So you have decided to make the next step in your teaching career and get a DELTA qualification. Way to go! This Diploma will be helpful if you want to progress to academic management or another senior position. It consists of three modules which you can take in any order and at any time, but most candidates start their DELTA journey with Module 1. It is a written examination that checks your knowledge of language, methodology and resources for teaching. I took my DELTA Module 1 preparation course in autumn 2019, wrote my exam in December 2019 and got a Pass with Distinction.
Doesn’t sound too scary, right? But you might have heard all the horror stories of 40% of candidates failing, of impossible time limits, unclear requirements and endless reading lists. Teachers ofter find strange pleasure in describing all the pain caused by training courses (I’m looking at you, CELTA trainers). My personal struggles are a subject of another article, but here I am going to share the tips and tricks for DELTA Module 1 preparation that worked for me. They might help you get a Distinction too!
Rely on the Handbook and Exam Reports
You are going to get an extensive booklist like this from your course trainers or online. By no means should you ignore it – but remember that the Good Book throughout your preparation is DELTA Handbook. It describes all three modules in great detail, outlines necessary knowledge and gives some studying advice. Even more – it gives you a whole sample test with guideline answers and candidates’ scripts with examiner’s comments. This will prepare you for the pitfalls and give you understanding of the most common topics and fields involved. If you have extra time, read the Module 1 section carefully and take notes before you start all the other preparation – it will give you a framework to work in.
The other resource you can’t do without are the Exam Reports. Cambridge has not been very generous about publishing them recently, but you can find them for years 2009 – 2015. Each report contains examiner’s comments on overall performance, common mistakes, grading and sample answers. Paired with past papers (some of them are online), they make a perfect preparation tool – especially if you use them wisely. This is the subject of my next tip.
Don’t Waste Sample Tests
The exam is big, no joke. There are two papers with eight very substantial tasks altogether (click here for my overview of each task). You will have to go through a lot of them while you prepare. And “going through” is the very temptation you are probably going to face. Your tired mind will tell you: “Well, I need to learn something about the format… I have the general idea of this task, let me just look in the key and make sure I’m right!” Don’t play this trick on yourself. First of all – it might just seem that you know the answer (frankly speaking, a lot about DELTA tasks comes down to common sense). But your goal is to see how well you can actually produce the answer and arrange it in a way the examiner will like.
Remember that you have a limited number of sample tasks and grab every opportunity to imitate exam conditions. Write our your answer clearly on a sheet of paper (they give you lined A4 booklets at the exam, so you can even reproduce this). Only after the task is completely done, go to the answers and examiner’s comments and check it against the criteria. DELTA Module 1 (especially the 2015 version) has very detailed and straightforward grading guidelines. Basically all you need is put ticks against all the points that are the same as in the answers. While checking, I always try to put myself in the shoes of a rather tired, although well-meaning examiner, whose main purpose is to find something equivalent to the keys rather than explore the overall mangificence of your answer. I might be wrong, who knows.
Know the Format and Layout
This is the tip that trainers seem to start hammering into our heads since the first hour of the preparation course. And, however boring and bureaucratic it sounds, it is really worth it! It is surprising how many of the trainees, including myself, lost points during the mock tests because of this.
The general idea of the exam format is sticking to bullet points (since it is easier to read and, wink-wink, this is what the examiner has in her keys), avoiding lengthy explanations, being explicit and specific. On top of this, each task has its own number of required items and examples to give (six terms in Task One, four definitions and four examples in Task Two… see further in another article).
A lot of people recommend putting down all the necessary numbers and bullet points on the page before you do the task so that you don’t forget anything. I am not sure about that – personally, it stresses me out a little bit since I lose flexibility and need to fit my answer in the limited space, but this approach certainly has some value. The main takeaway, I suppose, is that you need to have your answer in short chunks, well-spread and clearly numbered and bullet-pointed – which is easier and less confusing both for yourself and the person who checks it.
Read the Instructions
My previous tip sounds very similar to this one, but I truly think it is worth enforcing one more time. For sure, after weeks and sometimes months of preparation you will understand pretty well what each task requires from you. However, human memory is painfully imperfect, especially in stressful situations. You might miss something. Your trainers might very easily miss something as they explain the task to you or check your submissions. The task rubric is the only thing that is always there for you and sincerely trying to help.
For example, the first task of the second paper will mindfully suggest, “…evaluate the effectiveness of these tasks for this learner in this situation” (my italics). And this is not empty methodological jargon – it is a helpful reminder of how you are supposed to construct your answer and which parts of the task you should pay most attention to.
I clearly remember a whole room of exam candidates and a trainer going through Paper 2 Task 1 for the first time. They read and understood the first line of the instruction: “identify six purposes of the exercises listed in the box below”, but completely ignored the second one: “in relation to the purpose of the extract as a whole”. Afterwards everyone was deeply astonished at the results of the practice task. It may sound callous and harsh, but official printed materials are often more reliable than very well-meaning people.
Prepare Yourself for a Marathon
This one is not just about the exam itself, but also the preparation process. It can be approached and timed very differently – people have passed the exam successfully after 8 months of preparation, as well as just three weeks. I think it depends a lot on your previous knowledge and expertise, but, anyway, you should remember to pace yourself and be consistent.
It is easy to get stuck revising 996 Quizlet cards for terminology or even making your own, superior card set with help of “An A-Z of ELT” and a linguistic dictionary. You can spend months on it and be very happy with yourself, but this only covers two tasks out of eight – and will give you 18 points maximum out of 200 available. Of course, different topics can support each other – your knowledge of terminology will be relevant in language analysis task (P1T5) and with learning theories (P2T3). But you shouldn’t forget that each task needs some reading, some thinking and enough targeted practice. If you run out of steam halfway into preparation, you will seriously endanger your chances of passing.
Don’t Ignore Cheap Tasks
Many preparation guidelines suggest focusing on the biggest and most expensive tasks first of all. There is some merit to this advice – especially taking into account what I said in my previous tip. However, assigning more time to deal with bigger tasks doesn’t mean that you should completely ignore the small and cheap ones. They still give you points! On the one hand, the first two tasks are only 18 points – as we’ve already established, it’s not enough to prepare for them only. On the other hand, 18 points is 9% of the total which can be gained in a matter of 5-10 minutes!
As always, it is an issue of balance. I can’t give any specific recommendations on what task to start with. Myself, I prefer to go with the order of the paper, but many people do the biggest tasks first. You can always go back and add something, or change up the order a little bit – just don’t forget to put clear numbers! My ultimate advice is not to give up on any of the tasks or discard them as too cheap and unworthy. Every little helps – especially when you need to rack up precious marks.
Figure Out Your Timing
You will learn those numbers way before the exam day: 90 minutes for Paper 1, 30 minutes for a break, 90 minutes for Paper 2. Where I come from, it’s not that much for a written exam – kids often sit there for five hours straight. And it is barely enough for the whole DELTA Module 1; I guess dealing with time pressure is just another skill they want to test in teachers. Have you even tried filling in 15 progress reports in 30 minutes before your next class?
If you are doing a preparation course, you will be blessed with an opportunity to write a timed mock test and see where you need to speed up. If you are preparing alone, or if it is not enough, make sure to get a sample paper and time yourself. I know it feels unnecessary stressful, boring and cumbersome, but it will inform you and make you a bit less anxious on the exam day. I don’t think that timing individual tasks or assigning time by “1 point – 1 minute” principle is particularly useful. You’ll need quite a lot of flexibility during the exam, so your most valuable skill will be to watch the clock and squeeze in all eight tasks in the time limit, however you do it.
Be Ready That You Will Forget Stuff
So, this is the exam day, you are prepared and ready to rock. Is it going to feel good? Of course not. You will be confused, scared and forget a lot of small things. During my exam I forgot, among other stuff, the term “proper name” and also how to write the phonetic symbol for glottal stop. (It is /ʔ/, I don’t remember if I wrote it correctly, and it feels like eternal shame for me as a phonology major). I don’t know how to deal with it, really. Based on my experience, this is what seems advisable.
a) Don’t panic.
b) Accept your imperfection.
c) Believe your gut in small details like terms – your doubts are usually just a manifestation of stress.
d) Use your common sense for large-scale questions.
In the long run, I believe it is normal and even good to feel doubtful and devastated after a large exam. Usually it indicates active learning and apt analysis and might suggest a favourable result after your two months’ wait. At least this is what happened to me.
Get Enough Sleep before the Exam
Okay, everybody knows it, so it is more of a joke. BUT IT HELPS YOUR BRAIN GET RID OF WASTE AND INCREASES RETENTION. I like all-night cram-sessions more than anything in the world, but, I guess, we all have to be adults now. However sad it might seem.
Good luck with your DELTA Module 1 preparation!