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20 Top Tips for Acing DELE / SIELE / OPI exam oral

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About one-third of candidates fail the DELE Spanish language exams. Of these, 70% failed because of failing the DELE exam oral expression section.  What do you need to know, and how do you need to prepare, so that you can do well in the DELE exam oral expression test?  Or in the oral tests of the DELE’s new online twin, the SIELE, or its American equivalent, the OPI? Here are our top tips:
  • Know what the goals are of the DELE / SIELE exam oral. It is an examination of your ability to communicate in everyday situations. There’s no more common, nor more essential way of communicating, than by means of speaking. This makes the oral expression task obviously crucial in assessing your communication competency. So, what is the level of communicative ability that the DELE examiners desire at each of the different levels, from A1 throuh C2? You can study the policy statements of the Cervantes Institute and / or the European Union’s “Common European Framework of Reference for Language” (DELE is the Spanish iteration of the latter). Or, if you don’t want or can’t plow through these long documents with their high academic language (in Spanish): simply ask for our free 96-page DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips handbook. Just click on the image lower down, to ask for it.
  • Know what the official DELE / SIELE oral exam scoring criteria are. You need to be familiar with the system and criteria that the examiners will be using to assess your oral expression performance. If you don’t know this, you won’t know how best to make your presentations or how to most effectively converse with your interviewer.  Our DELEhelp study material include actual audio clips of oral expression exam candidates who passed and who failed, together with the examiners’ comments. We also have included the full official criteria, translated into English, of the two scoring scales used, namely the holistic scale and the analytical scale. Again, these are all covered in our FREE DELEhelp Workbook #9.2 : DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips (which is available as a download in  .pdf format – see image lower down).
  • Read out loud whenever you are reading Spanish books, blogs or news media during your self-study and relaxation hours.  As preparation and practice of your pronunciation, do as much of your Spanish reading en voz alta, so that you can get accustomed to actually saying words, not just seeing or thinking them.
  • Record your practice sessions on tape or preferably on video, when you do simulations of oral presentations. That way you can hear and see yourself in action, and can take note of improvements you need to make. (The key, however, is to have access to an expert, 1-on-1 tutor to guide you and give you feed-back).

    DELE exam oral isn't Spanish Inquisition

    The Oral is NOT the Spanish Inquisition…

  • In the exam, try and do the oral task the  day before the written exam tasks, if you are given such an option by your exam center administrators. Try to do it when you are still at your freshest, and try to be the first candidate to be examined on the day, so that the examiners also can be at their freshest, without yet having established a very high bar due to some genius who had gone before you (remember, this part of the exam is scored in real time, there at the exam center, by two examiners sitting with you).
  • Read (and re-read) the instructions with great care. At the start of the oral exam you will be given the exam paper and time to prepare.  Carefully study the guidelines – they contain clear guidance about what is expected of you, which topics you need to address in your oral presentation, what the contextual setting is of – for example – the photo you have to discuss, etc.
  • Take time to plan your presentation, giving it a clear structure with particular attention to the introduction and especially the conclusion. The guidelines for examiners oblige them to score each task immediately after delivery. Accordingly, your concluding statement will form their last impression and should therefore be as good as you can make it – neatly tying together your main points and the conclusions you have reached.
  • Sit correctly: Before the oral interaction tasks you will be introduced to your two examiners.  You will be seated at a small table, opposite the examiner acting as your interviewer (who also does the holistic assessment). The other examiner (doing the analytical assessment) will be seated behind you. When sitting down, don’t slouch (i.e., don’t sit with your head and upper torso leaning back in relation to your backside). Not only does this posture constrict your breathing, it looks bad and it sends the signal that you don’t relish engaging with your interviewer. Sitting correctly means getting your lower backside as far into and pressed up against the chair’s backrest as possible. This will help with your breathing and articulation. It will also force your upper body forward, thus into a natural posture of engaging positively with your interlocutor.  (The initial minute or two, before you are invited to launch into your oral presentation, will be dedicated to a brief icebreaker conversation, usually in the form of the interviewer asking you about your origins).
  • NB: NB: Engage with your interviewer, make and maintain eye contact, smile, be relaxed and friendly, COMMUNICATE.
  • Fluency is one of the four equally-weighted scoring criteria; fluency is achieved through guided practice, practice, practice, and through having a sufficient vocabulary – particularly by using link phrases (connectors), for which the examiners will be actively looking in your discourse. It is therefore important to know and practice a list of such phrases which you can employ naturally. Your lexis or “linguistic scope” (i.e., your knowledge of words and expressions) must be such that the right words will roll fluently off your tongue, pronounced correctly. However, it is critical not to get hung up on searching desperately for specific words that may have momentarily abandoned you; use whatever others that come most readily to you at that moment, even if you also have to use hands, face and additional description to communicate your point. The key to fluency remains practice, practice, practice – you have to internalize the patterns and lexis of the language with the help of an expert 1-on-1 tutor.
  • Coherence is another key scoring criteria – your message must be well structured and organized logically, so that your meaning can be clear. In the time given to you to read the exam paper and prepare your presentation, decide on an appropriate structure and note it down bullet-style (you may consult your notes, but not read entire phrases verbatim from it). Be sure that you have understood the task given to you. Read the instructions and questions very, very carefully, otherwise you will miss the point and appear incoherent.  The key elements of structure will be your introduction and conclusion – give particular attention to these.  The oral exam tasks are intended to be REAL communication: they are all about conveying information and meaning, thus clarity of message. Remember that COHERENCE and FLUENCY count for 50% of the overall oral exam weight, so don’t get fixated on grammar, at the expense of being fluent and coherent.
  • Linguistic scope is the third of the four oral scoring criteria. This means your repertoire, your knowledge of words (vocabulary) and of regular “chunks of words” (expressions) which together make up what we call lexis.  We believe that acquiring an ample lexicon is the best single thing you can focus on in your overall exam preparation – not only because it counts for 25% of the oral mark (and clearly influences your ability to be fluent and coherent as well), but because it is essential for the listening and reading comprehension tests. You can imagine the difficulty, if you simply don’t comprehend the meaning of key words in the comprehension tests!
  • Correctness of language is the last major scoring factor. This relates to correct pronunciation as well as using the correct patterns of phrase construction – i.e., grammar, such as agreement of gender and number. However, you need to be aware that the examiners are under strict instructions to ignore small grammar mistakes that do not impact the clarity of your message (in other words, this is not a school / college-style exam fixated on grammar). If you make a mistake, correct yourself in a natural manner, don’t try and ignore it as if it didn’t happen – you will actually be positively assessed for having corrected yourself. It always impresses to bring the Subjunctive mood into your discourse, which you can usually do with ease by developing and learning a stock phrase or two which you can drop into the initial “icebreaker” conversation or your introduction, or in the conclusion (something like: “Ojala pueda mantener esta pretensión de estar relajado por los próximos 15 minutos!”)
  • Confirm questions: It’s certainly normal to get nervous in an exam situation. It is therefore normal – as normal as it is, also in real everyday conversations – that one needs to ask  your interlocutor to clarify. Rather ask, than try and answer a question that you’ve misunderstood. So make sure to clarify the question if in any doubt, with a phrase like “Puede usted explicarme su pregunta, por favor…”
  • Personalize and engage with the content, by also reflecting your own perceptions and opinions about the subject matter and quoting relevant personal experiences. Don’t just recite, in a purely descriptive manner, the elements of the content you have been provided with.
  • Cover all the issues that were set in the task description: the exam paper will indicate what is expected of you (these aren’t “gotcha”-type exams). Make sure that you include these points in the scheme of structure you jotted down, and that you address each of them.
  • Watch the clock: The most important time-related risk in the oral, is that of not speaking for the totality of the required amount of time. So see to it that, in the the conversational parts of the oral (i.e., the question-and-answer and debating tasks) you speak until the interviewer tells you to stop. (In the SIELE and OPIc, you will see the time remaining indicated visually). On the other hand, in the monologue tasks such as your initial prepared presentation, it is of course possible to go seriously over time. This may harm your clarity and coherence, because you will be cut off before you’ve arrived at your conclusion. Don’t miscalculate your structuring and dwell on your first points for so long that you don’t get to cover the other main points nor conclude in a satisfactory manner – in prior practice, get a clear idea of how long you typically speak to each of your bullet points.  Therefore, plan the structure of your message well and have a watch sitting next to your notes in front of you in the DELE oral, so you can pace yourself (remember to bring an old-fashioned watch with you, because you cannot have your smartphone with you in the exam hall). Don’t be too worried about going over time in the conversational section – your interlocutor will stop you once enough is enough.
  • Learn to consult your notes in a natural manner. Don’t try and hide them, and neither should you set them so far off to your side that it would require you to disengage with your interlocutor in order to look at them. The best is to keep them in front of you, in direct line of sight with your interlocutor, thus allowing you to maintain maximum eye contact. Don’t feel shy about using them or try and hide that you are consulting your notes; you can be quite open about consulting them, if done naturally and briefly. Make them part and parcel of the conversation – it enhances your confidence to know that you have them, and thus your authoritativeness.  However, the one big no-no is slavishly reading whole sentences that you had prepared (it’s actually good to have your notes quite open, so that the examiner will see that they consist of no more than a bullet-point scheme).  The key to success is practicing to consult your notes in such a natural, non-disruptive way that doing so actually enhances the flow of well-structured conversation, rather than detract from it.
  • Pay attention as well to your delivery, i.e. to the art of oratory: vary your tone and emphasis to underscore key points. Don’t be so hung up on ensuring correctness of your grammar that you lose the natural flow, rhythm and thrust of conversation as interactive, interpersonal engagement.  SMILE. Remember that the examiners are taught to, in a friendly manner, draw you out of your shell and never to correct or criticize you – therefore, relax: they are not your enemies, nor your inquisitors.
  • Confidence is truly the key to fluent, engaged communication. When you listen to the audio clips of actual oral exams, passed and failed (linked to in our FREE exam prep book), you will notice that the failed candidates often didn’t possess significantly weaker linguistic skills than those who passed. The big difference is that they allowed their evident lack of self-confidence to rob them of the skill of natural communication.  Never forget that these oral exams test your capacity to communicate effectively – to receive and transmit meaning.  And the best booster of confidence, is the knowledge that you have practiced and practiced and practiced doing these oral interactions to perfection, doing as many guided simulations as possible in the weeks and months leading up to the exam, with your expert 1-on-1 tutor.

SPECIAL OFFER – FREE DELE EXAM PREPARATION BOOK

DELEhelp offers you its 96-page Workbook #9.2 “DELE / SIELE Exam Orientation and Acing Tips” entirely FREE and without any obligation. All you have to do is ask for it, using our convenient contact information form (simply click on the image above). Our unique DELE / SIELE exam preparation book covers the goals and nature of the DELE / SIELE system, the curriculum, exam format and scoring criteria, as well as our top tips for acing the exam.

Buena suerte with your DELE / SIELE / OPI exam preparation, and don’t hesitate to e-mail me your questions!

Salu2,

Willem

To learn more about how our experienced tutors here at DELEhelp may assist you with your preparation for the examen DELE, please click on this link to our page on the website of Excellentia Didactica (our casa matriz, of which DELEhelp is a division). You may also want to watch our quick 2-minute video introducing our DELE exam prep help. Just click on the 2nd image below, promoting the video, to go straight to YouTube.

DELEhelp website link

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

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

6 thoughts on “20 Top Tips for Acing DELE / SIELE / OPI exam oral

  1. Misael

    I would like to see your free Workbook on the DELE curriculum and exam scoring criteria. Thanks for offering them gratis.

  2. Pingback: TESTED ANSWERS to DELE EXAM FAQs - DELEhelp Blog

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