How I Passed the DELF B2 Exam (without having lessons) PART 1


I sat the DELF B2 French exam in December 2023 at L’Alliance Française in Manchester, UK. I received my results two months later - I had passed with a score of 90.5 out of 100 (the pass mark is 50). I managed to do this without having any lessons since leaving school over 25 years earlier!

How did I manage this? What learning strategies did I employ and what resources did I use? I’m going to explain my personal journey to French language exam success in a series of articles available exclusively on this website.

In this first article I’ll give you a general overview of my apprentissage and how I arrived at a strong B2 level. Then in the second text (which can be found on my Language Learning homepage) I’ll go into more details about certain specific aspects of my journey, including the learning strategies I employed. I will also let you know what to expect when taking the official B2 level exam. What's more, I’ll supply a list of the resources I used. So, please do read all the articles to get the whole picture.

Whilst different learners can benefit from different approaches, I am sure that my experience will help both those starting out on their own language learning journey and anyone who is considering taking the official DELF B2 exam.

What are the DELF/DALF exams?

The DELF and DALF exams allow successful candidates to receive an official certification proving their ability in the French language. DELF stands for ‘diplôme d’études en langue française’ and DALF is the abbreviation for ‘diplôme approfondi de langue française’.

These exams are supported by Le ministère de l'éducation nationale in France and therefore carry real meaning. They are widely recognised around the world and can, once obtained, be used in a number of different settings - for instance, when seeking employment, applying for citizenship or when looking to study in a Francophone country. Another great thing about them is that once they have been obtained they are valid for life, so once you've passed there's no dreaded retakes or top-ups required.

The exams test the candidate’s level across all four major language skills - reading, writing, listening and speaking. Importantly, they are benchmarked against the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). It is possible to take the DELF exam at either A1, A2, B1 or B2 levels, which represent the levels from Beginner to Intermediate Advanced. The DALF exams are pitched at the levels C1 and C2, and are therefore designed for advanced learners and users of the French language. A prospective candidate must decide which level they feel represents their ability and enter the relevant exam at one of the official exam centres. Success in the exam then validates that level.

You can find all of the official information concerning the DELF exams here.

What level is B2?

B2 is the fourth level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, and represents the upper tier of the category Independent User. 

The definition of this level on the official website for the Framework is as follows:

Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

What this means, in effect, is that B2 represents the beginning of real fluency in a language, albeit one that can still be situationally specific. Moreover, as the DELF and DALF exams test all four competencies the successful candidate can show this fluency in both oral and written contexts, and in both formal and informal settings.

B2 is often held up as the most significant milestone by the online language-learning community and certainly represents a real achievement for any learner.

My route to success: from basic French to B2

The process of language acquisition is not quick. My own progress from relative beginner to B2 level took a long time. Despite studying French at school over 23 years earlier, I was basically a beginner when I started working on my French again in January 2020. I eventually passed the DELF B2 exam in December 2023. This means that I spent nearly 4 full years working on the language before sitting the exam.

Clearly my language learning journey was a slow one. It was, though, thorough and detailed, and ultimately resulted in a score of 90.5 out of 100 in the exam. So how did I approach my learning? What processes did I put in place to ensure success?

I think that there were three broad points that allowed me to travel so far in this process of language acquisition, and then ultimately to do so well in the DELF B2 exam. These are as follows:

1. Motivation

Given the amount of time it takes to learn a language to the B2 level on the European framework, the question of motivation is very important.

It is vital that you identify your real motivations for wanting to acquire a level of fluency with a language as this will help you to keep learning even when it seems difficult (which it inevitably will), when boredom or repetition sets in, and especially when you reach the level often referred to in the online language-learning community as ‘the intermediate plateau’.

For me, motivation was never a problem. I understood clearly why I wanted to learn French at the outset.  The following were some of the factors that got me started and helped to keep me going:

  • A sense that I had let an opportunity pass by at school. I studied French at school to A Level standard. However, I only managed to get a C in the exam. This score reflected more my lack of effort than my general ability. Over the years I had increasingly come to regret this missed opportunity, my lack of work, and wanted to correct this.
  • A passion for French culture. Over the last 15 years I have engaged closely with various aspects of French literary and artistic culture - from writing a book and producing a podcast on Marcel Proust’s works to spending years engaging with the history of piano playing in Paris. This ongoing cultural engagement made me want to learn the French language itself. In essence, I saw the language learning as a vital part of this engagement itself, and knew that it would allow for still more meaningful interactions.


As I progressed in my journey with French I realised that the act of learning had become its own motivation. In short, it was fun to learn a new language, to engage with others in that language and to meet the objectives that I had set for myself. Speaking of which…

2. Objectives

When starting out on any language learning journey it is very easy (and quite understandable) to say that our objective is ‘to be fluent’ in our chosen target language. However, this isn’t always the most helpful goal to have in mind, not least because, as is well documented, fluency can mean different things at different times and is profoundly situational. It can also be an intimidating target for a beginner or intermediate learner as ‘fluency’ can seem so far away and the path to it unclear.

It is, I feel, much better to set short to medium term objectives that allow you to work towards specific ends. This objective-setting allows you to plant signposts along your route that can give you direction as you progress.

This is certainly the way that I approached my own journey from near beginner to B2 standard. I set myself various different objectives across my four years of study. Inevitably, these shifted with my developing level and were always linked to my interests. They included:

  • Reestablishing some basics.

I knew I needed to start simple. I realised that my first real objective should be the reestablishment of some basic language building blocks. It was a long time since those French lessons at school! So, on the 5th January 2020 I grabbed a new notebook and on the first page wrote out the verb Être or ‘to be’ in French: Je suis, tu es, etc. I quickly felt that I was making good progress, although in the future I generally steered clear of the rote learning of conjugation tables.

  • Feeling confident interacting with native French speakers.

I was almost immediately drawn to the idea of interacting  with others so I downloaded the language exchange app Tandem. I used this to have as many real text and video chats with native French speakers as possible. These conversations allowed me to develop not only my vocabulary but also my confidence in the language.

  • Consuming French language content everyday.

In 2021 I set myself the objective of consuming both an increased amount and a more diverse range of content in French, and to make that consumption a normal part of my everyday life. I am persuaded by Prof. Stephen Krashen’s idea of ‘compelling comprehensible input’ so I knew how important this would be in my development. The ‘input’ I consumed was often aimed at intermediate learners. However, as the year went on I tried to push myself out of my comfort zone by consuming more and more content aimed at native speakers.

  • Playing Dungeons and Dragons entirely in French.

I was looking for a way to focus my learning in 2022. I hit upon the idea of playing a game of DnD entirely in French. I understood that this was going to be a real challenge. After all, tabletop roleplaying games involve groups of friends talking and joking quickly, as well as a heap of improvisation and storytelling. They also require very specific vocabulary. This was great for me as it guided me in my choice of content - i.e., it gave me a way to choose my 'compelling comprehensible input'. I started reading YA fantasy novels and translations of The Lord of The Rings as preparation. I also purchased one of the DnD core books - Manuel des Joueurs -  in French and watched lots of episodes of the TTRPG stream Rôle ‘n Play. I finally managed to fulfil my objective by joining an ongoing French language D&D campaign online in August 2022.

  • Passing the official B2 exam.

I decided at the end of 2022 that I wanted to sit the official DELF B2 exam. I also decided that I wanted to do that during the exam session at the end of 2023. This was a specific and realisable goal. I was forced to change my learning strategies in order to work towards the exam, which has very specific requirements (which I will discuss in another article in this series). My learning became a lot more active, and I used a textbook for the first time in my journey. I also started to focus on my written French for the first time since leaving school. You can read more about my use of active learning and exam preparation elsewhere in this series of articles.

3. Consistency

Perhaps above all, the thing that enabled me to succeed in my journey from near beginner to the point of passing the DELF B2 exam with a score of 90.5 out of 100 was my consistency of effort. I made sure I had meaningful contact with the language every single day throughout my long apprentissage.

Of course, four years is a long time to be engaged in any learning project. It would have been easy to have allowed my effort levels to drop, or to simply lose interest and drift away from French. However, my strong reasons for learning in the first place and the positive feedback I received from the completion of my objectives helped spur me onwards. Then, when I was working specifically towards the exam in the final year of my study I had to show up consistently to get through my textbook.


No language learning journey has a final destination. There’s no specific end point, no moment when one has arrived at ‘knowing the language’. However, it is certainly possible to reach the objectives that you have set for yourself as a learner, and which allow you to mark your progress along the way.

That, for me, was why the idea of passing the official DELF B2 exam became so important.

When I started looking at French at the beginning of 2020 I had no intention of sitting a formal exam. However, by the end of 2022 I recognised that reaching the important and recognised B2 standard would give me a specific and realisable objective, a reason to stay consistent with my study, and a specific timescale for my work. Essentially, the exam became a way for me to orientate myself in my ongoing, self-directed learning journey.

I have found the process of learning another language to be a deeply fulfilling and rewarding experience. It has allowed me to create new bonds with people, to engage with another culture more deeply and, most interestingly of all, reshape my ways of thinking. I could almost feel the new connections being made in my brain as I studied! I would highly recommend language learning to anyone.

I am particularly proud to have found my own way along the route from near beginner to B2 . Self-directed study is rewarding, and so much easier now in the age of the internet than it would have been when I was still a student at school or university. The resources are there, if you know where to find them and how to use them to your advantage.

The next steps on your self-directed journey...

If you're starting out on your own self-directed language learning journey, or are already on the path to B2 level in French, then you should continue to read the articles in this series. You'll discover the information and resources you'll need to help you along the way, and some useful signposts towards exam success.

How I Passed the DELF B2 Exam (without having lessons) PART 2 - Learning Strategies

Read about the learning strategies I employed to get me from near beginner to B2 level in French.

Language Learning Resources (for self-directed learners of French)

Discover the various learning resources I used on my self-directed language learning journey with French.

What to Expect When Sitting the Official DELF B2 Exam in French

Thinking of sitting the DELF B2 exam yourself? This is what you should expect before and during the exam...