Taking a language proficiency test is like proposing a marriage: it shows that you’re serious about the relationship. I was as all hell serious about my relationship with French so the idea to pass the DELF B2 loomed on the horizon for quite a bit.
I passed it on the first attempt which was quite an achievement considering the fact that I had just one month for preparation. If you haven’t read that story, I highly recommend you to do so. Because here I’m going to disclose the strategy I followed on the day of the exam and it certainly will serve you better if you know what on the Earth I was doing to prepare for it.
The DELF exam: what to expect in general?
I’m sure that Reussir le DELF B2 has been your favorite book since the day you registered for the test. Trying to pass the French exam without this guide is like trying to get on your flight without the passport – hopeless.
From my experience, I found that getting to know the test was the key to passing it. The guide played the major role in this “familiarization” process so make sure to actually read it.
Most things went as predicted. The test consisted of two parts: namely, written part and an interview. First one took 2,5 hours to complete. Speaking exam was shorter: between 40 and 50 minutes. But something tells me that its duration correlates with your ability to communicate in French.
What caught me off guard was the fact that I had to deal with the interview first and only then write the exam, while I expected the opposite.
Another surprise was a one-hour break between the two parts of the test. And it was very handy as, after the DELF B2 interview, I crawled out having a severe headache caused by self-criticism and facepalming.
You know, the typical condition after a language test.
In your case, the timing of events may be different but you still can bet on having a break between the interview and the written exam.
So now it’s time to plan your strategy.
The key to passing the DELF B2 written part
When it comes to the written part of the test it’s important to allocate your time in a wise manner.
It shouldn’t come at a surprise to you that this 2,5-hour block is actually a nice little mix of listening, reading, and writing presented on a single paper. Each of these parts should take 30, 60 and another 60 minutes to complete. But, of course, nobody going to track the time you spend on each section.
It means that you have the potential of getting stuck on one task longer than you should. That’s one of the reasons I like to mock the test and take note of how much time I tend to spend on each part. Knowing your general tendencies will help you to pace yourself in a real exam situation.
Now, listening->reading->writing is a default order. I do recommend to stick to it because usually writing comes as the most challenging task. However, you can play around with reading and writing and spend more time on whatever is your weakest skill.
Why not on listening, you may wonder?
How to pass the DELF B2 listening part
Listening is the only part of the test that you should approach in a way “get it and forget it” – just because there’s no other way.
It will be the first thing you’ll have to deal with: two recordings, between 2 and 5 minutes each. Once you’ve listened to them, there’s no turning point, no time to review, no way to correct yourself.
So the only way to pass the DELF B2 listening is to focus all your attention on this only part. Forget about the rest of the test for a while.
The main challenge will be not listening itself but rather reading questions in a timely manner. There will be a minute for that. And during this calm before the storm your task is to:
- Underline the main idea in each question (because you don’t want to read the whole sentence over during listening);
- Estimate how numbers will be pronounced (because it’s French, and the numbers are weird);
- Get an idea about the flow of a discourse (because questions follow the order of the talk)
The first exercise is usually short enough to finish this “questions overview” before one minute is up. So feel free to skim through the second set of questions.
Scrap the spelling – for a while
When it’s time to listen it’s time to listen, so stop reading.
And start writing!
During the listening part of the DELF B2, I write a lot and I write stuff the way I heard it. For two reasons. First, because I don’t want to rely on my faulty working memory accessed via the medium of even more faulty French. Second, because French spelling is the pain in the ass and it’s better to quickly capture 4 sounds than spell the whole set of 11.
The same thing with numbers. You certainly don’t want to do the heartbreaking French math in your mind while listening. There is no freaking way you can figure out in a matter of seconds that mille-neuf-cents-quatre-vingt-dix-huit is nothing but 1998. So give it up. It’s better to capture something like mil-9-son-4va-dis-8 and then decipher it later than get lost in the middle of a numeral.
Mark the questions
This tip is not so applicable for the first recording but works very well with the second because you listen to this one twice.
It’s impossible to get all the answers after the first listening. There will be gaps: some questions unanswered, some answered only partially, somewhere a problem with spelling. It’s important to mark questions you have to concentrate on.
I place a dot next to the question number so I don’t miss it during the second listening. And when it comes I concentrate solely on these troublesome ones.
After each recording, you will have three minutes to spell things according to the rules established by Académie Française. Do so. And when the time is up, wipe the listening part off your mind.
Tips for passing the DELF B2 reading part
If you want to pass the DELF B2 reading part you have to read a lot – before the exam.
Waggle dance. Plastic in the oceans. Primary education in Namibia. All these exciting topics are likely to be in the list of stuff that a) you don’t want to know about b) you don’t want to deal with. But you’ll have to have read a lot of similar texts before you get to the test. It will help you in two ways:
- expand your vocabulary;
- increase your reading speed.
And these two will mean a lot on the DELF exam. Because the reading part will challenge your vocabulary knowledge quite a bit.
Read questions first
Reading will include two one-page-long texts (and two more pages of questions). It’s a lot of words and your time is limited. That’s why I prefer to approach this part from the backside. Namely, I like to read the questions first. It gives me a pretty strong idea of what to expect from the article itself, what to look for and what to potentially ignore.
Spell it right
At least one question will include copying some kind of term from the original text. Make sure to do it with the precision of CTRL+C -> CTRL+V. There is no more stupid mistake than to misspell a word when the correct spelling was just in front of your eyes.
Make navigation easy
You will have to read the texts multiple times.
So your main task during this first reading of the text is to understand in which paragraph you can find each idea. Underlying names and dates, writing main points next to each paragraph and numbering arguments are all great ideas. They will make your navigation in the text way easier.
Stuck? – Move on
Another thing you’ll have to do is to keep track of time.
You don’t want to give more than 30 minutes to a single text. The easiest way to fail the reading is to get stuck on one question. So fight your paralysis, mark this notorious question and move on. The answer is likely to come while you’re dealing with other questions.
How to pass the DELF B2 Writing
As I said before, you may choose to finish the writing part first. Or not. It will depend on your level of confidence with both writing and reading.
I know that I’m a pathological perfectionist who refines word choices to the infinity and is never satisfied. So doing the writing part first is not the best idea for me.
Nevertheless, I leave it a lot of time. Because 250 words won’t write themselves in a matter of seconds. But there’s a way to complete this part faster.
Put yourself in the scenario
There is a number of stupid scenarios in the writing part of the DELF B2. In my case, I had to write a letter to a city council with a plea to withdraw someone’s building permit. I can’t express how excited I was to write about such a realistic situation.
But no matter how moronic the questions are, it’s very important to understand on what side you are and what arguments you can potentially use. So that you don’t end up proving a wrong point.
Brainstorm for 3 things
It can be tempting to jump straight to the writing task but that’s a big mistake. You want to explore your opportunities and choose the strongest possible arguments. So brainstorming is essential.
I usually look for three things: arguments, examples, and vocabulary. Arguments construct the body of the letter, examples (from books and real life) add some juice and diverse vocabulary helps to blend these two together without ressembling a parrot.
Try to find at least one synonym to each topic or argument. Try to keep it French. It’s much easier to call télétravail “freelance” but you’ll be crucified for anglicism. So stick to boring travail à distance or even travail à domicile and keep it there.
Stick to the guidelines
Reussir le DELF B2 has given you main guidelines for letter writing and you want to stick to these guidelines like a whale louse to a whale.
French letter writing in itself is so formulaic that you should be able to write half of it by heart. So make sure those long and fancy French constructions for greeting, making your point, and bidding farewell become your second nature. It will buy you at least 10 minutes of time.
Also, remember to sprinkle your written discourse with a number of connectors (things like “cependant“, “néanmoins“, “de plus“). Using these little words creates an illusion of cohesiveness even if there is none.
Proofread the whole paper
Think of proofreading as of cleaning off the mess. You may leave this task for someone else but these people won’t like after that. So if you want to pass the DELF B2 do it yourself.
Everytime I proofread, I find at least 2 mistakes. It may come in a form of wrecked spelling, an escaped comma or the complete absence of agreement between a verb and a predicate. And it’s fine, because if you concentrate on fine writing from the beginning you end up having a severe writer’s block.
It is important to allow enough time to proofread both your letter and the rest of the test. Because somewhere will be a dot indicating that you left a question and forgot about it.
How to deal with the DELF B2 interview?
This part of the French test scared me the most from the very first day. And it should have, why shouldn’t it – if it was to be my first time to speak French. My strategy for passing the DELF B2 speaking came up to not failing it. It worked for me.
But if you need something more than merely not failing, make sure to practice speaking before the test.
The DELF B2 speaking test consist (again) of two parts: 30 minutes preparation and 20-ish minutes interview. So the good news is that you don’t have to go off half-cocked – something that is common for IELTS, for example. The bad news is that examiners will expect you to be quite eloquent and organized so it’s important to put this half an hour to good use.
Also, you’ll be offered a choice, so to say, of topics. Choosing something you can talk about is crucial but remember that you still may find yourself in the situation where you have to choose a lesser of two evils.
After you choose, you’re left to stare at your “short document”, brainstorm ideas, organize your arguments, write the speech and mentally rehearse it as if it was “I have a dream“. And here comes a problem…
How to use your preparation time on the DELF B2 speaking part
And it may seem like you have to write another essay (because the structure will be ultimately the same) but there is one crucial difference.
During the DELF B2 interview, you can’t read whatever you wrote.
If you read from the paper, they automatically cut off a good half of your score. Instead, you have to speak and maintain eye contact with examiners (and not with your draft).
Hence, the best strategy is to organize you draft in a way that it directs you, should you get lost in thought, but doesn’t handicap your ability to think independently. It should do two things: navigate you through the structure of your speech and clue the next idea. I usually write topic keywords, phrase linkers, and cues for examples. Ideally, it should look like a skeleton:
Je voudrais presenter… -> Topic
Tout d’abord,… – > Idea 1 (Example 1)
Deuxièmement,… – > Idea 2 (Example 2)
De plus,… – > Idea 3 (Example 3)
Pour conclure,… – > (1), (2), (3) donc… – > Conclusion
You want it to be clear and easily scannable so write in CAPITALS.
When the time is up, you travel to another room – and there they are, waiting for you, two French profs.
Do’s and Dont’s during the DELF B2 interview
Say Bonjour and relax
Once you entered the room, say “Bonjour“. Not saying “Bonjour” to a Frenchman is an ill omen.
Try to feel at ease but know that it will be challenging since your brain will behave as if it just took a cryogen bath.
As I already said, reading from the paper is the biggest mistake you can commit during your DELF B2 speaking. You can use your draft only as a guide: and there is a thin line between glancing on it and reading from it. And since it’s always so tempting, the best “reading prevention” strategy is to avoid writing long sentences in the first place.
Stand for your opinion
Be ready for questions because the “discussion” part will closely ressemble an interrogation.
Your examiners will try to find weak spots in your arguments and you will have to account for those. Even if you feel caught, don’t back off – just buy yourself some time with something like “C’est une question très intéressante…“. Then put yourself together and shoot back.
When you’re improvising during the discussion, your real French shows its nasty little tail.
It’s hard to keep track of grammar while you’re trying to come up with a working argument. And you will be better off expressing the right idea in the most primitive way and then fixing the grammar than getting stuck with an “ummmm” for 20 seconds in search for the subjunctive form of perdre. So it’s fine to correct yourself as long as you’re not adding “excusez-moi” each time (sorry, but it’s just lame).
Just try to keep a healthy balance between meaning and form.
The DELF exam is a stressful event that will challenge you on many levels. I kept facepalming about mine for long two weeks until I received my results. And it’s fine so try to approach it with humour.
After all, that’s an exciting experience that memory of which will give you a shot of self-confidence every time you speak French afterwards. And it is certainly worth it.