My first Spanish exam – results!

Rob Ashby

Rob Ashby

The Spanish Obsessive

As part of my New Years Resolution (remember those?), my goal this year is to reach C2 in Spanish. This is no easy task, but I’ve created a plan, and I’m sticking with it. The first step: find out what level I am now. In this post, you’ll find out how I did in an exam called the SIELE.

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 Cervantes Library, London

The test

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.

9 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing Rob, that’s really interesting. You should take the same test in English and see how you do :)…I recently did a shorter online test in English and it was definitely tricky at points! As a suggestion for long-form listening, do you know Radio Ambulante? It’s an NPR podcast in Spanish with stories from around Latin America. Fascinating, in-depth stories. Worth a listen.

    1. Hey Erik, thanks for the suggestion. I’ve often been suggested Radio Ambulante, so will definitely give them a try.

      I remember I used to teach a similar exam in English, and found it very difficult. Someone recently mentioned to me that it’s not so much a language test as an IQ test, in which case I probably have low IQ! To be fair, I don’t know how else you could test listening comprehension – the ability to show that you’ve actually heard and comprehended something, beyond just understanding the words and what they mean.

  2. Thanks for sharing, informative post, I admire someone willing to attempt exams and show proof. I believe an exam is a great goal and trying to get to C2 would be an amazing success but either way it’s only going to benefit you. (There are some “polyglots” online who claim to be C2 but we all know it’s BS)

  3. I’m curious to know just how much the vosotros forms showed up in the SIELE. I’ve heard it’s focus is more on Latin American Spanish. Having only experience in Latin America, I’m not sure I could conjugate a single verb in that form.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story! I thought it was quite interesting, I know I would definitely struggle but it would be cool to just give a shot.

  5. Hi everyone,

    Well I took the test a month ago and I was surprised to know that I’m not good at it. I’m native Spanish speaker from Mexico. I took the SIELE because I wanted to get a certification and evaluate my self my Spanish. Wrong thing to do, specially if you spend $175 for the whole test. I didn’t know that the evaluation is for the European (MCER). I took the test online, I didn’t study at all, knowing that I’m a native speaker, but not good enough for SIELE. I’m a substitute Spanish teacher, I get it know that the students are learning more the grammar than the actual language. The test is only if you planning to attend to College in Spain or South America. In order to work as a Spanish Teacher you have to have the LOTE certification in the state of Texas. In our school the students in High School are not having native speakers, they have Teachers who learn the language in College. If you plan to learn Spanish stick with the Country of your preference and you will learn a lot and the culture too. I love Spain, I go there every two years, do I speak like them? No, do they understand me when I talk my native language, of course!! Don’t do the SIELE test, but I think for them it looks good in LinkedIn that you did it.

    Gracias, por leer mi comentario.

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