DELTA MODULE 1 EXAM: How (not) to do it

I did it. Perhaps. [STATUS UPDATE: I passed. Just a Pass, but I’m okay with that.]

I finally sat the DELTA Module 1 paper last month. I will probably be waiting another month for the result, but I’ll remain hopeful that I at least passed. (There’s always the possibility I didn’t, but hey, think positively!) It wasn’t overly difficult compared to all the other past papers I had worked through in the build up, so if I don’t pass, it means that somewhere I completely misunderstood what a question was asking rather than it being due to a real deficit in overall ELT knowledge, which in some ways is more reassuring.

So, what do I feel I have gained by taking Module 1? Preparing for Module 1 has been a really useful exercise because it has helped me to take stock of what I actually know (I’m pretty solid on all general terminology, although I did learn quite a few new terms around testing and assessment), what I have improved (my knowledge of phonology had not changed since taking my CELTA course until just a few months ago, whereas now I would feel a LOT more confident teaching a lesson on pronunciation), and what I need to improve on (deconstructing sentences into their constituent grammar parts has revealed itself to be challenging, and I can see that has been the result of only formally teaching grammar in my very first year of teaching and then rarely referring to a grammar term ever since). On the other hand, I feel that I wouldn’t use a lot of the terminology found in DELTA preparation material in a classroom itself, so its main wider value probably lies in encouraging teachers to take a greater look into phonology and ways to assess students, which are probably the two most heavily neglected areas in any post-CELTA training (if any such training is offered). The other limitation of the DELTA, having just mentioned ‘post-CELTA training’ is: what next? I could see it being easy to lapse into old habits and to quickly forget what has been learned from preparing for the DELTA with the general lack of CPD available for the majority of ELT teachers. For that reason, I wonder whether the DELTA should be re-constructed to last somewhat longer and address the concern of it all fading away in a blur after a DELTA course has ended?

I don’t think I managed Distinction grade because I missed a couple of opportunities to insert point-yielding terms (‘lenis’ and ‘hot/cold correction’ were a couple of terms that I thought of just moments after the exam ended – sod’s law), and I could see the potential of the final question having the pitfall of being deceivingly simple and this was a question that carried a huge portion of overall marks. I also had to make a guess at a couple of the Form & Use items (they turned out to be adverb vs. preposition items, which I discovered during revision to be my Achilles heal), and I stupidly wrote the term ‘bottom-down processing’ for the answer to one of the opening questions (duh!).

I also found out that the Module 1 exam is norm-referenced, meaning that my performance will depend partly on how well other candidates performed. (There was quite a range of reactions after the exam at the centre where I took it, although it sounded like most candidates found it more challenging than they had expected.) If I do fail, I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll attempt it again, but I’d be reluctant to do so because of the cost.

Whether I passed the exam or not, I feel I got a good grasp of how to approach it, and can put forward some decent advice for those planning to tackle the exam.

I’d say that it’s perfectly doable to prepare for Module 1 by yourself, but I did feel throughout that I carried the risk of forfeiting a Distinction precisely because there were a couple of tasks that I never quite fully understood how exactly I should best answer, and I could have really done with some tutor input on those. From what I hear, most courses include at least one tutor-marked practice exam.

I chose to prepare by myself because I am self-employed and have a completely unpredictable work schedule. If a nice work assignment came up at short notice, my plan would have been to drop the DELTA preparation and defer the exam in favour of work (which is exactly what happened last year), so any course that I’d paid for would be wasted. However, you ultimately don’t end up saving much money by not joining a course. When you come to apply for the DELTA Module 1 exam as an independent candidate, you need to pay not only the Cambridge exam fee, but also a test centre fee. The Cambridge fee in 2019 is something like GBP175. The test centre fees in the UK range from GBP75 to over GBP175. Thus, the smallest saving of not joining a course is around GBP150. You need to decide whether it’s worth paying more for the whole course experience and to have the extra supervision that could ultimately get you that Distinction grade.

Also, in relation to the test centre fees, your initial idea might be to go for the cheapest fee (International House in London was least expensive from my research), but when the exam centre requires you to be there from 9 am (the DELTA exam is always held in the morning, at least in the UK), you realize that you could be facing an overnight stay in your chosen location, which on top of train fares, can become as costly as opting for a more expensive test centre fee. In my case, my chosen test centre fee was at the high end, but the centre was only an hour away by train and just across from the train station, so it was relatively easy to get to early in the morning.

Before I registered for the exam, I had doubts about whether I was really ready. During the preparation, it came to my attention that I had certain weaknesses in grammar, namely deconstructing sentence constituents, and I reckoned that another six months of preparation would be needed to overcome these. However, another part of me just wanted to get the exam done and dusted while my work schedule allowed it.

Overall, I would advise giving yourself a minimum of six months to prepare for Module 1. Like I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, I just don’t know how people can fit in three modules on a 12-week DELTA course. It would all really be such a blur. You definitely need to start preparing well before you commence any course if you are to have the best chance to succeed. You need to do at least three solid months of reading and note-taking. Then, allow another three months for revising all of your notes and working through all the past papers. In the final three months, I put in up to one hour a day of revision during weekdays, and I scheduled working through past papers over the weekend. In the final two weeks, I probably put in four or five hours a day including working through all the past papers for a second time.

To decide whether you are ready for the Module 1 exam, you should try the first two tasks of Paper 1 of a past paper. If you can answer most of the questions correctly, you likely have a level of familiarity with key terms that is adequate for taking the exam. If you can only get a couple of the questions correct, then you need to keep working on your background reading and you should probably delay plans to register for the exam until you can respond to the majority of questions in the first two DELTA tasks with ease.

Even if you are already hot in the area of terminology, you probably can’t expect to turn up to the exam and pass with flying colours. The DELTA exam requires very specific types of responses, and it’s important to work through all the past papers AND their associated exam reports to understand how you need to answer each task. Overall, I’d say that you should place 50:50 attention on swotting up on terminology vs. working through past papers.

TIP! One helpful tip about working through past papers that I received on an internet forum was to do one DELTA task under exam conditions and then immediately go through the exam report section for that task. I found this to be much more informative than trying to go through a whole paper and then reading the whole exam report.

I never once tried to complete a whole past exam in a straight sitting. Some people find that useful to do, but I just wanted to spend time understanding one task at a time. I was consequently worried about the fatigue I would feel as the exam progressed as well as my ability to write legibly for such an extended period of time. Both of the latter points did occur, but I don’t think that completing a mock test in one sitting would have done anything to combat fatigue or a sore hand. I also didn’t follow some people’s advice to tackle the tasks that awarded the highest number of marks first. My view was that there was no point prioritizing tasks which while possibly offering more marks, could turn out to be more difficult questions. I wanted to get the questions of the likes of tasks one and two of paper 1 in the bag, since I felt a good chance of scoring full points on those. I answered all questions in the order they were set.

TIP! I sat two three-hour exams in the space of a month (the other exam being the BELS editing exam, which I passed), and for both exams I ate a date/nut bar shortly before the exam and half-way through the exam in the hope this might help sustain energy levels. I wanted to take a protein-based drink in with me, but the DELTA exam doesn’t allow you to take any non-opaque liquids into the exam room – something I was unprepared for, and disappointed. Why, oh why, Cambridge? I also ensured I looked up to give myself eye breaks at regular intervals, as well as doing circular wrist and shoulder rotations after each exam task. I also wore a pair of earplugs during the exam. While Cambridge doesn’t allow watches or the aforementioned drinks, it does allow earplugs. I get quite bothered by the slightest noise when trying to concentrate, and I can vouch for the plentiful sound of other candidates turning over pages and the invigilator putting together a package of papers to return to Cambridge during the exam. Do think about earplugs! You can also take your own pen, so choose a pen that you can comfortably write with for an extended period.

The exam format and response requirements change slightly from 2015, so if you work through all of the past papers (you can typically find the June papers 2008-2016) in order, don’t get too reliant on the ‘rules’ of the earlier papers. One of the changes introduced from 2015, for example, sounds innocuous, but can really throw you off if you’re not familiar with it – suggested timings for each task are not given. You need to plan your own timings for each task. Make sure that you are familiar with the requirements from 2015 onward. I prepared the following overview for each of the exam tasks that I referred to as part of my preparation.

mod 1 exam structure part 1mod 1 exam structure part 2

Another couple of resources that came in handy at the eleventh hour were the ELT Concourse website and Parrott’s Grammar for English Language Teachers. If I had more time, I would have spent more time with these resources. ELT Concourse literally contains hundreds of pages on various aspects of grammar. In fact, it could probably take you up to a PhD in structural linguistics!

TIP! As someone preparing by myself, I found a useful Facebook page (Delta candidate support group) through which I could get helpful answers to last-minute questions I had about the exam.

Finally, of course, the first question anyone asks about DELTA Module 1 is what reading do they need to do. Here is my recommended absolute minimum reading list (apologies I’ve left out the publisher and publication date, but they should be easy to source):

General terminology:

NILE has a thorough free ELT glossary list on their website here


Parrott, Grammar for English Language Teachers

Yule, Explaining English Grammar

ELT Concourse


A. Underhill, Sound Foundations

Approaches & Methods:

Richards & Rogers, Approaches and Methods

Stern, Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching

Coursebook Analysis:

Tomlinson, Materials Development in Language Teaching

J.C. Richards, Curriculum Development in Language Teaching (CHP 8)

Testing & Assessment:

Baxter, Evaluating Your Students

Hughes, Testing for Language Teachers

N. Underhill, Testing Spoken Language

If you’ve only just finished CELTA, and the DELTA might be another couple of years away for you, these two books are really nice transitions to DELTA. They both contain writings about research in the field, and many of the target DELTA terms are covered in the discussions:

Lightbown & Spada, How Languages Are Learned

Celce-Murcia et al., Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language

And, what’s next for me? Well, I still can’t justify paying for DELTA Module 2, but I have started looking into Module 3, and that also seems a realistic and not-so-expensive module to complete by myself, so I could be looking at completing that by the end of this year. That means I’ll have to start new posts on preparing for Module 3!

Stay tuned!

The Pronunciation of English: A Course Book, Charles Kreidler, Blackwell, 2004


I’ve speed-read through this pron book by Kreidler. I would say that it makes good follow-up reading to Underhill’s Sound Foundations if you are inspired to dig into phonology even deeper. If you are only looking to get a grasp of phonology for the Cambridge Delta Module 1 exam, however, then Underhill’s title by itself would be enough.

Kreidler goes deeper into the science of phonology than Underhill, and provides lots of extra exercises to help readers understand and explore the concepts in the book. There are a lot of new terms presented beyond Underhill — far more than I’m able to recall at this stage. In fact, sometimes while reading Kreidler, I was wondering if everyone is using differing sets of phonological terms to express similar ideas, as the complexity of the discussion can get rather confusing.

Some of the ‘newer’ information involves offering more explanation around differences in dialect in relation to allophones. Early on, in Chapter 1, Kreidler explains it quite well in this excerpt:

Any speaker of English feels that the six words, geese, goose, glue, glee, greet, grew, all begin with the same sound. They don’t; they begin with the same phoneme which we represent as /g/. A phoneme is an abstract unit which is realized in speech as different segments in different positions. These different segments are the allophones of the phoneme.

British English IPA Chart for DELTA

Did I sit the Module 1 exam in December? Nope. I got quite a bit of editing and writing work in during September and October, then I decided to be a digital nomad during November. I ended up only managing to read Underhill’s Sound Foundations book during that time, so I was nowhere near ready.

So, the next target date to sit Module 1 will be in June 2019. That means I now have 200 revision cards to study from, and I’ve started with my phonology set. As part of this, I’ve produced a British English IPA chart and added more advanced notes relevant to the Delta exam. While I learned the IPA characters for my Trinity TESOL Cert, I never got to grips with (and have never taught) the concepts of voiced, unvoiced, fricatives, bilabial, etc. In fact, I had until now thought that it was a ‘monothong’, not a ‘monophthong’. Now is the time for me to learn all this (although I’m reckoning I’ve still only scratched the surface of phonology)!

Brit Eng IPA chart

Sound Foundations, Adrian Underhill, Macmillan


Image source: Pixabay

Hmm, my last post was at the end of August. What does that mean? Yes, I got sidelined by editing work, so I haven’t really looked at any Delta material for the past couple of months. Therefore, I’m not sure if I’m going to be sufficiently ready to enroll in December’s module 1 exam. I’ve found one center that doesn’t require registration until four weeks before the exam, so I’ve got a week or so to decide if it will be this year or next, but at the moment, I’m sensing I’m not going to be ready in time unless I felt I could devote the whole of November solely to intensive Delta study. I’ve still got grammar to look at as well as 200 flash cards of notes, and that feels like a lot…

Meanwhile, I’ve moved onto the area of phonetics and phonology. This is the area in which I have least knowledge in the whole TEFL domain. If someone asked me to distinguish between affricatives and fricatives, I wouldn’t have a clue. I could perhaps scrape through all other areas in the module 1 test, but questions on phonetics are presently going to catch me out.

If there one book that can help me out, it is Adrian Underhill’s Sound Foundations, published by Macmillan. After watching a recording of one of his teacher training sessions on YouTube a few years back, it was about the first time I had watched a TEFL presenter and thought wow, this guy’s a real game changer. I loved the way that he lead the audience through a whole session by just making gestures around his mouth without pronouncing the sounds himself. Genial work, especially as I’ve never really bothered to address pronunciation in any of my classes. Ever.

I’m not going to provide summary notes of the book here, as I feel that it’s a book best worked through in its entirety. The whole text is useful. There are lots of practice activities in the book, and it would be over-plagiarising by trying to type them in here. You only need this book if you want to understand the mechanics of phonology and sounds in English, although there are various class books you can find with pronunciation activities in them.

How Languages Are Learned, 3rd Ed, Patsy M. Lightbown & Nina Spada, Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers, 2006


Image source: Pixabay

This text is not necessarily essential reading for the Delta exam, but I feel it is an essential book for anyone involved in language research, whether studying for a master’s or working in the publishing sector, for example, and wanting to have a reference to existing studies in areas of language acquisition. I would even consider it useful reading as part of a CELTA course.

Although the studies referenced are some twenty years or more old, they are nonetheless a useful starting point to address contentious points around our beliefs about learning languages. For example, toward the end of the book, as just one example, it mentions that research has shown if children learn a language for only one or two hours a week, it doesn’t matter how early they start – in most cases it produces no significant results over the long term. This takes me back to my first teaching post in Japan, where my youngest students were just one or two years old. They just came to class for one hour a week, and some parents supplied me with a list of phonemes they wanted their babies to ‘learn’ each week and questioned how well their baby was ‘picking up’ the language. Clearly, parents everywhere spend a lot of money on sending their young children to language classes.

Ideally the book should be updated to include research around online learning, although I have noted that there is a 4th edition of this title that came out in 2013, so maybe that is covered there.

I’m not going to provide summary notes on the rest of the book because there are a lot of useful/fascinating points in it, and I feel it should be read in its entirety and notes relevant to your area of teaching/research should be highlighted.


Meaning and the English Verb, Leech, Longman, 1987

meaning and the english verb

This is a real classic (although the contents of it do not date at all) must-read text in my view, and it’s sad that the author and great linguist, Geoffrey Leech, passed away a two or three years ago. Although the contents probably won’t help a huge amount with the Delta Module 1 test, it will certainly help with your confidence to explain awkward questions about tenses to your students, so is still worthwhile reading. Certainly, I am not the most confident person in deeper areas of grammar, and having read this text, which is accessible to readers at all levels of grammatical knowledge, I can see that it would have provided some answers to problem points that I had to research in the past.

Summary notes:


The English Present Tense can refer not just to present time, but to past and future time as well.

The unrestrictive use of the Simple Present is found with verbs expressing STATES: Honesty is the best policy. Limits to the duration of the state may be implied by an adverbial expression which underlines the ‘presentness’: Crime is the best policy these days.

The instantaneous use of the Simple Present occurs with verbs expressing EVENTS: Napier passes the ball to Adams.

A state is undifferentiated and lacking in defined limits. An event, on the other hand, has a beginning and an end.

The following verbs are normally used as ‘state verbs’: live, be, belong, last, like, stand, know, have, contain, seem, owe.


Leech prefers to use the term progressive aspect as opposed to the term ‘continuous’ (e.g., ‘past continuous’).

The most important function of the Progressive Aspect is to refer to temporary situations and activities: Where’s Joan? She’s cooking the dinner. The Progressive Aspect indicates duration, limited time, and need not be complete.

In both past and present tense narrative, the Progressive often forms a ‘temporal frame’: When we arrived she made some fresh coffee. vs. When we arrived she was making some fresh coffee.

Two classes of verb typically accompanying the Progressive: Activity verbs (drink, eat, play, rain, read, work, write), Process verbs (change, grow, mature, slow down, widen, deteriorate).

Classes of verbs which are normally incompatible with the progressive: to be, verbs of inert perception (feel, hear, see, smell, taste); verbs of inert cognition (believe, forget, hope, imagine, know, suppose, understand); state verbs of having and being; a small class of verbs which when referring to a temporary state, can occur with or without the Progressive (ache, feel, hurt, itch, tingle).


The Past Tense (I worked) and the Perfect Aspect (I have worked – used for a past happening which is seen in relation to a later event or time). These two can be combined to form the Past Perfect (or ‘Pluperfect’), signifying ‘past in the past’.

‘Once’ with the meaning ‘on a certain occasion’ accompanies the Past Tense, despite its indefinite meaning: I was once an honest man. With the Present Perfect, it is a numerical adverb contrasting with ‘twice’, ‘three times’, etc.: I have visited Scotland only once.

‘Already’, ‘still’, ‘yet’, and ‘before’ occur with the Present Perfect in the sense ‘as early as now’, ‘as late as now’: I’ve seen him already. With the Past, they must have a meaning involving a past point of orientation: I was already very hungry.

[A common classroom point!] In some contexts, particularly following the conjunction ‘after’, the Simple Past and Past Perfect are interchangeable: I ate my lunch after my wife had come back from town. vs. I ate my lunch after my wife came back from town. ‘After’ places the wife’s arrival before the eating, so that Past Perfect is redundant.

Past Progressive forms or was/were going to + Infinitive with future reference are coloured by the notion of ‘intention’ (without guarantee): The beauty contest was taking place on the next day. vs. The beauty contest was going to take place on the next day.

‘Used to’ has no equivalent present construction, but it typically points to a contrast with a present state or habit.


Ways of expressing future time:

  • Will/Shall + Infinitive: The parcel will arrive tomorrow.
  • Be going to + Infinitive: The parcel is going to arrive tomorrow.
  • Present Progressive: The parcel is arriving tomorrow.
  • Simple Present: The parcel arrives tomorrow.
  • Will/Shall + Progressive Infinitive: The parcel will be arriving tomorrow.


The ‘present’ and ‘past’ are misleading titles for ‘can’ and ‘could’. The Present Tense auxiliaries might more properly be called ‘non-past’ as they can refer to future as well as to present time.

The meanings of can are: possibility, ability, permission.


back-shift: The speaker can break the concord between reporting verb and reported verb: ‘I loathe cricket.’ -> John confessed that he loathes (instead of ‘loathed’) cricket.

Socrates said that virtue is knowledge. vs. Socrates said that virtue was knowledge. The statement ‘virtue is knowledge’ is of eternal application, and can therefore have reference to the present day (the time of report) as well as to the time of Socrates.


Modern English has a threefold distinction between factual, theoretical, and hypothetical meaning.

How to Teach for Exams, Sally Burgess and Katie Head, Longman, 2005

how to teach for exams

This title would not be on my recommended Delta reading list. It’s a title that’s useful if you are new to teaching exam classes and want some ‘whole picture’ support, and/or have to work from a textbook that doesn’t give you any further ideas for class activities other than to complete all the tasks in the book from start to finish, since How to Teach for Exams contains several skills development activities in each section that you can try with your students to make teaching exam classes more lively.

The most important reminder is for teachers to be really familiar with the exam they are teaching, such as through working through practice papers to real time, and to stay up-to-date with any changes to the exam.