Taking the Dalf at 50 – The Results

After all my doubts I did manage to pass the Dalf C1, an achievement that at the time seemed very important to me. At this moment, however, as I sit in a cold apartment in Cuzco, Peru getting ready for our next adventure the experience seems like a distant headache. One that I’m happy I no longer have.

Sure, I was thrilled to get the positive results – the school sent me an email the Thursday after the Friday the result were due out. More than anything, however, I was relieved. The idea that if I didn’t pass I might want to retake the exam was not something I was ready to face.

What I learned about the Dalf C1 exam.

With a score of 52 I passed the exam, but not my much. You need a score of 50 or better on the overall exam and only a score of 5 in each of the four disciplines -listening comprehension, reading comprehension, oral production and written production – to pass.

The most interesting thing for me was the fact that I thought my score in written production would save my overall score. I had scored well on the essays in the preparation class and on the two mock exams, but on test day I bombed, scoring only 11/25, about half of what I usually score.

In contrast, in the discipline I was most worried about, oral production, I scored the best, 17/25. In all realty it is also the discipline that meant the most to me. I don’t really care that much if I don’t write an essay in French well under time pressure. That said, I’m still disappointed. I worked hard and wrote too many practice essays to be really content with such a low score.

In the other two disciplines, listening and reading comprehension, I received middle of the road scores consistent with what I had scored on the mock exams.

Without seeing how the exams were scored I can only guess at why I did so poorly on the essays. Sitting for a four-hour exam is extremely tiring. The essay portion is the last section of the day and although I completed both essays I’m sure I was beyond fatigued and faltering. Never during the mock exams did we do an exam of such length.

My advice to anyone taking the exam would be to not count on your strengths. Study to pass every discipline. You never know what subjects or circumstances you will face come exam day.

What does passing the exam mean?

For someone like me who had no academic or professional reason to take the exam, it gives me a sense of accomplishment and even closure. A month ago I wasn’t so sure, but now I can move on to other projects and not feel like I left my French studies hanging and unfinished.

Of course, meeting this challenge does not mean that my French is perfect. On the contrary I would have a great amount of work to do to reach the next level, C2 – a level I’m convinced I could only reach if I actually lived in France for at least another year, fully immersed in the language. A commitment I’m not in the position to nor have the desire to make at this time.

I would also add that the Dalf exams are academic exams and although they test your skills in the four disciplines of language learning, their focus remains academic. That is to say, the exam does not test your ability to function in the real world or even on the streets of Paris.

On a more positive note, having restarted my Spanish studies this week after a 5 year break, I’ve discovered that even unused language skills don’t really disappear. My Spanish is very, very rusty. I remember only parts of grammar rules and have great gaps in my vocabulary. Still, on day one I was able to converse with the instructor at an advanced level. This gives me great hope that if in the distant future I wanted to restart French I won’t have to start from scratch.

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