You need to prove your French skills. Every morning brings you closer to the day of the test and you still don’t know how to eat that frog. If so, this post is for you. So buckle up and let’s learn how to prepare for DELF B2 exam in one month.
If you have only a vague idea about B2 or whatever letter code is there, I highly recommend you to read this guide to CEFR proficiency levels. It will help. But if language testing terminology didn’t scare you off, jump right in.
Background: my experience with DELF
I was planning to take DELF since October 2017 and woke up at the end of April 2018 only to realize that the test was in June. Yikes! Should I have waited a bit longer, I would have to write a post “how to prepare for DELF in two weeks“. I’m not sure if I would ace it though.
Back in April, I estimated my proficiency level to be somewhere in between A2 and B1. The problem was that I needed to reach C1 by September to take university courses in French.
There is eternity between A2 and C1. I had to eliminate two extreme options: DELF A2 for its uselessness and DELF C1 for its difficulty. Choosing between B1 and B2 was quite a decision since I was unfortunate enough to come across a Canadian statistics of average mean scores for DELF. DELF B2 had the lowest pass rate – which didn’t stop me from registering for this exam.
In June, I took the test and two weeks after I received my results: 72,5 out of 100, which meant that I passed.
Since then I’m still waiting for my official diploma to put it on a wall. [Update: here it is:]
So how, being two levels below the needed one, did I manage to prepare for DELF B2 in one month and successfully pass it?
Here are 10 essential steps that will help you to do the same.
1. Plan and register in advance
Don’t be like me, the godness of procrastination. You can’t beat me here.
Planning is crucial because DELF can be taken only 4 times a year. Unless you want to travel to another country and take it there, of course. So make your homework and find the test dates beforehand. Register in advance. Get your textbooks. Having all stuff at your hand saves you a bunch of nerve cells when it’s actually the time to start.
And, believe me, you’ll need those guys on the test.
After you register, make a study plan. From this day on, your daily routine will have to revolve around the exam. Allow at least 1,5 hours a day for preparation but keep in mind that it’s just a minimum. I studied for 2-3 hours every day, and doing even more wouldn’t hurt at all.
The reason is that there is little correlation between what is tested on language exams and your actual language skills. No matter how fluent you are in French, you’d still have to prepare for DELF B2. Similarly, passing the test doesn’t necessarily entail fluency. You may ace your DELF and still struggle with ordering a cup of coffee in Charles de Gaulle Airport.
But before you sit down studying for DELF, make sure to learn its structure.
2. Understand the format of DELF B2 exam
The main part of DELF B2 preparation is understanding the test itself. Seriously. If you get it done, you’ve already half nailed it.
Now, there are different formats for different proficiency levels and if you want to get familiar with A2, B1, C1 or C2, CIEP website is to your service. As for delf B2, the exam is meant to go for up to 3,5 hours. This time includes a 2,5 hours long written part and an hour-long speaking part.
Here’s the handy table that you want to keep it at hand in order to prepare to delf b2 properly:
|Speaking preparation||30 minutes||–|
|Speaking||up to 20 minutes||/25|
All sections of DELF B2 exam go exactly in this order but you’ll have some freedom with reading and writing. Nobody is going to pry the answer sheet of your hands after you completed your listening part. So you’ll be able to check and proofread your answers at the end of the test.
3. Understand the grading-passing scheme
DELF has fairly unique grading criteria when compared to other language tests I had experience with (like IELTS, for example).
The whole test is graded out of 100. Each part of the exam weighs 25 points. To pass DELF B2 and get your diploma you need to score at least 50 out of 100 points. Moreover, you have to get at least 5 points for each part of the exam.
So acing your strongest part and using this score to compensate for your weakest skill is not your strategy.
Unless… it is.
4. Know your weakest point
Let’s come back to my example. Speaking part of language tests is my major source of headache, terror and general uneasiness. Put it simpler: that’s the part I know I’m likely to fail. However, when it comes to reading and writing, I don’t have too many worries. Listening is always like an X factor.
I had to keep all this in mind in order to prepare for DELF B2. Here what my strategy looked like:
1. Make sure to get at least 5 points for speaking (so that I don’t fail the test completely)
2. Make sure to get the largest score possible for reading and writing (so that I compensate points lost in speaking)
3. Practice listening to beat the odds
Breaking your own DELF B2 preparation project down to smaller subtasks will make it look more doable. Plus, you will inevitably get a clearer picture of what skills you should concentrate on improving. In my case, I had to seriously work on my reading and writing, less seriously on listening and the least on speaking.
It may sound counter-intuitive but there is a good reason to focus on your strongest skills. Nobody can prepare for delf b2 perfectly in one month. If you never wrote much in French, all you want to do is to ensure that this skill doesn’t fail you, not to become a second Victor Hugo.
I didn’t expect to drastically improve my speaking skills in 30 days. I never spoke French before I actually got to the test. My preparation for this part was limited to discussing with my alter-ego advantages of freelancing, recycling and other typical stupid DELF topics. I’ve got just 10,5/25 for this part – but that was all I needed.
But how to prepare for other parts?
5. Read a DELF B2 preparation guide
Read the guide. Please read the guide. I can’t emphasize it even more. The DELF-specific guide is essential to your success because it tells you exactly what is expected from you.
And, more important, it also tells you what to expect from the test itself.
I used “Reussir le DELF. Niveau B2“. In my case, it was a really old edition of 2006 but it worked for me very well in 2018. Nonetheless, I still recommend using the new 2016 one. Or both. The main reason is that the guide is the only source of sample exams. You can’t find those on the Internet. And, boy, you’ll need them more than anything else.
Also, all DELF guides are in French. And it’s a good thing because if you can’t understand the guide you should ask yourself if B2 is actually your level.
The textbook gives you enough exercises so that you can get the sense of the test before actually writing it. That’s why the next step is:
6. Solve all DELF B2 preparation exercises
These exercises are there for a reason.
And you’d be doing exactly the same exercises from the exact same textbook using the exact same keys to correct yourself if you chose to take a DELF preparation course. It would just cost you extra $600, that’s it (for a person who would force you to do these exercises).
If you can organize yourself, the guide is more than enough to prepare for delf b2 well. Completing all exercises will make you 100% ready for the listening and reading parts. You will:
- understand how to approach these tasks;
- know what kind of texts to expect on the DELF B2 exam;
- learn how to write different types of answers;
- get the immediate corrective feedback (if you check your answers in the “corrigés” section);
- get to know your most common mistakes.
Boy, that’s a lot. However, in order to prepare for DELF B2 writing and speaking part, you’d need to know something more.
7. Memorize “les formules de politesse“
On the DELF, nobody wants you to speak or write in a familiar style, no. Keep it for WhatsApp.
What this exam really is, it’s an exercise in fine writing and eloquent speaking. Or, put it otherwise, production of the cohesive and coherent discourse complying with the French understanding of what is polite.
And here you hit the wall of French pragmatics because what you expect to be appropriate in formal English is not so appropriate in formal French. Voilà.
The DELF B2 guide gives a boatload of expressions for the writing part of the exam (where you have to compose a letter). I wrote down all these expressionsand simply memorized them as chunks.
- “…Madame le Juge…“
- “…Je me permets de vous écrire pour…“
- “…Je vous prie de croire, Monsieur, à l’expression des mes meilleurs sentiments…“
Ugggghh. But that’s French, and it can be worse.
This strategy saved me tons of time on the actual test. I wrote by heart the good half of the letter. All I had to do afterwards is to compose the body of the letter according to the instructions.
8. Know your connectors
Politeness formulas will help you to prepare for the delf b2 writing part. But what about speaking?
The good news is that you don’t have to express yourself like in Honore de Balzac novels. The bad news is that examiners will expect you to be at least somewhat coherent and logical.
And that’s what is really challenging. Especially when you don’t speak the language very well and have to expatiate on the topic you are not familiar with (which is often the case). So what will save you on the interview, when you are locked in the room with two Frenchmen furiously writing while you’re…uhm…trying to express yourself?
That’s right. Connectors and retractors. Well, you’ve heard about the first ones. These are words like “however”, “nevertheless”, “apart from that”, “by the way”, “unfortunately”, “meanwhile” and so on. In their French variant, of course. As for retractors, these are the things you say when you see a question in the eyes of your examiner. It’s something in line with “I meant to say”, “I’m afraid I’ve expressed myself vaguely”, “let me clarify that” – and so on to the infinity.
Knowing how to navigate the examiners through your ideas will buy you half of the score.
9. Mock the test
When I say “mock test” I don’t mean solve one full DELF B2 sample test and consider yourself prepared for the battle. I mean find all sample papers available online and in print and deliberately go through each one until there are none.
You will have no problem preparing for listening and reading parts on your own as long as you have test samples and answer keys. The problems start with the production part if you have no one to provide you feedback.
There are infinite ways to write a letter or construct your discourse for an interview. But the sample answer at the end of the textbook (if there is an answer) will give you just one. What do you do in this case?
What I did was comparing my own writing with the provided answer sample. I looked mainly for formulas, connector elements, and the construction of arguments because these are the only parts you actually have control of. As long as my own writing resembled the example, I considered it correct. It is not the smartest strategy, but it works when you’re genuinely trying to improve your writing.
Just another important point. Make sure that you actually write your answers by hand. First of all, it improves your chances to recall what you practiced before on the day of the test. Second, it trains your hand for the exam and minimizes the impact of slow handwriting on your test performance.
10. Read a lot of DELF B2 specific texts
Finally, the last key to passing DELF B2 is knowing specific vocabulary for politics, economics, business, IT, ecology, and education.
The lack of vocabulary is something that can let you down on every single part of the test. There will be complex words right in the middle of a dialog in the listening part – and you will have to spell it out. Texts in the reading part will be stuffed with a bunch of technical terms – and you’ll have to somehow derive their meaning from the context. As for writing and speaking, the importance of broad vocabulary is hard to overstate.
So! If you solved the guide and still have a spare time to prepare for DELF B2, make sure to read French press.
Your reading list would have to include Le Monde, RFI, Courrier International, Libération, L’actualité and other exemplars of the fine French journalism. It can be boring as fuck, and I, too, prefer reading Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code in French instead, but you have to do what you have to do.
So suck it up.
Once you prepare for DELF B2, you’d have to write the exam. Following the right strategy during the test will save you time, energy and nerve cells. Read the next part of the post to learn how to approach the exam most efficiently.