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!