My first Spanish exam – results!
What is the SIELE?
SIELE (Servicio Internacional de Evaluación de la Lengua Española) is an exam that you take on a computer (in my case, in the Cervantes Institute in London), that grades you up to C1.
It thoroughly tests the four skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening comprehension), and provides you a score between 1-1,000. This is why I chose it – instead of a binary pass/fail, I get more granular scores, so I can tell what I need to work on.
Preparing for SIELE
I did zero preparation for this test. I wanted to get the most natural view of my Spanish, without “gaming” the system.
Although I was confident in my ability, I was also prepared to be put in my place! What if I completely messed up? My credibility was on the line…
After a long wait in the Cervantes library (£40 a year to join, seems like a good idea if you are in London!), I went up to a computer room to do battle with Spanish for the next 4 hours.
The questions start at A1 level, and gradually make their way up to C1, which is noticeably more difficult.
I was pleasantly surprised – there was nothing at any point that I didn’t understand. I could follow all of the reading and listening, and pick out every word that I read and heard.
The speaking was weird. I had to speak into a microphone to make a recording, which was presumably sent to someone to be graded. It was odd not being able to interact with a person, and is probably one of the biggest issues I had with the exam.
All of the modules seemed to be going well, until I got to the more advanced listening questions…
As I mentioned, I could understand everything – every single word. I didn’t feel there was a problem with comprehension.
The problem was with the actual exercise itself. I had to mark a series of phrases as “true” or “false”, and was able to listen to the audio two times. I didn’t find the comprehension difficult – rather, it was actually being able to remember what had been said (this was a five minute audio), and then choose “true” or “false” between very similar variants.
I started to panic – how was I supposed to read and listen to two different things at the same time? How could I remember everything that had been said?
In the end, I had to guess this section – I wasn’t sure I could even do this in English!
After 4 hours, I exited the test and went for a well deserved cerveza.
So, how did I do?
I reached C1 in all levels, except for listening, where I reached B2. No doubt this was due to that one question that I completely messed up.
Overall, I’m pretty pleased – perhaps if I’d done some preparation and practice I would have done better, but that’s not why I was doing this. I really wanted to know where I should focus, and have a good idea of my strengths and weaknesses.
Could I have reached C2, if the test graded to that level?
That’s hard to say, but I feel that I’m not too far off. I know there’s a big gap between C1 and C2, and I think I’m somewhere in that gap at the moment.
So, what’s next?
I was quite surprised by what the exam showed. I always thought that my speaking and (especially) writing would be my weaker points – it’s generally easier to comprehend than to produce, after all.
However, it seems that listening should be my focus. Ironic really – perhaps I’m just a bad listener!
The format of the listening test definitely put me off, but with some specific practice at this type of activity I have no doubt I could do better.
There’s one thing I’m going to do more: I’m going to substitute more deliberate, long form listening in my general studies. There is a difference between being able to listen and understand, and then listen and really go deeper in your comprehension. In my general chats in Spanish (which makes up most of my “studies” recently) I only need to listen to and remember short sections and segments. I haven’t needed to follow along for longer periods of time and retain information – this is what I now need to work on.