How I Failed Delta Module 3…Then Passed


Delta. Delta, Delta, Delta. The word strikes fear into the heart of many an experienced teacher.

If you’re reading this, you probably know that Delta (formerly DELTA) is like CELTA’s big, scary cousin. It’s an intense, modular diploma in English teaching that’s considered the gold standard of ELT qualifications. It’s also time consuming, expensive, and difficult, but a prerequisite for many of the top jobs in the industry, especially teacher training and university teaching.

Delta has 3 modules, which all function as standalone certificates. I’m 2/3rds of the way through. The first is an exam, the second is supervised teaching practice and written assignments, and the third is an extended course plan, almost like a dissertation or thesis. I’ve completed Module 1, and Module 3, with my specialism in English for Academic Purposes. It’s worth noting that while on paper it’s 2 out of 3 down, Module 2 is considered the backbone of the course, and is also the most time consuming and expensive.
Photo Credit © Alper Çuğun | Flickr
This process took me a little over a year. While I still have Module 2 to go, I’ve been taking time off to complete my Master’s degree (which I’m currently just finishing). I’m something of a sucker for education and self-punishment. When it does finally come time to do  Module 2, you can bet I’ll catalogue it here. I’ll also pen down my experience with Module 1, which was probably the hardest exam I’ve taken. But this piece is going to discuss how I managed to chalk up a fail on Delta Module 3 – the extended assignment.

If however, you’re feeling TL;DR and just looking for some information, I’ve included my favourite resources at the bottom of the post, which helped me eventually get that important certificate.

Here are the reasons then, that I failed Module 3 at my first attempt:

1. I got cocky

That was my first crucial error. I’d recently taken the Module 1 exam and passed it straight away, even though I was under the recommended experience level for the course. I have to admit, at that point I was feeling a bit invincible. I felt like I had a few years’ experience teaching, a Delta M1 qualification, and I was going to ace the rest of the course.

Add in the fact that M3 is a lot less pressure, in some ways, and you can see why I had high hopes. The fact that it’s a roughly 4,500 word assignment, to be completed over several months, makes it feel a lot less stressful than M1, where you’re struggling to remember and digest all the information, readings and vocabulary that they throw at you. This led to me not studying as much as I should’ve, and my course plan suffered.
lazy someday
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I was on an online course, a very noteworthy one that’s extremely popular. I’m not going to name it for reasons I’ll go into in section 2. The information that they provided me with was excellent, and it gave step-by-step instructions on how to achieve the perfect course plan, how to underpin it with good theory, and how to make it practical and easy on the eye, too. A recipe for success. But…I didn’t read it thoroughly.

I skimmed a lot of the guidebooks, and so I missed some very key information. One of the key principles in designing a course for M3 is that they want to see you use initiative, use multiple sources, and display a highly professional breadth and depth to your course plan. They don’t want you to say ‘I’m using this course book, and we’ll just cover a chapter a week’. On reflection this seems obvious, but back then I thought…it’s a good course book, it fits my students’ needs, I’ve justified why I’m using it, and I’ll add in a load of ancillary resources and extras too. What’s wrong with that? Well, a lot apparently. FYI it was a Cambridge course book.

2. My tutor didn’t chase me up

While I made a few rookie errors in my course plan, earning me the ‘referral’ (fail) grade, there’s more to this story than meets the eye. I took an online course, a major one, and I’d paid a lot of money for it. I did this in spite of the fact that a lot of the information for how to write the Delta extended essay is available online, especially through Cambridge’s own website. I didn’t want to risk it.

The reason I’d paid so much was for the tutor’s feedback. I wanted the peace of mind that I’d have an excellent, experienced tutor who knew how to get people through the course. Who could pick up my mistakes easily and correct them, thus helping me learn what I needed to improve on.
The problem is, he didn’t. I was unfortunately stuck with a tutor who must’ve been seriously pressed for time. From their personal description, it looked like they were holding down at least two different jobs aside from tutoring this course. The comments I received on my drafts were usually little more than a few words, and sometimes as unhelpful as ‘change’ or ‘no’. I felt somewhat cheated, as while my mistake in plodding through a course book for most of my assignment was wholly my fault, the tutor also clearly didn’t notice this most glaring of errors, which leads me to believe that he didn’t really give much time to my writing at all. I don’t want to sound like I’m shifting the blame or passing the buck, as really it came down to me. But I can’t help but feel that he didn’t really care, and probably spent less than 5 minutes on giving me feedback. It felt quite ironic, especially as the tutor was supposed to be at the top of their game, and understand their students’ needs and requirements.This experience alone made me a little jaded with the whole thing. Luckily I bounced back.

One more reason, though. An all too common one…

3. I underestimated

So while the major mistake was over-reliance on a course book, and my tutor was less than helpful, there’s another reason that I got the dreaded ‘referral’ on my first submission. 
Photo Credit © Brandon Deeck | Flickr
Really, what it comes down to is underestimating just how stringent this qualification is. I feel justified in saying that it’s one of the hardest educational qualifications I’ve studied for, and I’ve studied for quite a few. Whereas some TEFL courses are as simple as ‘sit here and listen and you’ve passed’, and even most people on CELTA pass, Delta is a different ball game. To protect the reputation and quality of the Delta, they need to be harsh. They need to expect a lot more than average, and really ask you to demonstrate a very high degree of expertise.

I didn’t do that. I did the bare minimum to get an assignment ready for submission by the deadline, and spent more time enjoying myself than really giving M3 the seriousness it deserved. Now I think about it, even my appendices weren’t well formatted, and the assignment just looked ugly. Now, don’t get me wrong. I still put in a lot of effort and time, and I did feel quite shocked when I didn’t pass. But after I got some distance from the it, I realised that I didn’t put in 100% when I needed to. I wasn’t all in, and I should’ve been. And I failed.

So what happened next?
When I got the notification of my results by email I was sitting in a restaurant, in the mountains of Sapa, north Vietnam. It’s an idyllic place. I’d just ordered some good local H’mong barbeque, and I was feeling on top of the world, even with a glowing red sunburn on my neck. I’d spent the day on an incredible motorbike ride around the mountains with my friends, and I was looking forward to a night at the bar, playing pool and listening to the sound of silence.

When I heard my phone vibrate and saw the title of the email, I was preparing to open the email and see the words ‘Pass’, ‘Merit’ or even ‘Distinction’. I was thinking how it would give me even more reason to enjoy my night, and an opportunity to celebrate. I was confident. So when the email opened and I saw ‘Referral’ my stomach hit the floor. I was sure I’d done enough. Surely they’d made a mistake? But I read it over, and over, and over. Referral. I knew that meant fail.

It didn’t ruin my holiday, but it put a downer on my night for sure. When I got home I reflected on it for a while, and re-read the information. Then I looked very honestly at what I’d submitted. While it wasn’t terrible, I could see that there were mistakes. I could see it wasn’t perfect, and I could understand why it got referred.

Luckily, where Delta is cruel, it’s also kind, and the Delta gods gave me a chance for redemption. While really it is a ‘fail’ the word referral does offer some salvation. You can have another crack at it.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Frustratingly, you have to wait three months. And then another three months to get the result. I was disillusioned with my online course, so I didn’t pay all that money again for a tutor who didn’t seem to care. Instead, I went full throttle. I re-read the material, I read the books properly without skimming, and I dedicated nearly all of my free time to making sure it was right. I wasn’t taking any chances. Six months later, I got an email again, and this time I’d passed. And passed with flying colours too, gaining a great mark. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. I’ve had the opportunity since to create courses and develop programmes, and I can say that honestly what I learned was invaluable. I feel confident in my pacing, my choice of materials, and using Needs Analysis to really know what I need to be teaching and who my learners are.

The take home message is that if you’re going to take on Delta, any module, you need to give it time, respect, and effort. Don’t rely only on tutors or courses, as while they can be helpful, you might not end up getting as much from it as you thought. A common misconception, and one I had too, is that if you pay for the course, you won’t fail. That’s not the case, and if you aren’t all in, you won’t succeed.
If you think you’re ready, then check out some of my top resources below to get you started on your journey.


The Delta Handbook produced by University of Cambridge. Memorise it and you’ll be in with a fighting chance.
Delta Tips 9: Writing a Module 3 Essay – By Lizzie Pinard on ‘Reflective Teaching Reflective Learning’ Blog. A great primer.
Delta Conversations – a LOT of different interviews on Sandy Millin’s seminal teaching blog. 
An Introduction to Module 3 – A great, informative piece by Anthony Ash on ELT Blog.
Prepare for Delta – Again, offered by University of Cambridge. Loads of great resources.