Preparing for the Delta

There’s a lot I wish I’d known before I started studying for my Delta, and I thought I’d put it all into a post for anyone else preparing for the course. If you’ve got any tips you’d add, feel free to put them into the comments.

Before you decide on a centre to study Module Two at, I’d recommend asking this list of questions from Sue Swift.

1. Take a holiday

Before you start the course, make sure that you’ve relaxed as much as possible. However you do it, the Delta is incredibly intensive, and if you go into it already tired, like I did, you’ll regret it. If you need somebody else to tell you the same, Jye Smallwood also talks about the pressures of the course and the importance of being organised here.

2. Get reading

Start reading a few general books to get you in the zone. This will also give you a starting point when you are doing the course. Reading is something you probably won’t be able to take the time over during the course, so the more you can do before you start, the better. You’ll definitely return to the books again and again, but if you’ve read them once, it’s easier to find what you’re looking for later.

Some books which I found useful were:

  • Tricia Hedge: Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom* – a good Delta-level overview. It covers each area of ELT in separate chapters.
  • Michael Lewis: The English Verb – one of the few books I had time to read cover-to-cover during my Delta, I can honestly say that this book changed the way I thought about English grammar.
  • Adrian Underhill: Sound Foundations – a great guide to all of the sounds of English, designed to raise your awareness of how they are produced.
  • Scott Thornbury: About Language – half of the book has tasks to make you really think about English in depth, the other half has commentaries to tell you if you’re on the right track.
  • Scott Thornbury: An A-Z of ELT – not necessarily one to read from cover to cover, but good to open at random and test yourself. It will quite possibly become your bible during certain parts of the course.

*All book links are to Amazon, and I will get 10% if you buy after clicking these links. Thank you!

ELT books are pretty expensive, and it all adds up, so think carefully about which books you really need to spend money on, and which you can borrow. Ask around the people you know, especially if they’ve already done the course, and you may find you can borrow some of them. You might also be able to get them from your school or from a library. In the UK you could also try inter-library loans at a public library.

If you’re not sure how to approach your reading, Stewart has some ideas.

You should also use the resources available on the Cambridge website to find out more about the course criteria.

3. Brush up on your Word skills

You’re going to spend a lot of time in front of a computer, and every timesaver you can learn will make a difference. Regardless of how confident a Word user you are, it’s worth checking out my friend Liz Broomfield’s very clear posts about making the most of Word. She uses Word for Windows. If you have a Mac and can’t work it out, Google it first, then ask me and I’ll try to help – I have Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac. I’ve picked out some of the things I found myself doing all the time.

Two more things you might find useful, taken from other sites (not Liz’s):

  • How to check the size of a file – Windows / Mac (Cambridge have a 10MB upload limit, especially annoying for Module 3)
  • How to add footers

Lizzie Pinard shares the three Word functions which she has found most useful.

4. Start learning phonemics

In the Module 1 exam you must use phonemics in question 4. If you don’t, you will lose marks. You may also need them for question 5, and you will probably also need to include them at various points in your Module 2 and Module 3 work. Even if you’re not comfortable with them and would never use them in the classroom, you MUST learn them.

Cookie studying the IPA
Photo taken from by @senicko, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

Adrian Underhill has all the best materials for making you aware of how phonemics work. Try these to get you started:

  • Introduction to Teaching Pronunciation on YouTube – one hour, but well worth it
  • Sound Foundations – the book mentioned in part 2 of this post
  • Adrian’s Pron Chart blog – breaks down the phonemic chart into easy sections, often comparing two or three sounds, and goes into depth about how the sounds are produced

I learnt phonemics largely thanks to the English File pronunciation chart. I found the pictures really helped me to remember the sounds. However, my accent is largely standard British English, so most of the sounds aren’t a problem for me – I find the ‘u’ in ‘bull’ and the ‘ou’ in ‘tourist’ the most challenging sounds, and most of the time drop the latter, as it’s dying out in British English.

If you have an iPad or iPhone (possibly Android too, but I’m not sure), you could also try these apps:

  • English File Pronunciation – £3.99 at present, limited free version available. Record yourself and compare your pronunciation to the original.
  • Macmillan Sounds – £3.99 at present, limited free version available. Read and write phonemics throughout the app – great for forcing you to match sounds to symbols.
  • British Council Sounds Right – free, but no activities.

You can type IPA (International Phonemic Alphabet) using various typewriters online, for example here, then paste it into Word. When typing your documents, use a ‘Unicode’ font, for example ‘Lucida Sans Unicode’. If you’re not using a Unicode font, it may well turn into boxes like this [][][][][][] when printed.

5. Choose the four areas you’d like to focus on in Module 2

During Module 2 you have to teach four observed lessons (LSAs). These are divided into systems (grammar, lexis, phonology and discourse analysis) and skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking).

The four lessons you teach are made up of two systems and two skills lessons, one of which should be receptive (reading/listening) and the other productive (writing/speaking). To pass the course, you need to pass a minimum of two of your lessons, one systems and one skills. You cannot repeat an area, i.e. if you have done a lexis LSA, you cannot do another lexis one during the course.

If you have at least a rough idea of the four areas you’d like to investigate, you can start to read some of the most important books in those areas. For example, if you know you want to do a listening lesson, you might want to read Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field.

Note: please check with your centre before setting your heart on your four areas. They may have set rules about which areas they want you to focus on. For example, on Distance Delta, your first LSA is always grammar, and for the second you have to choose between listening or writing. You have free choice for the other two.

6. Choose your specialism for Module 3

In a similar vein, if you know the general area you will look at for Module 3, you can also start reading some of the books that you need. You can find the list of specialisms to choose from on page 68 of the Delta handbook. The handbook is generally a very, very useful document to have. This is the latest version I know about (if there is an updated version, please can you let me know. Thanks to Alex Case for doing just that!)

I chose Teaching Exam Classes, which I then narrowed down to reading and writing for IELTS. The first section of Module 3 is (loosely) about teaching general English is different to teaching students within your specialism, so in my case it was how general English classes differ to exam classes. You don’t focus on the specific exam until later. I found How to Teach for Exams by Sally Burgess and Katie Head particularly useful as a general overview.

7. Read up on needs analysis and diagnostic testing

While this is most useful for Module 3 (the whole of section 2 revolves around it, and it’s the basis for the whole course you put together), it’s also good to know to help you identify the needs of your students and justify your choices when putting together your LSA lesson plans in Module 2. I found Curriculum Development in Language Teaching by Jack C. Richards to be the most useful book in this regard, although they’re obviously covered in many other books. The same book was the one I referred to most when it came to justifying my course proposal too.

I didn’t really find out the principles of good needs analyses or diagnostics tests until very late in the course, meaning that my needs analysis and diagnostic test were thrown together very quickly for Module 3, and I then had to retrofit the theory to it – not easy!

(Sidetracking a little – I bought Syllabus Design by David Nunan to help with Module 3, but found it pretty confusing and not very practical. Could just be me though…)

8. Network!

Last, but definitely not least, start networking! Join Twitter and facebook, and find other teachers around the world on there. The Teaching English British Council and Cambridge Delta facebook groups are particularly useful. I could not have survived my Distance Delta without the support I got from my PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network). This may be different if you study face-to-face, but it’s still useful to have a set of people who can respond to questions you may have at any hour of the day or night.


You can read other people’s advice on how to survive the course in the Delta conversations series.

And with all that hard work, don’t forget to take time off, be with people and to find things to laugh at. 🙂

Good luck!

39 thoughts on “Preparing for the Delta

  1. Hello, Sandy!

    Thanks a lot for this post! It was just on time! Yesterday I had an interview, and got a place on a Delta 1 prep. course. I have learned a lot of new information from your post, and I especially like part 1 about getting a rest before the course starts.

    Last year before taking my Celta (intensive) I was already tired, and Celta just exhausted me so bad that I had to cancel some of my courses. I was just unable to pull myself and go teaching.

    Once again thank you!

    I really enjoy reading your blogs!



  2. Well said, Sandy. I’m really enjoying the DELTA despite the long hours I spend in front of my PC churning out assignments. I would recommend it. I chose to do module 2 face-to-face, which makes a world of difference, You’re never isolated, you’re never alone, you’re never short of someone to laugh with. My advice would be: Put things into perspective, remember you are there to learn so try out something new and develop yourself. Add to that a large dose of positive thnking! You may lose a bit of hair and sleep along the way
    but you’ll still be standing at the end.


  3. I second familiarising yourself with the handbook..certain amongst us may not have done this until rather too late on…..!
    For mod 3 curriculum design I recommend Nation and Macalister Language Curriculum Design. Made a big difference to my understanding of it all, fortunately the library got it in in time to for the difference to translate into my mod 3 essay! Reading up on assessment and N.A. principles also good prep for module 1 paper 2 question 1.
    And, rather cheekily, I’d also recommend looking at this reading list:
    I also second finding out how your centre runs the LSAs (at Leeds Met, Lexis is first, then you get to choose between the two receptive skills for 2, and then free choice for 3/4 – at least so it was this past time round when I did it!) and doing pre-reading. I was lucky in that I had read around lexis in advance of the course starting despite being blissfully unaware of what awaited, and it made a huge difference. (I was able to start on the essay a lot quicker, therefore get more feedback, therefore get my head around the requirements very early on in the game.)


  4. I am halfway through (wayhay!!!!!) and am finding that Magnums and massages help no end. Biggest piece of advice, don’t lose sight of yourself. I did after LSA1 (bad bike accident and a failed lesson) and it was hard to pick myself back up, don’t be afraid to take time for yourself. Also more than second the brush up on/improve your Word skills advice!


  5. Thanks Lisa! I failed two of my lessons, but you just have to remember that you only have to pass two of them – nobody will care once you’ve got the piece of paper. Good luck with the rest of it 🙂


  6. Thank you Sandy, for sharing such great advice, and seems like there’s a a lot more of this in your blog. If all goes well, I’m starting an intense DELTA course and I’m freaking out! Your blog does help, though. I’ll read on!


  7. Reblogged this on My World of ELT and commented:
    Yesterday I gained access to the Delta website and consequently downloaded and printed the materials.

    At first I was overwhelmed especially in terms of navigating the site and the amount of paper there were. I know it’s going to be a hard slog for the first few weeks just getting familiar and achieving what’s required.

    Luckily, I did some initial prep work and this blog post by Sandy Millin was extremely helpful.

    I feel quite confident about this. I think it’s just a matter of managing my time (along with work and play), and getting on top of the course work.

    Thank you Sandy Millin! And I sure hope that I get that pass with distinction!


  8. Hi Sandy, Im still considering starting the DELTA M1 in Jan as an online course to do the exam in June. Thanks so much for this page and all the advice, its really starting to make me realize it wont be a picnic!!


  9. Hi Sandy!

    Thanks for all the invaluable info. I am trying to make my mind up whether to do the full time DELTA in Athens (CELT) or in London (IH). How can I find out the pass rates of these centres? Do you have any advice on which might be better?


    1. Hi Agi. I don’t know anything about pass rates I’m afraid. I know people who’ve done the Delta in both places, and enjoyed it. I think it comes down to your own personal preferences – whether you’d like to be in Athens or in London for a month – along with the cost of living in both places. Hope that helps!


    1. Thanks for that link Alex, and for letting me know the one above is broken. Yours doesn’t appear to work though. What’s the name of the document I’m looking for so I can find the new link?


  10. Dear Sandy,

    Thanks for sharing the insight into doing Delta. I can imagine how time-consuming it’s been for you but, on the other hand, it’s such a help for Delta candidates. I’ll try to start my own blog when I pass Module One exam 🙂

    I have a question – how did you select the terms for Task 1 and 2? Did you take them from the online materials provided by the trainer? Or from the glossary also provided by the trainer? Or you took them from the past exam papers?
    And – how many terms did you include into your index cards? 🙂

    Thanks a lot again – and good luck!



    1. Dear Vilte,
      Thank you for the message. I selected the terms from materials I was given during the course, and added things from my own reading and past papers. I guess I probably had about 200 terms on my index cards by the time I’d finished, but I’m not really sure.
      Good luck with your Delta!


    1. Hi Ahmad,
      I’m glad you’ve found the post useful. Take a look at my Useful links for Delta post to see some of the books I used, and to find links to other people’s recommendations. It depends entirely on which LSAs you decide to do, and your Delta tutor is probably the best source of advice. Sorry not to be able to help more!


  11. Thank you Sandy,
    your article is amazing!
    I am planning to take the exam for M1 without a course.
    I read the list for the recommended books, but I wanted to ask you
    if you could tell me which ones are necessary for M1.
    Best wishes,


    1. Hi Diana,
      I guess it depends on where you feel your strengths are. I’d say About Language is probably the most useful book to get, as working through the language tasks there really helps you. Apart from that, it’s up to you really – I know that’s not much help! It’s hard for me to separate them out, as I was working towards all three modules at the same time, and can’t really remember which books I used for which module.
      Good luck with your exam!


  12. Thank you Sandy, actually your tips are extremely useful
    and I am truly grateful for your blog!
    All the best,


  13. Hi Sandy,

    I enjoyed reading your blog, informative and inspiring : )

    Can I ask one question about Delta Module Three: If my specialism is exam classes, can I still choose the context of one-to-one classes?

    Thank you!


    1. Hi Koma,
      Thanks for the comment. I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that – you’ll need to check with a Delta tutor or Cambridge ESOL. I hope you manage to find out. Good luck!


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