My name is Tania, and I am a teacher of English as a Foreign Language based in Russia. In this article I will tell you about my experience taking DELTA Module 1 exam in December 2019 and how it affected me and my working life.
What is DELTA Module 1?
DELTA (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is an advanced English teaching qualification awarded by Cambridge. In UK it is consistent with level 7 in Qualifications Framework, which makes it comparable to a Master’s in content and difficulty. The 60 credits you can earn doing DELTA could be counted towards a Master’s degree in TESOL.
DELTA consists of three separate modules which you can take in any order and within any time frame: theoretical exam, practical teaching course, and, finally, a big written assignment. I am going to focus on Module 1, which tests your understanding of language, methodology and resources. It is a 3-hour written exam which may or may not be preceeded by a preparation course.
Why did I decide to take DELTA Module 1?
Over my teaching career, I have regarded professional development as a must – and it has always been easier for me to do it formally. I love learning almost as much as I love teaching – especially the kind of self-directed, but target-oriented learning that usually happens when you prepare for exams or do a well-designed online course. I had done a number of courses provided by my company, including the Advanced Methodology course that is supposed to be an introduction to DELTA. Dealing with methodology and written assignments was quite enjoyable, so I was looking forward to doing something similar.
My preparation strategy
You can take DELTA Module 1 exam twice a year, in June and December. One can prepare for it on their own or do a course with an institution. A variety of face-to-face and online options are available, such as those:
I chose a course offered by my company, especially because I had a staff discount and free admission due to my methodology certificate. It consisted of ten 2-hour weekly sessions amd a mock test of each exam part assessed by course trainers. Overall, I think that the course was useful rather than not – it helped me to pace myself and not fall behind. This was extremely helpful taking into account that I was doing quite a lot of teaching at the same time.
Free time is a burning issue for many developing teachers – one doesn’t want coursework to take away from your job performance. I have heard of people who prepared for the exam for a year or so (usually combined with preparation for other modules), but such level of commitment is impossible for me. I decided to focus my efforts on the two months before the exam and devote time to it every day. It was doable – my social life and hobbies suffered, but teaching duties remained intact. Lack of time also kept me alert and motivated.
I will go into more detail on preparation hacks and tips in another article on this blog.
Available DELTA Module 1 Materials
Like other trainees, I received an adapted booklist which suggested books (and even specific chapters!) for every exam task. I hoped to read most of them before the course – which clearly was too optimistic. I still don’t know if one should try to read everything before they start focused exam preparation. When you are familiar with the tasks, it is much easier to process information and choose the necessary bits. However, background knowledge definitely comes useful during the exam. A lot of DELTA reading lists are available online; many of those feel a bit outdated, but the key titles remain the same.
Something even more important than books are DELTA Handbook and Exam Reports. Handbook is a detailed overview of the exam format (you can easily download it from Cambridge website). It outlines task types, topics covered, requirements and even some preparation advice. A lot of this sounds dry and formal, but it is definitely worth reading and highlighting important points. You can also find Exam Reports from some years on websites like Scribd. These are extremely useful because of the examiners’ comments on candidates’ work – you can use them to grade yourself! Be aware that exam format changed in 2015; it affected order of tasks, some of the requirements and grading criteria.
Quizlet is another popular preparation resource – mostly used to study and revise terms. There are numerous DELTA decks available – most of them are large, but of varying quality. Remember not to take everything at face value and check with reputable sources like dictionaries. Value of flashcards for your preparation depends a lot on your learning habits and preferences. Anyone would benefit profoundly from creating their own deck of electronic or paper cards, but this is time-consuming – your limited time might be spent in a more useful way.
During the course
So, I read (very little) before the course and started my DELTA Module 1 journey with a heavy heart, but a lot of hopes. I have to admit that I was in a better position preparing for DELTA than many of my coursemates. Russian philology was my major back at university – so many features of phonology and language analysis were not completely alien to me. I still think though that the key point in successful preparation is not background, but study skills. You have to be aware of all the topics and attentive to task instructions, not barely knowledgeable. Most of all, I believe you must be consistent with your preparation – this is the biggest challenge if you are doing it on your own.
Preparation course gives you a clear framework to structure your learning – every week you focus on one task. Ideally, you should do the background reading before the session, explore the task format in class and do all available sample tasks as homework. In reality you often have to choose between reading and practicing – and the second might be a priority. A lot of DELTA Module 1 tasks come down to “common sense” – logic and teaching experience. If you read the Handbook carefully, you can identify topics where you lack knowledge and focus your research on them.
I approached DELTA preparation in a way I would do with any other standartised exam. Essentially, I did all the available sample tasks, checked with the answers and examiners’ comments and highlighted and noted down all my problems with content and task strategy. This way you can practice using the correct layout (it’s important), see your progress and knowledge gaps. A lot in DELTA comes down to many little things to keep in mind, and writing them down and revising might help.
In my experience, mock exams were by far the most useful part of the preparation course. We had a valuable opportunity to spend 90 minutes in the exam environment, without distractions, with a new set of tasks, and then have it checked by the course tutor. Getting the mock score was encouraging for some and daunting for others. Judging by me and some of my coursemates, this score actually turned out to be quite consistent with the final result. Whether you are preparing on your own or doing a course – make sure you do some kind of mock. You can self-administer it if you set aside a past paper, time yourself and use Handbook criteria to check.
Another approach to mock test might be creating a study group and arranging it together. I can’t give any insight on group preparation – being an autonomous learner makes me also rather selfish and uncollaborative. I would recommend sharing books and sources and comparing answers to tests, but lengthy discussions feel like a waste of time. Still, many candidates feel the need for emotional support and external motivation a group can provide.
On the exam day
My preparation center did all the paper work with signing me up for the exam. It felt rather convenient, although it meant I couldn’t get my results online. The exam itself didn’t seem much different from any other Cambridge exam I had taken before. Stay focused for 90 minutes, use a black pen, have a half an hour break, push through 90 more minutes and you are done. Presence of other candidates might feel a bit intimidating – you will always suppose they are writing faster and better. It is probably wrong. Mock exams came in handy with timing – I was confident that I could cope with everything and didn’t panic or jump between tasks.
I had a couple of stupid blunders (one of them forgetting the term “proper name”!) where hard facts were necessary. I would argue that such mistakes are almost inevitable with all the exam stress and time pressure. Personally, I tend to mistrust my memory a lot more during the exam, and need to wrestle with self-doubt and still write the answers even if they seem dicey. Overall, the most important thing for me was to maintain the logic and attention to detail – and I think it turned out pretty successful in the end.
My DELTA Module 1 result
When the exam is over, one feels the usual emptiness tinged with relief. It is tempting to jump into discussion with your peers and attempt to check as many answers as you can. For mental health purposes, I would rather write down interesting questions and issues that arose and come back to them later. You are in for a long wait – the results start arriving in about two months. I sat my Module 1 on the 4th of December and got the statement from my center February 7th. I felt a bit anxious – I knew I could do well based on my mock, but was afraid that stupid mistakes would seriously damage my score. (It doesn’t matter – if you want to do the whole DELTA, they don’t specify your grades on the final certificate!) But, exceeding all my expectations, there was the result – and it was Pass with Distinction!
So what has DELTA Module 1 brought to my life, apart from a whole lot of exhaustion? In some ways, it boosted my confidence as a developing teacher (and confidence is a struggle for me). It had some impact on my teaching – especially in terms of thinking about links between tasks and lesson progression. It definitely did not land me on a whole new level professionally, but was a positive experience after all. I am looking forward to taking the other modules – though I am sure they will be a lot more difficult.