A little while back, I wrote about my experience applying for Polish citizenship, and it turns out I needed to take the Polish B1 exam in order to complete my application. WARNING: it’s not an easy test! So, how did I manage and how can you pass it too? I’ll give you some tips on just how to do that in this post.
Essentially, everything you need to know is on the Certyfikat Polski website.
5 sections: listening, reading, grammar, writing, speaking
Length of test: about 190 minutes total exam time, 8:30 – 15, with breaks.
Cost: Depends on the exchange rate from the Euro, about 700 zł, plus the cost of the certificate, about 100 zł.
Passing score: at least 50% from all sections. You can’t fail one section and pass the test.
What to bring: passport, pen
Results: by e-mail, after about 2 months
The exam takes place over two days (Saturday – listening, reading, grammar, writing; Sunday – speaking) but, if you ask them, apparently, they will let some people take the speaking section the same day as the rest of the exam. Just a little hint. For the speaking, you’ll have your own 15-minute time slot, so you only need to be there a few minutes before that.
Firstly, what you need to do is decide where you’re going to take the test. There’s a whole list of venues here. I took mine in Katowice as it was the closest location.
Booking a spot
Not only is it not an easy exam, it’s not even easy to sign up for! So, I decided to take the exam in November 2020 and saw that registration for the upcoming exam in January 2021 was to open that month. You have to keep checking the website of the location where you’d like to take the test to get information about the day and time of registration. As I’d heard the spots go fast, I enlisted my husband to try and get a spot as well (you never know what will happen) when the registration opened at 13:30 (can you tell I’ve been living in Poland a long time? Kombinator 🤫). I managed to get a spot and at 13:34 they were all gone… that’s how fast it is. You’ve gotta be there waiting when it opens.
How to study
I studied for two months prior to the exam, nearly every day, and I did it on my own. However, firstly, I’m a language teacher, so I know how to prepare for language exams. Also, there’s a chance I could have passed the test without studying, as I knew my level was likely around B1 anyway. However, it’s not my style to take a test unprepared and I’d prefer not to throw 700 zł down the toilet. If you’re not feeling confident enough to self-study, I’d take a course. I think many of the test sites even offer courses there. So, what did I do?
First off, I bought a book called Bądź na B1. It was ok and cheap (30 zł) but, honestly, I’d recommend the zbiory zadań on the official exam site, which has a ton of exercises to go through for FREE. In my opinion, if you go through that and do well, you’ll be sufficiently prepared.
How I studied
Basically, I did the entire book, all those exercises from the site, plus all the mock exams on the site. I was SO over it the week before the exam that I basically did nothing and let myself rest, but the week before that, I focused mainly on practice exams. I did a couple as if it really were the test, so the full written part without speaking, just to get a feel for how it would really be in terms of time and tiredness.
Youtube + Polish-speaking friends
Two other things that helped me A LOT were: the Youtube channel Pozdrowienia z Polski – this girl is a fantastic teacher and can explain things very clearly. She gives lots of writing examples, which I found absolutely invaluable. Also, my good friend, an English teacher with experience helping people pass exams, helped me go through about 4-5 full speaking exams, which made me feel confident and made a massive difference. If you don’t have a friend, perhaps consider getting a teacher at least for practice purposes. Do NOT go to the speaking exam without practicing with another person first. You’ll want to prepare good phrases to use and add structure to your responses.
My general thoughts/tips
What I focused on the most was writing, speaking, and grammar (obviously, it’s the hardest). Overall, the test was about what I thought it would be in terms of difficulty level. I was definitely tired after and happy that the speaking was the next day.
It went well, but I think that’s because of all the practice tests I did. Most of the listening is fairly simple and you get to hear most parts twice. Unfortunately, the FIRST exercise (and the first of the whole exam) is always played only once! It’s a series of short messages or phrases and you have to say where you would hear them or what kind of message it is. It is HARD, so practice up!
For me, reading is always the easiest, so I wasn’t too worried about it. Honestly though, the actual test was harder than I thought it would be, which goes to show that you should practice even if you don’t think something will be difficult for you.
Dun dun dun… There’s no getting around it and there’s nothing you can do except tons of exercises and just go with your gut when in doubt. There could be anything on the test, but it’s mostly things like przypadki (Polish cases), superlatives/comparatives, conditionals, all that fun stuff. All in all, it’s just fucking tough, but that’s Polish grammar for ya 🥺😩
The speaking exam is made up of three exercises – describing a picture, a monologue, and a dialogue. I was pretty nervous about the speaking but it turned out to be a lot easier than I thought on the actual test! Nice examiners, no stress. They even stopped me before I finished my answers. Ultimately, practice with someone!! Answering exam questions is never the same as chatting with someone in real life.
The writing section has three sets to choose from and there are two prompts in each set. There are essays, invitations, announcements, reviews, wishes, etc. Difficult, as most of us probably only write emails in Polish and have never written, e.g., an essay or formal invitations in Polish, but I had a strategy. Instead of studying for every single type of writing that might be on the test, I focused on a few that are always there like wishes for a birthday or from vacation (pozdrowienia). I even prepared a film/book review (I chose a film based on a book) because I knew it could be on the speaking or writing, and it was on the writing! So I got really lucky there. Watch Pozdrowienia z Polski videos for great tips!
My scores 🤓
Overall, I’m happy with my scores! For sure grammar could have been higher but, ok, I won’t complain 😊 Thankfully, it’s behind me and I never have to worry about it again! Until I decide to do B2 or C1… maybe one day!