I took the DELE C1 exam this past Friday

Over the past couple of weeks I had been studying for the DELE  exam (Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera) which is a language proficiency test done by the Instituto Cervantes of Spain. Specifically it’s from the Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte de España. They tell me it’s not as hard as the TOEFL, but still, this was one of the more challenging exams I had taken. Basically, the C1 level is one step below the C2 level (native language ability) and it’s supposed to ensure that the non-native Spanish speaker can do the following things:DELE exam

  • Understand a wide range of long, demanding texts and recognize implicit meaning.
  • Express themselves fluently and spontaneously without much obvious effort to find the right expression.
  • Be flexible and effective in the use of language for social, professional and academic purposes.
  • Be able to produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns , connectors and cohesive devices.

It’s split up into four tests:

  • Test 1 : Reading comprehension and use of language (90 minutes).
  • Test 2: Listening and language use (50 minutes).
  • Test 3: Integrated skills . Listening comprehension and written expression and interaction (80 minutes).
  • Test 4: Integrated skills . Reading comprehension and oral expression and interaction (20 minutes) ( 20 minutes preparation ) .

I spent a total of eight hours on a Friday at the Universidad de Ricardo Palma here in Lima, Peru. I finally got back to my apt at about 9:15pm. It was a lot of work not only to take the test, but the whole period of preparation to learn the structure, practice the components of the structure, and perform well.

Overall, I think it’s a good exercise. I really do think if someone possesses a high level of Spanish language ability then they should be able to do well on the exam, really with little problem. What struck me throughout the process is just how much a few things really matter:

  • Deep Understanding
  • Critical Thinking
  • Accuracy

It’s really a process of sharping a language so that you know exactly what a text/conversation/argument is saying, what it’s not saying, and when someone asks you a specific (non-obvious) question in relation to a complicated subject, you can respond with a nuanced, well-thought out response. That’s not just a Spanish skill, but really an overall skill for approaching any subject with clarity, balance, and precision. Great practice I say, but wow, is it incredibly difficult in a foreign language.

I’m extremely relieved to be done, but what remains are two primary concerns. One, that I won’t pass and I’ll think for some reason that 3.5 years in Latin America hasn’t meant anything and that I’m not good at Spanish. The other is that I will pass, and within the day I’ll find myself completely confounded by a conversation or situation. Either way, they both tell of the same thing – that an exam score doesn’t determine proficiency of the test-taker. It’s really about how well that exam was able to unearth those vital skills of of understanding, critical thinking and accuracy.

You don’t need an exam to help you do that, but it sure does light a fire under you!

10 thoughts on “I took the DELE C1 exam this past Friday

  1. shaimaa


    Thank you for this post. I am thinking of taking the exam myself next April. It gives ma like 3 months to get ready. I have seen the exam and what encouraged me is that the reading /listening/writing did not seem to be so problematic to me. I am only concerned about the oral part. Can you give me an idea about how did that go with you? What kind of questions do they ask? Do they make you feel comfortable? I have huge issues with oral exams. I get so nervous very easily.

    Thank you!

  2. Aaron Post author

    Howdy! Thanks for the comment. The oral exam for the DELE C1 was fairly easy I felt, but we’ll see what my results turn out to be! The oral examination is two parts, or three if you count them asking about your background and current work/study situation. The first part is reading an article and responding to a question. Much like the essay section where you read an article and then write about it, you’ll have to outline the author’s main points, their argument, and your reaction and comments about it. You get 15 minutes to prepare and write your notes about what you read and you get to use your notes during the interview. Mine was about society and how we spend too much time involved in the lives of celebrities and how this has been a common cultural practice for over hundreds of years.
    They ask you to sit down in a room with an interviewer who is really nice. They do make you feel comfortable by asking you where you are from, what you think about the city where you are staying, what you’re doing there and so on. Then they transition into the article and ask you basic questions, with a few clarifying questions. It was really just like a conversation. No big deal. I think they are testing your ability to form a cohesive summary and give opinions on a subject, which does require more advanced Spanish.
    The second part is they give you a very brief idea or situation and you get a few minutes to read it. Normally, these put you in the drivers seat of an idea or situation. In my example, I was the director of a school trying to make budget decisions for the coming year. Then without much preparation, like 10-15 seconds, you’ll do a more concise version of what you just did. Summarize the main idea and begin with your plan of action. The interviewer asks you for clarification, really trying to evaluate the strengths/weaknesses of your argument. As you can imagine, this deals with more of tenses like “conditional” and “past imperfect” where you talk about what you would do, or what you would have done if you were given more information, or funds. It was very casual and over very quickly.
    My feeling was that the interviewer was really nice and professional. Because they have to do so many interviews throughout the day, they are really used to the flow and the format of it and approach you with a casual flow of responses and questions.
    Overall, I thought it was one of the easier portions of the exam. One great way to practice is to do some examples with your Spanish speaking friends. So you get used to the format and are prepared for the exam. If you’ve got three months left, you should be fine!
    Did that answer your questions? Hope this was helpful!

  3. Kelsey

    What were your final results on the C1? I did the speaking today, just waiting for tomorrow so I can finish it out!

  4. Martyn Davies

    Hi Aaron,

    Enjoyed reading your post.

    Did you take the C1 for personal reasons to improve your Spanish? Or was it to improve work prospects/career? I ask because I have a DELE B2 and am thinking about studying for the C1. I myself lived in Mexico for 1 year and am really looking to move into a career that utilizes Spanish speakers.



  5. Aaron Post author

    Hey Martyn, thanks for your post. I think it was mostly for personal reasons and wasn’t completely necessary because my work is all in Spanish. In some ways, I couldn’t get a firm answer from people when I asked about how seriously it was used in a resume/CV review or if it was a prerequisite. What I do know is that for many jobs, they administer their own language tests.

    What are you looking to get into?


  6. Aaron Post author

    Normally, when you sign up for a DELE exam they have sample exams that you can practice with. Otherwise, the best advice is to make a structured study program of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. That’s essentially what it boils down to. Buena suerte!

  7. Donald

    Hi Aaron — I found your post within a Google search, and appreciate your description of the exam experience. I found out yesterday that I passed the B2 exam sat last November in Chicago. I sat the B1 and B2 for the personal challenge… but, having said that, the DELE exam format ruins me. I failed the B2 exam twice before passing it on the third go. I enjoy the language very much but something about the IC’s exam format doesn’t play to my strengths at all: I become an idiot during the oral conversation section, reverting to basic present-tense sentences instead of using the complex structures and frases that I wield otherwise. Anyway, the happiness (and relief!) of finally passing B2 has motivated me to consider the C1. I appreciate your sharing the experience of sitting the exam in Lima. Did you use any other preparation material other than the IC’s sample exams?

    Un saludo desde Michigan,

  8. Aaron Post author

    Hey Don, thanks for sharing your experience and congrats on passing the B2! Awesome work! I ran into the same problem in the conversation section of the C1, regressing back to simple phrases and structure but managed to throw in a few subjunctives and conditionals in there to pass it.

    Since I work in an NGO here, most of my practice was with the work I do: writing, reading, listening, speaking, but I know to prepare for the C1, I had to be much more intentional and seek out people to practice with. I had friends who read over what I wrote and offered me helpful advice, and had some deliberate conversations on more difficult topics.

    So that’s what I did, not any official practice material, just trying to be intentional on doing the difficult work and buying coffee for friends in the process. I do read magazines and newspapers here on a frequent basis and watch the news. It is also really good practice doing translation (for fun). Just pick a TED talk in Spanish and put it into English, that has helped me.

    Suerte con tu proxima cita con el examen!

    saludos desde Peru,

  9. Morris

    I found that C2 is easier than C1 actually. C1 is very technical, while C2 is basically being able to communicate in any situation without any hesitation of thinking to find the most accurate way to express you idea.
    All the best everyone : )

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