For Foreigners

How to pass the Polish B1 exam

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.

The basics

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?

Study materials

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.

Listening

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!

Reading

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.

Grammar

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 🥺😩

Speaking

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.

Writing

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 🤓

Listening: 90
Reading: 100
Grammar: 79
Writing: 88
Speaking: 100

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!

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6 Comments

  • Reply Ola 8 April 2021 at 16:04

    Yaaay! Congrats on the score! I am always sooo impressed by the Polish-speaking foreigners – I like learning languages and still, I wouldn’t manage to learn Polish as a non-native. Chapeau bas!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 8 April 2021 at 18:59

      Thank you so much! I’m sure you’d manage if you’d lived in Poland for a decade 🙂

  • Reply Kasia 8 April 2021 at 17:27

    Congrats Leah, you did great! Polish is really hard, I’m a native speaker and it’s hard for me to even try to explain polish grammar to anybody that’s not Polish. With your results I’m pretty sure you would pass the B2 level as well 🙂

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 8 April 2021 at 18:59

      That’s a nice thought 🙂 It’s possible but luckily not necessary! Speaking Polish on a daily basis is enough of a challenge 🙂

  • Reply Piotr 10 April 2021 at 00:43

    Leah, congrats on taking your B1 Polish exam! Yor result is really impressive and I`m really jelaous that you went through your test with almost no stress. For me it was really stressful despite having A mark at this subject. My tasks seemed to be a lot harder than yours but still… It`s really a difficult thing to be tested and rated by evaminers even if they look and behave nice, isn`t it? And an our mother toungue is quite complicated to learn-I`m writing this as a native speaker. The foreigners who are able to speak Polish exist very rarely and I really appreciate them. You have a superpower and I hope you won`t waste it-would be really shame if your work got fhushed down! You never know what you will need in the future. The same with English and me-thank to my effort and developing I can watch movies with an original sound and comment your great posts!

  • Reply JoannaM 10 April 2021 at 12:05

    I had some flashbacks to my English matura exam reading this, especially the speaking part 😀 I think this Polish exam makes more sense though, as you are speaking to Polish people in their native language. During matura we had to speak to Polish people in English while they sometimes pronounced English words not exactly as they should be pronounced… Also, I hated having to make up stories on the spot. We practiced this a bit during English lessons, but not nearly enough (and I think nobody really trained us in being creative/imaginative in speaking).

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