I sat this exam on Friday and it is only now (Wednesday) that I’ve been able to get all my thoughts together and find the time to write out what I thought about this exam.
The first thing that is worth noting is the amount of time it takes to do this exam. When they tell you that the exam takes the entire day, they are not kidding. I took a photo of the exam timetable they wrote on the whiteboard in our exam room.
My exam lasted from 9am to 4pm, but others lasted longer or a little bit less depending on when their speaking section was scheduled. You don’t find out when your speaking exam is scheduled until you walk into the exam room, so be prepared for a very long wait between the writing section and the speaking section. My wait was about 2 hours. What I found helpful during this wait time was hanging out with other people who were doing the exam and speaking in German with them the entire time. That way, when you walk into your speaking exam, your brain is well and truly in German mode and you don’t experience all the hesitation and stumbling over your words when your brain has just switched from English mode to German mode (well, at least my brain takes some time to work out what language it is operating in).
Another suggestion I have for those of you about to sit this exam is to do as many test exams as you can get your hands on. The test exams are invaluable in teaching you not only the format of the exam but the level at which the exam is pitched at and what you really need to know in order to pass. Be warned that doing the test exams whilst totally relaxed at home is not the same as doing them in the exam room when you are nervous or anxious. For those of you lucky enough not to suffer any form of exam anxiety, disregard this. For those of you like me, be prepared for this. Also be prepared for parts of the exam to be slightly harder than what you experienced in the test exams. For me, I found one section of the reading comprehension to be much harder than any of the test exams I did. Then again, I also found the Sprachbausteine to be easier than in any of the test exams I did. I think it is all luck of the draw, but it is also why doing a whole range of test exams is essential preparation.
For the speaking section, I strongly recommend getting in as much practice beforehand, especially if you find speaking your weakest skill like I do. Get together with a tandem partner or a native German friend and just talk and talk some more and then do some more talking. The test exams include the speaking section, so go over them to get a feel for the types of things you need to be able to talk about. However, I can’t stress enough the value of getting in as much speaking practice as possible. If you do, you will find this section of the exam rather enjoyable and the examiners will need to tell you to shut up and stop speaking as you have proven that you can speak German. Also, ignore the examiners if you can and focus on having the conversation with your speaking partner. This will earn you points and will take some of the pressure off you if you feel anxiety talking in front of a small group of people (there are 2 examiners in the room) rather than just one on one.
The B1 Zertifikat Deutsch exam really gives all areas of the German language a workout which is probably why it is the gold standard in proving that you are competent (but not fluent) in German and why so many businesses and the German government themselves demand to see this certificate as proof that you can operate in German. I found preparing for this exam rather challenging, but in doing so, it has taken my German to a whole new level that was impossible for me to imagine even 2 months ago. If you are serious about becoming fluent in German, I strongly recommend studying for and sitting this exam. It provides great motivation to really work on your weaknesses and a great feeling of accomplishment once you have finished it.