I passed the ÖSD Deutsch als Fremdsprache Niveau C1 in June this year with a score of 90, which gave me the rating of “Sehr Gut Bestanden”–the highest rating one could get in the exam. This is an excellent result for anybody who wants to learn the language and to settle down in a German speaking country.
This is the 5th and likely the last post of my blog series on German learning. This post is dedicated to the preparation for the C1 exam. You can find the previous posts here:
- Zero to B1: How to Pass German Language Exam C1 in 10 Years (1) — From Zero to B1
- B2: How to Pass German Language Exam C1 in 10 Years (2) — B2
- C1: How to Pass German Language Exam C1 in 10 Years (3) — C1
- ÖSD C1 exam format: How to Pass German Language Exam C1 in 10 Years (4) – Anatomy of the ÖSD C1 Exam
Although this post is focused on ÖSD C1, I am sure the methods in this post are also useful for other German exams. If you are not familiar with the ÖSD C1 yet, I suggest that you read my previous post on the structure of the exam.
(For those who prefer TL;DR, there will be a set of takeaway messages at the end of each post.)
After finishing all the homework in the C1 book and before registering to the exam, I simulated the Goethe C1 exam at the end of the book. It didn’t strike me as particularly difficult but I think I could at best just pass the exam with a low grade. Then in January this year, before I really started preparing for the ÖSD exam, I did the official mock exam from ÖSD with time controlled. It was a disaster. I didn’t know it could be so difficult. The time was extremely tight for writing. And I was totally lost in the speaking part, which I simulated with my teacher.
Planning and material collection
I discussed with my teacher about how much time I would need for preparation. I could register to the exam at the end of March, which would leave me with 2 months of preparation time, but my teacher advised me to take the exam at the beginning of June. She helped me to clarify one thing: although C1 certificate sounds good, it should not be my primary goal. I don’t need C1 certificate. My goal should be to further improve my language skills rather than to rush to pass an exam that doesn’t serve any practical purpose for me. She suggested the methods, which I summarize in this post. Since the reading and listening parts didn’t bother me much, the focus was on writing and speaking, with strengthening of vocabulary. She also promised that with the intensity of the exam preparation I would further improve my German significantly.
As ÖSD C1 is not Goethe or other popular exams based in Germany, exercise materials are scarce. But my teacher emphasized on repetition and iterative improvement, which means I should try to get the most of every mock exam by repeating the same exercise many times. Judging by my exam result, this approach worked extremely well.
In total I have collected 6 mock exams:
With every mock exam it went like this. I set aside a Saturday morning to simulate one writing exam, which includes the reading, listening and writing parts. The speaking part was left to the next appoint with the teacher. I chose one of the three topics in writing Aufgabe 2 to complete in the simulation, just like in the real exam. But the other two topics I didn’t choose should not go wasted. In the following two weekends I would practice with the other two. I tried to simulate the real exam conditions as much as possible. I controlled the time for every part. When a writing on Aufgabe 2 was done outside a simulated exam, I limited the time to 60 minutes. I wrote with a pen on paper in all the writing practices because that’s how it is in real exam.
After completing both Aufgabe 1 and Aufgabe 2 I typed the original text in MS Word and sent it to my teacher. She would correct it in the next days and return it to me. The first round was only focused on correcting the grammatical errors and improving the variability of wording and expression. Then I would try to revise the article on Aufgabe 2, with a focus on the contents and connections between paragraphs and sentences. The second version would again be sent to her for correction and improvement. After these two iterations I had an article with decent quality by C1 standard. Then came the most difficult part. My teacher asked me to memorize every article I wrote. So I printed out the twice reviewed article and spent 2-3 hours to memorize it to the extent that I could recite it from beginning to end. Here I post the three editions of the same article I have written so that you can compare the results. The first is the original writing. Second is after the correction by the teacher. Third is after my revision and the second round of correction by the teacher.
I went through the whole process on almost all the topics in the preparation materials I had collected. There were a few topics I found totally lame and couldn’t write anything meaningful about them. But I still did my best for these topics because, well, choice is a luxury in C1 exam. What if I don’t like any of the topics in my exam? In the end, all the exercises were designed to enable me to write two texts on any random subjects in 90 minutes. The structures, phrases, new words, and expressions I had learnt in the exercises became materials that I could actively use without thinking. I could focus on expressing my ideas rather than how to write this and that.
Time distribution is also critical in the exam. The Aufgabe 1 should take ideally less than 20 minutes, which leave 70 minutes for the Aufgabe 2. It would be even better if you can spend 5 minutes on proofreading in the end. In my case I could always find several basic mistakes through proofreading. I tried to keep this time distribution in every simulated exam. After several months of practice, I could write on Aufgabe 1 almost automatically since the key points were already listed.
The third option on Aufgabe 2, to write a commentary on the long article I have read in the reading part, seemed to be the most difficult at the beginning. But after I became more fluent in writing I actually liked this one more than the other two. This was what I chose in my exam. During preparation I had even devised a trick for this option. Since I always had a bit of extra time after finishing the reading part, I would use this time to mark the important information on the article and take notes. Although I must give back all the notes and exam sheet to the examiner after the reading part, I had built a mental model of the article, including what the key points were and how they could be summarized. I could also start to think about the other points I would like to write. When the exam entered the writing part, I scanned the topics very quickly. If I liked the other two seemingly easier options, I would still go for them. But in my exam the topic 3 was obviously more interesting for me. It took me maybe 10 seconds to make the decision and I didn’t read the details of the other two topics at all.
I got 13/15 on Aufgabe 1 and 12/15 on Aufgabe 2, which I think is a reasonable result for the time I had spent on writing. More importantly, the whole process had indeed improved my writing in general. I could write emails and other documents at work noticeably better and faster than half a year ago.
For the speaking part I followed the same principle of repetition and iterative improvement. I suppose Aufgabe 1 shouldn’t be difficult to anybody above B2 level. And my job gave me some advantage on the Aufgabe 2 because I need to convince people to get things done. The Aufgabe 3 was the the most difficult and was also where I have put the most efforts.
The preparation went like this. In the first round I simulated with my teacher in class and got feedback immediately. At this round the topic of the Aufgabe was always new to me, like in the real exam. In the first three simulations I couldn’t even speak coherently for 10 minutes. The first challenge was to summarize the contents in a very short time. For that I developed my own format to note the points I would talk about. The task is but more than just summarizing. I would have to express my opinion, explain the situation in my homeland, and then talk about how I deal with it personally.
The second round is not speaking. Instead I would take my time to actually write down a complete article covering all the talking points in the speaking exam. Although this writing was not time trial, I still got to write more, which obviously should count as writing exercises. My teacher would correct the text and I revise it again for another round of correction. Then I would memorize and recite the article I have written. Just like what I did for in the writing exercise. After this round I would go for the same speaking Aufgabe again, time controlled, starting with taking notes. There is no surprise that I could perform much better after actually writing down and memorize what I would like to say. I recorded the speaking, listened to it and would do another round in the following day. With every iteration I improved my performance on the same Aufgabe. It was 3 months into the preparation I finally managed to cover all the talking points on the first trial in one go. Afterwards I skipped the writing round, just repeated the note taking and speaking 3 times on every Aufgabe. Here you can listen to the three recordings of the same presentation.
During the preparation I looked for references on the internet but ÖSD didn’t publish a lot. I compared my recording with the 2 official examples (example 1, example 2) from ÖSD. I was confident that I could pass the exam without a problem. Before the exam I registered to a preparation course for the speaking part. It was essentially a simulation with an experienced ÖSD examiner. After the simulation she said that I was really good. Maybe I could improve a bit on some pronunciations but overall I should have no problem passing the exam. The final result just couldn’t be better, 30/30.
The takeaways for C1 exam preparation
- Aim for general improvement rather than passing the exam. I am aware that very few people go for the C1 exam just because they want to improve their German. If you are reading this article, C1 is probably for you a prerequisite for something, like enrollment to a university or a certain job. The score might make very little difference as long as you pass. But the preparation itself is a very good chance to improve your German in general, and you will likely need the language skill after you pass the exam.
- Simulate the real exam. You should control the time in simulation like an examiner is sitting in front of you. Write with a pen on paper and use the same type of pen at the exam. It certainly takes longer than writing in MS Word and it is more difficult to correct. But that’s how it is in the real exam. Writing with a pen forces you to think before putting things on the paper. And since you have to write in a very tight time limit, you’d better think fast.
- Iterate and get feedbacks. If you have read this article, you should have noticed that the feedbacks from my teacher were critical in my preparation. Iteratively improving your skills through feedbacks could help you acquire the necessary building blocks for writing and speaking, e.g., vocabulary, phrases, and connectors. I have seen other exam takers trying to memorize some template sentences in the pause before the writing part started. I don’t think that would yield any good result.