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Our 2020 Guide on the DELF French Proficiency Test

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What is DALF? Does it have anything to do with the alien-friendly 80s sitcom? And what about DELF? Are we talking engine oil and car lubricants? I’m sorry to disappoint, but we’re only referring to the most important French Proficiency tests on the market.

In this article, I’ll explain everything about the DELF & DALF language proficiency exams: what they are, how to sign up, and why you should care. You’ll also learn all the details about the six possible DALF/DELF French exam levels and how to identify yours. 

Finally, you’ll have an in-depth look at the structure and content of all four sections of the exam, and more importantly, the best techniques to practice and pass the test yourself!

A Student Glad He Got an A+ on a Test

Ace your DELF or DALF with our collection of pro-tips.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Study Strategies in French Table of Contents
  1. What are DELF and DALF?
  2. A Test for Every Level
  3. How to Succeed at DELF B2
  4. Le Mot De La Fin

1. What are DELF and DALF?

DELF (Diplôme d’études en langue française) and DALF (Diplôme approfondi de langue française) are the two official degrees that certify various levels of proficiency in the French language. 

They’re issued by the French Ministère de l’éducation nationale (“Ministry of Education”), valid for life, and recognized worldwide, making them the best choices for validating your French proficiency.

There are six levels of DELF and DALF, ranging from A1 to C2. If you’re not yet at an A1 level, there’s another exam called DILF (Diplôme initial de langue française). Find more details about it right here.

Why Take the Exam?

There are many possible reasons why you’d want to pass a DELF or DALF:

  • To get into a renowned French school or university
  • To find a job in France
  • To apply for a French residence permit
  • To request French citizenship
  • To get a French training approved within the framework of the CPF, or Compte personnel de formation (“Personal training account”)

Maybe you’ve just spent the last six months studying hard on FrenchPod101.com and want to show the world the extent of your skills.

In that case, DELF might be too much trouble and I’d rather recommend that you take one of our free language portfolio tests. If you’re a Premium PLUS subscriber, just ask your teacher about it and they’ll get you started in no time!

What Do They Look Like?

Depending on the level you’re taking, the DELF and DALF exams can be wildly different. However, each exam consists of four distinct sections:

  1. Compréhension de l’oral (Listening test)
  2. Compréhension des écrits (Reading test)
  3. Production écrite (Writing test)
  4. Production orale (Speaking test)

Each section is timed and will put your linguistic skills to the test!

You can find detailed information on the examination on the official website of France Education (that you may have seen referred to as CIEP in older articles).

How to Sign Up?

There are many testing centers around the world, and you can usually sign up online. Some of these centers are from the group Alliance Française and also provide specific training for the test, but it’s rather expensive and NOT mandatory.

However, whether you pay for extra training or not, there will be a registration fee to take the exam. Prices vary depending on the center and level, but you can expect it to be in the range of $200.

You can find all approved examination centers outside of France on this official page. It includes contact numbers and email addresses for you, as well.

A Group of Students Testing in a Dark Classroom

The first three parts of the test are collective, and the oral exam is individual.

2. A Test for Every Level

Before you can choose the right test for your level, you need to be familiar with the CECRL system (Cadre Européen de référence pour les langues). This classification allows you to define your proficiency level in a foreign language, from A1 for beginners to C2 for experts.

LevelDescriptionYou can:
A1

DELF A1
BeginnerUnderstand and use typical everyday expressions and simple statements about practical needs
Introduce yourself to someone
Ask questions about someone and answer similar types of questions
Have very basic conversations if the other person is talking slowly and deliberately articulating
A2

DELF A2
Lower-intermediateUnderstand isolated sentences and frequently used expressions from familiar daily situations (personal information, family, shopping, or work interactions)
Communicate about common and simple tasks when they don’t require sharing too much information or unfamiliar topics

Describe your current environment and express immediate needs
B1

DELF B1
IntermediateUnderstand the main topics of a conversation in plain language, when it’s about familiar things (work, school, hobbies)
Handle most daily interactions when traveling in a French-speaking country

Produce simple texts on topics which are familiar or of personal interest
Tell about events, experiences, or dreams, describe a hope or goal, and briefly explain a project or an idea
B2

DELF B2
Upper-intermediateUnderstand the main ideas within a complex text on concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in your field of specialization
Communicate spontaneously and effortlessly with a native speaker
Express yourself in a clear and detailed manner on a wide range of subjects and explain a point of view on a topical issue, giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options
C1

DALF C1
AdvancedUnderstand long and demanding texts and their implicit meaning
Talk spontaneously and fluently without searching for your words too much
Use the language in an efficient and flexible manner at home, work, or school
Express your opinion on complex topics in a clear and structured manner, having full control over the linguistic tools for organizing and articulating your speech
C2

DALF C2
ProficientUnderstand effortlessly anything you read or hear
Summarize facts and arguments from various sources, written or spoken
Express yourself spontaneously, very clearly, and fluently, and highlight slight nuances in meaning when talking about complex topics
Language Skills

3. How to Succeed at DELF B2

In this section, we’ll mainly focus on the B2 DELF tests. This will allow you to get an in-depth look at one level, rather than a vague overview of all possible exams.

Why B2? Because this is the most common level they ask for when you’re looking for a job, and the minimum you should have when applying for a French university or school.

However, keep in mind that the structure, if not the timings, remains the same for all levels. Similarly, the Pro-Tips and How to Practice sections apply to most levels of DELF or DALF. Here’s the information you’ll need for your French DELF exam preparation:

1 – The Listening Test

Duration: 30 minutes, three exercises for a total of 25 points.

The Test

In this test, you’ll listen to two recorded documents. They can be conversations, interviews, news broadcasts, conferences, or recordings from the radio or TV shows.

  • Before listening to the first document, you’ll have one minute to read the questions. Then, you’ll hear the document one single time (around two minutes). At the end of the recording, you have three minutes to answer the questions.
  • Before listening to the second document, you’ll have one minute to read the questions. Then, you will hear the document for the first time (up to six minutes) and you’ll have three minutes to start answering the questions. Finally, you’ll hear the document for the second time and you’ll have five minutes to complete your answers.

Pro-Tips

  • Make the most of the short time you’re given to read the questions. In the heat of the moment, this one minute feels like seconds. But knowing the questions in advance will help you focus on the specific information you have to extract from the recordings.
  • Don’t get tricked and stay very alert. Don’t jump to conclusions too fast. The French DELF B2 exam is rather advanced, and appearances can be deceiving. If you hear the exact words of a question in the recording, it’s probably a trap and you should be careful about what’s really being said.
  • Don’t worry about writing in flawless French, as long as you’re clear and accurate. The most important part of this text is to prove you’re a good listener, not a good writer.

How to Practice

  • You should ideally practice a few minutes every day, with French radio, TV, movies, series, or directly with native speakers if you have this luxury. Podcasts can also be a good idea!
  • Any listening exercise on FrenchPod101.com can be valuable practice to sharpen your ear.
  • Check online for examples of DELF recordings, starting with the website of France Education International, the official DELF ministry.
A Man Jamming Out to Music with Headphones

When you come well-prepared for your listening exam!

2 – The Reading Test 

Duration: around 1 hour, two to three exercises for a total of 25 points.

The Test

In this test, you’ll be given two written documents along with questions to test your comprehension. You have one hour in total to read the texts and answer all the questions.

  • The first document will be informational, such as a news article or an essay about an aspect of French culture or values.
  • The second document will be an opinion article on a controversial topic.

Pro-Tips

  • Read the text very carefully before reading the questions, so you can get a first impression without any bias. Then quickly write down the main topics and ideas.
  • Only then, read the questions and make sure you understand them perfectly before you read the text once again in this new light.
  • Finally, answer the questions in the suggested order, always asking yourself why you’re answering that way (and not differently).
  • It’s important that you keep coming back to the text to question your answers and make sure you’re still on track.
  • Answer the question fully but concisely. You shouldn’t need more than a couple of sentences to prove your comprehension of the texts.
  • Stay alert and be prepared for multi-part questions or word play. Some idiomatic expressions might trick you into answering the wrong question.

How to Practice

  • It’s important that you practice by reading a wide variety of material, from blogs to newspaper articles, essays, or novels.
  • Reading about politics, movie reviews, or heated internet debates are some ways to prepare yourself for the second text.
  • Read some actual DELF tests to get a good idea of what to expect in terms of length and difficulty. You can find some French DELF B2 exam sample papers and more resources on the official website.
A Woman Reading a Book on a Bus

You can always find a minute to read some French!

3 – The Writing Test

Duration: around 1 hour, one writing exercise for a total of 25 points.

The Test

In this test, you’ll have to take a stand on a controversial topic. You can be asked to support a given topic, or to write against it, and justify your opinion. Your text will be based either on a short text, letter, or article, or just a few sentences describing the situation and what you need to write.

You have one hour to write your text with a minimum of 250 words.

Pro-Tips

  • Make sure you’ve read the instructions very carefully and understand them fully.
  • Remember that you’re not likely to be asked for your opinion, but rather to take a stand following some specific guidelines. For example: Write a letter explaining that you hate chocolate and why it should be forbidden. It doesn’t matter that you personally love chocolate; you’ll still have to write against it!
  • Adapt your text to the target audience. Who’s writing? To whom? And why? If you’re pretending to write for a news website, you won’t use the same style as if you were writing a letter of complaint. The structure and style should match the type of text you’re writing.
  • Write a quick outline of your text before you begin writing. Gather examples you can use to support and organize your arguments.
  • Re-read your text very carefully, focusing on grammar, conjugation, and words agreeing in gender and number. Don’t forget about the punctuation.

How to Practice

  • Reading is an effective way to improve your grammar and vocabulary, and get familiar with the most common sentence structures. You’ll have to focus your reading on opinion pieces and reviews to get used to the style, and to learn the kind of vocabulary and connecting phrases these texts use.
  • Of course, writing is also great; but you’ll need to get feedback from a native speaker. There are some online communities where you can post your work and request feedback on websites like HiNative.
  • If you’re a Premium PLUS subscriber, you can use MyTeacher and send your practice texts to your tutor for a detailed and comprehensive review.
  • Read the instructions of actual B2 DELF tests to know what to expect. See how long it takes you to come up with your ideas and outline, and how comfortable you are writing 250 words within the rest of the hour.
A Woman Writing Late at Night

Will there ever be a better time to start writing your memoir in French?

4 – The Speaking Test

Duration: around 50 minutes, including the preparation, for a total of 25 points.

The Test

In this test, you’ll have to present and defend an opinion, based on a short document provided to you.
You’ll have thirty minutes to read the document and prepare for a ten-minute oral speech.

Once you’ve told your piece, you’ll then discuss it with two examiners for ten more minutes. They’ll ask you questions to start a dialogue, and you’ll have to not only react to their solicitations, but also take initiatives in the exchange.

Pro-Tips

  • Read the document carefully, as many times as it takes to be sure you perfectly understand what it says, as well as its implications. 
  • Decide whether you want to support the idea or argue against it, and what your take on the issue will be.
  • Write a list of arguments and examples, in the form of bullet points. Remember you only have thirty minutes of preparation, and you shouldn’t try to write the whole script of your ten-minute speech.
  • You may want to use some quotes from the text to make sure you don’t go completely off the rails. You can use these quotes to support the idea or contradict it.
  • You can illustrate your opinion using examples from current events or knowledge from any source you’ve read or heard from. Using concrete words, details, and examples keeps people more interested than abstract concepts and ideas do.
  • Try not to scatter yourself too much. You may want to articulate your speech around the classic triad of thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

How to Practice

  • Check some official DELF tests to see what you should expect, the kind of texts they provide, and what you would talk about in your ten-minute speech. It’s the best way to practice in “real” test conditions.
  • Practice your listening as much as possible. It’s often considered easier to make a statement than to understand one, and you’ll have to understand many questions from the two examiners.
  • Practice speaking with natives as often as you can. Talking to random strangers is the best way to get out of your comfort zone and get used to different accents, speeds, and styles.
  • If you don’t have native speakers available, try to practice with other learners or even alone. In that case, make sure to record yourself and try to correct your own mistakes. Speaking often, even to yourself, will make you more comfortable over time.
  • And of course, if you’re using MyTeacher, you can send recordings to your tutor and get some great feedback on your grammar and pronunciation!
A Crowd Cheering on an Orator

Conquer your French audience with well-crafted arguments!

4. Le Mot De La Fin

In this guide, you’ve learned everything about the French proficiency tests DELF and DALF, from the reading exam and essay-writing, to the listening test and oral speech. 

Did I forget any practical information you need to get ready for your DELF exam? Do you feel ready to start practicing and rise to the challenge?

A good exercise to practice is to pick one of the official DALF or DELF French examinations and just do it, from A to Z. It’s gonna take a few hours, for sure, but only then will you know exactly what to expect, and how you should get ready for it!

FrenchPod101.com also has tons of vocabulary lists with audio recordings, and free resources to boost your studies and keep your French-learning fresh and entertaining!

Remember that you can also use our premium service, MyTeacher, to get personal one-on-one coaching. You can have your private teacher help you practice for your upcoming DELF exam, using personalized exercises and recorded audio samples; your teacher can also review your recordings to help improve your pronunciation. 

Happy learning on FrenchPod101.com!

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