You need to prove your French skills, so you signed up for a DELE exam. Every morning brings you closer to the day of the test but you still are not sure how to eat that frog. If so, this post is for you. Buckle up: let’s learn how to prepare for DELF B2 exam in one month!
If you only have a vague idea of what B2 means, I highly recommend you to read this guide to CEFR proficiency levels. It will help. If language testing terminology did not scare you off, jump right in.
Background: my experience with DELF
I was planning to take DELF since October 2017. Then, I woke up at the end of April 2018 only to realize that the test was in June. Yikes! Should I have procrastinated a bit longer, I would have to write a post “how to prepare for DELF in two weeks“. Not sure if I would have aced it though.
Back in April, I assessed my proficiency level to be somewhere in between A2 and B1. I needed to reach C1 by September to study 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: I was unfortunate enough to come across a Canadian statistics of average mean scores for DELF, and B2 exams had the lowest pass rate. But of course I registered…
In June, I took the test at the B2 level and, two weeks after, received my results: 72,5 out of 100, which meant that I passed.
Since then I’ve been waiting for an official diploma so that I could put it on a wall. [Update: here it is]
So, being two levels below the needed one, how did I manage to prepare for DELF B2 in one month and successfully pass it? And how can you do the same?
Well, there are ten things you should consider doing.
1. Plan and register in advance
Planning is crucial because the DELF can be taken only 4 times a year (unless you want to travel to another country and take it there, of course). So please do your homework and find the test dates beforehand. Register in advance. Get your textbooks. Just keep stuff at hand. It will save you a bunch of nerve cells when it’s time to start preparing for the test.
After you register, make a study plan. From this day on, your daily routine will have to revolve around the exam. Allow for at least 1,5 hours a day for preparation but keep in mind that this is a bare minimum. I studied for 2-3 hours every day.
The reason you have to study so much is that there is very little correlation between your actual ability to use French in life and what is tested on French language tests. No matter how fluent you are in French, you would still have to prepare for DELF B2. Otherwise, believe it or not, you risk failing it. (Passing the test, however, does not necessarily entail fluency, or “working proficiency”, or whatever you call it. You may ace your DELF and still struggle to order a cup of coffee at Charles de Gaulle Airport.)
2. Understand the format of DELF B2 exam
The DELF B2 preparation starts with making every attempt to understand the test itself.
(There are different test formats for different proficiency levels. If you want to get familiar with the structure of A2, B1, C1 or C2 exams, the CIEP website is at your service.)
The B2 exam goes for up to 3,5 hours. This time includes a 2,5-hours-long written part and an hour-long speaking part. Please see the table below for details (note also that you will only have 30 minutes to prepare to the delf b2 interview).
|Speaking preparation||30 minutes||–|
|Speaking||up to 20 minutes||/25|
All sections of the DELF B2 exam go exactly in this order, but you still have some freedom with respect to reading and writing. You may choose to finish your essay first and then do all the readings, for example. Finally, the answer sheet remains at your hands throughout the test. So you’ll be able to check and proofread your answers for every part of the test (including listening).
3. Understand the grading-passing scheme
DELF has fairly unique grading criteria (at least when compared to other language tests, like IELTS).
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 must satisfy two conditions:
- score at least 50 out of 100 points;
- 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. The speaking part of any language test is my major source of headache, terror, and general uneasiness. To put it simpler, this is the part I know I’m likely to fail. When it comes to reading and writing, however, I don’t have too many worries: these two are usually my strongest skills.
So what is the best strategy to prepare for DELF B2, given these constraints? Here is what my plan 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 (to I compensate for the points lost in speaking)
3. Practice listening to beat the odds
Do the same. Understand what you’re good at, what you’re afraid of. Break down your DELF B2 preparation project into smaller focused subtasks. It will help you to get a clearer picture of what skills you should concentrate on improving. In my case, it came down to focusing on reading and writing. I also worked on listening, though far less intensely. But… I didn’t work much on speaking.
It may sound counter-intuitive. Yet, there is a good reason to focus on your strongest skills, especially if you’re pressed for time. Nobody can prepare for delf b2 perfectly in one month. And 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.
Similarly, I didn’t expect to drastically improve my speaking skills in 30 days. In fact, I never spoke French to a real live person before I actually got to the test. My preparation for this part was limited to self-talk and some Pimsleur. I’ve got 10,5/25 for this part – which is a pathetic score, of course – but that was all I needed.
But what about other parts?
5. Read the DELF B2 preparation guide
Read the guide. Please read the guide. I can’t emphasize it even more. It is essential to your success because the book tells you exactly what is expected from you.
I used “Reussir le DELF. Niveau B2“. In my case, it was a really old edition (2006) but it worked for me very well in 2018. Nonetheless, I still recommend using the newer 2016 edition. Or even both. The main reason is that these guides are the only sources of sample exams. You can’t find those on the Internet — yet you will need them more than anything else.
Also, all DELF B2 guides are in French. And it is a good thing, because if you can’t understand the textbook you should probably ask yourself whether the B2 is actually your proficiency level.
The textbook is full of exercises. Thus, you can get the sense of what the test looks like before actually writing it. So please don’t skip the next step:
6. Solve all the DELF B2 preparation exercises
Let’s be straightforward: these exercises are there for a reason.
Furthermore, you will be doing exactly the same exercises from exactly the same textbook using exactly the same keys if you chose to take a DELF preparation course. It would just cost you an extra $600, that’s it. (But, of course, you will also have someone who will force you to do these exercises, should you choose this option.)
If you can organize yourself without outside assistance, then the textbook is all you need to prepare for delf b2 well. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that it make you 100% ready for the listening and reading parts. You will:
- know what kind of texts to expect on the DELF B2 exam;
- understand how to approach each of the tasks;
- 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.
Having those exercises done will help you to prepare for delf b2 reading and listening sections. But not for writing and speaking. These two will require a different approach.
7. Memorize “les formules de politesse“
On the DELF exam, nobody wants you to speak or write in a familiar style, no. Keep it for WhatsApp…
What this exam really is, is an exercise in fine writing and eloquent speaking. In other words, you have to be coherent, and the things you say must comply with the French understanding of what is polite.
And here you hit the wall of French pragmatics. Because what is appropriate in formal English is not so appropriate in formal French. Voilà.
The DELF B2 guide literally spells out all the expressions you may need for the writing part of the test (the letter). I wrote them all down and 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. La France, c’est compliqué. C’est bien ça.
This strategy saved me tons of time on the actual test. I wrote a good half of the letter by heart . All I had to do afterwards is to compose the body of the letter according to the instructions.
8. Know your connectors
Ok, politeness formulas can help you to prepare for the delf b2 writing partñ great. But what about speaking?
The good news is that you don’t have to express yourself like the king Louis XV of France. The bad news is that examiners will still expect you to be somewhat coherent and logical.
It can be really challenging when you don’t speak a language very well. It gets even worse when you have to talk on the topic you are not too familiar with (which is often the case). So what on Earth can 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. The former are the words like “however”, “nevertheless”, “apart from that”, “by the way”, “unfortunately”, “meanwhile” and so on (in French, of course). The latter are the things you should say as soon as your examiner gives you a puzzling look… “Oh, I meant to say”, “I’m afraid I’ve expressed myself vaguely”, “let me clarify that” – something along these lines. And remember that it’s fine to correct yourself: we do it all the time.
9. Mock the test
When I say “mock the test” I don’t mean that you should solve one full DELF B2 sample test… I mean that you better find all sample papers available (both online and in print) and then deliberately go through each one, until there are none.
You will have no problem preparing for listening and reading on your own, provided you have test samples and answer keys. The problems start with writing and speaking, because you may have no one to give you the feedback.
There is an infinite number of ways you can write a letter or build your defense on the interview. But the sample answer at the end of the textbook (if there is indeed an answer) will give you just one such way. What should you do in this case?
What I did was comparing my own writing with the sample. I looked mainly for fixed expressions and politeness formulas, ways to connect different ideas and ways to construct the arguments. As long as my writing resembled the sample, I considered it correct. It is probably not the smartest strategy, but it works when you genuinely try to improve your writing.
One more caveat: make sure that you actually write your answers by hand. First of all, it improves your chances to recall your practice during the test. Second, it trains your hand for the exam and minimizes the impact of slow handwriting on your test performance.
10. Read DELF B2 specific texts (and a lot)
Finally, focus on expanding your vocabulary for the most common DELF topics: politics, economics, business, IT, ecology, and education.
Poor vocabulary can let you down on every single part of the test. In the listening part, you will be asked to spell things out. In the reading part, texts will be stuffed with technical terms – and you’ll have to know them (or else, you will have to derive their meaning from the context). As for writing and speaking, the importance of broad vocabulary is hard to overstate.
So! If you solved all the exercises from the textbook but still got some time to prepare for DELF B2, make sure to read the French press.
Your personal collection should include Le Monde, RFI, Courrier International, Libération, L’actualité and other exemplars of fine French journalism.
It can be boring as hell. I have to admit that I, too, would rather prefer reading Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code in French. But you have to do what you have to do.
You may have prepared for DELF B2, but you will still have a lot waiting for you on the test day. Following the right strategy during the exam will save you time, energy and nerve cells. Read the second part of the post and learn how to approach the exam most efficiently. Good luck!