE USEuntitled-design-39

 Set #1: Ask and give information:
  • identify; (example: ¿Quién es la hermana de Raquel?]
    -La (chica) morena que está hablando con Pablo. Who is Raquel’s sister? The brown-skinned girl talking to Paul);
  • ask for information (¿Sabes si / dónde / cómo…?  ¿Sabes cómo se hace la sopa de marisco? ¿Puedes / Podrías decirme si / dónde / cómo…?  Por favor, ¿puede decirme dónde está la estación?);
  • give information;
  • then request confirmation.
 Set #2: Express opinions:
  • ask an opinion;
  • give an opinion;
  • ask for valorisation;
  • offer valorisation;
  • express approval and disapproval;
  • position yourself in favor or against;
  • ask if your interlocutor is in agreement;
  • express agreement;
  • express disagreement;
  • demonstrate skepticism;
  • present a counter-argument;
  • express certainty and provide proof;
  • express lack of certainty and demand proof;
  • invite to formulate an hypothesis;
  • express possibility;
  • express obligation and necessity;
  • express lack of obligation and necessity;
  • ask about knowledge of something;
  • express knowledge of something;
  • express own lack of knowledge;
  • ask about the ability to do something;
  • express your ability to do something;
  • ask if interlocutor remembers or has forgotten;
  • express that you remember;
  • express that you have forgotten.
 Set #3: Express preferences, desires and wishes:
  • ask about tastes and interests;
  • express tastes and interests;
  • express aversion; ask about preferences;
  • express preferences;
  • express indifference or absence of preference;
  • ask about desires;
  • express a desire;
  • ask about plans and intentions;
  • express plans and intentions;
  • ask about state of mind;
  • express joy and satisfaction;
  • express sadness and sorrow;
  • express pleasure and happiness;
  • express boredom;
  • express satiety;
  • express anger and indignation;
  • express fear, anxiety and preoccupation;
  • express nervousness;
  • express empathy;
  • express relief;
  • express hope;
  • express deception;
  • express resignation;
  • express repentance;
  • express embarrassment;
  • express surprise and longing;
  • express admiration and pride;
  • express affection;
  • express physical sensations.
 Set $4: Influence the interlocutor:
  • give an order or instruction;
  • ask a favor;
  • ask for an object;
  • ask for help;
  • plead;
  • repeat an earlier order;
  • respond to an order,
  • petition;
  • ask permission;
  • give permission;
  • deny permission;
  • prohibit;
  • reject a prohibition;
  • propose and suggest;
  • offer and invite;
  • ask for confirmation of an earlier proposal;
  • accept a proposal,
  • offer a proposal;
  • reject a proposal,
  • offer an invitation;
  • counsel someone;
  • warn;
  • menace (only B2);
  • reproach;
  • promise and commit yourself;
  • offer to do something;
  • calm and console.
 Set #5: Relate socially:
  • greet;
  • return a greeting;
  • direct yourself at someone;
  • present yourself to someone;
  • respond to a presentation;
  • ask about the necessity for a presentation;
  • solicit to be presented;
  • welcome someone;
  • respond to a welcome;
  • excuse yourself;
  • respond to an excusing;
  • thank someone;
  • respond to thanks;
  • present your sympathies/condolences;
  • propose a toast;
  • congratulate;
  • express good wishes;
  • respond to congratulations and good wishes;
  • pass on greetings, wishes for better health;
  • respond to being wished;
  • take leave of.
 Set #6: Structure a discourse:
  • establish the communication or react to communication being established;
  • greet and respond to a greeting, ask about someone and respond to such a query;
  • ask for an extension and respond to such a request;
  • ask if you can leave a message;
  • ask how things are going, and respond;
  • request to start relating something and respond;
  • introduce the theme for relating something and react;
  • indicate that you are following the telling with interest;
  • attract the attention of the speaker;
  • introduce something into the conversation;
  • organize the information;
  • reformulate what was said;
  • highlight an element;
  • quote;
  • open a digression;
  • close a digression;
  • reject a theme or an aspect of the theme;
  • interrupt;
  • indicate that the conversation may be resumed;
  • ask of someone to keep quiet;
  • concede the floor to someone;
  • indicate that you wish to continue the discussion;
  • conclude a narration;
  • introduce a new theme;
  • propose closure;
  • accept closure;
  • reject closure and inject a new theme.

As promised, here is the link to this particular section in the original DELE B-level curriculum document:

http://cvc.cervantes.es/ensenanza/biblioteca_ele/plan_curricular/niveles/05_funciones_inventario_b1-b2.htm

For levels A and B, the respective links are:

http://cvc.cervantes.es/ensenanza/biblioteca_ele/plan_curricular/niveles/05_funciones_inventario_a1-a2.htm

http://cvc.cervantes.es/ensenanza/biblioteca_ele/plan_curricular/niveles/05_funciones_inventario_c1-c2.htm

I hope that this blog post has given you at least a feel for what this very, very important component of the DELE curriculum is all about.  Keep an eye on our blog; as indicated, we will be posting new segments in this series that will eventually cover all of the components of the curriculum.

click on image to ask for free workbook

Please keep in mind our FREE OFFER of our 96-page Workbook #9.2 (DELE / SIELE exam orientation & acing tips) which you can have absolutely gratis and with no obligation, simply be sending us a request via our convenient contact form (just click on the image above). This unique free DELE / SIELE exam preparation book covers all aspects relating to the goals, format and curriculum of the DELE system, plus battle-tested tips for preparing yourself to ace the DELE exam.

Don’t miss out either on our other free offer, which is an exploratory one hour Skype session with myself, in English, explaining the intricacies of these exams and answering your questions – you can make use of these offers with no obligation on you to eventually sign up for coaching.

Best of luck with your exam preparation!

Salu2

Willem




TESTED ANSWERS to DELE / SIELE / OPI EXAM FAQs

TESTED ANSWERS to DELE / SIELE / OPI exam FAQs

This Blog post’s Objective: The DELE exam (and its online twin the SIELE, as well as the American equivalent the OPIc) is a very different animal to your typical school or college exam. This is true in terms of practically all its aspects – its goals, its format, curriculum content and assessment criteria / scoring.

Despite this, there unfortunately isn’t that much practical information available in English on the DELE / SIELE exams as such, especially as viewed from the student perspective.  What is available is mostly in high Spanish, written for academics by academics, with a didactic slant dealing with the likes of methodology and desired outcomes i.t.o. the Common European Language Policy Framework, the CEFR. (For the sake of convenience, I’m just going to refer to the DELE from this point on, and not to DELE / SIELE & OPI, since all three systems are founded on the same principles).

For someone who just wants to know what to expect when he/she walks into the exam center, and how best to pass this thing, there isn’t that much on offer. Especially not in English.  As author of this blog post, I am an English-speaker who actually did the DELE C2 exam before I became Director of Studies at DELEhelp (in an earlier life, I i.a. served as ambassador for President Nelson Mandela and as head of the South African diplomatic academy). I am also the official coordinator of our local accredited SIELE exam center here in la Antigua Guatemala, as well as being an accredited proctor for the OPI tests. Having “been there, done it”, this blog post aims to give practical, battle-tested answers to DELE exam FAQs, culled from real-world experience.

DELE exam FAQS is principally about what you can DO not just know1.  What is the biggest difference between the DELE exam and your typical school or college Spanish language exam?

School mostly tests what you KNOW; the DELE tests what you can DO with your knowledge. The DELE and its sister exams of language proficiency do not ask theoretical questions – they test your actual, applied “communicative competency”. In other words, it grades your ability to COMPREHEND Spanish, both when listening and reading, and to EXPRESS yourself understandably in Spanish, both orally and in writing.

The DELE evaluates your actual ability to express yourself in real-world situations in Spanish, both in writing and orally. It evaluates your “communicative competency” in terms of four main assessment criteria. These are:

  • how extensive is your linguistic scope (vocabulary and expressions);
  • how correct is your use of the language (grammar, knowing the right word / phrase / pattern of the language, plus pronunciation in case of the oral, and spelling in case of writing);
  • how coherently are you conveying your message (structure and clarity of meaning); and
  • how fluently do you speak, or how well your writing conforms to the norms for the particular genre (formal / informal letters, journalistic articles etc.)

2.  What does the DELE curriculum consist of?

DELE exam FAQs the curriculum is more than just grammar

The first important point to understand, is that the DELE curriculum consists of much more than just grammar. In fact, grammar is but one of ten main subject fields covered in the curriculum.  Reading through the list, you will understand that some relate to knowledge, and others to communicative skill sets you need to perfect. It all comes back to the fact that the DELE tests what you can actually DO with the knowledge you are required to have.

The grammar curriculum is, of course, extensive and it is important for candidates to know what is required at their particular level. For example, the Subjunctive Mood is only included from level B up, not at Level A (for B1 it is only the Present Subjunctive, while for B2 three further tenses of the subjunctive are added:  Pretérito Imperfecto,  Pretérito Perfecto and the Pretérito Plusquamperfecto).

Other key curriculum components are:

  • PRONUNCIATION
  • SPELLING
  • FUNCTIONAL LANGUAGE USE (abilities such as to ask and give directions, expressing an opinion, to prohibit something, to convey condolences etc. – at level B, for example, there are more than 130 such specific functional usages or “can do” statements listed as required competencies);
  • TACTICS and PRAGMATIC STRATEGIES (construction and interpretation of a discourse, managing modalities such as shifting time-frame, giving focus, upping intensity etc., as well as managing interactive conduct, such as showing and valuing courtesy);
  • GENRES of DISCOURSE and TEXTUAL PRODUCTS (genres of written and oral expression, such as different types of letters, essays, articles, text and e-mail messages, or face-to-face conversation, by telephone, telling a joke, presentations at conferences etc. – for level B2 alone, there are almost 40 such specific genres listed);
  • GENERALIZED and SPECIFIC NOTIONS (managing the expression of notions, which may be generalized, such as of an existential, quantitative, temporal, qualitative, or evaluative nature, or may be specific, such as of personal identity, work, leisure etc.);
  • CULTURAL REFERENCES (general knowledge of the Hispanic countries, their geography, economy and history, politics, religious beliefs etc.);
  • SOCIO-CULTURAL KNOWLEDGE AND BEHAVIOR (background knowledge of Hispanic traditions and customs in the home, the family context, the work-place, school, at leisure etc.) and
  • INTERCULTURAL DEXTERITY (identifying personal perceptions about different cultures and recognition of diversity, plus attitudes towards assimilation of cultures, mediation and interaction).

No language exists in a vacuum. All these topics are important to the socio-cultural situational awareness and communicative skill sets which candidates need in order to be able to express themselves well, and also to do well in the reading and listening comprehension tasks of the exam – but going beyond the exam, to meet the everyday challenges of communicating in real life.

To fully understand the logic behind this extensive curriculum, one needs to comprehend the GOALS or desired OUTCOMES that the DELE system is aimed at. It wants you to be able to function in a real-world Hispanic setting. It’s starting point is the student as “actor in a socio-economic setting” who needs to communicate. The curriculum therefore covers the essential knowledge and skill sets that one need to possess in order to be able to perform the everyday, real-world communicative tasks you will encounter at your level.  These relate to transacting everyday business ranging from shopping or booking into a hotel to advanced professional transactions at Level C, plus participating in social interactions and producing oral and written presentations – in the case of each DELE level, on subjects related to that particular level’s prescribed scope of outcomes. For more details on the curriculum, see our detailed Blog post on the subject:

For effective DELE / SIELE / OPI exam prep, know the curriculum

PLEASE NOTE: At DELEhelp we have prepared an in-house workbook of some 96 pages, dealing with the DELE’s goals and curriculum as well as with the scoring criteria applied in the exam. This e-workbook is available to you, our readers – completely free and without any obligation – by simply sending me your e-mail address via our convenient contact information form: just click on the image at the bottom of this page.

3.  What is the first thing to do, when starting to prepare for the DELE exam?

DELE exam FAQs first thing to do is get a study plan

If you don’t want to be shooting blindly in the dark, you need a STUDY PLAN.

Your DELE exam study plan needs to start with an inventory of what knowledge and skill sets you will need to perfect for your level, essentially as culled from the curriculum. Against this you have to then check off your existing knowledge and skills.  Where you fall short, that shortfall will need to be the content of your study plan (for example: good pronunciation is clearly an important element, but it may just be that you grew up with Hispanic neighbours and so you have excellent pronunciation, which means that in your case this won’t need to feature in your study plan; on the other hand, you may never have had experience in writing in Spanish, so spelling and knowledge of the different formats or genres of writing will clearly be part of your necessary study content).

Once you’ve determined the required knowledge and skills you still lack, you have to match it against your available time and the resources you will need. These four legs (knowledge you lack, skills you need to perfect, time available and resources required) inform your study plan. Integrating them will give you a practical program that should work for you.

Because the DELE is not a theoretical exam, but one of practical application of communicative skills, it is vital that your current knowledge and skills level be correctly determined by means of an expert diagnostic test at the very outset, and that have available the resources (identified for you by an expert tutor) that you will need to hone your skills.

Properly planned, expertly guided self-study (i.e., learning activity such as studying lexis, and exam-simulating practice, such as of writing) is clearly the key to success, and probably two-thirds of your available time should be dedicated to that.

However, it should be evident that there are aspects tested in these exams that you cannot easily prepare for on your own, just by yourself. First there’s the issue of getting a correct initial (and ongoing) diagnostic test done of your strengths and weaknesses, to help inform your study plan and to keep you on track. Secondly, practicing your written expression skills require interaction with someone qualified. You need expert feed-back and guidance. Most importantly, though, is the ORAL – you can stand in front of the mirror and converse with yourself (and even your Spanish-speaking pals will not be simulating exam situations and giving you expert feed-back). For these elements, but especially the vital oral practice, it is essential to have an experienced DELE exam tutor, 1-on-1, as your key resource, who can give you expert and personal attention. With modern technology such as Skype, you can now benefit from such personalized, expert 1-on-1 tuition in the comfort of your own home, at unbeatable rates.  (At DELEhelp, we charge only US$12 per hour, all inclusive).

Our DELEhelp Blog has a detailed post that specifically deals with how to develop a study plan – to go to it, simply click on this cover:

Click on image to go to blog post

4.  What’s the best general preparation for the DELE exam?

DELE exam FAQs the best prep is to expand your lexis

This is one of the most common DELE exam FAQs. There are two key things that you need to be doing, if you want to be at your best for the exam. The one is to expand your “linguistic scope” as it’s called in the DELE exam scoring criteria. This means expanding your knowledge of Spanish lexis (vocabulary and phrases / expressions). The more words and word chunks you know, the better you will be able to express yourself and the easier you will comprehend what you hear and read.

We have published a DELEhelp blogpost that deals specifically with the importance of vocabulary and how to best expand yours – simply click HERE.

The second is to do as many mock DELE exams as possible. One of the best resources for this, is the ModeloExamen DELE e-books written by our DELEhelp review board member, Prof. David Giménez Folqués of the Spanish department at the University of Valencia, Spain. David has been on the DELE panel since 2006. His books are conveniently downloadable (thus immediately available), and are also very affordable. To access them, click HERE.

5.  What should one be aware of, when registering for the exam?
DELE exam FAQs check out exam center availability

First thing to diarise, would be the exam dates and the deadline dates for registering. There are usually five exam sittings per year, In April, May, July, October and November.  The registrations usually close some five weeks before the relevant exam date. (The SIELE and the OPI can be booked for practically any day of the year, typically at a few days’ notice).

The second thing to check out, would be where your closest exam centers are located. Very important – check whether your particular level of the exam will be offered by the DELE center that you are interested in, on the date you wish to sit it: NOT ALL DELE CENTERS OFFER ALL LEVELS ON ALL DATES. (Once registered, you may NOT change exam centers).

When registering, you obviously need to have your personal photo identification documentation to hand.

The registration fees vary per country and for level of exam taken, but is by no means exorbitant (at exam centers in the USA it will usually range between US$105 for A1 to US$180 for C2).

6.  What should one look out for, in the days immediately leading up to the exam?

DELE xeam FAQs things to do week before

It is a very good idea to visit your exam center in the week ahead of the exam, if just to orientate yourself – especially if it is your first exam.

Speak with the administrators at the DELE exam center about the scheduling of your oral exam session.  Depending on the numbers involved, they may be offering these on the day before the written exam; if you can do the oral on a different day to the written it will help you, because the written exam is intellectually exhausting and doing the oral the same afternoon is no joke.

Ask whether the listening comprehension test will be taken in a communal hall with the audio coming over loudspeakers, or whether each candidate will have their own audio booth with headphones; if you are hearing challenged, you need to point this out in advance – especially if you are told that your particular level’s listening comprehension will be offered in a communal setting, playing over a public address system.

7.  What are the most unexpected practical complications one can encounter, on exam day?

DELE exam FAQs get your writing fingers fit

Some aspects of the DELE experience are not so self-evident and may thus not typically feature among DELE exam FAQs, but are equally important in practice. One of the biggest problems I encountered in preparing for my own C2, was the painful reality that my fingers had lost the ability to write at length & exam-fast in long-hand. In this age of the keyboard, you have to start practicing well in advance to write long-hand again – to ensure that you can do so speedily yet legibly and, especially, to get your fingers fit again.

Another aspect of writing by hand is that you have to get used to how many words a typical page of your handwriting comes to – the written tasks require that you write a certain number of words for each, and if you have to sit and count each word you wrote in the exam room, you are going to be wasting valuable time.

Time is indeed of the essence in the exam. The time allowed per task is very tight – for example, there’s no way that you will be able to write out a full rough draft of your written expression tasks and then neatly re-write the whole thing. In the oral, it is also important to be able to time yourself so that you can present a coherent, structured argument with intro, body and conclusion in the allotted time. It is therefore essential to bring an old-style watch, since you won’t be allowed to use your smartphone.

8.  How is the DELE oral exam set up?

The oral expression tasks are the one part of the DELE exam that’s examined and scored right there at the exam center, by qualified examiners certified for this purpose (the written portions of the exam are sent to Spain for marking).  The oral scoring is done by two examiners. One acts as the interviewer, and does a holistic assessment. The second examiner sits out of line of sight of the candidate (usually behind) and does a detailed assessment with the aid of what is called the analytical scale.

The oral tasks for all levels start with a monologue (i.e., a formal presentation), for which the candidate is given time to prepare.  Thereafter, the subsequent oral tasks become dialogues between the candidate and the interviewer, simulating real-world situations.

The oral exam paper explains very clearly what needs to be done, and gives the candidate a lot of guidance regarding what to expect and do – for that reason, it is very important to read the exam paper with utmost care, and ensure that you cover all the aspects required in your presentation.

In the case of the SIELE Oral (S4) and the OPIc (the Oral Proficiency Interview by Computer) the candidate does not speak to a live human interviewer, but to a computer avatar that you see on-screen, since these two exams are done on-line. The principles regarding assessment etc. do, however, remain essentially the same.

 

9.  What are the oral exam interviewers like?DELE exam FAQs oral isn't the Spanish Inquisition

The DELE oral exam is not a modern-day version of the Spanish inquisition. The interviewer is trained to be friendly and facilitating. He or she will at the outset try to put the candidate at ease with an icebreaker conversation (which doesn’t count towards your score). The oral tasks resemble everyday transactions, with the objective of seeing if you can effectively manage them (for example, simulating a conversation where the candidate supposedly is trying to return a defective item to a shop). The DELE orals do not resemble a college oral exam where you are typically asked academic questions with the objective to test your subject knowledge.  The DELE oral primarily tests your practical skill at communicating fluently, coherently and correctly in Spanish.

As in any communicative setting, it is very important to really engage with your interviewer – sit forward, keep eye contact, and remember to smile.

The SIELE/OPIc oral tests have the advantage of using standardized interaction that eliminates the sometimes problematic human factor (although it may at first sound weird to have to speak with a computer avatar, that voice is well modulated and speaks very clearly, and there is no human subjectivity that could skew things). Therefore, a majority of students find it psychologically easier to handle the SIELE/OPIc orals than the live interview of the DELE.

To view our blog post on acing the DELE oral exam, click on the image:

Click on image to go to blog post

10.  Can I make & use notes in the oral exam?

This is another one of the DELE exam FAQs that we commonly get asked. Yes, you may (and absolutely should) make bullet-point notes and prepare a scheme of presentation with a proper structure, so that you can COHERENTLY and FLUENTLY present your argument with a proper intro, a body of proof and a persuasive conclusion. You don’t need to hide these notes during the presentation – it’s fine to have it on the table, as long as you don’t lose eye contact (and thus engagement) with the interviewer by looking down at your notes too much.

What you may not do, is to read your notes verbatim when engaging with the oral examiners .

It’s also a good idea to jot down a list of pre-memorized link phrases (such as: entonces, por eso / por lo tanto / por consiguiente, todavía, mientras, aúnque etc.)  as part of your notes, so that you can be reminded to use them and can easily prompt yourself to do so.  This will help limit the “uhm – ahm” pauses that destroy fluency, as well as give you time to think.

11.  What comes out as most significant in DELE examiner comments on the oral and written expression sessions?

Reviewing examiners’ comments on candidates’ written and oral expression tasks, it is clear that their main concern is the extent to which the candidate communicated effectively.  Small grammatical errors, for example, that don’t interfere with the efficiency with which the candidate is conveying meaning, will not be penalized.  This approach is borne out by the fact that “correctness” (of grammar, spelling, pronunciation etc.) is just one of the four scoring criteria – the others being coherence, linguistic scope and spoken fluency/conformity to written genre. However, if pronunciation or grammar is so poor that meaning cannot be clearly ascertained, then of course the desired communicative outcome cannot be achieved and the candidate will be penalized.

For fluency and coherence, effective structuring of discourse is emphasized, as well as the use of link phrases between thoughts / sentences, to avoid staccato, disjointed presentation (the use of link phrases is mentioned particularly frequently in examiner comments, especially at the lower levels).

An ample linguistic scope (i.e., lexis) is also critically important – if you don’t know the right word or phrase, you won’t be fluent, nor correct or coherent, apart from obviously scoring poorly on the “linguistic scope” criteria as such.  Vocabulary is thus the one issue that impacts each of the four scoring criteria, which makes it a key area for your attention.

In real life as well, if you make a grammatical mistake, your reader or listener usually can compensate mentally for your error and still follow your meaning (such as with wrong gender agreement, for example). If, however, you don’t know the right word or cannot intelligibly pronounce it, your interlocutor cannot really mentally compensate. He or she will likely end up at a loss to understand you, and thus the conveyance of meaning will have collapsed – which in the DELE exam will of course be seriously penalized.

As regards “correctness”, it is therefore first and foremost a question of the correct word or phrase, correctly pronounced (or spelled). Repeated grammatical mistakes that show a lack of command of the basics will also negatively impact your score on this criterion; the most frequently mentioned such niggles are errors in agreement of gender and number, and incorrect use of ser / estar and of por / para.

12.  How long does it take to receive the exam results? The actual diploma?

The DELE marking process takes about three months on average.  The results are published on the Instituto Cervantes website, for which you need to fill in your exam registration number and birth date in order to access yours (so remember to keep your registration number).  The actual diploma takes a couple of months more to reach the successful candidates, since it needs to be signed by some important officials. This is what the actual diploma looks like:

DELE C2 diploma example

This is what the DELE Diploma looks like.

The beauty of the SIELE and the OPI is that their results typically are available within 72 hours, with an immediately-downloadable certificate.

The DELE diploma is valid for life, the SIELE for five years and the OPI certificate for two years.

13.  Do the DELE exam administrators sometimes make mistakes with the marks or with the diplomas?

The examiners and administrators are human, so mistakes do sometimes occur. The DELE system makes provision for a formal review process. This usually applies to candidates feeling hard done by in the scoring of the expression tasks (where human examiners award marks).  Mistakes can, however, also occur in relation to the comprehension tasks – not that the computer had made a mistake in scoring these multiple-choice papers, but that the human who must transfer the computer’s score to the candidate’s overall results sheet slipped up. At DELEhelp we actually had such an experience recently. One of our brightest students passed the expression tasks with flying colors, but then inexplicably “failed” the comprehension tasks quite miserably – supposedly obtaining the exact same point for both the listening and the reading comprehension. When we helped the candidate to formally query this, it transpired that the actual marks had been wrongly transferred; this was immediately rectified and our 100% success record with our candidates at DELEhelp was thus duly restored.

I also know first-hand that whole sets of diplomas can get “lost” through being inadvertently sent to the wrong exam center – those for Antigua Guatemala, for example, not so long ago ended up somewhere in Brazil, and took months to find their way to where they needed to go.

In other words, if you feel that something may have gone wrong with your exam results, don’t hesitate to query it (through the right channels, of course).

CONCLUSION: So, there you have some battle-tested answers to DELE exam FAQs we commonly receive.  We would like to keep this blog post updated and also expand this list of DELE / SIELE & OPI exam FAQs, so please send us your questions so that we can answer and include them.

click on image to ask for free workbook

Good luck with your exam preparation, and remember to ask for our free 96-page Workbook #9.2: “DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips”.  This one-of-a-kind free DELE / SIELE exam preparation book covers all aspects relating to the goals, format and curriculum of the DELE / SIELE system, plus battle-tested tips for preparing yourself to ace the DELE / SIELE exam. Just click on the image above, to ask for it. (If you want our OPI exam prep Workbook #8, we’ll gladly send you that free, too).

You are also entitled to a free one-hour Skype exploratory session with us, with absolutely no obligation.

Salu2

Willem




TOP TIPS FOR THE DELE / SIELE / WPT WRITTEN TASKS

Top Tips for Acing the DELE / SIELE & WPT written tasks

THE GOAL OF THIS BLOG-POST:

You probably have asked yourself: “How can I do well in the DELE exam written tasks? (or in the equivalent writing tests of the DELE’s online twin, the SIELE, or its American equivalent the WPT – Writing Proficiency Test). What are the do’s and don’ts”? What do I have to KNOW, and which SKILLS must I hone?

The essential requirement for acing the DELE exam’s “expression in writing” tasks, is expertly-guided preparation (with lots of practice, simulating exam formats). This preparation needs to be personalized, practical, goal-orientated – i.e., pass the exam – and focused on strengthening your individual weaknesses. So that, on exam day, you will have that calm, confident mental concentration that will allow you to almost reflexively  apply the knowledge and writing skills you had practiced beforehand with our exam simulations.

During your preparation you need to become totally familiar with the DELE exam’s goals, plus its format, and the practical constraints as well as the scoring criteria for this part of the DELE exam.  You need to practice your writing skills – for correctness, for stylistic aptness, for message coherence, and as a practical portrayal of the extent of your “linguistic scope” – this latter meaning your vocabulary and lexis. You need to practice and practice some more, getting expert guidance and feed-back, one-on-one, about where and how you need to improve.

On exam day, you have to read and re-read the instructions for each task, to be certain that you understand exactly what is required. Then you have to set out to demonstrate your knowledge and skills, by firstly planning and sketching out an apt and coherent answer. With this scheme of presentation in hand, you have to start writing down your definitive answer, because there won’t be time to try to first do a draft in rough, and then re-write it all.

From this brief summary you will notice that there are elements of abstract knowledge of Spanish that will be required of you. More importantly, though, there’s the art of written presentation, which skill relates to the overall DELE goal of testing your ability to communicate effectively in writing, with tasks simulating every-day, real-world writing projects.

Furthermore, there are practical issues such as handling the time constraints, as well as “finger fitness” and legibility of writing longhand (if you haven’t done it in  a while). In this blog-post I will expand on all of these elements, giving you practical, battle-tested tips (having passed the DELE C2 myself). For illustration, I will focus here on actual examples taken from the mid-range B1-level (since I cannot hope to deal with all six DELE levels in detail in a single blog-post). However, the principles and the assessment criteria are essentially the same over all six levels, with only the length of the individual tasks and their time-frames changing, plus of course the extent of the linguistic scope required for each level.

We will deal first with the goals of this part of the exam, then with its structure, followed by the assessment criteria in terms of which your effort will be scored. In explaining how the answers are marked, we will give examples of actual answers that passed and failed, plus the examiners’ comments.

Lastly, we will give you our own DELEhelp Acing Tips for this part of the exam. These are taken from our in-house workbook #9.2 “DELE / SIELE EXAM ORIENTATION AND ACING TIPS.  In its 96 pages you will find guidance and practical tips regarding all the sections of the DELE / SIELE exam (i.e., reading and listening comprehension, plus written and oral expression).  It is available as an e-book for free download, for readers of this blog. You can request it with the convenient contact form at the bottom of this page – there’s absolutely no obligation attached.

THE GOALS OF THE DELE EXAM “EXPRESSION IN WRITING” TASKS

W E goals blockThe overall goal of the DELE exam is to certify a candidate’s level of competency at actually communicating in Spanish, in simulations of typical real-world communicative settings. It is not a school or college type exam – it is NOT primarily concerned with abstract knowledge of Spanish.  It tests the ability to apply knowledge, in conversation and in using the written word. For conversation proficiency, it tests listening comprehension and oral expression. For the written language, it assesses proficiency at reading comprehension and at expressing yourself in writing – setting every-day tasks such as writing e-mails, letters, reports and articles.

As a consequence, in the course of the written expression exam the candidate will not be unduly penalized for small errors of spelling or grammar, as long as these aren’t repetitive or of such a nature that it impedes clear transmission of the meaning of the intended message.

In brief, what the DELE tests is your proficiency at understanding meaning, and conveying meaning in Spanish.

THE STRUCTURE OF THE DELE EXAM “EXPRESSION IN WRITING” TASKS (level B1)

W E structure blockDuration: 60 minutes. Number of tasks: 2. Total extent of the texts: between 230 and 270 words. Format of the answer: The candidate must write by hand his/her answers to the tasks that have been set, doing so in the space reserved in the exam book itself. Scoring: Answers are assessed according to two scales – holistic and analytical.  The holistic scale counts for 40% of the final score and the analytical scale for 60%.  For the analytical scale, the two task papers count equally.

For the sake of comparing B1 with other levels, here’s the structure for the written expression tasks of levels A1 and C2 respectively: A1 = 25 minutes total duration, completing a biographical form and writing a brief message of 20 – 30 words; C2 = 150 minutes total, 3 tasks of 1,000 words, 450 words and 250 words respectively.

The following descriptions of the structure and scoring criteria for the DELE B1 written expression tasks, have been directly translated from the official curricular documentation (which for most students would be difficult to follow in its original Spanish, written by academics for academics). For the sake of authenticity and completeness of this very important information, we have not abbreviated and have kept to the original format of the curricular documents (which explains why the following sections will not be in typical blogpost language!).

Description of the Written Tasks – Level B1

Task 1 – Format:  The task consists of writing a letter or a marketing message, an e-mail or a blog, which may include descriptive text or narration.

Extent of the writing: Between 100 and 120 words. Focus: In this task the capacity of the candidate is evaluated to produce a simple informative and cohesive text. Based on: The writing task is based on a text provided in the exam paper (a note, announcement, letter, e-mail etc.) to which the candidate’s writing is a sequel. May be personal or public in nature.

Task 2 – Format: The task consists of writing an essay, a diary entry, biography etc., which may include description or narration. Two options are offered, of which one must be chosen. Extent: between 130 and 150 words. Focus: This task tests the capacity of the candidate to write a descriptive or narrative text in which opinion is expressed and which conveys information of personal interest, based on personal experiences, sentiments, anecdotes etc. Based on: A text provided in the exam paper, which may be a brief newspaper announcement, blog or social media, which helps to define and contextualize the candidate’s required output text. May be of a personal or a public nature.

3.3.2     Marking Scales for the Written Expression Exam: DELE B1

W E scoring criteria blockFor scoring the written expression tasks, an analytical scale with four categories, plus a holistic scale are used. Both the holistic and the analytical scale consist of four ordinal scoring bands, ranging in value from 0 to 3 points. Values of 2 or 3 signify a pass, while 0 and 1 result in a fail.

Analytical Scale: Category “Conforming to Discourse Genre”

  • Value 3: Writes texts that are clear and precise, amplifying them with details of both a concrete and an abstract nature. Writes letters, messages and notes in the correct register for the particular context (i.e., tone: levity / seriousness; formal / informal). Efficiently develops all of the points indicated in the orientation text in the exam paper.
  • Value 2: Writes simple texts that are clear. In the case of the letters, messages and notes, respects the basics conventions of the genre (introduction and conclusion) and uses basic courtesy formulas (greeting, end salutation). Develops with clarity the great majority of the issues provided as orientation in the exam paper, even though some may have been skipped or not dealt with adequately.
  • Value 1: Writes texts that are very short and basic, dealing with immediate environment or aspects of daily life. In some cases, the information appears disorganized or incomplete, which obliges the reader to re-read in order to understand. Writes letters, messages and notes that are simple and brief, related to basic necessities or transmitting personal information. Hesitantly uses the most common functional exponents, elementary courtesy rules or formulas of greeting and treatment («muchas gracias»; «hola, ¿cómo estás?») or misses some important details (for example, the greeting and farewell salutations in a letter). Mentions only some of the issues stipulated in the exam paper, or doesn’t develop these sufficiently.
  • Value 0: The text produced is limited to a series of simple, isolated phrases about self or other persons or themes from own closest personal environment. In some cases, the text produced is incomprehensible. Makes errors in simple everyday formulas related to greetings, farewells, presentations and expressions such as: «por favor», «gracias», «lo siento». There are errors in the tonal register and important details are omitted. The text produced doesn’t follow the guidelines provided in the exam paper and doesn’t meet the required extent of writing by having fewer words.

Analytical Scale: Coherence

  • Value 3: Writes clear, coherent and structured texts with limited but adequate use of cohesion mechanisms to link the message is planned, taking into account the effect it can have on the receiver. It synthesizes, evaluates and varies the information from other sources trying out new combinations and expressions, marking the relationship between ideas. Properly uses punctuation, but may make some mistakes.
  • Value 2: Writes brief and cohesive texts, ordered by a linear sequence of simple elements, using information organizers («primero», «luego», «después») and common basic connectors («y», «también», «por eso», «entonces», «pero», «porque…»), although the text displays some deficiencies or limitations in its structure.
  • Value 1: Writes a series of short sentences linked with very simple and basic connectors («y», «pero», «porque»). The discourse – in some cases memorized, messy or incomplete – obliges a rereading in order to understand it.
  • Value 0: The text is limited to a series of words or groups of words linked with very basic and linear connectors («y», «pero»). The discourse does not maintain an organized structure that allows one to follow the reasoning of the candidate.

Analytical Scale: Correctness

  • Value 3: Maintains good grammatical control in everyday situations, even though may still make some unsystematic errors or show minor flaws in sentence structure, that do not produce Spelling is reasonably accurate but may make some mistakes under the influence of the mother tongue in the least common lexicon.
  • Value 2: Shows reasonable control of basic linguistic elements and common structures used to meet immediate and predictable personal interest or May make some mistakes in the spelling of words, but that does not interfere with the transmission of the main idea of the text.
  • Value 1: Use simple grammatical structures. Makes basic mistakes, without these causing misunderstanding on condition that the message is related to an everyday communicative situation. Systematically makes spelling mistakes, which in some cases render understanding of the message
  • Value 0: Shows limited control even of very basic and simple grammatical structures, or uses short (probably memorized) phrases related to basic and immediate needs. Makes abundant grammatical and spelling errors (concordances, errors in the choice of the person of the verb), which hinder the understanding of the message and require continuous rereading.

Analytical Scale: Linguistic Scope

  • Value 3: Dominates a large vocabulary, which includes some idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms, which allows the description of unpredictable situations, as well as explaining the main points of an idea or problem with reasonable precision and express thoughts on abstract and cultural topics. May commit some minor lexical imprecisions.
  • Value 2: Has enough vocabulary to communicate in relation to candidate’s immediate environment and everyday exchanges. This allows requesting information, making assessments, expressing wishes and giving instructions. May make mistakes when using more complex structures or
  • Value 1: Has a limited vocabulary which is used to convey basic information in situations related to very specific daily needs; otherwise, vocabulary is insufficient to convey the message. Makes mistakes that do not affect the communication.
  • Value 0: Uses a very basic repertoire of isolated words and phrases that are not sufficient to transmit the required information or for communication to Commits constant lexical inaccuracies, and interference from other languages is evident.

Holistic Scale

  • Value 3: Adds a level of detail to the information required, which ensures that the organization and formulation of the message amply meets with the stated communication objectives of the level. Uses a linguistic repertoire sufficient to present clear and precise descriptions, express opinions and viewpoints and develop arguments, without apparent limitations. The result is a clear and detailed text.
  • Value 2: Provides the required information in an understandable way and manages to convey Expresses self clearly in exchanges of information related to everyday themes, though, if the issues are abstract topics, some hesitation may occur or may be missing some detail. Uses a linguistic repertoire ample enough to express self adequately on everyday situations and topics of interest to the candidate. Despite some mistakes, hesitations or repetitions the candidate constructs simple, linear sentences with keywords in an understandable and clear manner.
  • Value 1: Provides part of the required information with However, due to brevity and lack of clarity the discourse is insufficient to convey the message. Uses a limited linguistic repertoire composed of syntactic structures and memorized expressions in phraseology filled with elementary errors that makes it difficult to understand the candidate and, in some cases, leaves unclear the general idea.
  • Value 0: Contributes only some data which is insufficient to convey the message. The written text consists merely of a series of very short and simple sentences in a disorganized discourse with an abundance of errors that hinder the understanding of the message.

SAMPLES OF EFFORTS ILLUSTRATING PASS AND FAIL STANDARDS – Level B1

Task 1 – FAIL:

¡Hola Diego! Soy muy feliz para el tuyo correo. Espero que tu estes bien. Fui en Madrid solo dos dia antes que ir a Salamanca con el bus. Estabo en un bar cuando he vido Miguel con su hermana. Despues un café con ambos yo y Miguel decidimos que hacer un giro de la ciudad porque yo nunca la había vida bien. Me conouci en sitios realmente maravigliosos y me gusto  muchissimo la suya compañía. Despues fuimos en un jardín para descansar: fu un dia maraviglioso. Espero que venir pronto a Barcelona, a lo meyor el próximo mese. Tengo mucha gana de verte. Hasta pronto.

Task 2 – FAIL:

Hola me llamo Sara y quiero contar mi experiencia porque creo que esta iniziadiva es muy interesante. Para mi comer significa comer untos a la gente que quiero.  y condivider nuestras experiencias del dia. Hace tres años había una comida que me acuerdo bien. Era un ordenario dia de Enero. Y estaba con mi madre, mi padre y mi hermana como quasi todos los días; porque en mi familia es normal comer untos. Ese dia comimos una comida preparida por mi madre, que es una bravissima cocinera. Se trataba de una pasta tipica del mi pais . «pasta a la nona» también pollo con patatas. Y al fin una tarta muy rica. Ese momentos lo acuordo con mucho gusto porque estábamos untos y feliz A lo mejor una de las ultimas veces.

Comments by examiners:

Analytical Scale:

  • Aptness for genre: The texts in task 1 and task 2 are brief and basic. The task guidelines that were given, were not sufficiently developed by the candidate, with the discourse being limited to his/her everyday environment or aspects of private life. In some cases, the information appears haphazard and incomplete (tarea 1: «Fui en Madrid solo dos *dia antes que ir a Salamanca con el bus. Soy muy feliz para el tuyo correo»; tarea 2: «A lo mejor una de las ultimas veces»).  Hesitantly uses somewhat incomplete greeting formulas (tarea 1: «Soy muy feliz para el tuyo correo»). These shortcomings are reflected especially in task 1 and results in the candidate not being able to achieve a value 2 grade in both tasks taken together.
  • Coherence: Although makes good use of organizational structures (tarea 1: «Despues fuimos…»; tarea 2: «Y al fin…»; «Porque en mi familia…». «Me llamo Sara y quiero contar…»), as well as some connectors and cohesion mechanisms, the texts produced have a limited number of connectors that are insufficient to achieve the degree of coherence required for this level. These shortcomings are reflected in both tasks, and causes this sample as a whole to qualify only as value band 1.
  • Correctness: Use simple grammatical structures and makes basic mistakes (tarea 1: «Soy muy feliz para el tuyo correo…»; Fui en Madrid solo dos dia antes que…»; «Despues un café con ambos yo y Miguel decidimos que hacer…»; «Me conoucí…»; «fuimos en…»; «Espero que venir…»; «Tengo mucha gana de verte». Tarea 2: «Hace tres anos había una comida…»; «… una pasta típica del mi país…»; «Ese momentos lo acuordo…»). There are frequent errors in verbal morphology (tarea 1: «he vido, conouci, verte», tarea 2: «condivider; preparida»). Commits systematic errors of spelling and punctuation (tarea 1: «… para descansar: fu un día maravilloso», «muchissimo»; tarea 2: «anos»; «… a la gente que quiero. Y condivider…»; «Los días; porqué…»).
  • Scope: Has a limited vocabulary, with a clear influence of the mother tongue; this vocabulary is insufficient to convey the message. tarea 1: «vido, giro, vida (for vista), maravigliosos, mese»; tarea 2: «iniziadiva; untos; condivider; ordenario; quasi; bravissima; rica; acuordo».

Holistic Scale:    Although the texts produced contain information that can be understood, in the two tasks the candidate uses a limited linguistic repertoire composed of syntactic structures and memorized expressions in a written discourse full of elementary errors that hinder comprehension. All this results in the two tasks to be assessed as achieving value band 1.

Task 1 – PASS

¡Hola Diego! Gracias por tu mensaje. Cuando me encontré con Miguel justo estaba esperando el autobús para ir al aeropuerto. Mi amiga estaba regresando de los EEUU y quería mandarle la bienvenida. Pero como Miguel y yo no nos habíamos visto por mucho tiempo, decidí invitarle a comer un helado en un bar italiano muy cercano. Pasamos un tiempo maravilloso juntos y nos contamos como habíamos pasado el verano. ¡Además el helado estaba muy rico! Al final olvidé el tiempo y tuve que tomar un taxi al aeropuerto. Era caro pero valía la pena. Como seguramente tenemos los dos vacaciones en navidad, he pensado venir a Barcelona durante éste tiempo. ¿Qué te parece? Hasta pronto, saludos

Task 2 – PASS

En mi comentario quería escoger como tema un tiempo que todos nosotros conocemos muy bien: navidad. Cada vez que se acerque el fin del año nos preparamos a comer bien y por supuesto comer mucho. Recuerdo especialmente la cena del 25 de diciembre en el año en que cumplí los 16 años. Como cada año, toda la familia se reunía para celebrar la cena tradicional. Lo especial era que pude por la primera vez sentarme a la mesa de los adultos. Recuerdo bien como empezé con el primer plato que era salmón. Por la primera vez en mi vida venía acompañado de una copa de champán servido po mi abuelo en persona. Me sentí muy grande y por esto lo recuerdo tan bien. Después seguí con fruta rellenada de castanias preparado con mucho talento por mi abuela. Y por supuesto terminé con helado como postre. ¡Qué rico!

Comments by examiners:

Analytical Scale:

Aptness for the genre: The texts are clear and to the point, and in the case of Task #1 respects the conventions of the genre (Intro: «¡Hola Diego! Gracias por tu mensaje»; closure: «Hasta pronto, saludos»). Develops with clarity the great majority of the points provided in the orientation text, even though in Task #1 fails to develop the reasons for the trip to Madrid.

Coherence: Writes brief and cohesive texts, structured along a sequential line of basic elements, utilizing information organizing mechanisms and basic link phrases of high frequency (task 1: «Cuando me encontré…»; «Pero como Miguel y yo…»; «Al final olvidé el tiempo y tuve…»; «Era caro pero valía la pena…»; task 2: «En mi comentario…»; «… y por supuesto…»; «Como cada año…»; «Por la primera vez…»; «… y por esto…»; «Después…»). Th structure of the text and the distribution of the paragraphs are well ordered, thanks to proper use of punctuation. Is an effort that qualifies as band 2.

Correctness: Demonstrates a reasonable control of the basic linguistic elements and habitual structures. May commit some errors (task 2: «Cada vez que se acerque…»; «Lo especial era…»; «Por la primera vez…») but this does not interfere with the transmission of the message.  The spelling is correct.

Linguistic Scope: Possesses a sufficient vocabulary to participate in daily exchanges related to his/her immediate environment. May commit errors when using constructs or vocabulary that’s more complex (task 1: «mandarle la bienvenida»; task 2: «rellenada»; «castanias»). There aren’t important errors that impede comprehension and in totality meets the criteria for a score of band 2.

Holistic Scale: Conveys the required information in comprehensible form and succeeds in transmitting the message in a manner that’s clear, detailed and without vacillations. The result are texts that are comprehensible and well-structured in both tasks, qualifying for scoring as band 2.

DELEhelp THIRTEEN TOP TIPS:

  • W E tips blockRead as much and as widely as possible during your preparation, to familiarize yourself with written Spanish, its spelling conventions and – above all – to expand your linguistic scope. Diligently add new words to your flashcards and study them (whether old-style or modern digital, like Anki or Cram.com). For links to free reading resources, please see our earlier blog-post: http://www.delehelp.org/top-dele-exam-resources-links-best-sites/
  • Do as many mock exams as you can, to familiarize yourself with the format and the time constraints – but do get expert feed-back, otherwise you may be leading yourself up the proverbial garden path.
  • When preparing for the written exam, practice your handwriting, especially if it has been some time since you’ve last had to write with a pen in this computer age. Make sure that you are writing legibly, and get your fingers properly “fit” again. Also check how many words you typically write on the lined DELE exam sheet; during the exam it is a waste of time if you have to sit and count – rather know beforehand how much of the page would constitute a given number of words in your handwriting.
  • Read the instructions, and plan: Once you have the exam paper in hand, make absolutely sure that you understand what is required of you. Highlight or underline key points in the instructions, and transpose these to a sketched scheme of structure, so that you can make sure that you cover every element required of you in your presentation. When you plan your written presentation, keep in mind the main categories of the analytical scoring scale: aptness to genre, coherence/fluency, correctness and linguistic scope.
  • Aptness requires you to adopt a structure and style of writing suited to the genre of the task at hand (for instance, a letter of complaint will have a very different structure and style to a text message or an essay) as well as selecting the appropriate register of tone/vocabulary (i.e., formal or informal).
  • Structuring your presentation is fundamental to success, especially regarding coherence and aptness to genre. A letter, for instance, will need to consist of three components, usually presented as separate paragraphs: firstly, defining the purpose of the letter; secondly, substantiating what you are saying; and thirdly, what kind of answer you expect. It goes without saying that you have to start the letter with the appropriate greeting and end it with the correct form of taking leave (the common Spanish versions of these you have to learn and remember, taking note also that Spanish formal letters tend to be more replete with courtesies than typical English usage). Examples of a formal greeting would be “Estimado / Respetable Señor” with the name of the person, if known, followed by a heading such as “Asunto: Trafico en la calle del Augua, Aldea Santa Ana”. A formal letter to anyone who isn’t a close friend or family member will usually start with a courtesy first phrase of the kind: “Espero que todo vaya bien en sus labores diárias.” and then: “El motivo de mi carta es…”  The typical end salutation in Latin America for this type of formal letter is: “Atentamente”.
  • Journalistic style: If you are required to write a journalistic article, you need to include the well-known “what, where, when, who and why”.
  • Short sentences: Whatever the typical structure of the genre you are required to write in, you will have to present your thoughts in logically structured paragraphs, trying to keep to one issue per paragraph. Try and avoid long sentences – in any form of writing, short sentences usually are stylistically better. In the exam context in particular, the longer the sentence, the greater the possibility for confusion and grammatical errors, such as regarding tenses or agreement of gender and number. With clarity being an important scoring requirement, keep your sentences short and to the point.
  • Link phrases: The foregoing does not imply that you should spit out short, unconnected sentences or paragraphs, staccato-style. You will have seen in the scoring criteria that coherence and fluency are very important; the examiners are actively looking for the use of appropriate connectors or linking phrases. As you sit down, make a quick list of such expressions at the top of your exam page as a memory jogger, and incorporate them appropriately as you write your texts. Some examples: sin embargo, así que, de todos modos, a pesar de que,  no obstante.
  • Think in Spanish: When writing in Spanish, try and think in Spanish, rather than translate phrases that you had first formed in English. In addition to taking up valuable time, thinking in English may lead you astray: you will know that a Spaniard using literal translation in order to express himself in English, is likely to write phrases like: “I have thirst” instead of “I’m thirsty”. The same will likely happen to you if you follow that route, which will undermine fluency and leave the impression of a limited and non-idiomatic lexicon. This will lead to you being penalized under the assessment criteria for correctness and linguistic scope. To be able to think and write in Spanish, it stands to reason that you must possess an ample lexis (i.e., vocabulary + expressions) and must have developed an ear for idiomatic language usage by means of reading and listening to lots and lots of everyday Spanish. You will observe that lexis – not just individual words, but knowledge also of everyday phrases and expressions – forms the foundation for doing well in reading and listening comprehension, as well as for oral and written expression; in brief, for each and every segment of the DELE / SIELE exam.  The importance of your flashcards for actively expanding your lexis / linguistic scope, and of reading and listening to Spanish for passive learning, cannot be stressed enough. See our blog post: https://www.delehelp.org/expand-vocabulary-best-dele-exam-prep/
  • Stay calm and think laterally: If you run into problems with words you would like to use, but which are stubbornly stuck on the tip of your tongue, think laterally and improvise (don’t waste time by getting hung up on a particular word, and don’t panic). Pay attention to the minimum length required for each task – you will lose marks if you don’t write at least that much. However, don’t fill up lines by repeating ideas that you’ve already stated, the second time just in different words. Do not copy entire sentences from the exam question either. Do not regurgitate memorized model answers; examiners are trained to recognize them and your test will be invalid.
  • Proofreading: There isn’t time during the exam to entirely re-write first drafts. You have to write down your answer straight away (after having first carefully analysed the instructions, and then equally carefully having planned and structured your text). Then use the remaining time to proof-read your work. To this end, it is a good idea not to write too densely on the page (i.e., you should initially write your words somewhat spaced, in order to allow you to fit in corrections).  The DELE is not an exam in the aesthetics of handwriting, so don’t worry if you need to scratch out and correct – as long as it remains clearly legible. Proofread particularly for agreement of gender and number, for correct use of ser/estar and por/para, for obligatory use of the subjunctive mood, and for spelling mistakes, paying attention to accents (tildes).
  • Check your watch: It is imperative to have an old-style watch at hand, to check your timing. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to use your smartphone for this, since their presence in the exam center is prohibited, for obvious reasons. It therefore needs to be a traditional timepiece. Be aware also of the relative weights of the different written tasks, so that you don’t waste too much time on initial, low-weight tasks. For example, in the three tasks of the DELE A2 written expression exam, task 1 counts for only 17% of the total score, task 2 for 33% and task 3 for 50%.

infographic

infographic

click on image to ask for free workbook

For more information, feel free to request our e-Workbook #9.2 entitled DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips (96 pages). It is available for download, gratis and without any obligation – just ask, using the convenient contact information form on this page. This unique free exam preparation book covers all aspects relating to the goals, format and curriculum of the DELE / SIELE system, plus battle-tested tips for preparing yourself to ace the DELE or SIELE exam. Just click on the image, to ask for it. (You can also ask for our Workbook #8, which covers the OPI / WPT, and which we will also be happy to make available to you FREE).

You may also want to check out our personalized, one-on-one online tutorial assistance via Skype – the first exploratory conversation of one hour is also free and without obligation (Click on the display ad below, to be taken to our web-site). Our rate is only US$18 per hour, which includes our own prep and homework / mock exam review time, plus our free in-house workbooks – there are no hidden extra costs.

Thank you for reading this blog-post. Please see also our earlier posts, covering other important aspects of the DELE exam. Any and all comments will be highly appreciated.

Buena suerte with your exam prep

 Saludos cordiales

Willem Steenkamp PhD
Director of Studies : Excellentia Didactica




FOCUS your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation

Focus your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation

To properly focus your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation you need a study plan

Since most students’ time is at a premium, you need to FOCUS your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation. Hitting the bull’s-eye (whether for the DELE, or for its online twin the SIELE or the American OPI) therefore depends a lot on having a proper STUDY PLAN. Approaching these exams in a similar way to how you would learn for a school or college exam, simply won’t do – because they test for very different things: school or college test your abstract academic knowledge, where-as these exams are all about the four communicative competency skills – about your actual “CAN DO” ability.

So, what data do you need, to be able to plan properly – to correctly FOCUS your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation? And, with the data in hand, how do you go about crafting your study plan? This blog post will answer those key questions. (Since the DELE and SIELE share the same curriculum and scoring criteria, and that of the OPI package of tests is very similar, we will – for brevity and convenience – from this point on, refer to the three exams only by the name of the DELE).

WHAT DO 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 firstly 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).

Focus your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation

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Secondly, once you know the DELE exam system inside out, you have to look at the other side of the planning equation – namely the extent of your own existing knowledge and skills. This you then have to measure 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 input 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).

Focus your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam prep

To Focus your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation, know the curriculum

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 (i.e., for each of the four skills) namely reading comprehension, listening comprehension, expression in writing and oral expression.

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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.

FOCUS YOUR DELE / SIELE / OPI EXAM PREPARATION – BUILD 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. It is sensible to get help.  DELEhelp.

Who are our typical DELEhelp 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$14 per hour of actual Skype time, with our study material made available free and including the initial diagnostic). For more detail on our 1-on-1 coaching services, check out our secure website by clicking on this image:

DRAWING UP YOUR EXAM PREPARATION STUDY 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 .pdf download (if you haven’t yet done so, you can click on the book promo image above, or on THIS LINK, and use the convenient contact form to ask for it).

To properly assess one’s own existing knowledge and skills levels in relation to what’s required i.t.o. the curriculum, so as to see what you don’t yet know / can’t yet do, is extremely difficult on your own, just by yourself.  The best way is by doing a properly moderated diagnostic of all four skills, using an actual DELE exam at the appropriate level. 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 with the appropriate experience and expertise (i.e., your DELEhelp coach) will have to listen to you speaking, 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 are correct, and others not.

This need for a personal coach goes beyond just the initial diagnostic: doing as many model exams as you can fit in, needs to be an important part of your DELE exam preparation – but to be optimally effective, expert guidance and feed-back are essential. Not only is doing model exams 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 initial and ongoing assessment, but also for assisting you with grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, Hispanic history and culture, and ESPECIALLY for practicing the very essential written and oral presentation skills that you will need. A tutor will be able to help you with your shortcomings in grammar, suggesting suitable resources and guiding your grammar practice. For making your practicing of the written and oral expression tasks functional, the tutor as your “exam interviewer” is obviously indispensable. Fortunately, these services are readily available from us, on flexible schedules via Skype / Zoom, for as little as US$18 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 having a sufficiently ample LEXIS – knowing the right word / collocation, link phrase or expression, plus 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 LEXIS (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 and expressions 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 #9 covering the curriculum inventory is structured in such a way that you can highlight any given keyword in the curriculum 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.

We have also developed a comprehensive series of in-house workbooks, in English, to cover essential aspects – these workbooks our students receive FREE, upon registering with us for personalized exam prep coaching. Here are the covers of just two of them:

Focus your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation

TOOLS & TIME NEEDED:

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 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 center). 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 longhand).

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).

To properly focus your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation, the best advice is to start well in advance of your targeted exam date, working with your coach to do the diagnostic and draft your personal study plan, and ten to commence your guided preparation and assess your progress as you advance. 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 adjust your preferred exam date (fortunately there are now many exam sittings through-out the year, particularly with the SIELE and the OPI packages, which can be set down for practically any day). 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.

DELE C2 diploma example

This is what the DELE Diploma looks like.

THE NECESSITY OF EXPERT GUIDANCE AND FEED-BACK:

We understand and respect that self-study students have a life and therefore have many obligations to juggle, whilst having the will to succeed on their own. However, because of the nature of these exams that test your “can do” skills rather than book knowledge, it is important to have someone expert to practice with, to guide you and give you feed-back.  (This, incidentally, is why attending group classes for DELE exam prep typically isn’t effective, because of the limited opportunity for practice and the lack of personal attention).

If you want to know more detail about the didactic foundation of our tutoring methodology and see examples of personal study plans, then please have a look at this blog post:

Focus your Dele / SIELE / OPI exam preparation

Key elements of our 1-on-1, personalized online coaching methodology

The post will give you more detail on how we can help you to focus your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation.  It explains the didactic approach that your personal DELEhelp exam prep coach will adopt in guiding you, and ends with actual examples of study plans.

As a concluding summary, we have prepared an INFOGRAPHIC which succinctly sets out the steps for planning and practicing your exam preparation.

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

Salu2

Willem

Focus your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation

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TOP TIPS FOR ACING SPANISH READING COMPREHENSION TESTS

Acing Spanish Reading Comprehension

Acing Spanish Reading Comprehension Exams – our top tips

Acing Spanish reading comprehension tests, such as for the DELE / SIELE / RPT exams, can appear daunting – but it need not be, if you understand the techniques that examiners use, and the importance of having a sufficiently ample lexis of Spanish vocabulary and expressions). In this blog post we will share with you our battle-tested tips for acing these tests.

“Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge—of Words and the World”

Note: since the DELE / SIELE use the same curriculum and assessment criteria developed i.t.o. the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages – the CEFR – which the American RPT Reading Proficiency Test (from the OPIc Oral Proficiency Interview stable) also use, in this post we will refer only to the DELE by name, for the sake of brevity and convenience; references to the DELE thus wills subsume the SIELE and RPT as well, unless otherwise indicated. Acing Spanish Reading Comprehension

One can prepare for reading comprehension exams:

It is no secret that the part of the DELE exam that students fear most, is the first half of it that tests one’s comprehension of what you read and what you hear.   This is done by means of “monkey puzzles” or more properly called multiple choice question papers. We will deal today with reading comprehension. The tips we will give you, apply also to the equivalent segment of the SIELE exam (the new online twin of the DELE) which is the SIELE S2 (unlike the DELE, where all four communicative competencies are tested in one exam sitting on one day, the S2 can be taken any time, as a free-standing test). The same applies to the American equivalent RPT, or Reading Proficiency Test. It must be understood that the principles and format are largely the same for all three reading comprehension tests, whether DELE, SIELE S2 or RPT.

One of the reasons why the DELE exam reading comprehension test is so feared, is the somewhat misplaced belief that one cannot really prepare for these exams. While it is true that one cannot specifically prepare (because the examiners’ universe of topics from which to select for the exam questions is just too vast and random), one can indeed generically prepare for acing Spanish reading comprehension tests.

To many students, the topics of the multiple-choice questions they encounter in the DELE exam reading comprehension seem not to have been covered in the typical DELE exam preparation programmes on offer, with the latter’s strong grammar / verb conjugation focus.  It is as if there’s no identifiable nexus between the topics encountered in the reading and listening comprehension, and the content of the group classes many students have taken. Meeting up with such a calamity, of course, most often results when the student (or more correctly, a tutor fixated with a school-style teaching approach) hadn’t looked up the actual DELE curriculum before planning their examen DELE preparation.

Get familiar with the Curriculum:

The official DELE diploma curriculum inventory document in fact does contain pertinent guidance for preparing oneself for the comprehension parts of the exam.  To paraphrase the introductory quote above, from Prof. Eric D. Hirsch jr.: you need to sharpen and broaden your knowledge of Spanish words, and of the Hispanic world. It is here where such elements of the curriculum as one’s linguistic repertoire (especially vocabulary) and the curriculum’s chapters on “Cultural Reference Framework”, “Knowledge of, and Customs of Socio-Cultural Conduct”, and “Intercultural Dexterity” come into play.

An excellent tool for orientating yourself regarding the examen DELE and its goals, format, curriculum, scoring criteria, plus our top tips for acing the DELE exam, is our one-of-a-kind DELE / SIELE exam preparation book called “DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips“.  You can obtain this 96-page book FREE and without any obligation, by simply asking for it, using our convenient contact information form (just click on the image below).

Acing Spanish Reading Comprehension

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The Key to Acing Spanish Reading Comprehension tests is ample LEXIS – Know the words:

The first debacle that a candidate needs to avoid in reading comprehension tests, is encountering words or expressions in the exam text that the candidate simply doesn’t recognize.  Not knowing what the meaning is of key words or expressions, can cause one to entirely misunderstand a given text. Obviously, the only solution to this challenge, is to work hard to develop as extensive a vocabulary as possible.  The importance of lexis (words as well as expressions / idioms) cannot be overstressed. MAKE FLASHCARDS and learn them (they should preferably be digital, using free resources such as www.cram.com or ANKI, or they can be old style, on cardboard). Keep in mind that all Spanish nouns have gender, so please learn the noun together with its gender.

For Acing Spanish Reading Comprehension – Know the context:

The other important exam-day blank to avoid, is not being able to situate the given piece of text in its socio-cultural context. In other words, not being able to relate it to some kind of reference framework derived from general knowledge of the Hispanic world, which context will help explain what the text is all about. As Prof. Hirsch points out: “The only useful way to prepare for a reading test is indirectly – by becoming a good reader of a broad range of texts, an ability that requires broad general knowledge”.

To illustrate the importance of situational meaning as determined by context, with an example taken from English: the word “pot” can mean something that you grow flowers in, or use for cooking, or that your gran had under her bed, or even that some people smoke.

A top tip is to diligently read the Spanish print media. Papers like El País and El Mundo all have free digital versions; remember to read not only the front page actualities, but also the specialized sections on culture, education, science and the like – many DELE / SIELE exam texts are lifted from these two papers. To optimize the value of your reading efforts, you need to diligently look up the meaning of all new words you encountered, and add them to your flash-card system.

Acing Spanish reading Comprehension

Our blog post with LINKS to top DELE exam prep RESOURCES

Acing Spanish Reading Comprehension tests requires fluency in reading:

Being able to quickly read and grasp meaning is an important skill to cultivate, in addition to acquiring knowledge of words and of the Hispanic world. It relates to how fast and discerningly you are able to actually read the text in front of you (remember, each exam task is subject to quite stringent time constraints).

The more time you spend on deciphering individual words letter by letter, the less time you have remaining to you for focusing on the main task of forming an understanding of the content. In addition to time being consumed, it is also a question of mental energy and capacity being consumed if you struggle to read. If you consider that it is alleged that working memory can hold only seven items at the best of times (i.e., those times when your mind is free to focus on content) the importance of not being hamstrung by reading difficulties is self-evident.

You may already be aware that, the more fluently we read, the more we read entire words as pictograms, rather than reading individual letters and assembling these into words. We therefore become skilled at reading like the Orientals do, with their whole-word pictograms. To illustrate this phenomenon, see how relatively easily you can recognize these familiar English words, even with their letter order all jumbled up: Mkae Amricae gorw; insevt loaclly.

Attaining reading fluency permits one to concentrate on comprehending the content, rather than being side-tracked by struggles with forming words from what seems to be unfamiliar jumbles of letters and having to pause to try and recall what those words each signify.  Recognizing words instantly, and knowing their meaning without conscious effort at recall, allows the candidate to save time and mental energy, so as to be focused on context and message content. Such fluency in reading comes only from practice, practice, practice and from an ample lexis of vocabulary, collocations and expressions.

Our DELEhelp Workbooks on vocabulary and on Spanish idioms and expressions are important additional free tools for acing Spanish reading comprehension, which you will receive when you sign up with us.  The vocabulary workbook, for example, explains the rules (or patterns) governing transforming cognates from English to Spanish. Since some 38% of words in English and Spanish stem from similar roots, knowing these patterns will help significantly in recognizing words you may not have directly learnt in Spanish, but with the meaning of which you are actually quite familiar.  But beware – there are a few “false cognates” as well! (like embarazo meaning pregnancy, and not embarrassed).

The role of grammar in Acing Spanish Reading Comprehension tests:

Your knowledge of Spanish grammar can provide important contextual clues to help you select the correct answer from the multiple-choice options offered.

It must be kept in mind that, unlike English vocabulary, Spanish nouns have gender and Spanish verbs are conjugated. When reading exam texts, merely recognizing the root form of a word will often not suffice. One must know enough grammar to be able to identify in which mood and tense the verb is presented in the text (to comprehend its true nuanced meaning) and must also know the gender of nouns – for example, in order to be able to select between two synonyms being offered as multiple-choice solutions.

To illustrate the point about gender, look at this example (taken from a B-2 mock exam). Two possible options presented in a multiple-choice paper of the type where the student needs to fill in a missing word in the exam text, were the synonyms “desastre” and “debacle”.  In terms of meaning, both could have worked in this particular instance. However, only “debacle” was correct, because the text read: “Primero hay que sobrevivir a la ___  de encontrar un nuevo piso”. If you didn’t know that “desastre” is masculine and therefore takes “el” but “debacle” is feminine and therefore goes correctly with the “la” in the text, you would have been stumped.

Or take this grammar example, also from a B-2 mock exam: “…aunque sea obsequiando con una gran sonrisa  ___  entrar al ascensor.” The options given were: “cuando”, “mientras” and “al”.  Only a knowledge of grammar would enable the student to know with certainty that it needs to be “al” – because the verb directly following on the blank space (i.e., “entrar”) is in the infinitive, and grammar rules that, following “cuando” as well “mientras”, verbs need to be conjugated and not stated in the infinitive; of the three options, only “al” can be followed by an infinitive.

Once we have mastered vocabulary (and, in Spanish, the related gender/grammar), broad domain knowledge helps us to make sense of word combinations. It has been said that “reading requires the reader to make inferences that depend on prior knowledge – not on de-contextualized ‘inferencing’ skills.”  In plain English: one cannot look at words in isolation; their meaning often depends on their context in relation to accompanying word patterns, which have acquired fixed meaning (such as collocations and  idiomatic expressions). It is also true that we cannot comprehend irony, metaphor and other such literary devices without cultural background knowledge.

Understand the examiners’ technique in setting the DELE exam reading comprehension questions:

For acing Spanish reading comprehension tests, it is also important to understand what the examiners are trying to test in a reading comprehension exam, and how they typically do it (i.e., what is the main technique used in comprehension testing, to separate the proverbial sheep and goats?). In essence, examiners want to be able to differentiate between students with true understanding of the meaning of the message contained in the text, and those who are trying simply to spot apparent similarities. Reading comprehension is NOT a test of your short-term memory retention, NOR of your powers of observation. It tests your understanding of meaning. The examiners want to differentiate between the student who looks at the text and the given options, and then knows with certainty that: “eureka – THAT one reflects the true meaning and is therefore the exact correct option” as opposed to: “hmmm – that one seems to ring a bell, it sort of seems similar”.

So, what technique will examiners use? They will deliberately construct “ring a bell” options (aptly called, in academic parlance, “distractors” or “foils”), incorporating into them words that you would remember having seen in the text.  This way they can check whether you merely observed apparent similarities, or truly comprehended meaning.  Beware, therefore, when you see purely descriptive elements repeated in the options – these most often are not the correct answer. What examiners often do, in order to check comprehension, is to re-state the correct answer using new words with similar meaning, and see if you understand that the two apparently different phrases (the one in the text and the one in the option) actually mean the same thing.

To give you an example, framed in English – in the text may appear the phrase: “Yesterday the children played in the garden”. You are then given three options: (a) Yesterday the children played in the kitchen (b) Yesterday the children would have loved to have played in the garden; and (c) Yesterday the children played outside.  Of these three, (a) appears most obviously wrong. Option (b) is a classic distractor, in that it seems to tick all the right boxes i.t.o. words that appeared in the text such as “yesterday”, “children”, “played” & “garden”. However, if you properly understand the meaning of the phrase, then you would know that this option actually says that the children DID NOT play in the garden, so it is clearly as wrong as (a). Option (c) is the correct answer, because it shows the examiner that you understand the similar meaning of “outside” and “garden”.

Acing Spanish Reading Comprehension

Watch out for examiners using distractors (“red herrings”)

What to do inside the exam centre:

Once inside the exam centre, with the text in front of you, there are important steps that should be followed in order to help you comprehend the content of the given texts and to select the right option(s) from the multiple choices offered.

  • Keep a check on time;
  • Read the given text once for holistic overview of its context, without getting too hung-up on problems encountered – find the main idea and the author’s purpose;
  • Read the QUESTIONS / OPTIONS as carefully (if not more so) as you read the text;
  • Read the text again, now with the questions in mind;
  • Take each question in turn, first eliminating from each set of given choices, those options that are clearly wrong;
  • To select among remaining options that appear equally possible, check the grammar, number and gender of words, to see that they correctly fit the text immediately preceding and following the blank space;
  • Keep in mind that this is not a test of your powers of observation or short-term memory, but of your understanding of meaning – therefore, watch out for the seeming repetition of words from the original text in the answer options, because the correct answer will more than likely not be that, but rather a synonym or some such different word of similar meaning to the original, to test that you understand, instead of merely having observed and recalled;
  • From your study of the curriculum, you will know that the examen DELE places a lot of emphasis on fluency of communication, which depends a lot on correct use of link phrases – so, be prepared for your knowledge of these (and of their appropriate use) to be tested, especially at B-level and above;
  • When you are confronted with a task requiring you to insert whole phrases in a text, be especially careful, because the number of options given normally match exactly the number of blank spaces (usually six or so). This means that if you have one wrong, you of necessity will have another one wrong as well, since you have “used up” the (in)correct answer and therefore will not be able to place it in its correct space – thus a double jeopardy.  In these types of tasks, it is important to look at punctuation: look to match option phrases that have their first word commencing with a capital letter, to spaces where the preceding phrase terminated in a full stop. Similarly, where the preceding phrase (before the blank space) had ended on a comma or in a manner not obliging the next phrase to start with a capital, look for option phrases starting with lower case.

If all else fails, look for the shorter option to be correct – remember that the examiners need to construct and embellish options to catch out the “that rings a bell” syndrome, and such options most often require them to use more words in Spanish. (This may be the exact opposite approach to what you’ve been taught for English-language multiple choice exams, where the longer answer is often the correct one; to understand the difference between the languages, keep in mind that Spanish uses precisely conjugated verbs to say exactly what it means).

The Center for Teaching Excellence of the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire provided these additional tips to their students:

  • Responses that use absolute words, such as “always” or “never” are less likely to be correct than ones that use conditional words like “usually” or “probably”.
  • “Funny” responses are usually wrong.
  • “All of the above” is often a correct response. If you can verify that more than one of the other responses is probably correct, then choose “all of the above.”
  • “None of the above” is usually an incorrect response, but this is less reliable than the “all of the above” rule.
  • Look for grammatical clues.
  • If you cannot answer a question within a minute or less, skip it and plan to come back later. Transfer all responses to the answer sheet at the same time, once you have marked all questions on your exam. (If you try to do several things at once, you increase the probability of making a mistake. Saving the relatively mindless job of filling in bubbles until the last step reduces the probability of making silly errors.)
  • If all else fails, choose response (b) or (c). Many instructors subconsciously feel that the correct answer is “hidden” better if it is surrounded by distracters. Response (a) is usually least likely to be the correct one. (Note – we here at DELEhelp did a quick statistical analysis of an entire actual DELE exam set (A1 to C2), checking the correct answers to the multiple-choice questions for reading and for listening comprehension, and we found this borne out: A=74 times, B = 94 times, and C = 84 times. However, be it upon your own head if your failings in particularly your vocabulary preparation, oblige you to use this statistical shot-in-the-dark guessing method!).

The good news is that the DELE diploma’s comprehension exam sections are not marked negatively (i.e., you will not lose marks for wrong answers).

In summation:

The right approach to the comprehension segments of the examen DELE, is to be as fresh and clear of mind as possible on the day of the exam (don’t pull an all-nighter!) Stay calm and methodical, and know that there is indeed a logic to selecting the right answer to every question. To accustom yourself to spotting that logic, the key is practice, practice and again practice – doing as many exam simulations as you can fit in, and then reviewing your results in detail with your tutor, so that you can see where (and why) you had gone wrong.

Above all, though, you have to avoid the sickening feeling of not even being able to progress to logical deduction, because you simply didn’t recognize key words you encountered. For that, there’s no other remedy than constant vocabulary learning, diligent reading practice to improve reading speed and expand relevant domain knowledge, and doing as many mock exams as you can. We recommend the ModeloExamen DELE mock exams available from Bubok publishers as e-books: http://www.bubok.es/buscar/modeloexemen-dele .

To learn more about how our experienced tutors here at DELEhelp may assist you Acing Spanish Reading Comprehension and with your preparation for the DELE / SIELE or RPT / OPI in general please click on the IMAGE BELOW

Buena suerte!

Willem