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Debrief on the DALF C1


As promised IRL to a few people, I wanted to write a debrief on the DALF C1 which I took last month.  My advice can be summed up in one phrase: Just showing up is 80% of the battle. One you have hit a certain level in French, the only thing you need for the DALF is to learn the strategies on how to take the test and PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.  I was in class two hours a week and probably worked two to four hours a week on homework on top of it.

The test is in four parts:

1. Oral comprehension: If you don’t have this on lock, this is the hardest part of the test. You either have it or you don’t, and the only way to get better at it is to listen to the radio and tv or podcasts.  Some of the review books (I will list the ones I used below) also give CDs with audio portions done in the style of the test. I’m lucky that I have lived in French-speaking countries for the better part of the last ten years so this was the portion of the test I studied for the least and was the most confident about after the test.

2. Written comprehension: Again, if you are used to reading in French, this part of the exam should not be major drama. Here, more than any part of the test, it is important to know “how” to take the test.  My mistake in the practice test was writing too much- for example, my high school French teacher made us respond always in complete sentences.  On this test is isn’t absolutely necessary as long as you get the information correct.  In other words, spend time learning from the books or from you teacher what the format of a correct answer on this section looks like.

3. Essai and Synthèse: These were the hardest for me and my prediction is that this is the section I will get the lowest note on.  This used to be what I was strongest at in university but since I have been working, I really have only used my speaking skills because at work most of the stuff I wrote in French was always the same thing (business letters, accounting stuff…). I always say that this part of the test is the most “francofrançais” because their format is very picky and particularly French (I am not sure that kids in Romandie have to do synthèses in school). You need to be comfortable writing in French, and you need to know how to follow the format and identify what they are asking for. For example, in the exam, they could ask you to write an article, a letter, an essay…but it won’t be spelled out and the clue will be in how they assign the subject. For example, my essay in this exam was meant to be an article. These subtle differences are outlined in the reference books and by the teacher if you take a prep class. For the synthèse, it is one of those things where you don’t know how to do it unless you have written twenty.

4. Oral expression: You have a topic for which you have one hour of prep, then 10 minutes of talking followed by ten or fifteen minutes of a discussion with the jury. I had two ladies and one mainly took notes while the other did the talking. What people may not realize before the exam is that the jury is not there to play bad cop- their goal is to put you at ease and see how much you can talk. During this part of the exam, you have the right to a French-French dictionary (a Larousse for example) which they provided for us in the exam. Bring a watch and practice timing yourself to hit that 10 minute mark, and whatever happens, don’t stop talking. Talk about your cat, talk about your life, but just keep talking even if you run out of things to say on the topic.  The questions after the talk are meant to challenge you and see how you speak on the fly.  Remember than in our second and third languages it is always easier to talk about ourselves and our personal lives, so if you run out of things to say, talk about yourself. For example, my topic was e-books. If I ran out of stuff to say about e-books, I would have just started talking about what I like to read.

Prep classes and books: I took the prep class from Zurich’s Alliance Française.  I recommend taking the prep class because the hardest part of the exam really is knowing how to take the test- unless you spent some time in the France-French school system, walking in to the test freestyle is kind of a crapshoot. I spent a year in a French university (taking regular classes not “foreigner classes”) and I still had a hard time with the formatting stuff.  My teacher was awesome and gave us all of the reference materials we needed in class. I was the exception because I am one of those people who needs to have books around, so I got three books and used them all- some of the exercises our teacher gave us in class came from these books.  I had Réussir le DALF C1 – C2  from Didier without the CDs (but some of the CD stuff we did in class). I mainly used that book as a reference to understand what was going on.  A book I reached for more frequently was Cadre commun activités pour le CECR C1-C2 from CLE. This book has a lot of exercises that prep you for the level you need to take the test- a lot of vocabulary and culture générale. Because of the background prep it offers, if you are thinking of taking the test, I would recommend flipping through this book to see if it seems too hard or just right for you before committing to the test or the class.  If it is too hard, you might want to spend more time studying for the test. Finally, for the written parts of the exam because I had no effing clue how to proceed, I loved Réussir le nouveau DALF C1-C2 La production écrite from Tegos (warning: website best viewed with Netscape Navigator).  This book gives you 24 dossiers similar to the written parts of the exam with step-by-step examples of how to write them. This was important to me because I know it is my weakest area, but like all the books, unless you are into books I don’t think you need them if you are taking the prep class. Finally, the website Passe ton DALF was full of useful information.

The final piece of advice I have is that the content of the test is hard, but the bar is set very low. You only need 50 points out of 100 with 5 points minimum in each of the four sections. If you have a section or two you are strong at, then all you have to do really is write your name on the other ones, so you don’t have to stress for the exam.


Author: Nicole Cunningham

American Expat and convert to Islam living and working between Lausanne and Zurich, Switzerland.

18 thoughts on “Debrief on the DALF C1

  1. Hello! I’m living in France and looking for passing DALF C1. I’d really love to find all the books you’ve been using but I’m having a hard time to find “Réussir le nouveau DALF C1-C2 La production écrite from Tegos”. I’ve been looking in some popular book seller but no luck. Could you tell me where you find it or if you have the online version of it ?

    • Hi! Thanks for coming to my blog. I wonder if Tegos isn’t primarily successful in Switzerland, which may be why it is hard to find. I don’t have an online version, but I do have a pdf of “reussir le dalf c1 c2” if you are interested. I can also check if Romanica in Zurich still has it- they are having a closing sale with books 20% off, if you would like.

      • Thanks for your reply. I finally used Production écrite niveaux c1/c2 from didier, but it’d be really great if you can send me the pdf of “reussir le dalf c1 c2”. I’m now registering for the test and which domain would you suggest to choose between “lettres et sciences humaines” or “sciences” ? I’m actually weak in vocabulary, so I prefered to choose topics more down to earth 😀

  2. I just came across your blog as I was searching for info on the exam – thanks for all the useful tips! Would you be willing to email that pdf to me at jmills0515 at hotmail? I’d really appreciate it.

  3. Thanks for the debrief! I hope to take my DALF C1 in the near future and have just started looking at doing some prep – useful info, will have a look intot hose resources!

  4. Hi Nicole,

    Good job!
    I am myself a Delf A1, A2 B1, B2 and Dalf C1 & C2 examiner.

    I just would like to correct one statement you made that might be misleading.
    You wrote.

    “You only need 50 points out of 100 with 5 points minimum in each of the four sections. If you have a section or two you are strong at, then all you have to do really is write your name on the other ones, so you don’t have to stress for the exam”

    Yes, it only needs 50 points out of 100 to pass. But it also needs a minimum of 5 points in each part of exam. So if a candidate just writes his/her name in one of the four part, that person won’t pass. because the grade will be below 5 if doing such thing.

    Bonne chance a tous et toutes!!

  5. Hi Nicole,

    Great job!

    I am a DALF C1 and C2 examiner

    Just one thing:: If a candidate only writes his/her name on one part part of exam, that person won’t pass> It needs to have a minimum of 5 points out of 25 in each 4 parts of the exam for a minimum total of 50 in order to pass.

    Link for “Réussir le nouveau DALF C1-C2 La production écrite from Tegos”.

    Bravo à toutes et tous!!

    • Hi Philippe!
      I’m probably guilty of using hyperbole to make a point: to be clear, what I meant was, that if someone was strong in 3 out of the 4 parts but was worried about the synthese, or worried about speaking- to just try. Getting 5 points isn’t that hard if you have the level to do everything else well, and it would be sad for a person to worry about that rather than just trying!

      Thanks for coming by!

      • Hello, Nicole!
        I am taking the DALF C1 test in November and, although I have a decent level of understanding both the oral and the written text, I wonder whether a good response, still with minor (which at this level might seem major) grammatical mistakes will make the examiner give you zero points (out of one, let’s say) or, still, he would be indulgent and mark you nevertheless, even if it would be 0.8 or 0.6 for the right answer, written erroneously.
        Thanks a lot!

      • Really late to the game (sorry, was ill for several months) but in my experience the judges were looking for flow. Yes, for the C1 and the C2 they are looking for perfection, but if there are some small errors that don’t affect comprehension, the downvoting will not be severe. Hsve you gotten your results yet? All the best.

    • Hi Phillipe,
      I am taking DALF C1 exam in june 2013.While i was registering for the exam they asked me to choose a domain and I accidentally clicked on sciences (in which i am very weak) after applying I realized that I did a mistake.My question is in the exam question paper will they give two subjects( lettres et sciences humaines and sciences ) in which i need to choose one OR will they give me only one(sciences) as i have selected Sciences in my registration form.I would really appreciate if you could reply me.Thank you in advance.


  6. I took the DALF C1 exam in 2011. It is pretty intense in terms of the difficulty of the material but as Nicole says, you don’t need to worry too much about getting a high score in every part provided you don’t fall below 5/25 in any given section. Personally I found the two compréhension tests tough, but as I have been speaking French for many years I was confident I would pick up enough points in the production i.e. written and spoken sections to make the pass grade. But even if you are a relatively seasoned French speaker I would still advise you to download past papers and practice your listening comprehension as much as you can. Nicole is right – there is a method to writing a synthèse that you can’t really ‘wing’.

    It will take the pressure off you prior to the oral exam if you’re reasonably confident you’ve scored well in the previous tests, and your spoken performance will be much better if you can relax and treat it (kind of) like a dinner conversation with friends. This is your platform to impress the examiners with your linguistic brilliance so enjoy it!

    Also it should be pointed out that in the written test you absolutely must respect the word limit – you will be deducted marks for exceeding it! This will be made clear during the exam but get used to writing to a strict quota.

    Best of luck to all you DALF candidates! Great blog, Nicole!


  7. Hi Nicole,

    Do you know anything about the Didier Production Ecrite niveaux C1/C2? If so, do you recommend Tegos anyway? Being in the US, Didier is a bit easier to get a hold of, but if Tegos is that much better I’d be willing to pay for it.

    Merci d’avance!

  8. Reblogged this on daftdelfdalf and commented:
    Insightful post on the experience of preparing for and taking the DALF C1

  9. Hi Nicole,
    Thanks for posting all this information.
    I have just decided to take the C2 exam and like you I like to have books to supplement my classes.
    I live in Seattle and am wondering if you know of any online stores that ship french reference materials to the USA cheaply?
    Amazon had most of the ones you referenced but they did not have the Tegos book.
    Thanks heaps,

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