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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18 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).

  • Reply Ben 19 April 2021 at 16:14

    Congratulations on passing, Leah! I also took the January 2021 B1 exam (Warsaw), and thankfully passed, although my scores were not quite as impressive as yours – I only got 50% on Grammar, but a pass is a pass, and I’ll gladly take it.

    I didn’t prepare much for the exam and didn’t take a specific course. My tip would be to focus on writing and grammar as those are the areas where students most commonly fail. I totally agree with you about the registration thought. All the places were gone within minutes at my chosen test center, and there apparently were over 200 available.

    Next step, Citizenship…I’m a Brit and have lived in Poland for nearly 8 years now. Brexit messed up my settlement status, so citizenship (and the right to vote) seem to be a good way forward to me.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 19 April 2021 at 16:16

      Hey Ben! Like you said, a pass is a pass. That’s always impressive, especially if you didn’t prepare much. Registration is a disaster. Maybe they should have the test more often if so many people are interested!

      I know – I need to finish my application as well. I’m actually just waiting for the certificate so that I can go turn everything in 🙂 Good luck! It’s actually a pretty easy process, weirdly!

      • Reply Ben 20 April 2021 at 09:47

        Hi Leah! I think registration for this exam is troubled by the same problem as getting an appointment at the urząd miasta. For permanent residence in Poland (Non-Schengen), I think you now need proof of Polish language ability, so it means that lots of Ukrainians and Belarusians need to take and pass the exam in order to stay in Poland long term. If they can solve the problem here, perhaps they can pass on some tips to local government offices!! 😉

  • Reply Ron Ti 25 April 2021 at 21:02

    G’day Ben!
    Well done on passing the exam mate. For a bloke who says he didn’t study ( ? surely not even one day?) 50% for Polish grammar is bloody good! I sat the B1 exan in Katoeice at the end of 2019 and got , I tihink, 67%. But there’s the point-there is no score on the certificate, a pass is a pass and whether you scraped through by the skin of your teeth ( 50% -grammar) or scored highly, it is the same for all practical purposes ( especially when you are applying for citizenship) . Good on Leah for scoring so high, but this is also a function of her having been over a decade in Poland and speaking Polish a LOT. You will see the latest post from her about teaching one’s kids to be bilingual, where it is very clear a lot of Polish is spoken in the Leah household. Despite having lived in Poland for 5 years, I actually speak very little Polish and my work is 100% in English ( I work a lot with NATO, where is fact the working language is not English, its a dialect called : Bad English). In order to pass the exam, my advice to those reading this ( not you, obviously) if you have not been living in Poland for a decade and do not speak everyday with your kids ( like me) the best advice I can give is: take lessons! Lots of them.
    Ben, I note you mention applying for citizenship. I have just done the same and the process was really seamless. The main factor is getting ALL the paperwork in place. Once that is done the system works well. Good luck! ( =Australian lving in Poland)

    • Reply Ben 26 April 2021 at 11:26

      G’day Ron, how you going?

      To clarify, I did prepare a bit, but fitting it round a full time job and 2 kids under the age of 4 didn’t leave much time. Like I said, I focused on grammar and writing exercises which I did with my regular Polish lessons which I have about once or twice per week (work permitting). I work almost exclusively in English, but use Polish a bit in my personal life with friends and in-laws. With a fair wind, I knew I was probably good enough, but probably needed luck on my side, which evidently I had! 🙂 Along with the grammar practice exercises, I managed 1 full practice paper split over a few days. I completely agree with your advice, though, Ron, that if you want to have the best chance of passing, practice makes perfect, and makes it more likely you won’t waste your 700 zł.

      Thanks for the advice on the citizenship process. I have most of the documentation already, just need to organize it. Then it will be time to brave the urząd mazowiecki wydzial spraw cudzoziemcow with the reams of paper and copies of copies of all the documents!

  • Reply Ben 26 April 2021 at 11:27

    G’day Ron, how you going?

    To clarify, I did prepare a bit, but fitting it round a full time job and 2 kids under the age of 4 didn’t leave much time. Like I said, I focused on grammar and writing exercises which I did with my regular Polish lessons which I have about once or twice per week (work permitting). I work almost exclusively in English, but use Polish a bit in my personal life with friends and in-laws. With a fair wind, I knew I was probably good enough, but probably needed luck on my side, which evidently I had! 🙂 Along with the grammar practice exercises, I managed 1 full practice paper split over a few days. I completely agree with your advice, though, Ron, that if you want to have the best chance of passing, practice makes perfect, and makes it more likely you won’t waste your 700 zł.

    Thanks for the advice on the citizenship process. I have most of the documentation already, just need to organize it. Then it will be time to brave the urząd mazowiecki wydzial spraw cudzoziemcow with the reams of paper and copies of copies of all the documents!

  • Reply Ron Ti 26 April 2021 at 21:46

    G’day Ben! Mate, 2 under 4 years of age? Hats off to you, mine are 26 and 24, and at least I do not have to cut up their food and feed it to them ( I think).
    The good news is that for a citizenship application, you will not have to go within COOEE of that Natural disaster UN refugee catastrophe zone, otherwise known as the biuro spraw cudzoziemców…. the bloody good news is you will be rid of the bloody place forever- as you may have gathered, multiple trips there over the years have scarred me for life. There will be a separate office in Warszawa for citizenship applications- its a biuro spraw obywatel….going there is like checking in business class compared to the biuro spraw cud. which is like trying to get on the last helicopter out of the US Embassy in South Vietnam as the place collapses around you- bodies everywhere, screaming infants, people hanging on for grim death to the door and that bloody ticket which everyone ignores anyway once the door open- in this situation, being a prop or first row helps greatly as you can scrum your way in….I’m exagerrating of course but it has truly been this bad in the past.
    Ben, I suspect the main thing you will need to do is regster your birth with the urząd, maybe even your marriage certificate. I gathered all my papers, submitted them in late August, and, covid notwithstanding, received the grant of citizenship in early Dec! It then took 3 weeks for my dowód osobisty, and then a week- one week after that to receive my passport (= as i was travelling in the EU) . Mate, Poland beat the pants off Australia in this department. I’m really proud of Poland, seriously.
    Better get back to gthe topic here, passing B1. My big tip is to write essays- I ‘crammed’. I only decided at short notice to sit the exam and in 6 weeks, wrote over 15 essays ( the ‘pisanych’ section). I completed each one in the alloted time , under exam conditions, then emailed them straight to my teacher who then corrected them. It made all the difference, I got 60% for this section, but it would have been a big fat FAIL if i had not done the work. Up until that point I had only written…. 4?
    Ben, you are a lot smarter than me, for sure, I had to do a stack of papers to get it all into my thick skull!!!!
    Good luck with the citizenship application, its a wonderful privilege but, rest assured, you have done all the hard work already….

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 27 June 2021 at 12:02

      I also have two kids that young and it was super hard to find the time to study – but I mostly did it in the evenings – at least an hour a day for about 2 months. Of course it all depends on how much you know before starting the study process, so some might need more or less time – some might just wing it but that’s not my style! It’s super hard but worth it not to loss all that money you pay for the test!

      • Reply Ben 21 July 2021 at 10:53

        Good job, Leah! I know how hard it is to not only find time with young kids, but then also to prioritize it for something other than rest or non-physically/mentally taxing hobbies.

        Out of interest, have you heard back on your citizenship application yet? How long did it take? I’m waiting for my officially registered birth certificate then I’m going to submit my application.

        • Reply Leah Morawiec 21 July 2021 at 11:10

          Thank you for recognizing the challenge 🙂 It was intense. As for my application, they have until September to give me the final decision (I applied in May), but they sent the police to my house to check me and make sure I’m a good candidate haha so I guess things are rolling. Fun stuff!

  • Reply Richard Kruszewski 26 June 2021 at 23:03

    Hi,

    Just interested in how you prepare for language exams. Do you have a set program or specific way of doing things?

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 27 June 2021 at 12:04

      My way, which I outline in the blog post, is basically to do as much practice as possible. I was also highly internally motivated and used to be a teacher, so I know what the test and prep should look like. I personally believe that practice tests are the way to go. So I did all the tests I could find over a two-month period. I was likely already at the B1 level, but it’s about knowing what the test looks like and how to do answer the questions. I also got some tips on the writing test from YouTube (link in the post) and did speaking practice with my Polish friend who’s an English teacher (she prepares people for English exams, so she knows what answers should look like). If you feel like your level isn’t high enough, definitely get a teacher who can go over everything with you!

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