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German B2 #2

Posted on May 19, 2024 by Chung-hong Chan

Previously on this blog: German B2 #1

The B2 Exam I took contains seven parts in total: reading comprehension, language foundation, listening comprehension, writing, presentation, discussion, and problem solving. The latter three are oral.

During the intensive course, the teacher did arrange several mock exams. And through those mock exams, I understood which parts are actually difficult. And if you need my advice on exam preparation, this is the first advice: Don’t be soft on yourself and take mock exams as if they are real exams. It is extremely tempting to make excuses to yourself (“I am a learner”) and cut corners like using dictionary during a mock exam. If something counts as cheating in the real exam, don’t do that. Don’t deceive yourself! You cannot understand how difficult the real exam is going to be, if you are being soft to yourself. Also, doing that defeats the whole purpose of doing mock exam: To have a better understanding of your own ability as an exam taker. It’s better to fuck up in these mock exams rather than in the real one.

Unlike other exams, one must get at least 60% for each of the seven parts to pass the exam. Therefore, if you mess up one part, you cannot make it up by doing better in other parts. One must know one’s weaknesses and improve them. After the mock exams in class, I felt that the difficult parts are listening comprehension, writing, discussion, and problem solving. They were difficult in their own way.

The intensive course ended by the end of February. Then I had a month of time, which I was on my own. Except Shadowing, I had to work on these three weakest links. Other than reviewing the course content every other night, the only way to get myself fitter for the exam was to do more exams (like typical exam crammers would do).

germanb2

I bought this mock exam book. And in the book there are three mock exams (and one exam explainer, which is also kind of a mock exam). Taking one mock exam can easily kill a half day, so the only possible time slot was in weekends. After taking a mock exam, I would need an hour or two review the mistakes and refine the strategy. For each mock exam, I did it twice. Therefore, in total I did six mock exams in a month. I wanted myself to be as numb as possible with these fucking mock exams. I did them as if I were in an actual exam. Again, I had to be hard to myself, so that I had a good mental picture of how the entire exam would run. I think the most important point is again about time management, especially for the writing task. I will come back to the writing task later.

And I developed some ways to tackle some common question patterns. For example, when I saw a question about traffic report: My immediate response is to first draw a table about the highway and the two cities mentioned in the question. I was pretty sure that when the question is about a highway between city A and city B, the traffic report will mention both directions (A to B and B to A). So, I must drop down the situation of both directions so that I can be sure about the answer.

As said, it is better to fuck up in mock exams and I fucked up pretty badly in the listening comprehension tests. In one of these mock exams, there was an interview with a lady from Leipzig and honestly, I caught almost nothing from that interview. She spoke in a way that is super difficult to understand. Not to mention her accent. I did pretty badly, even when I did the same listen comprehension test for the second time and listened to the interview for perhaps a dozen time afterward.

For these mock exams, I could get instant feedback about how well I did for the reading parts and the listening parts. The marking scheme was included in the book, so that I could quickly know how well I did. But there were two problems.

The first problem was those oral tests. It’s meaningless to do that on my own and it’s also not realistic. I must have a partner for this. The solution was: My wife served as the partner. Here, I would like to say that I am very thankful for her help on this. She doesn’t need to take the exam, but she helped me anyway. Her German is officially B1, but I think that she can often speak German better than me. There is one big difference between my wife and me: Unlike me having no life, She has a social life in Germany. She has her hobbies and therefore she has different opportunities to listen and talk to the local people in German.

She did the oral tests with me, also provided me with some very helpful feedback. She told me that she have listened to my presentation for so many times that she can recall it already. You know how patient she was on this.

The second problem was the writing task. I could not get anyone to correct my writing. Yes, a letter could be written in 30 minutes. But I did not know how good the letter was. From my intensive course, I got an impression that this writing task were very formulaic. I also thought that I could remember some phrases too. Because of these, I thought for this task I only needed to improve my speed and my written content should be at least okay.

Immediately after the intensive course, my biggest fear was the oral parts. After doing these mock exams with my wife, I had some confidence. But I still thought that the oral parts could easily expose how incomprehensible my German actually is.

And then, came the D Day.

The Exam

The exam was in an afternoon. It was pretty quick and there was no much space for me to feel nervous. I did all oral parts first. Immediately after the oral parts, I thought I didn’t do it well. The two other partners can certainly speak much more natural German than me. I saw in their confused faces that they couldn’t understand all the things I said. I also felt that i didn’t have enough chance to demonstrate my skill, because there was a very dominant partner. In general, I felt that my performance should be able to land me a pass, but not a high mark.

Then, all the other parts of the exam. The reading was a piece of cake. The listening was also easier than I thought. One interesting point was that the interview was with a farmer from the Palatine region and he spoke with heavy Palatine German accent. But well, that’s the German accent in my current region, so I could understand him quite well. But I would say that exam takers from other regions might find him confusing. So, I had some home-field advantage for that one. Then the third challenge: the writing. The assignment was a little bit of a curveball: it was still about writing a complaint letter, but the complaint was a little bit vague. Anyway, I only had 30 minutes so couldn’t think too much. I managed to write the whole thing, but i didn’t know how good or bad the letter actually was. And then, the exam was over. I thought at the time I might just pass the oral parts; but other parts should be quite adequate. At least according to my confidence level.

After a long wait of 6 weeks, I got the email notification: I passed. Okay. But I must get the official certificate to know the breakdown of the score.

I got the certificate the same day and the result was a surprise. I got almost 95% for the oral parts. The worst part is writing. I got only 70%. Overall, the score is 86%, the second highest grade (“Good”). That piece of paper concludes the whole endeavour of burning >150 hours of my time as well as a considerable amount of money. And up to that point, I have been feeling quite numb (and miserable) about it already.

Coda

While I was cooking in one night and I was actually feeling quite good about my cooking skill, I thought: I never go to school for this and I don’t even have someone to actually teach me. But I am confident doing that. I started cooking frequently since I have been in Germany since 2017. In comparison to my German skill, which has also been a “requirement” since 2017, it’s night and day difference.

After this B2 German exam endeavour, I ask myself: Can I speak better German now? My inner cynical, negative self knows the answer much better. When I am still struggling listening to German numbers in the restaurant, my conscious self also knows the answer. I perhaps can pass a German exam now, but it means nothing except to the people who want to look at the paper. It is because there are many problems being concealed by that piece of paper. One of the problems is my inadequate integration into the society even after that so many years.

As said, I virtually do not need to speak German in my work. It can be good or bad. I have no life other than my work life. I don’t need to have serious social interactions with local people, except perhaps ordering food or doing grocery shopping. I am actually like one of those failed-in-London-try-Hong-Kong “expats” in my home town who do not need to speak the local language at all. But of course I know what the word “expat” means and my skin color does not qualify me to be an expat. I am at best a migrant guest worker. At worst an economic refugee.

I also don’t know when the circumstances might ask me to have C1 German. I don’t know when my German will deteriorate again. Well, that’s quite obvious: Now.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my two German teachers, as well as all the people who have been forced to listen to my practice of the presentation task. Finally, of course, my wife for practicing the German exam with me and the emotional support.


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