Master the German Language Exam: Level B1 CEFR

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The third level in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for Languages is level B1. It is definitely a step beyond the A1 and A2 exams. Passing a level B1 exam means that you are entering the intermediate level of your journey through the German language.

B1 Certifies Intermediate Level Language Skills

According to the CEFR, B1 levels means that you:

  • 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 travelling 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 prepare, you may want to review videos of a B1 exam in progress.

What Use Is a B1 Certificate?

Unlike the A1 and the A2 exam, the level B1 exam marks a significant milestone in your German learning process. By proving that you have language skills on this level, the German government may grant you the German citizenship one year earlier, which is 6 instead of 7 years. It's the final stage of any so-called integration course because reaching B1 shows you can handle most daily situations like going to the doctors or ordering a taxi, booking a hotel room, or asking for advice or directions, etc. Attaining B1 level in German is something to be proud of.

How Long Does It Take to Reach the B1 Level?

It is difficult to come up with reliable numbers. Many intensive German classes claim to help you reach B1 in six months, at five days a week with 3 hours of daily instruction 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). This assumes you are taking group classes in most German language schools in Berlin or other German cities. You could possibly achieve B1 in half the time or less with the 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 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.

The DTZ exam is a scaled exam meaning that tests for two levels: A2 and B1. So if you are unable to reach B1 yet, you won't fail this exam. You would just pass it on the lower A2 level. This is a far more motivating approach for test takers and is used often with BULATS. Unfortunately, it isn't that widespread in Germany yet. The DTZ is the final exam of an Integrationskurs.

Is Language School Necessary to Reach B1 Level?

Although we usually 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. However, working on your own will require a lot more self-discipline and organizational skills. Having a reliable and consistent timetable will help you with learning autonomously. The most critical part is to keep up with your speaking practice and make sure you get corrected by a qualified party. That way, you won’t risk acquiring bad pronunciation or grammatical structure.

How Much Does It Cost to Reach B1 Level?

The cost of instruction from select language schools is subject to change. Here is a basic idea of what it costs to reach B1 level proffiency:

  • Volkshochschule (VHS): 80€ /month totalling 480€ for A2
  • Goethe Institut (during summer in Berlin, varying prices worldwide): up to 1,200€ /month totalling up to 7,200€ for B1 
  • German integration courses (Integrationskurse) as little as 0€/month at times, or they ask you to pay 1€ per lesson received resulting in 80€ per month or 560€ total (those courses last approx. 7 months).
  • Course within an ESF program: 0€
  • Bildungsgutschein (education voucher) issued from the Agentur für Arbeit: 0€

How Can I Prepare Efficiently for the B1 Exam?

Begin preparation by looking for any available sample exams you can find. They will show you the kinds of questions asked or tasks required and will familiarize you with the material. You can find those on TELC or ÖSD (check the right sidebar for the model exam) or conduct an online search for modellprüfung deutsch b1. There may be additional material for purchase in case you feel the need to prepare more.

Practice Writing

You can find the answers to most exam questions in the back of the sample sets. However, you will need a native speaker or advanced learner to check your written work called „Schriftlicher Ausdruck,“ which consists mainly of three short letters. A good place to find 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.

Practice for the Oral Exam

Here's a tricky part. You will eventually need a conversation trainer. We did not say a conversation partner because a trainer specifically prepares you for an oral exam, while a partner simply converses with you. Those are "zwei paar schuhe" (two different things). You will find trainers on Verbling or Italki or Livemoccha. Until B1, it is totally sufficient to hire them for just 30 mins per day or if your budget is very limited, 3 x 30 mins per week. Use them only to prepare you for the exam. Don't ask them grammatical questions or 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 hire emphasizes that they are not too much of a teacher. They don't have to be a native speaker, but their German should be at C1 level. Anything below that level and the risk of learning wrong German is too high. 

Mental Preparation

Taking any exam can be an emotional stressor. Due to the importance of this B1 level, it might make you more nervous than the earlier levels. To prepare mentally, simply imagine yourself in the exam situation and imagine that calm is flowing through your body and mind at that time. Imagine that you know what to do and that you can answer any question given. Also, imagine that the examiners are sitting in front of you and are smiling. Imagine the feeling that you like them and that they like you. It might sound silly, but these simple imaginative exercises can do wonders for your nerves. We wish you the best of luck with the B1 exam!