Master the German language exams - Part III - Level B1 CEFR

A practical guide to pass your German B1 exam CEFR

An adult classroom
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I have written about the A1 and A2 exams before. The third level in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or short CEFR is level B1. As usual, I will keep the article short and focus on the parts that are specific to the B1 exam. B1 means that learners are entering the intermediate level of their journey through the German language.

LOWER INTERMEDIATE 

B1 means that you, I quote the CEFR:

  • Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
  • Can deal with most situations likely to arise while traveling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
  • Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes, and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

To find out how that sounds in an exam situation, just take a look at some of these videos here.

WHAT CAN I USE A B1 CERTIFICATE FOR?

Unlike the A1 and the A2 exam, the level B1 exam is marking an important waypoint in your German learning process. By proving that you have skills on this level the German government grants you the German citizenship... one year earlier, meaning after 6 instead of 7 years. It is also the final stage of any so-called integration course as by reaching B1 you show that you can deal with most situations in daily life, like e.g. going to the doctors or ordering a taxi, a hotel room, asking for advice and ways etc.

This is the first "real" test that you should strive for and be proud of when you have passed it. Unfortunately, it is just the beginning of an even farther journey. But every journey starts with the first step(s).

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO REACH LEVEL B1?

As l mentioned before, it is rather difficult to come up with reliable numbers.

Nevertheless, intensive German classes claim to help you reach B1 in six months, at five days a week with 3 hours of daily tuition plus 1.5 hours of homework. That sums up to 540 hours of learning to finish B1 (4.5 hours x 5 days x 4 weeks x 6 months). That is if you are taking group classes in most German language schools in Berlin or other German cities. You might be able to achieve B1 in half the time or less with help of a private tutor.

WHY ARE THERE DIFFERENT B1 EXAMS?

There are two different kinds of B1 exams:
the "Zertifikat Deutsch" (ZD) and 
the "Deutschtest für Zuwanderer" (=German exam for migrants) or short DTZ.

The DTZ exam is a so-called scaled exam meaning that it tests your skill for two levels: A2 and B1. So if you are maybe not good enough yet for B1 you won't fail this exam. You would just pass it on the lower A2 level. This is a far more motivating approach in testing and so far I have only heard of such an approach in context with BULATS which, unfortunately, is not too widespread over here in Germany yet. The DTZ is the final exam of an Integrationskurs.

The ZD is the standard exam created by the Goethe-Institut in cooperation with the Österreich Institut and only tests you for level B1.

If you don't reach that level, you fail.

DO I NEED TO ATTEND A LANGUAGE SCHOOL TO REACH THIS LEVEL?

Although I always advise learners to seek at least a bit of guidance from a professional German tutor, B1 like most other levels can be reached on one’s own. But keep in mind that working on your own will require a lot more discipline from you and also good self-organizational skills. Having a reliable and consistent timetable might help you with learning autonomously. As usual, the critical part is your speaking practice as well as getting corrected to make sure you won’t acquire a bad pronunciation or structure.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO REACH LEVEL B1 FROM SCRATCH?

I have written in detail about the costs here, but to provide you with a quick overview, here some basic information:  

  • at Volkshochschule (VHS): 80€ / month totaling 480€ for A2
  • at the Goethe Institut (during summer here in Berlin, varying prices worldwide): up to 1.200€ / month totaling up to 7.200€ for B1 
  • for German integration courses (=Integrationskurse) as little as 0€ / month at times they ask you to pay 1€ per lesson received resulting in 80€ per month or 560€ total (those courses last approx. 7 months).
  • for a course within an ESF program: 0€
  • with a Bildungsgutschein (=education voucher) issued from the Agentur für Arbeit: 0€

HOW DO I PREPARE EFFICIENTLY FOR THE B1 EXAM?

Take a good look at all available sample exams. That will give you an impression of what kind of questions or tasks are required from you and will get you familiar with the material. You can find those on the following pages or conduct a search for modellprüfung deutsch b1:

TELC
ÖSD (check the right sidebar for the model exam)
Goethe

There is also other additional material for purchase in case you feel the need to prepare more.

HOW TO PRACTICE YOUR WRITING

You will find the answers to most parts of the exams above in the back of the sample sets. But you will need a native speaker or advanced learner to check your written work called „Schriftlicher Ausdruck“ which consists mainly of three short letters. My favorite place to look for help for this problem is the lang-8 community. It is free, yet, if you get their premium subscription your texts will get corrected faster. You will also need to correct other learners’ written work to gain credits that you then can use to get your work corrected.

HOW DO I PRACTICE FOR THE ORAL EXAM?

That's the tricky part. You will sooner or later need a conversation trainer. I did not say conversation partner as a trainer will be able to prepare you for the exam, while a partner simply converses with you. Those are "zwei Paar Schuhe". You will find those on verbling or italki or livemoccha. Until B1 it is totally sufficient to hire them for just 30mins per day or if your budget is very limited, 3 x 30mins per week. Use them only to prepare you for the exam.

Don't ask them grammatical questions nor let them teach you grammar. That should be done by a teacher, not a conversation trainer. Teachers want to teach, so make sure the person you are hiring emphasizes that she is not too much of a teacher. She doesn't have to be native but her German should be at C1 level. If she's below that level, the risk of learning wrong German is too high. 

MENTAL PREPARATION

Any exam is causing emotional stress. Due to the importance of this level, it might make you more nervous than the other ones before. To prepare mentally simply try to imagine yourself in the exam situation, and try to feel the calm that is flowing through your body and mind at that time. Imagine that you know what to do and that you can answer any question that you come across. Also, imagine that the examiners in the oral exam are sitting in front of you and are smiling. Imagine how you feel that you like them and that they like you. It might sound esoterical but I can assure you it does wonders (and I'm far from esoterical).

That’s it for the B1 exam. In case you have any question regarding this exam just contact me and I will get back to you as soon as I can.