The dreaded German B1 test

Yesterday I took my government-required, German B1 language test, and while it’s still fresh on my mind, I thought I’d share how it went and give some tips to those of you who will need to take the test in the future.  I’ve been super stressed about this test for a long time now, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected so hopefully this will calm your nerves if you’re also taking the test soon!

First of all, in September 2015, I started taking online German courses with a company called Lingoda. I chose them because they allow the student to take complete control of their schedule, and to skip or retake any classes. I loved them in the beginning and would highly recommend it to anyone for A1.1 through the end of B1, but in B2, the lessons start to fall apart a little. If you’re interested in more information about the company, I wrote a blog a while back that you can find here. (The blog gives them rave reviews, but I wrote it before I got to the point that my opinion had begun to waver.)

You should know that if you take your classes outside of the VHS (Volkshochschule), you need to ask if the company you’re using is supported by the government. If not (Lingoda isn’t), you’ll have to pay for your classes 100% out of pocket and you’ll still need to go to the VHS to take your exam. And the exam isn’t cheap. If you take German classes at the VHS, the exam cost is included in your classroom fees, but I had to pay a whopping 150€ since I took my classes elsewhere.

I prepared for the B1 test by taking the following practice tests:

The Goethe Institute

The BAMF test (per the recommendation of my local vhs)

The Goethe Institute’s test is sehr schwierig (super duper freaking hard). I took it first and panicked. Then I tried the BAMF test since that was the one recommended to me by the lady at my local VHS – it was MUCH easier. And the real test is even easier than the BAMF practice test, so if you breeze through that, you’ll do fine on the real deal. 🙂

Both practice tests are pretty long, but that’s for a reason. They want to prepare you for any possible scenarios you may be presented with in the real test. For example, the Goethe Institute’s audio file for the listening portion of the test is 37 minutes. In the actual test, the listening section is 20 minutes.

Ok. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. There are certain skills required to be a good test-taker, and if you’re like me, it has probably been a good long time since you’ve taken a test, and those skills are in need of some elbow-grease. Taking these practice tests didn’t vastly improve my German language skills, but they did help me re-hone my test-taking-skills. So, below are the important lessons I re-learned while preparing for the test:

  1. Hören/Listening

Use your time. All of it. Read every single word, and DON’T SKIM!

In the Hören/Listening section, there are 10-15 short clips with 1-2 questions that must be answered about each clip. The audio file starts with a 10 second delay. This is your chance to read the first question and possible answers. During the practice tests, I was letting the clock freak me out so I would only skim the question and answers. Then, instead of fully listening to the clip, I was half-listening while staring at the text and hoping a key word or two would pop out at me so I’d know the answer. This is not effective! Use that 10 seconds to carefully read every single word, and do not skim!

When the clip starts to play, close your eyes. Don’t allow for any distractions. Concentrate on the words being spoken, and listen for negation words like “nicht” or “kein.”  I used this technique during the real test and am certain I aced it!

2. Lesen/Reading

Find the most efficient way to get to the right answer.

In both practice tests and the real thing, there was a reading portion with 7-9 sentences such as:

  1. Maria is searching for a new apartment with lots of light.
  2. Oliver is looking for a 4 room apartment. His budget is 1000€ a month.

Then, on the opposite page, there were several newspaper advertisements, and I was expected to choose the ad that best fit the request. I did 3 things wrong during the practice test:

  • During the above mentioned section, I read number 1 first and then searched through all the ads trying to find the right match. Then I read number 2 and again searched through all the ads. In the end, I had skimmed every add multiple times and I still got a few questions wrong! What a waste of time. So here’s what helped me… during the real test, I took a different approach. I quickly read (NOT SKIMMED) each question just to familiarize myself with them. Then I went to the ads. I fully read the first ad, word for word, and found the question that matched it. If none of the questions matched that particular ad, I put a big X through it in my test booklet (writing in it is allowed so take advantage of that). This meant I read every ad only once and didn’t feel pressured to skim because I wasn’t wasting my time searching through all the ads multiple times.
  • The second thing I did wrong in the practice test was to not fully read the instructions. On the same scenario as listed above, there’s also an option in the instructions to select “x” if none of the ads match a certain question. For example, in my real test, one of the questions was “Thomas wants to move to a 3 room apartment and is looking for a roommate.” Since none of the ads said anything about a roommate, I answered this question with an X. I missed that instruction during the practice test and got a question wrong as a result. Be sure to always fully read the instructions!
  • This didn’t happen in the real test, but it’s a possibility, so you should definitely look out for it. During one of the reading portions in the practice test, the word “Velo” was being used over and over again and I had no idea what it was. Finally, at the very bottom of the article, I noticed a tiny little footnote that said, “Velo = Schweizer Standard für ‘Fahrrad'”. (“Velo” is the Swiss word for “bicycle”.) Look out for those pesky footnotes!

3. Schreiben/Writing

Take your time. Don’t stress. Think it through.

I can’t really give any amazing tips for the writing section except to take your time. I was presented with 2 choices for the writing portion and I had to choose only 1 of them to write about. We were given 30 minutes for this section which is ample time since it was only meant to be an 80-100 word email. I went slowly. I took my time. I read and re-read my email. I was one of the last to finish and used about 27 of my 30 minutes. Just don’t rush. You have enough time.

4. Sprechen/Speaking

Remember that the administrators WANT you to succeed. Take a deep breath, concentrate, and just do your best. 

Lingoda puts a LOT of emphasis on speaking German – to the point where it sometimes detracts from focusing on grammar. However, this worked in my favor because I sailed through the speaking portion. There were 3 parts to the speaking section:

  1. I was asked to introduce myself using a prompt which listed the details I was to tell about myself.
  2. I was given a picture of a girl doing her homework on a park bench and asked to describe what I saw. Once I described the picture in detail, I was prompted by the administrator to share my opinions on whether it’s okay for kids to do their homework outside or if it is better to be inside.
  3. My speaking partner and I were given a sheet with a scenario written out and we were to talk through it. Our scenario was that our German class was ending, but the students wanted to continue meeting to further develop their German. We had to talk through the logistics of this, such as, where the meetings would take place, how often, and whether or not food and drinks would be involved.

In the end, I asked the administrator if she thought my speaking was good enough for a passing grade. She gave me a big smile and said, “We’re not allowed to say, but it was really good.”

Finally, I want to say that you only need a 60% or higher to pass this test. With the reading and listening sections, the grading is black and white. You either got the right answer or your didn’t. With the written and speaking portions, according to the information I found on both practice tests, you basically only fail if they have very little or no understanding of what it is you’re trying to communicate. If your German teachers are constantly saying, “Sorry, I’m really not sure what you mean,” then you may need more practice before taking the exam. However, if you can normally convey your point, even if your grammar is atrocious, then you’ll probably be fine.

So, if you’re about to take your German B1 test, kein Stress, my friends. Kein Stress und viel Glück! And let me know how it goes! 🙂

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Jimena says:

    Proud of you Sheri! Miss you! ❤

  2. Beth says:

    You give _really_ good tips here! Many of them are ones I tell my students. Reading the instructions is key – nobody wants to do that, and yet missing that “If none of the options fit, put an X for your answer” is huge! I also tell them to highlight or underline key words on the test for the listening and reading sections. There are also books available with full practice tests along with tips and helpful adivce. The one I have is from Pons and it includes 3 full practice tests (but it’s the Deutsch für Zuwanderer A2/B1 test).

    1. I think I surely would’ve failed if I hadn’t taken the practice tests. Like I said… they didn’t do anything to improve my German. They just helped me come up with an efficient approach to each section.

      Regarding reading the instructions… what cracks me up is that I work as a substitute teacher and I am constantly reminding the students to read the instructions. Sometimes I get so frustrated with them for neglecting to do something so simple, but I did the exact same thing with the practice test! Ugh. How embarrassing. 😂

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