My preparation for the DELE B2 exam began with learning Spanish. I remember completing a DELE registration form for the B2 level and using Google Translate to fill in fields like Nombre and Apellidos. At that point, I had three months left to get my Spanish from virtually non-existent to intermediate-advanced.
I sat my exam in July and ultimately passed it. During this three-month preparation period, I haven’t touched a grammar book, haven’t done a single grammar drill and spent more time watching YouTube than preparing for the DELE B2 exam per se.
In this post, I’ll explain how to get from zero to the B2 level in Spanish, prepare for the DELE B2 exam and get a bold-face “OPTO” as a result.
Separate learning Spanish from DELE preparation
As you begin to prepare for the test, you’ll necessarily come across the DELE guides that will try to improve your knowledge of Spanish along the line. A typical textbook would offer you to memorize long vocabulary lists and read about intricacies of the Spanish grammar.
As a rule of thumb, you see such a textbook – you burn it.
There’s a logic behind it, of course. This exam tests your language proficiency. So, by default, you can’t pass the DELE B2 test if your Spanish is not that advanced.
If you can’t understand Spanish podcasts, such as Minimalizados, you’re not ready for the DELE B2 exam. If you’re failing to comprehend at least 80% of Juan Salvador Gaviota and figure out the rest from the context, you’re not on the B2 level yet. Similarly, if you can barely reply the DELE B2 confirmation email without consulting DEEPL translator, you still have to work on your Spanish skills.
Most of us realize the problem (“My Spanish is not good enough“) but come up with a somewhat irrational solution. We register for DELE preparation courses.
Should you register for DELE preparation courses?
Trying to improve your Spanish via preparation for the DELE B2 exam is a mistake.
Most prep courses will try to do three things:
- load you up with “useful for the exam” vocabulary (which will be useless for the rest of your life);
- make sure that you memorize the difference between Pretérito and Imperfecto, ser and estar, saber and conocer (things that you would know intuitively should you have enough input);
- make you read as many DELE-specific texts as possible and listen to a host of DELE recordings (It’s not a bad idea, but test materials are rather a dangerous substance that should be applied in homeopathic doses).
I’m not saying that you should never prepare for the DELE B2 in a classroom. Having someone to give you feedback can be extremely useful when it comes to writing and speaking. But you should separate language learning from the exam preparation.
Never regard your DELE preparation as a means for improving your Spanish. These are two separate tasks that should be dealt with differently.
How to improve your Spanish
There are three areas you want to improve in before you start to prepare for the DELE B2 exam. This is your vocabulary, comprehension skills, and grammar.
“Yeah, right, and what about speaking?”, you might say. Well, your success in speaking largely depends on your comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary, and it is by no means a separate skill. However, I did start to practice speaking and pronunciation right from the beginning with Pimsleur Spanish lessons. I highly recommend you to do the same, especially if you don’t have much opportunity to practice speaking at home.
Below, I’ll list everything I did to improve my Spanish skills three months before the DELE test.
Back in a day, I used to have a little language notebook where I would spell out all new words I encountered in books, films, songs, and podcasts.
What a waste of time.
My current approach is based on input and frequency. I spend a month deliberately learning the first one thousand words using spaced repetition. It takes half an hour a day with apps like Memrise or SuperMemo. Then, I forfeit all my language learning toys and switch to incidental learning.
Thus, the rest of my vocabulary comes from reading, listening to podcasts and watching YouTube. It is a more natural approach because I learn more frequent words first. The more often I hear or see a certain word the better I know it.
This approach works wonders but it requires a lot of time. I used to spend at least two hours a day listening and reading things in Spanish. They had nothing to do with the DELE B2 exam per se. I just used Spanish as a means to explore topics I was interested in.
Once I’ve got that 1000 thousand words entrenched in my mind, I began to train my listening comprehension with what I call double input.
I got myself a nice little book called Juan Salvador Gaviota in both its e-version and audio-version. Then I spent a month, simultaneously reading-and-listening to it for at least 30 minutes a day. I ended up reading this book four or five times in a row. During my first read, I could barely understand what was going on. By the fourth time, I understood 90% of the story.
This practice helped me to expand my vocabulary and drastically improved my listening and reading comprehension at a time.
I repeated the same thing with two more Spanish books before switching to audio+video input. YouTube became my dearest friend. I created a special playlist for Spanish videos and weekly dumped there a good amount of videos by Euge Oller and Luis Ramos. In three months, I watched probably everything they had on their channels.
As I noticed that I have no problem understanding these two vloggers, I turned to audio-alone input and began listening to podcasts. Minimalizados and Aprendiendo GTD became my loyal companions during my daily bike rides to work.
And this is how I prepared for the DELE B2 Listening. After three months of such online immersion, understanding spoken Spanish was no trouble to me. My score this part of the exam was the highest: 23.33/25.
There’s little difference between listening and reading comprehension during the first few months.
The goal at that time is to get as multi-sensory input as possible. That´s why I combined reading with listening or listening with video. After all, there is a good amount of research telling us that phonetic processing (i.e listening) aids in word recognition.
Apart from Juan Salvador Gaviota, I read El Extranjero by Albert Camus (again, several times) and El Codigo Da Vinci by Dan Brown. Reading the same book three times in a row may not sound like a ton of fun, but it actually is. Every time you read, you understand more and more, and the progress makes you feel good. Plus, again, the research on vocabulary acquisition shows that repeated reading is an amazing method to expand your foreign language lexicon.
One month before the DELE B2 exam, I abandoned simultaneous reading (because audio support slows things down) and focused on reading alone. Similarly, I abandoned repeated reading and began to read more extensively.
Nonetheless, I always chose books that I had already read before in Russian or English. I read Padre Rico, Padre Pobre by Robert Kiyosaki and El Monje que Vendió su Ferrari by Robin Sharma. Some part of my brain still remembered the plot in general details, and this distant memory helped me to reconstruct it where my Spanish let me down.
This set of strategies greatly improved my reading comprehension skills. I ended up having 19.44/25 for this part of the test.
At the beginning of this article, I wrote that I didn’t touch a Spanish grammar book.
In fact, the more time I spend learning languages the more I feel like sprinkling some holy water on anything that says “grammar” and “workbook”. To cast out the demons. As a part of language learning exorcism, so to say.
Nonetheless, the whole Writing part of the DELE B2 exam and the fourth task in the Reading section are all about grammar. How can someone with a huge gap in grammar get 20.52/25 for Expresión e Interacción Escritas?
I read and listened to lots of Spanish content, but I never paid attention to conjugations, prepositions, tenses and other important aspects of grammar. So, as I began to prepare for the DELE B2 exam, I got deadlocked every time I tried to write anything in Spanish.
So I paused everything for a week and focused on pattern recognition. I tried to distill the internal rules by which the language worked.
Every day, I would write out conjugations of ten random verbs and compare the endings for each tense. I would figure out suffixes that marked of person and number (yo, tu/usted, el/ella/ello, nosotros, vosotros/ustedes, ellos/ellas). I also tried to understand why certain tenses triggered a change in the root of irregular verbs (e.g entender turns into entiendo in present, subjunctive and imperative).
One week later, I had a little table that told me a conjugation of any verb with a 90% accuracy rate. (But, obviously, nobody is able understand it, except for me):
If it sounds insane to you, that’s fine. I’m a linguist, we do crazy things. But the moral here is that instead of memorizing each irregular verb, I extracted and internalized the rules under which they operated.
I didn’t have to think about the grammar as I wrote anymore.
How to prepare for the DELE B2 exam
Once you have brushed up your Spanish, it’s time to do some DELE-specific stuff. And here, your goal is to develop a set of skills and techniques to perform well on the exam.
I’m going to dive deep into the sea of technical details here, but, please, stay with me because details matter.
Understand the structure of the DELE B2 exam
The earlier you familiarize yourself with the structure of the test, the better. Because it gives you the idea of how to build your preparation.
As most language proficiency tests, the DELE exam consists of four parts: listening, reading, writing and speaking. The first three go together: they make up a written part of the test. Speaking is tested separately, and usually on a different day.
My speaking interview was scheduled two days before the written part. I can’t say I was happy about it. Speaking was my weakest skill, and, with this schedule, I had even less time to prepare for it.
Understand the fail/pass schema
You can either pass DELE B2 (apto) or fail it (no apto).
Each part of the DELE exam is worth 25 points, the whole test being 100. To pass the exam you need to get at least 60. More precisely, you have to get at least 30 points in each of the two groups: reading+writing and listening+speaking.
To be honest, this grouping requirement remained a dark mystery for me until I received my results. For the whole time, I assumed that the score grouping was based on active (writing+speaking) versus passive (reading+listening) skills. I was wrong.
Don’t make the same calculation error, it can be costly.
Develop a strategy for passing the DELE exam
The next question you want to ask yourself once you understood the test structure is “What is my weakest skill?“.
Everybody has one. I don’t speak in general, so the DELE B2 interview was a frequent theme of my nightmares. Most people are tormented by writing. Some cannot understand speech, etc…
Figure out yours.
Why? Since the DELE B2 grading scheme is based on groupings, your “weak spot” will necessarily be in a bundle with some other skill. What you want to do here is to maximize your score for that other skill to compensate for your “weak spot”.
That’s exactly what I did to pass the DELE B2 exam. Look at my speaking score, I’ve got these pathetic 9.65/25 for my interview. But at the same time, I aced the listening section with the score of 23.33/25. In sum, I’ve got 32.98/30 for this group of skills, and voilà – APTO.
Know your weakness. If it’s speaking, focus on listening. If it is writing, focus on reading. Improving your stronger language skills will have a better effect on your overall score than any attempt to develop non-existent abilities.
How to pass the DELE B2 exam: task by task
How do you make sure that you get the highest score possible on the DELE exam?
You have to develop effective strategies for dealing with every single task of the test. You can do several things here:
Get the DELE B2 prep resources
When it comes to proficiency tests, my approach is fairly straightforward: get the book and study. I look for three things in prep books:
- explanation of the overall layout of the test;
- strategies for dealing with each task;
- sample tests with keys.
Having these three combined, anyone can nail any language proficiency test. The problem is that there is simply no such guide for DELE.
There is a useful resource called Guia del examen DELE B2 provided by Instituto Cervantes. It gives a good insight into the exam structure, tasks focus and marking scales for each section. I recommend reading it to make sure that you have an accurate idea of what’s awaiting you on the test. But the Guia won’t help you to prepare for the DELE B2 exam itself.
In general, I used El Cronómetro more extensively. It helped me a lot in understanding tasks and preparing for the listening and reading parts of the test. But El Cronómetro was completely useless for the writing part. There were zero model texts. You could read the book and remain ignorant of how to score well in Writing.
Alzugaray’s textbook, if you decide to study with it, is a massive time-waster. But, ironically, it was indispensable for my preparation for Writing. This textbook contained a dozen text samples and useful tips on how to construct the discourse. Analyzing them gave me a good idea of what was expected from me on DELE B2 Writing.
You have to study every day. It may sound self-evident, but keep in mind the human tendency to procrastinate.
Set yourself a goal to go through all four model tests of El Cronómetro, for example. Spend an hour a day working on them. By the end of a month, you’ll probably be done. You’ll know your average score for each task and will sense what holds you down in each of them.
I’m planning to write a detailed guide for those who prepares for the DELE B2 exam. It will contain tips and strategies I developed to deal with each task of the test. If you’re interested, please leave your email, and I’ll send you the guide once it’s ready.
Mock the exam
The more test-specific practice you get, the better you’re likely to perform on the DELE B2 exam.
When I worked through all model tests from El Cronómetro, I downloaded more sample papers and took them with me to Spain. There, I would head to the main campus of the University of Sevilla and lock myself in a library for good three hours solving these tests.
I studied with a timer set for 70 minutes for the Reading section, 40 minutes for the Listening section and 80 minutes for the Writing section. Then, I investigated how and where I could potentially save time. With these extra 10 minutes I had by the end of each section I could revisit my answers and recheck them. I usually found at least one error.
I also printed the answer sheet provided by Instituto Cervantes and marked off my responses directly on it. The reason is that transferring your answers from the questionnaire to the Hoja de respuestas takes time. So when preparing for the DELE B2 exam, you want to account for this time as well.
Have someone to speak to
The speaking part of the DELE B2 exam stands somewhat by itself. You can’t prepare for it by reading El Cronómetro. So if you want to involve a tutor, this is where you’d need it the most.
I didn’t have a tutor. I came up with that ingenious idea to make a little language learning trip to Spain and practice speaking with natives. And indeed, I came to Spain a week before the test date and got myself into conversations with border officers in the El Prat airport, hotel clerks, waiters, gas station attendants, a police officer on the AP-7, taxi drivers and even a canyoning instructor.
I did help me a lot, but clearly, a week wasn’t enough. So if you decide to do something similar plan for at least 2-3 weeks of immersion. And, of course, use Pimsleur for daily practice when you’re back home.
From complete novice to B2
Learning a language at this pace was quite a new experience for me.
And although it sounds like I knew what I was doing and had everything pre-planned, it wasn’t the case at all. I was unsure of whether I would pass the DELE B2 after just three months of learning Spanish. And the fact that I did came as a pleasant surprise for me two months later.
So feel free to use my strategies for your own preparation, but keep in mind that it’s far from being a bulletproof method for passing language tests. Nonetheless, do take risks and do challenge yourself.
All this was just my experience. I would love to hear about yours.
Image Credits: Photo by A.R.T.Paola on Unsplash