How I passed the Goethe B2

…with a mediocre score, though.

I will tell you from the beginning what scores I got in all 4 sections. At Hören I got 80 points, at Lesen 87, at Sprechen 86 and at Schreiben (only) 60 points. I think that at Hören, Sprechen and Lesen I got some pretty good scores, at least related to my level of knowledge. The rather bad score from Schreiben was the expected result of the fact that I didn’t prepare at all for that section. In the last year, I’ve read hundreds of articles in German, I’ve listened to radios from Germany and Austria and I’ve spoken (even if sometimes only to myself) in German. But I didn’t write any emails or letters. I simply thought that I would do very well at Schreiben and that I could use my spare time to improve in sections where I think I wouldn’t do so well, ie Lesen. Fortunately, in the writing part I got 60 points, which is exactly the limit below which that section is considered to be failed. This will be a lesson for me: I’ll try to write much more in German than I did before. I didn’t realize until now how important it is to know how to write in a foreign language.

For those of you who don’t know, Goethe B2 is a modular exam. This means that if out of four modules you pass 3 and fail one, you can retake only the one you’ve failed. The whole exam cost me about 200€ (ie 240$ or £180), and to retake another module you have to pay another 50€. However, these prices may vary depending on the area you are in.

By the way, Goethe seems to have done well in organizing an exam during COVID-19. We entered a waiting room one by one, then our temperature was taken, and only then we entered (one by one) the exam room. We all wore protective masks and stood at a distance of 2 meters from each other (this is the current law in my country). When it comes to prevention measures, I have nothing to complain about. The funny thing is that at Schreiben we were asked to write an e-mail to the boss, apologizing and telling him that given the current situation, we cannot go to the workplace. Even if they didn’t mention that the “current situation” refers to Coronavirus, it is clear that it’s related to the current situation.

What surprised me a little was the Hören. I expected the first section of Hören to be repeated twice and to have only 6 questions, as it was 3 years ago, when I took the Goethe B1. But I was a little surprised, because the first section had 10 questions and 5 audio sections, each section being repeated only once. I panicked a little, and after I left the room I was really sure I would fail. But I got 80 points, which I think it’s pretty good.

Anyway, I think that my score from Goethe B2 is very good, considering that, the first time I passed the B1 exam, I failed at Lesen, taking only 40 points out of 100. I managed to get from B1- to B2 + in less than a year of learning two hours a day, and think it’s a pretty good achievement, at least considering I’m not a genius and I don’t have an incredible talent for learning foreign languages. That being said, these are the techniques that helped me get the Goethe B2 certificate:

1. EM Neu B2 & EM Neu C1. A series of textbooks that rely on a lot of texts from newspapers to teach you German. It was very important for me to learn from EM, because, given my poor result from Goethe B1, I had to read and translate as many texts as possible. Each textbook has 10 chapters, each chapter containing 4-5 long texts and another 2-3 shorter texts, and questions surrounding these texts. In fact, almost the entire textbook revolves around the topics of discussion given by these texts. Also, at the beginning of each chapter, in the Arbeitsbuch, there is a page with the vocabulary of the lesson. I went through the list and I put all the unknown words in Memrise. I learned from the EMs with a tutor, an hour and a half per week plus homework, which usually takes me about two hours. EM Neu B2 is made by Hüber Verlag and published in 2008. It is indeed an old textbook, but I don’t think that German has changed in the last 12 years so much so that the manual is outdated. Hüber is pretty much the best German textbook publisher, and its books are still used worldwide. For example, when I was in the fourth grade, I learned at school from the Tamburin and Pingpong textbooks, which are also produced by them.

2. Memrise. Don’t know what an SRS is? SRS (or Spaced Repetition System) is a learning technique in which you basically repeat information multiple times, over a long period of time, until you get to learn that information. Even after learning the information, it is important to apply SRS to remember what you learned earlier. SRS is a good learning system for any type of information you want to learn, not just words or sentences in foreign languages. The most popular programs that use SRS are Memrise, Anki and Quizlet. I use Memrise to learn the unknown words I find in EM Neu. But you can also import word lists made by others, right from their site. Although some translations made by others can sometimes be wrong, it may be easier to import a Memrise course than to waste a few hours just transcribing words from the notebook onto the site. As far as I can remember, it cost me 60$ a year (ie 50€ or £45). I warmly recommend this site, it’s worth every penny.

3. Anki. Anki has about the same learning technique as Memrise, with two small differences though. Anki doesn’t have any Quiz modes, like Memrise, nor does it make a list of “difficult words”, meaning words that you make mistakes repeatedly. Rather, it is based on your own self-assessment of how well or not you know a word. This may seem pretty good, until you realize that, most of the time, you tend to be lenient with yourself. Many times I passed a word in Anki as “easy”, even though I could barely remember it. Anki also has a UI worthy of the years 2010. I put a lot of value on the UI, and it bothers me a little how Anki looks like. And precisely because I don’t put too much value on Anki in my learning process, I downloaded three random decks from ankiweb.net. I used the Aspekte B1, Aspekte B2 and Lesetraining B2 decks. Bypassing certain card writing errors, there are some good decks.

4. German radio stations. In the last three months, I have discovered the importance of listening to German radio channels. Although you can also listen to radios that broadcast commercial music (Bayern 3, Radio Gong 96.3 etc), I suggest you listen to news-only radios. Not only will it help you learn new expressions, but it will also increase your ego when you can listen to a portion and then repeat it in your native language. Fortunately, there are quite a few news-only radio channels in Germany, most of them state-owned. I listen to NDR Info, SWR Aktuell and WDR 5.

5. Glossika. A very underrated resource, in my opinion, probably because of the relatively high price (30$ a month or 298$ a year, unless it’s Christmas or Black Friday discounts). Glossika is also based on the SRS system, but uses only ready-made sentences by them, as opposed to user-created word lists. Glossika is based on reps, meaning repetition of sentences. A session has 5 new sentences, each repeated 5 times, so 25 reps. There is also a daily session to review previously learned sentences, and maybe the best part is that it’s structured on sections according to CEFR levels. I started using Glossika nine months ago, in December 2019, and since then I have done 20326 reps, ie 1092 sentences or 76 hours of learning. Although this article is intended for relatively advanced German speakers, I will assume that this article will also be read by absolute beginners, so I must emphasize something: Glossika is not for beginners. You need to know some aspects of grammar and at least 4-500 words before you subscribe to Glossika.

6. Mock tests. I recommend that you do a Goethe mock test at least once a month. Unfortunately, there is only one mock test on the Goethe site, but you can find a few more on torrent sites and other shady sites. If you have exhausted everything you could find, look for mock tests for TestDaF, ÖSD (Österreichische Sprachdiplom), telc etc. They have about the same format as Goethe’s.

7. Online dictionaries. Very important, especially since, as you probably know, a word in German can have many more meanings (such as the word abdecken, google it). Duden, dict.cc are sites that I use almost daily.

10. Other resources that I have tried (and that I consider somewhat useful)

  • Reading German newspapers. I read Bild.de, 20min and RG News.
  • LingQ & Readlang (programs for translating and memorizing unknown words while reading articles in the target language)
  • Assimil Perfectionnement Allemand. I’m on lesson 60 out of 100, and I’m using it to have another source of new words besides EM. It says on the cover that after completing the 100 lessons you will be at C1, but you can be sure that you’ll not be at that level.
  • GermanPod101. I used it for three or four months, going only through the last level. I didn’t find it very useful in my learning process, although I can admit that it helped me a bit on the listening side. I took the Premium package (the one that costs 30$ per month), because I wanted to have access to the Word Bank and their Flashcard system. Looking back, considering how little I used the Word Bank, I should have taken the Basic package (much cheaper, about 8$ a month). However, I can recommend it to some extent to those who know they have problems with the listening part.

11. Tips & Tricks:

  • Try not to spend a lot of money. At one point I paid 150$ a month only for German resources. Be careful on which sites you put your debit card, so you don’t wake up with payments for resources that you don’t even intend to use. You should make full use of the trial options.
  • Use Time management systems, such as Clockify and TimeCamp. Or simply write down in a notebook how many hours of learning you did per day, as I do.
  • When learning, do it on your desktop or laptop, never on your mobile phone. When you sit at the computer you are much more focused than sitting in bed, with your phone in hand.
  • Listen to music in German. Unfortunately, rap is full of Umgangssprache (which is useful to know, but it’s not very useful for Goethe exams), commercial music is generally in English and rock, well… it doesn’t have a lot of words.
  • Change the language on your phone.
  • Don’t forget to have fun! If German is an ordeal for you, stop learning it. If you find a resource boring, don’t use it anymore, no matter what I or others tell you.

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