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Expat Life | Goethe-Zertifikat C1

It’s officially official, I passed the Goethe-Zertifikat C1 exam!  And I did even better than I imagined possible, which I’m pleased as punch about.  Before I return to normal life, I thought I would offer up a little recap — in case any of you are interested in doing something similar (or just want to figure out why someone would torture themselves like this!).

Taking the Goethe-Zertifikat C1 exam | No Apathy Allowed

Why take the exam?

For me, it was always clear that if I wanted to pursue a doctorate and a career in Germany, I was going to need to officially prove my German skills at some point.  While I was lucky enough to receive a fellowship to get my PhD within a special English-language international program, I know that if I ever want to apply for research funding from a German foundation, they typically require foreigners to provide proof of their German skills through an exam (at least in my field, that’s the case).

So after a couple years of procrastination, I decided to finally  go for it.  And man, was it a lot more work than I bargained for.  But thank goodness I was able to invest so much energy, because it was really *not* one of those things in life where you can just show up and hope for the best.  Or, at least, I never would have stood a chance that way.

On test day

The two most challenging sections of the exam require you to give an oral presentation and to write a 200+-word essay on a given topic.  For both of these, you are presented with the topic during the exam and given only a short amount of time to prepare — 7-8 minutes prep time for a 3-4 minute presentation, and a total of 65 minutes to gather your thoughts *and* write the essay.  The challenge, of course, is that there is no way to know ahead of time what you’re going to be asked to present/write about. I, for example, had to write an essay on “cut flowers” and their meaning in society, and had to give a presentation on “friendly neighborly relations.”

To make it even more fun, both sections require you to use relatively formal German, which you don’t necessarily just pick up by living in Germany for awhile.  I had to devote a lot of time to practicing formal presentation and writing lingo because it was stuff I never said or wrote in my everyday life here in Germany.  Mastering these turns of phrase was more than half the battle, but once I had ’em down, it was much easier to present or write something on the fly.

Oh yeah, and at the same time, you need to make sure your pronunciation is accent-free (ha!) and your grammar is flawless (ha!).  But as long as you have a stellar vocabulary and awesome listening comprehension skills, the rest of exam will probably present less of a challenge.

Preparing for the exam

In any case, I highly recommend working through this preparation book from Cornelsen.  You’ll get a really solid sense of what the exam will be like, plus you can practice working through the exercises under the same tight time restrictions that you’ll have during the real exam (another major challenge).  I can honestly say there weren’t any ugly surprises waiting for me on test day, and I didn’t have to waste any precious time deciphering the instructions.

So, there you go!  Have I tempted any of you into taking an exam? Or do you have your own tales to share?

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This post is part of the Awful German Language Blog Hop on Young Germany


  1. Reez says:

    Wow, congratulations!!! And, thanks for the tips – hoping that one day I’ll have enough knowledge to be able to think about taking the test!

  2. Tom says:

    How much tougher would you say the C1 is than the B2? I lived in Germany as a young child, but mostly grew up and went to school in the US. The people down at my local Goethe Institut told me that with my speaking ability I should go for C2 or C1. But, like I said I went to school and learned to write in the US, so have little confidence in my writing ability.

    • Hi Tom! Since I never took the B2 exam, I can’t really compare the two. But based on my experience with the C1 exam, I can say that one-quarter of it is based on your ability to write a well-structured essay in German on an unknown topic in under an hour. In addition to your grammar and being able to structure an argument, they also look at how well you can use commonly written formulations for argumentation. So if you feel pretty confident in your speaking, listening, and reading skills, perhaps studying up on the writing portion of the C1 would be good preparation. Good luck!

  3. I took the B2 exam and that was nerve wrecking (6 hours) and I managed to pass it (Juhu!). I have subsequently started working for a German company and have been often in Germany, so since then I’ve had some practical practicing and expanding my vocabulary. This is a great article because I am considering taking the C1 and need to increase my vocabulary as well as my sentence structure for complex sentences. Thanks so much for the insight…this is a little inspiring.

  4. Lara Peters says:

    Congrats, that’s fantastic! I know how hard it can be, I just passed the C1 telc exam myself! It took *a lot* of studying! And a good school helps too, I think! I happened to take classes at speakeasy (their page is: http://www.speakeasysprachzeug.de if you’re in Berlin and want to check them out) A friendly, supportive teacher really helps to motivate me, then I don’t mind doing the extra homework hehe. But time to celebrate now! ^^

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