If you want the Goethe-Institut German B1 exam clearly explained, you’re in the right place. In this post we’ll unpick the format of this important “intermediate” German language exam. We’ll get clear on just what the B1 test German exam itself involves. That’ll help you decide whether it’s for you. You’ll get a better sense of what you need to achieve to pass this intermediate German exam as well.
What’s the level of the German B1 exam?
The (lower) intermediate level – B1 on the Common European Framework of Language’s scale – isn’t called the “threshold” level for nothing. If you manage to pass the B1 test German, there’s a real sense that you’ve entered a new word. It’s all about coming of age as an “independent user” or, as I like to say, becoming a “going concern” in the language.
Yes, you’ll still have your limits. What you can say remains rather simple when compared with a native speaker. Your conversations will still mainly be limited to the most common, everyday topics. You may often still only catch the main points of what’s being said even if it’s expressed in clear speech that isn’t that fast.
Nevertheless, you’ll have covered the best part of the most frequent German grammatical patterns. You should be aiming for a vocabulary of about 2,400 words. With an active command of a lot of these words and patterns and a passive understanding of more of them, you can expect to be able to deal well with most real-live situations when travelling. You’ll also be able to use longer, more complex phrases than before to talk not just about your immediate situations or needs but about events, your attitudes and plans.
You could use the Goethe-Institut German B1 exam certificate will help you over a couple of majors “thresholds” in life. First, it’s accepted to meet the minimum for citizenship of the BRD. Second, the B1 certificate enables admission to one of the year-long Studienkolleg preparation to study any discipline at a German university.
Where can you take the Goethe-Institut German B1 exam?
The exam is typically held at one a Goethe Institute on one day.
There are a network of Goethe Institutes around the world, with the greatest number in Germany itself. The number of times a year that the exam is offered will vary from centre to centre, with some centres only holding the exam once or twice a year and bigger, busier ones, such as Berlin, maybe offering several sittings a month. The price varies from country to country as well. The exams are also offered by overseas partner institutions of the Goethe-Institut.
The German B1 exam format section by section
The B1 test German exam is “modular” in the sense that you don’t have to sit (or pass) all four sections in one sitting (see details on pass marks and retakes below).
The exam is split into four parts. These cover the fours skills of listening, reading, reading and writing. There isn’t a separate grammar or vocab test (unlike, for example, in the Russian TRKI exams).
Let’s look at the format of each section in turn. I’ve used the Goethe Institute’s own “modal paper” (“Modellsatz”)(2nd revised edition, 2015) to prepare this. Always check the most up-to-date format for yourself before the exam in case things change.
Reading Section (Lesen)
The total time is 65 minutes
The reading test is divided into five sections (Teil 1 bis Teil 5). There’s only one correct answer for each.
Reading Part 1 (Teil Eins)(10 Minutes):
You get a text of about 300 words. In the modal paper, this is a blog entry (approx 330 words) in which the blogger explains how she unwittingly lost her briefcase and got it back (minus the money that was in it).
You have to choose whether six statements about the content of the blog entry are true or false.
Reading Part 2 (Teil Zwei)(20 minutes):
You are given two short press reports (both about 180 words each).
In the modal paper the title of the first articles is “Ein Dorf für grüne Energie”. It’s about a village in Brandenburg that is freeing itself from dependency on fossil fuels). The second article has the headline “Tour durch Murtens Geschichte”. The subject is a bike tour through the small town of Murten (Switzerland).
There are six questions in all, three to each article.
For each question, you are given the first half of a sentence and you have to choose which one of three possible phrases will complete it in a way true to the content of the article.
Reading Part 3 (Teil Drei)(10 minutes):
You’re faced with short, adverts/announcements from different sources in the German media (each one complete in itself).
In the modal paper, they mainly concern German language courses.
There is a list of seven people and their needs. The task is to match the up each individual with the ad offering what they’re looking for.
There are two twists. First, You’re told that there’s one person for whom none of the ads fits. You must identify that person from his or her details. Second, given that there are nine ads and only six remaining people, you’ll need to rule out two of the ads entirely as there are nine in total but only six people remaining.
Reading Part 4 (Teil 4)(15 minutes):
In the modal paper there are seven short newspaper “letters to the editor” (Leserbriefe). They are written in response to an article on a controversial topic. You don’t get to see the article but are told what it was about.
In the modal answer, the issue was whether violent computer games should be banned.
You have to decide whether each of the seven correspondents is in favour of or against the issue (here: the games).
Reading Part 5 (Teil 5)(10 minutes):
You’re given a more official text (in the modal paper it’s the “Hausordnung” for a vocational training centre).
There are four questions about what the rules are on a particular subject and you have to pick the correct answer (from three).
Listening Section (Hören)
The total time is 40 mins
The listening section of the B1 test in German exposes you to a range of different speakers (ages, accents) and to different registers of language (casual conversations, more formal announcements or reports, discussions).
The feel of the recordings is pretty realistic. It’s perhaps clearer than real speech would often but but the pace seems to me to be generally at or not far below the slower end of normal speech.
The whole soundtrack for the modal exam is on the Goethe website.
Let’s look at the four sections in a detail!
Listening Part 1 (Teil Eins):
The recording lasts ten mins including repetition and the pauses for reading the questions and answering them).
There are ten brief monologues with two questions to each.
Before each part, you have ten seconds to read the questions.
The first is question is “true” or “false”. To the second question is a statement about the clip that you have to complete by choosing one of three options.
You then hear the “text” twice. The speed is at the slower end of natural speed (though the instructions are a little slower still ).
In the modal paper the monologues are set in a number of different contexts, such as messages on an answering machine (complete with a bleep and a “tinny” sounding voice), a traffic update and a radio weather forecast , both with a radio jingle, a station announcement given by a man with a Swiss accent, with a slight loudspeaker echo effect and background noise from the station.
Listening Part 2 (Teil Zwei):
There is one recording and five questions (either sentences for completion or questions).
First you get sixty seconds to read all five questions.
Then you hear the recording, once only. You must choose one from three answers options to each question.
In the modal paper, the speaker is your imaginary guide on a tour round the Münchener Stadtsmuseum.
Listening Part 3 (Teil Drei):
There is one recording of a conversation
You have sixty seconds to read seven statements before the conversation, which you only get to hear once. Then you have to say whether each statement is true or false.
In the modal paper, the conversation is between a man and a woman at a bus stop. They’re talking about a birthday party that the woman attended over the weekend.
Listening Part 4 (Teil Vier):
The recording is a radio discussion of a topic.
In the modal paper there is a presenter and two parents discussing the topic “Should small children go to a pre-school nursery?”
You have eight statements from the discussion and you have to chose which of the three said what.
After 60 seconds to read the questions, you hear the whole discussion twice.
At the end of all five parts, you have five minutes to copy your answers to the answer sheet.
Writing Setction (Schreiben)
The total time is 60 minutes
Writing Task One (Aufgabe Eins)(20 minutes):
You have to write an email of about eighty words. You should cover the three points that are presented in the question. You are also told be pay attention to the “Textaufbau” (structure and presentation) of the email: the salutation, introduction, structure and the end of the email/signing off.
Writing Task Two (Aufgabe Zwei)(25 minutes):
You have to write about 80 words expressing your views on a given topical issue. You’re given the topic and a view to interact with.
So, in the modal paper, you’re told that you’ve seen a TV discussion programme on “Personal Contacts and the Internet”. You are given the views of one viewer (from the comments on the programme’s on-line homepage).
Otherwise, there’s no further guidance.
Writing Task Three (Aufgabe Drei)(15 minutes):
You have to write an email of about forty words and are told not to forget the salutation and the sign-off.
In the modal paper the scenario is that your course organiser has invited you to a meeting to discuss your learning goals. You can’t make the appointment, so need to write to excuse yourself and explain why you cannot attend.
Speaking Section (Sprechen)
The total time, during which you are examined with another candidate, is 15 minutes.
You are first given the three speaking scenarios and fifteen minutes planning time (you plan on your own and can make notes, which you can take in to the meeting with you as prompts, but you have to speak freely during the meeting).
Speaking Part One (Teil Eins)(about three minutes):
In the modal paper, you’re told that a participant in your German class has had an accident and is in hospital. The task for you and the other candidate is to arrange to visit the patient in hospital and to decide on a suitable present.
You’re given four discussion points that you should cover (e.g. When should the visit be? How can we help the patient next week when he/she is discharged) You can also cover other aspects.
Speaking Part Two (Teil Zwei)(about five minutes):
You have to make a short presentation on an issue of the day (ein aktuelles Thema). To help structure your presentation you have five miniature presentation slides (topic title/”My personal experience”/The situation in my country/arguments for and against my position/conclusion and thanks. There is some space for you to jot notes during the presentation and brief guidance as to what you should cover to each slide (this is the same for both sets of slides).
In the modal paper the two topics you can choose from are “‘Papa, ich will ein Handy!’ Brauchen Kinder Mobiltelefone” or “‘Mama es ist gerade so lustig… …Nur noch fünf Minuten!’. Sehen Kinder zu viel Fern?” There are two topics five slides each with a few words and sometimes a picture.
Speaking Part Three (Teil Drei)(about four minutes in total, so two minutes per candidate)
The task is to react to the feedback and questions of the examiners and your fellow candidate have about your presentation. You also have to give feedback on your fellow candidate’s presentation and ask him or her a question about it.
Pass marks and retakes
The modular nature of the Goethe B1 German exam means that you can take one, two, three or all four parts at a centre in one day. If you take and pass all four on one sitting or in a two or more sittings within one year, you can get one certificate for the whole exam. It’s not clear to me from the rules, whether you have to take all four sections within the year at THE SAME Goethe Institute.
You need to get at least 60% in a module to pass it.
Either way, if you don’t take them all at once you’ll get a certificate for the modules that you’ve taken. So, as I understand it, if you take more than a year to pass all four, you can build up to a pass in all four sections with separate certificates (and you would, presumably have the option of taking different parts of the exam at difference exam centres).
You can retake the whole exam, or one of the four parts, any number of times (although the centre where you took the exam may impose a pause period before you can have another go).
Want to know more?
If you’ve already approaching a B1 “exam ready” level, check out the model paper and the other practice material for the Goethe-Institut German B1 exam on the Institut’s website. I’ve done my best to get things right above, but double-check yourself and remember, formats and requirements do sometimes change.
Would you like to see more content on the topic here on the site? Let me know in the comments below!
If you’re an upper beginner about to embark on the next stage of your German journey, you’ll find lots to help you here at how to get fluent. In earlier posts, I’ve looked in more detail at the difference be upper beginner (A1) and intermediate (B1), at the grammar and vocab that you need for B1 German and motivation for on the way.
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