Just got 5/5 Spanish certificate!
I'm so excited and honestly quite shocked as I thought I got quite a few wrong! This is HUGE improvement over my 3.26 score a few months ago and even better than my 4.71 score in French (which I always thought I was better at!)
If you saw my above post, I've actually gotten 5.0 in Spanish AND French.
I took 4 years of French and 1 year of Spanish in school, but I gave up because I felt I wasn't getting as fluent as I had hoped to be, despite getting mostly A's. It wasn't until I saw Tim Doner's Youtube video (if you're not familiar, I can give you the link) that I decided to give language-learning another shot. Now, I'd say I'm squarely C1 is Spanish and French, and probably B1 or B2 in German, Italian, and Portuguese.
So I have a few pieces of advice if you're interested:
If you see or hear anything in your target language, translate it. If you see of hear anything in English, do your best to translate it to your target language. If you're about to say something in English, think about how you might say it in your target language. The goal is to make natural connections between your native language and your target language.
Surround yourself in your target language. I watch a lot of TV, so I set my TV to SAP - this will trigger the Spanish audio for a lot of sporting events, as well as some shows like Family Guy. Listen to music in other languages, and watch movies with foreign audio and subtitles. This will help you to bridge the gap between written language and spoken language.
Practicing with native speakers helps a lot, but it can be discouraging. I've had Mexicans laugh at me behind my back saying "¡jajajaja este gringo piensa que habla espanol!" I've had French people act like stereotypes to me because even though my French is basically correct, my American accent still comes out hard. Fortunately, there are communities out there specifically for people who want to improve their conversationalism. In my area, there is an Alliance Française which holds a few events every month where people just go to a café or something and speak as much French as they can.
I don't really use any books. Books may help, but are not essential. There are several websites out there that are just as helpful as books. About.com has some really helpful pages for understanding grammar rules, conjugations, etc. Studyspanish.com is another really big one.
The Spanish certificate is definitely much easier than the Italian or French ones. On my first attempt, I scored 4.85 in Spanish. I was only a third through the tree then, and most of my Spanish skill actually came from my knowledge of Italian. I have lived in Italy for some time, and my Italian is almost fluent, but I only scored 4.61. My French (score: 4.14) is also certainly much better than my Spanish.
Congrats to araparseghian nonetheless, 5/5 is impressive!