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Exam Prep without knowing the DELE exam curriculum, is like shooting blind


DELE exam curriculum

Are you familiar with the DELE exam curriculum?

Ask yourself: Do I really know what the curriculum of the examen DELE for my level contains? What the goals are of the Common European Language Policy framework, of which the DELE diploma is the Spanish part? What content is prescribed, and what skill sets will be tested?

To illustrate – if you are thinking of doing the B-level exam, do you know which of the tenses of the Subjunctive mood you need to know for B1, and which additional ones for B2?

Now ask yourself – how can I prepare myself sensibly – that is, knowing what to prioritize – if I don’t first become familiar with the DELE exam curriculum and goals?

It is unfortunately true that very few students (and their tutors, sadly) give much attention to the curriculum. It seems that it is often thought that, since DELE exams are practical tests of ability to communicate (i.e., without there being direct, college-style exam questions on Spanish grammar, spelling, culture etc.), one can kind of muddle through. The truth, though, is that the listening and reading comprehension tests in particular, but also the expression tests, indirectly but very definitely do test the knowledge sets specified in the curriculum.

Those students who do go to the considerable trouble of locating this document in the hidden recesses of the world-wide web (and who are lucky enough to find it), then encounter another obstacle. The official DELE exam curriculum is huge and complex, written in high Spanish – by academics, for academics.

At DELEhelp we have translated the relevant curricula content into English.  We have summarized the curricula as part of our in-house Workbook #9: DELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips. Our unique DELE exam preparation book is available to you, entirely FREE and without any obligation, by simply asking for it; use our convenient contact information form by clicking on the image at left.  Apart from the curriculum, this comprehensive DELE exam preparation book covers the nature and goals of the DELE system, the exam format, the scoring criteria that are applied, plus our top tips for acing the DELE exam.

What follows here-below, is a brief introduction of these topics. For the more detailed treatment of these important subjects, do not hesitate to ask for our free DELE exam preparation book.


The DELE diploma goals: To understand what one must prepare for, it is essential to be familiar with the DELE system’s goals. At its outset, the official Common European language framework states about its policy document that: “It describes in a comprehensive way what language learners have to learn to do in order to use a language for communication and what knowledge and skills they have to develop so as to be able to act effectively. The description also covers the cultural context in which language is set.”

The Common Framework assessment system has as goal the certification of a candidate’s practical competency at using, in this case – Spanish – as language-in-action. The exam therefore simulates actual communication formats within a real-world, everyday social and economic context.  It views the candidate as a living actor (“social agent”) in a foreign-language environment, who has tasks to perform – which he cannot accomplish without competency at communicating in that language. This practical approach defines communication as the ability to comprehend the received spoken and written word, and to convey meaning in turn, both orally and in writing.

The Policy Framework describes the level of communicative competency required at Level B1 as follows: “(The candidate) can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.” (We are using Level B as reference here, because it is situated at mid-point in the range and students at A or C will thus be able to relate to it – the full curriculum inventory is just too voluminous to treat every level within the confines of this blog post).

For Level B2, this is the policy document’s description of competencies: “(The candidate) can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of different options.”

Now it stands to reason that the clear step-up seen between B1 and B2 will require a broader field of knowledge on the part of the candidate.  But more knowledge of what, exactly? The DELE curriculum inventory document details what this knowledge should consist of.  We will illustrate its scope and focus with examples taken from the B-level inventory.

The DELE B-Level Curriculum Inventory: The official curriculum inventory for DELE Level-B is divided into ten main chapters. Because DELE exams simulate real life, the scope and number of knowledge fields involved are as wide as life itself. While no-one is going to be required to write college-style essays on phenomena of grammar or forms of Hispanic socio-cultural celebration, it is undeniable that comprehension of a language depends as much on knowledge of its usage context as on knowledge of vocabulary or grammar rules. Just looking at the titles of the different curriculum inventory chapters, gives one a good feel for the amplitude of its scope:

Grammar; Pronunciation; Spelling; Functional Language Usage; Tactics and Pragmatic Strategies; Genres of Discourse and Textual Products; Generalized and Specific Notions; Cultural References; Socio-Cultural Knowledge and Behaviour; and Intercultural Dexterity.

The Level-B grammar inventory alone runs to thirty small-print pages. It differentiates in detail the knowledge required for B1 and B2. An example of this is the specification regarding the tenses of the subjunctive mood a candidate needs to know – for B1, it is only the present subjunctive, whereas for B2, three more tenses of the subjunctive mood are added:  the perfect, the pluperfect and the imperfect.

It probably didn’t come as a surprise to you that there is a formal curriculum inventory for grammar, nor that it exists for spelling or pronunciation. What most students are surprised by, is that the curriculum goes far beyond these stock aspects, to include a wide range of functionalities as well as knowledge about social mores, traditions, Hispanic history, geography, economy and the like. You will better understand the need for this when we deal with the science of listening and reading comprehension in new blog posts next week (or if you should read the free Workbook mentioned earlier).  It is well established that comprehension depends largely on the ability to relate events to the broader context of their setting, and to make correct inferences – thus to the depth and width of one’s reference framework of relevant general knowledge.  As it was succinctly put by one of the experts in the field, Prof. Hirsch: comprehension depends of one’s knowledge of words and of the world – in the DELE’s case, of the Hispanic world in particular.

To give you a feel for the level of detail provided in the curriculum inventories, I copy here our brief summation in English of their content on Orthography (spelling) and Pronunciation:

Pronunciation (B1 & B2 same)

  • General characterization of Spanish pronunciation;
  • intonation (melodic units and their relationship with punctuation, posing of questions, courtesy, giving orders);
  • the syllable and accents (identification, relationship between spoken and written accents);
  • rhythm, pauses and timing;
  • vowel phonemes;
  • consonant phonemes;
  • grouped sounds.



  • (B1) diphthongs, tripthongs, hiatuses;
  • (B2) protective “e” in front of foreign or Latin words starting with “s” (espectáculo, estadio, estatua, estándar);


  • (B1 & B2) words with letters b, v, w / c, k, q, z and digraph ch / g, j / h / y and digraph ll / s, x / t, d;      
  • use of capital lettersin entire acronyms (ONU), at beginning of words, after punctuation with a colon (:);
  • use of lower case letters at start of word – acronyms converted into words (módem, sida), converted proper names for regions etc. (un [vino de] rioja);
  • use of cursive letters – titles of literary works and publications, insertions into text of foreign language;
  • hyphenation – long words after syllable, maintain original spelling of non-assimilated foreign words, expression of numbers, dual form words (Si no estudias nunca aprobarás. / No es antipático, sino tímido);
  • use of Accents – general rules, tilde;
  • Punctuation – full stop, comma, colon, semicolon, ellipsis, question & exclamation marks, brackets, square brackets, quotation marks, hyphen, underscoring, forward slash, umlaut;
  • use of Acronyms and Abbreviations, Symbols.

The aspects of functional use of language specified for Level-B fall under the main headings of: Ask and Give Information; Express Opinions; Express Preferences, Desires and Wishes; Influence the Interlocutor; Relate Socially; and Structure a Discourse. Relate Socially is, for example, further divided into: 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 greeting or wishes for better health; respond to being wished; and take your leave of someone (the other sub-headings have much more ample lists of situations).

As is the case in most languages, there exist stock formulations or politesse’s for each of the above situations in Spanish, which one has to learn. But without getting familiar with the curriculum first, how would you know that this may be expected of you in the exam?

The chapters in the curriculum inventory on socio-cultural characteristics of the Hispanic world are also very detailed. This is our brief summation of the section on history, as prescribed for LEVEL-B:

History of the Hispanic World – events and protagonists of past and present

Legendary personalities and events:

  • Milestones of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: Spain – the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera; the Second Spanish Republic; the Spanish Civil War, the concept of “two Spains”; Franco; the Spanish transition to democracy: Personalities and important events, importance and place of King Juan Carlos in the Spanish transition; Governments of the democratic era: Prime Ministers, prominent personalities, values that Spaniards attach to the monarchy and its role in society.
  • Revolutions in Latin America: Mexican revolution, Cuban revolution; revolutionary personalities in Latin America; dictatorship and democracy in Latin America during the second half of the twentieth century; prominent personalities and events.
  • Contemporary guerrilla movements in Latin America: [Sendero Luminoso/Shining Path (Peru), Sandinista Popular Liberation Front (Nicaragua), FARC (Colombia), ELN (Bolivia)]; Importance and place of the guerrilla movements in the society of some Latin American countries.

Important events and personalities of social and cultural life:

  • sport – hosting Mexico Olympics in 1968 and Barcelona 1992; Miguel Indurain, winner of five Tours de France; Argentina, winner of the World Cup Soccer 1986, and Spain, winner in 2010;
  • Awards for Literature and the Arts in Spain [the Cervantes (novels, poetry, plays, essays …), Goya, Max teatro, Onda]; Awards for Literature and the Arts in Latin America [Juan Rulfo Literature Prize (Mexico), National Novel Prize (Bolivia), National Plastic Arts Prize (Cuba)];
  • film festivals [Festival Internacional de Cine de San Sebastián, Seminci, Festival de Cine Iberoamericano de Huelva (España); Festival Internacional de Cine Mar de Plata (Argentina); Festival de Cine de Cartagena (Colombia); Festival del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano de La Habana (Cuba); Festival Internacional de Cine de Guadalajara (México)];
  • Nobel Prize for Literature [José Echegaray, Jacinto Benavente, Gabriela Mistral, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Pablo Neruda, Vicente Aleixandre, Gabriel García Márquez, Camilo José Cela, Octavio Paz, Mario Vargas Llosa];
  • Nobel Peace Prize [Carlos Saavedra Lamas, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Alonso Garcia Robles, Oscar Arias Sanchez, Rigoberta Menchu Tum];
  • Nobel for Chemistry [Luis Federico Leloir, Mariano J. Molina];
  • the Prince of Asturias Awards.

The above is probably enough for one day – this brief introduction to the curriculum is not intended to cause you to obsess about it, or to abandon your DELE diploma aspirations right here and now. However, clearly one cannot prepare intelligently for the exam without being familiar with its content. To make this quite vast and “high Spanish”, academically-written document accessible, we have prepared a comprehensive summation, in English, as part of the Workbook referred to earlier.  The curriculum is also not the only foundational document that one has to be familiar with, in order to do well in the DELE exam. Its twin is the official set of scoring criteria for the written and oral expression sections of the exam. This will be the subject of future posts here on our blog. We will also be offering tips in future posts on how to do well in the dreaded multiple choice sections on listening and reading comprehension, so keep watching this space. All of the foregoing are, however, covered in our free workbook mentioned earlier.

So, to conclude – as a free service to all interested DELE exam candidates, we are making available version 9.2 of our workbook which deals specifically with the B-level curricula, completely gratis and with no obligation (we chose to make the Level B workbook available because it is situated in the middle of the range and will give both A-Level and C-Level candidates a good idea of what the DELE exams are all about).

To obtain your free copy of our 95-page Workbook 9.2 DELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips, (in download .pdf format from DropBox) please use the convenient form on our Contact Us page, to request it.

Obviously, should you enrol with DELEhelp for some personalized, one-on-one guidance via Skype, you will receive our full range of workbooks specific to your examen DELE level, as free study material (we charge only for the actual Skyping time, at US$10 per hour – please see our site: ).




Watch 2 minute video introducing DELEhelp’s exam prep services.





Willem Steenkamp
Director of Studies at Excellentia Didactica online language institute; retired ambassador and former head of diplomatic academy of South Africa. D. Litt. et Phil., DELE C2

7 thoughts on “Exam Prep without knowing the DELE exam curriculum, is like shooting blind

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  3. Grant


    Could you please share the download link for the following?
    “‘Workbook 9.2 DELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips”

    Kind Regards,

    1. Willem Steenkamp Post author

      Hola Grant – I have sent you the download link, to your e-mail, from my e-mail account (if you do not immediately see it, please check your spam filter). Anyone who wants the free workbook, should simply send me an e-mail asking for it (send to: Thank you for your interest, and best of luck with your exam prep. Saludos cordiales Willem

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