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My experience in the zd deutsch exam B1 goethe

Updated on May 17, 2011

My experience in taking the test

I took (and passed!) the Goethe-Institut B1 (Zertifikat Deutsch ZD) exam. This was my experience doing it.

I had lived in Germany for work, but I managed to pick up a lot of German along the way, so before I left Germany I decided to take the exam, just to have something to show for my time there.

If you find this article helpful, please 'like' it or leave me a comment. :-)

Exam day


Today was the day for the B1 Goethe exam. I had to arrive at the VHS in my neighborhood at 0845, as instructed by letter last week, bringing 1) 2 pencils 2) an eraser 3) my passport and 4) something to eat and drink during the breaks. Sidenote: my work colleagues, as did I, found this letter to be quite amusing. "So, H--you aren't allowed to bring a pencil sharpener you know...and this is Germany, so you better not even think of bringing 3 pencils, if the rule is 2."

We were supposed to be there at 0845 so that they could get the logistics out of the way and the test could begin at 9 AM sharp. They went around and collected everyone's passport, as well as mobile phone. At 0850 we were all there but one and the one examiner wanted to start but the other wouldn't let her. They cautioned everyone at 0850 to go use the bathroom since we must wait until this person shows up or 9 AM, and YOU WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO LEAVE THE ROOM ONCE THE TEST BEGINS.

At 0900 the person wasn't there, so we were punklich and off we went to start the logistics of filling in the headings on the papers with our names and the test center. Then, there are 3 sections to the B1: written, listening, and speaking. Morning was to be the written, then lunchtime was listening, then after-lunch was speaking. Under each section are sub-sections, which really breaks it down into manageable bites, in my opinion.

Writing section

We started with the letter sub-section of the written section. You are given a written letter with 4 points under it and a blank sheet of paper to respond.

The instructor explained it was important to actually write in a letter format with the date, etc. and to be sure to include 2 sentences which relate to each of the bullet points. At 0910 we were officially released to begin, and we had until 1000. I recalled the instructor's advice from when I registered for the test, that length is required for a high pass, and since we had 50 minutes I crafted extensively on the blank paper they gave us. At 0930, people started to hand in their papers and leave the room, as the late straggler appeared. The instructor interrupted us to suggest that people may want to write some more, and if they were finished to 'include a PS with more details'.

At 0940 I started to transcribe my scrappy cursive onto the official green-lined paper, in printing, so that it would be readable. I was cruising. At 0957 we were down to 3 out of 18 people and I was putting in the closing sentence and sign-off. At 0959 I was complete. At 1000 she came around to pick up the papers, and there was a 5 min break until the next bit.

More details about this letter writing section are located here.

She started to hand out the passports as we were leaving the room. Out of the 18, I'm guessing around 50% were Polish. Another 25% were from somewhere else in that part of the world: Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria. The remaining 25% were a mixture: me the American, one from Algeria, a Brazilian, a Moroccan, etc.

The next part was the rest of the written test. We had 90 min to complete 5 sections. If you've ever seen a B1 practice test, the sections look the same on the real thing.

1. Match the headlines to 6 text blurbs. Easy with a slight twist of complexity, because the blurbs will slightly overlap. For example, 1 was about a computer photo software messe, 1 was about a computer photo class, and 1 was about working as a computer graphics artist, and there were 3 cooking ones that were similarly overlapping amongst themselves. Then, there are extra headlines, so you have to have to have an inkling here, as there are 6 computer related headlines for the 3 computer blurbs.

2. Read the news story and multiple choice answer 6 questions. The slight difficulty here is that the questions will be out of order from the story, and they will not use the same exact words in the question as in the article, or they will, but in a red herring way. For example, the passage was a human interest story about a company which takes in appretices, and the company head was a bad student himself. They interchangably used words for students like 'student', 'apprentice', etc, to make you stay on top of it, then they check to see if you're really on board by saying something about how 'the company head is no psychology student but he understands motivation.' They attempted to throw that back in by making one of the multiple choice answers to 'what must the student do to be considered for this work study?'-->'the student must first take a psychology class'.

3. Match the adverts to the sentence. The sentence will say something like 'Your son received a bad grade on a math test and needs afterschool tutoring'. Then you look at the 12 ads and figure out which one is student tutoring. The tricky part? Again they throw some curveballs by making the ad content overlap. For example, there was one for homework help, but it said 'all classes' and didn't spell out math, so you needed to understand the alternate words of the advert to know that it was student tutoring, as opposed to the one for a 'study summer camp for math where they will learn about the speed of light'. If you only go after the word 'math' you've got the wrong one. There are 10 sentences, and not all 10 have an advert to match them, so you need to know which ones are missing.

4. A paragraph with 'fill-in-the-blank' multiple choice. This one is just pure grammar to me. For example, it will have a blank where you need to choose whether it's 'bin/habe/wurde' or one with 'diese/dieser/dieses'.

5. A paragraph with 'fill-in the-blank' from a word bank. I expected this one to be my worst, because it's the broadest. One one hand, you have half a chance if you can figure out of you're looking for a verb or preposition, on the other hand, there are more words offered than you need, and they get a little clever by making you choose between 'fuer' and 'dafuer', for example. On the practice tests, I ace the other sections, so even if I get 0 right here I'm still above a pass, so not too stressed.

At this point it was 1145 and time for a bathroom break, 15 min. At noon we were back at it again for the listening section.

Listening section

There are 3 sections to this part. The examiner explains them and then turns on the cd and asks if everyone can hear it so that we can begin. The cd gives you the instructions and reads the various pieces. At this point I ponder that proctoring this exam is not like herding cats (as I was thinking in the morning), but moreso like herding chickens). The one examiner tells us to go to page 3. About 70% are on board. She tells us that we need to fill in our names and test center again at the top of the page, and some of the people are lost. The second examiner is hurrying around the room turning pages and pointing so that they can have half a chance to start off correctly. On the morning's version they had done a demo on the board of how to fill in the machine readable bubbles, people still F'd them up by doing crosses instead of filling in...So the cd is turned on:

1. 5 blocks of maybe 2 or 3 sentences tops. each one is read once. Then you're looking at a sentence on the paper and must decide whether it is true or false based on what was said. So the person says 'Bicycles should stay off the roads and on bicycle paths instead, because they clog up traffic'. Then the sentence on the paper will say 'the speaker thinks that more people should bicycle on the roads, because bicycling is healthy.'

2. more written true/false sentences to look at,. this time the blurbs are longer. So one was a weather report of weather around Germany. Then the sentence on paper said 'it will be 5 to 7 tomorrow in Hamburg'. No, actually it said 4 in Hamburg, but 5 to 7 in South DE. These repeated twice.

3. more true/false sentences. based on listening to an interview which was played twice. The sentences followed the order of the speaking, but you had to be quick to catch them, as they did throw in some alternate words here and there. It was an interview with a taxi driver.

We wrapped this section up at 1235 and then were released until 13. At this point I was contemplating that I could soon return home to my nice warm bed because the 94 euros this test was costing apparantly did not include 'a heated building'. I felt like how an egg in the refrigerator must feel. I had brought along my little packed lunch, as instructed, and then proceeded to feel very old and sensible as I'm eating my cooked egg and handful of nuts/dried fruit, and a salad, as the younger test takers are eating a bag of chips with a coke.

Speaking section

I've run out of space here so I've done another article on the speaking section, please visit it here.

A recommended test book

This book comes from the Langenscheidt people, so a good addition to your test materials. It includes test tips and the like (in German), but the most important thing it provides is practice in the various test sections and an entire practice test with answer key, so that you can be confident when you go in to take the test that you're already been through a similar test during your studies.

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