Dealing with nerves in your English speaking exam

On April 6th 2018 I took the DELE C1 Spanish exam for the second time.  In 2010 I failed it by a couple of marks. This time  I felt more prepared, after hours of rigorous study and intensive exposure to the language from 5 years living and working in Spain. I am usually anxious prior to exams, so I was worried that I would suffer from nerves again. In this blog I will share my experiences.

The Exam

The DELE C1 examination is made up of four tests.

  •  1: Reading comprehension and use of language (90 minutes, 5 tasks).
  •  2: Listening comprehension and use of language (50 minutes, 5 tasks).
  •  3: Integrated skills. Listening comprehension and written expression and interaction (80 minutes, 2 tasks).
  •  4: Integrated skills. Reading comprehension and oral expression and interaction (20 minutes) (and 20 minutes to prepare).


To better prepare myself  I booked 10 lessons with my online Spanish teacher Cruz. I already felt confident I could pass the exam but I still needed some extra support to improve my writing skills. Overall, my main objective was to fine tune, correct small grammatical errors and be more familiar with the format of the exam.

 Are nerves before an exam normal?

Over the years, I’ve helped prepare hundreds of students for language exams both in Spain and the Uk. Very few students  are serenely calm before an exam –  most students are at least a little nervous. This is how I usually am! The strange thing about nerves is that they seem to hit people at different times. In my case, I was totally fine on the day of the exam. It was only when I opened my mouth to say something that I got stage fright!

Did my nerves help or hinder my performance?

I’m pleased to say I passed the C1 exam!  As you can see below I scored lowest on the speaking and writing parts of the exam.  I think nerves played a big part in my exam especially during speaking and writing tasks.

As you can see from the above images I improved in every area except the speaking. Although, as I said previously I think on another day if I was more confident I could have achieved a higher mark.


The speaking test consists of three parts with 20 minutes allocated for preparation for Part 1.

  • 1: A 5-minute monologue presentation on a specific topic (My topic was on our relationship with money) (5 minutes).
  •  2: A formal conversation on the topic of Part 1 (5 minutes).
  •  3: An informal conversation in which the examiner and candidate must negotiate (5 minutes).

I struggled  most during the 5-minute monologue presentation. This was because I could only hear my own voice and both examiners had their attention fixed on me! The more I heard my voice tremble the more nervous I became. I reached for my bottle of water but realised I had forgotten it! Strangely, it was during this part in 2010 that I performed best in and I remember being nervous before the speaking test but not during it.


The written test consists of two parts.

  • 1:  A written summary and argument centred on a short clip of an audio conference or speech
  • 2:  An independent task from two options. I chose to write a formal complaint letter

Everything was going to plan. I was pleased with my effort during the first part of the written test. However, during part 2 I got a shock when 20 minutes before the end of the exam I noticed I had completed my answer on the wrong sheet of paper. I was even more surprised when the examiner told me I had to copy everything to the correct page and she could give me extra paper. As a result, I wasted 15 minutes that I could have used to improve my answer.

What could I have done to have achieved a higher mark?

If I could repeat the exam again, I would dedicate more preparation to the 5-minute presentation. In my opinion, this is the hardest part of the exam. If I am honest, I didn’t focus enough of my attention on the preparation for this part of the exam. This was possibly because I was over confident (see the images above). In 2010 I received a great mark in the speaking test. I knew I would be nervous so I compensated by rigorous preparation, exactly as I did in my driving test.

Furthermore, In my first attempt at DELE C1 I took an effective all-natural stress, anxiety reliever known as ‘rescue remedy’ before the exam and during the exam I had a bottle of water with me. This helped keep me hydrated and calm during the different tests.

How SpeechRevision can help with exam nerves

As I mentioned before I think the best way to counter nerves is to be really well preparedc. If you are worried that nerves during the speaking exam may impact on your ability to complete the exam to the best of your ability, you may wish to recieve detailed and attentive feedback from us at SpeechRevision. Our objective is to help you compensate for your nerves by being really well planned for your exam.



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