So, you have studied the German language for six months and now the B1 test looms and panic sets in. Don't worry! Following these tips will give you a greater chance of passing the B1 German test:
Tip 1: Buy (or loan from the library) a Pruefungsvorbereiten book
Most language learning publishers offer material to help you prepare for the exam (Pruefungsvorbereiten). They contain general tips for the exam, as well as many examples and exercises covering listening, reading, writing and speaking. Check the main publishers (Cornelsen, Hueber-Verlag and Langenscheidt) to find a book including a CD with practise listening exercises as well as an actual example of the speaking test, which will give you a good idea of what the exam has in store for you.
Tip 2: Sit near the front of the exam room near the CD player
On exam day, arrive early and make sure you are near the front of the line before they open the door of the exam room. Then make a beeline for a desk at the front of the room near the CD player. This will ensure you can hear the audio properly and will also keep you up the front of the room near the examiner and away from distractions down the back of the room, where unfortunately people will be trying to cheat during the examination! The audio will be played once only, so you need to maximise your chances of hearing it properly.
Tip 3: Listen to weather and traffic reports on German radio
Listen to the weather and traffic reports on German radio or television each day for a couple of weeks leading up to the exam, and take note of any unfamiliar words. This is an excellent exercise for the B1 exam, as there is sure to be a listening exercise devoted to the weather or traffic (or both). Try to fully understand the reports. For example, is it going to stay dry and sunny from Tuesday on or is the temperature going to drop on Thursday leading to a rainy weekend? It is worthwhile taking the time to practise this listening exercise well before exam day as it gives you practise at listening to a report once and understanding what has been said.
Tip 4: Underline important words and draw symbols for the weather
You will be given a moment in the exam to read through the questions and answers of the listening section before the CD is played. Underline the important words in the questions and answers that you will need to take into consideration while you are listening to the audio. If you see a weather report question and if you have time, write the first letters of the days of the week on the page and then take notes as you hear the audio. Eg: Mo, Di, Mi, Do, Fr, Sa, So, then as you listen to the audio, you can jot down some notes or draw a sun symbol etc. under the appropriate day and time period (eg cloudy vormittag, sunny nachmittag). The weather and traffic reports offer a good chance for you to get the answers right, which gives you leeway to get an answer wrong in the more difficult listening activities.
Tip 5: Don't worry if you don't understand every word - read through, get the gist, think logically
For the reading section of the exam, you will be presented with an article which you will have to read and then answer questions in a multiple choice answer format. Read the article through and try to understand what is being said without worrying too much about those big words you've never heard before. Think about it logically, and you can probably work out the gist of what the article is trying to convey. To prepare for this part of the exam, practise reading a German newspaper or magazine (Der Spiegel, for instance, provides good practice material) without using your dictionary to look up words you do not understand. This will mimic the exam situation perfectly. Read the articles through, think about them logically, and try to work out what is being said without looking up unfamiliar words.
Tip 6: Read the instructions carefully - check if you need to find an answer for every situation
Another part of the reading section will present you with a series of advertisements and, through a process of elimination, you will match them up with their corresponding answers. For example, the advertisements can be about jobs, holidays, sporting activities, etc, and you have to match them up with a person seeking a particular job, work experience placement or activity etc. For this section, it is a good idea to revise all those work- and study-related terms that you will have learned at some point during your language course. It is also important to take note that sometimes the instructions for this section will state that one or two of the answers will have no match with any of the advertisements. It is important to keep this in mind if it is stated explicitly in the instructions and mark the corresponding answers appropriately (usually with an X).
Tip 7: Revise formal/informal greetings, learn work/study terms, practise writing letters
For the writing section, you will be given a choice of topics for which you will write a formal or informal letter. The topics may include writing a letter to your child's teacher requesting a meeting because your child has received bad marks on a test, or that you need to excuse your child from school for some reason, or that an appliance you purchased is not working and you would like to return it and receive your money back, or a letter to a friend recommending the sights to be seen in your home country. These are just some examples. It is a good idea to revise the specific greetings used for formal as opposed to informal, and the words used for requesting a meeting with a teacher or returning a malfunctioning product. These will have been covered in your language course, and if you haven't had a lot of practise at writing such letters, it is a good idea to sit down with a blank piece of paper and pen, and start thinking about how you would compose such a letter. Memorize the openings and closing sections to a letter so that you don't have to waste time on exam day wondering how to spell "geehrte".
Tip 8: Cover all the points in your letter that have been laid out for you in the instructions
Read the instructions for the writing section carefully and underline the important words in the points you are required to address in your letter. These will be stipulated for you, and it is your job to work the points into a letter that is polite and flows smoothly. If writing is the weakest part of your German arsenal, grit your teeth and spend an afternoon writing a couple of these sorts of letters to get a few under your belt before going into the exam. Just sitting down and staring at a blank piece of paper will help you identify what you need to revise.
Tip 9: Know what makes you who you are, prepare a spiel and practise with your exam partner
You will probably be given a short break before embarking on the last part of the exam, the section that most people dread, the speaking section. You will be paired up with another student for this part of the exam, and it is a good idea to find out who this person will be before exam day. If it is a classmate you already know, and if passing the B1 exam is as important to them as it is to you, then you have an excellent opportunity to practise with them before the exam. The speaking section of the test comprises two sections. First, the examiner will bring you in to the room and introduce themselves and their co-examiner, and will then ask you to introduce yourself. This is the easiest part of the exam, as you can prepare yourself well in advance for this. You can memorize the main points you need to cover (your name, home country, your education/job/hobbies, reason for being in Germany, how long you've learned German, how long you've been in Germany, etc.) and practise this part with your speaking partner or other students a few times before exam day. On exam day, the examiner will place a piece of paper before you which has the main points listed that you need to cover, which can serve as a prompt if you suddenly get the jitters and have a mental blank.
Tip 10: Establish the basis for your opinions and practise planning an event with your exam partner
The examiner will then place a picture before you and ask you to describe what you see in the picture. The pictures are usually not loaded with detail, so you will not need to spend minutes showcasing your command of the dativ case or proficiency with adjectival endings, although a few of these sprinkled into your description will, of course, help. The picture might be of a male florist or a woman sitting at a computer, for example. After you have described the picture, the examiner will ask you a few questions relating to your picture (for example, "Do you think he enjoys his job?" "Do you think the lady is working at home or is she working in an office? What makes you think she's working in an office?"). These questions are directed at establishing your grounds for your suppositions (Ich denke, dass..., weil...). The examiner will then ask more general questions relating to the pictures (eg about work, child raising, etc.) and perhaps will ask for your opinion about something specific (eg "Do you think it's better to do learn a trade or to go to university?"). These questions are directed at how you express an opinion (Ich glaube, dass... Ich finde, dass... Ich bin der Meinung, dass...).
Then you will move on to another speaking exercise, where you have to plan something with your partner and agree on something (eg organising a farewell event for your language course). You will be given a sheet of paper with the points you need to cover, and then you can start discussing the event with your speech partner. For this section, you can also prepare yourself well in advance by practising this type of scenario with your classmate well before exam day.
So, good luck with your B1 exam! You will probably do better than you expect. When it is all over, you can pat yourself on your back for achieving so much in such a short space of time. Compare what you knew six months ago to what you know and understand in German today!