A few weeks ago I undertook the German B1 test. When we originally looked into taking the test, hubby and I decided it made sense to do it together with the Austrian Integration component, which is what you need if you want to live here indefinitely. Since I have no intention of giving up my passport (and Austria doesn’t allow dual citizenship), it’s unlikely I’ll actually need this, but still, it’s done if for some reason I suddenly do.
The B1 German test might be described by some as difficult, or challenging, but if I had to pick one word it would be ‘long’. From German lessons already described in my previous blog with the German Online Institute, I was confident I was ready for the test, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t nervous, or dreading the many hours stuck in a testing room to get the thing done.
Luckily there were only six of us on the day – this means that if everyone finishes one of the components under the time limit, they cut it short. It’s also much quicker for the speaking part, which you undertake two by two. We were ushered into the room at about 8:45 to get the admin and paperwork out of the way, ready to begin at 9.
Now here’s the thing I find weird about a test at this level. This was not your beginner’s A1 test; to undertake B1 you have to have a pretty good understandingof the German language: to be able to speak it and get your point across, to write in a legible fashion, to read articles and be able to answer questions. You don’t have to get everything completely right. But you do have to be proficient in general terms. So I expected them to throw the paper at us and start the clock. No, no, no. First they explained to us, in very simple words, slowly, and multiple times, how to answer each of the parts. Circle true or false, but not both. Geez! I would have thought that at this level, if you can’t read the basic instructions, then you don’t get a pass.
During the exam, we were allowed to leave the room at any point to use the bathroom. But two people weren’t allowed to go together. I guess this is because they might talk to one another about the answers. The disadvantage of this was that it meant we also weren’t allowed to leave the room before everyone had finished, so you’re left sitting there as the final minutes tick by, contemplating what you might of done wrong.
In any case, finally we were ready to begin.
Lesen – reading
The first part covers reading. You receive a whole lot of texts, both short and long, and have to read and answer questions about them. The ridiculous thing was that we had 90 minutes to complete this part. 90 minutes! That’s an hour and a half! The more ridiculous part, was that by the time I thoroughly went through and answered everything, it was already nudging an hour. Ok, so maybe not too ridiculous a time limit. And if you think they might go easy on you, you’d be wrong. There are all kinds of subtle things in there that leave you thinking, wait… is it b or c, because both of them really could be right.
Horen – listening
Then onto listening, which is scary, because you have to listen to random German conversations and actually understand them. Some you listen to once only, others you get a second chance. This is not the time to begin daydreaming! At least it was multiple choice and only went for about half an hour.
Schreiben – writing
After a short break we returned for the writing part. There were two options, both emails, and the task was to write a reply for one of them, something which was reiterated multiple times during the instruction period. I wrote mine out rough on scrap paper and then transcribed it carefully onto my exam paper. Then I checked it 500 times, and ended up being the last to finish at 39 minutes, only one minute before times-up – how embarrassing!
The integration test is a basic questionnaire to make sure you understand the rules and rights of Austria. You have to know that violence toward anyone is bad, that the Nazis ruled during WW2, that a woman can decide who she marries and how many children she has, and that all the working people of Austria pay taxes for things like health and education. If you understand that Austria is a democracy and everyone has basic human rights, then it’s pretty simple. I had a booklet of all the possible questions they could ask – and I literally read it is twice, made a couple of notes (I didn’t, for example, know that the voting age in Austria was 16), and smashed this part of the test. I was doing practice tests in 2.5 minutes at home (max. time is 40 minutes). In the exam I checked my answers thoroughly and completed it in under five, but the others weren’t far behind me.
Sprechen – speaking
And finally we came to the end of a gruelling day. At this point we’d been there for close to five hours, hovering between various degrees of testing and waiting. The speaking part was definitely the part I was most nervous about, and I think that many share my view. I guess it makes sense to do it last because it means that anyone who is done can go home, but at the same time it’s essentially leaving the worst for last, when you’re already tired. I went in there thinking I was going to have to answer one set of questions (due to my practice exams), and ended up with a whole different scenario. But in the end, this test shouldn’t be about memorising and parroting; it should be about being able to speak German at that level, no matter what’s thrown at you. I was lucky I had a partner who spoke well, and although this was the past I scored the lowest points for, I’m still happy with the result. Because I noticed plenty of mistakes come blurting out of my mouth from nerves or tiredness or just getting excited and speaking before I thought.
And if you haven’t already gathered from the pic at the top, yes, I passed.