In this post, you’ll learn about what telc B2 Deutsch exam is and why I decided to take it, my full self-study preparation strategy, the exam day and key takeaways.
What telc B2 Deutsch exam is and why I decided to take it
There are several German language level certification exams - Goethe has one, telc Deutsch is another one. These exams confirm your level of German and prove your eligibility for studying, working or sometimes staying in Germany, Austria or Switzerland.
German learners often wonder which one is better, more reputable or easier. Having done many of such tests over my life, I know that as long as the test is accepted, the “reputability” score is irrelevant in most of the cases but some. For example, some MBA schools accept GRE, but a high GMAT score does give you bonus points.
Two of my friends took the telc B2 Deutsch exam 6 or so months ago. One of them went to a preparation course for a few months and the other studied on his own with the help of test preparation textbooks. That sounded like validation to me - they did it, I can do it. Thus, I oped for the telc B2 Deutsch exam.
My primary motivation was to confirm that I was at B2 level as I had been studying German on my own since A2-ish and I was lacking a sanity reality check.
There was an unexpected benefit of doing it - as I paid for the test and the date was set, it served as a propeller under my Popo and motivated me to work extra hard. I made more progress than in the last 9 months.
der Popo - bum, butt, botty
z.B. Das Kleinkind konnte nicht richtig laufen und fiel auf seinen Popo
My telc Deutsch B2 preparation strategy
There are two main preparation strategies for this test - attending a prep course or studying on your own. For me the choice was clear - I get utterly bored on courses and they usually create this sense of false progress because I am spending 2 hours in class. As a result, I don’t put any extra effort outside the course. From my past experience, my results are worse when I rely on such courses. I opted for the self-study option - it's me against the world, baby.
If you want to watch me struggle 😂 to share and talk about my preparation strategy in German, here are both parts:
Resources you need to prepare for the telc Deutsch B2 exam
- Two textbooks:
- mit Erfolg zu telc Deutsch B2 Übungsbuch (EUR €20.99 on Amazon) and
- mit Erfolg zu telc Deutsch B2 Testbuch (EUR €19.99 on Amazon)
- 10 Heylama conversation calls 10-15 Euros each - €100-150 EUR
- Deutch Pefekt, Deutsche Welle and other blogs for reading - Free
- Movies in German (Amazon Prime or Netflix) or YouTube videos- already had accounts, so Free
- German lunch meetings with colleagues - would go for lunch anyway, so Free
- Heylama flashcard app to memorize the vocabulary with spaced repetition - Free (disclaimer: I'm one of the creators and developed the app for myself)
The total budget is approximately ~€200 Euros (excluding the exam fees). While I didn’t set a goal of saving money, it’s still much cheaper than going to a prep course for 2-3 months.
My telc Deutsch B2 preparation steps
Step 1. Gotta know the test format, rules and points system by heart.
From my past experience of taking similar tests (2 x TOEFL, 2 x GRE, 1 x GMAT), I know that knowing the test format through and through is key to success.
Telc tests are divided into 2 parts - written and oral. The written part consists of reading comprehension, listening comprehension, and writing skills. The oral part is about speech production and speech comprehension skills.
What’s more important is how much time each section gives you and their respective weight in the overall grade. In general, you should get a minimum of 60% across all parts, but certain exercises contribute more than others. What this means is that a correct answer on a task in one subsection yields more points than others. The textbooks help you with figuring this out. I’ll write another post or perhaps even shoot a video about my analysis and strategy if I get enough requests.
There is also a YouTube channel - Deutsch mit Marija - that has many videos about the test and how to nail it. Marija is a certified Telc examiner and knows everything about acing the exam. Her tips and videos are priceless if you are preparing for the test. A fun fact, I got to meet her at the ExpoLingua 2019 here in Berlin and personally thank her for all the amazing content.
Step 2. Tackling my weaknesses.
Although you have to prepare holistically, we usually know some things better than others.
My biggest weakness was speaking German. Living in Berlin and working in the tech industry, I rarely practice my German - only when buying something, seeing a doctor or when extending my visa. Startup world lives in a bubble here in Berlin and, unfortunately, you hardly need any German to make friends and get by.
So I decided to address this weakness head-on. I had already been doing iTalki conversation classes once in a while before, but to get ready for the exam, I had to accelerate my learning. So I booked 10 classes and spread them across the 2 months I had. It’s kind of ironic that I have to buy “German speaking practice” while living in Germany, but it was an affordable way to get plenty of speaking time. In hindsight, going for private 1 on 1 tutoring was an absolutely right decision. If I attended a course, I wouldn't have so much speaking airtime and my teachers wouldn't personalize anything just to my needs.
Speaking of tutors, iTalki teachers are not always the best, so you should do a few trial sessions before finding a teacher you like. I love my iTalki tutor (Anka, BIG, BIG thanks to you ❤️ ! ) because she is super fun to talk to, she goes an extra mile to make the classes engaging, and adapts the learning process to your needs. I wouldn’t have made it so far without her help.
The second way I addressed this weakness was by asking for help. Back then, I had a few native German colleagues at work and I asked them to have lunch with me once a week to speak about whatever, but 100% in German. This worked pretty well and it helped me boost my confidence a bit more. The thing is that if you learn to speak with only one person, you might feel comfortable and confident, but then when you hear other accents, speech paces, and personalities, you might get thrown off balance. If you have a chance to practice with different people, you should do it.
Step 3. Building up my vocabulary
The textbooks I mentioned earlier are ideal for building up the right vocabulary. The one with the practice exercises has a huge section with text excerpts on relevant topics and exercises. These are the topics you will likely encounter during your exam - climate change and environment, professional life, politics, animal rights, travel, science, nature, etc.
For 2 months:
- every other evening I went through one of these articles one by one and did all three exercise sets. I would read the text, highlight the unfamiliar phrases
- then I would translate them with DEEPL translator
- and finally, I would add all those words, phrases and examples sentences to the Heylama app - a powerful and absolutely free spaced repetition app for language learning.
This proved very effective. I learned more than 500 relevant words and phrases within 2 months that I could directly use on the exam, as well as in daily life. I started understanding my colleagues at work, newspaper articles, and business emails much better.
Step 4. German grammar time
Thanks to speaking Tajik, Russian and English, it waseasier for me to wrap my head around German grammar. Russian has cases, Tajik has sentence constructions with the auxiliary verbs at the end, and English has tenses and articles. By combining all three and comparing the differences with German, I could better navigate the German grammar.
That said, there were many rules I simply didn’t know. The textbooks came in handy once again. The ‘Telc B2 Deutsch Testbuch’ has a whole section dedicated to B2 grammar. That said, I didn’t want to work on each topic one by one. I already knew some of them quite well.
Instead, I ran an audit - I quickly went through all 30 or so topics and selected the top 5-7 rules I failed completely. Then I went to Youtube and let the Youtube language influencers help me easily figure out each of those rules.
Knowing the rule didn't mean I was able to use it. To internalize those rules I did something unconventional. Instead of cracking exercises, I found sample sentences that could serve as a template. I then saved those sentences in the Heylama app as if they were words I wanted to memorize. By driving those sentences into my long-term memory, I mastered the grammar rules without putting any effort into doing boring exercises. I fed my brain patterns to work with and let it figure these patterns out and internalize them. This was insanely effective!
Knowing the rule doesn’t mean you are able to use it.
For instance, there is a grammar rule that some adverbs must often follow the object. Let’s take ‘entlang - along’ as an example. To say “I am running along this path”, you would say “Ich laufe diesen Weg entlang”.
This is not so intuitive - I would actually say “Ich laufe entlang diesen Weg”. Memorizing the correct sentence in German will serve you as a mental template for the rest of your life. I also noticed that it helps me with other similar adverbs - my brain gets used to such sentence constructions. I didn’t come up with this hack - the author of ‘Fluent Forever’ Gabriel Wyner wrote about it in his book. I can only vouch that it does work!
Step 5. Tuning up my reading and listening comprehension skills
I usually cap my time spent watching movies, but as watching movies in German was more like study time, I binged the hack of it every weekend leading up to the exam. I re-watched the Harry Potter movies, all sorts of action movies, including most of the Avenger and Marvel movies, some German product movies and anything else that caught my fancy. Non-stop. All in German. That was fabulous.
After a few series, my comprehension improved dramatically. I could now watch any movie and get most of it even without understanding every word or phrase.
The drawback of watching dubbed videos is that the language is not always real-world, natural. To counter that shortcoming, I watched tons of YouTube interviews, shows, tutorials, etc.
Step 6. The last two days
In Russian, there is a saying which literally means “that you can’t breathe enough before death” which figuratively speaking hints that you can't make up for the lost time. In the last 2 days before the exam, I did some light review sessions of what I already knew but spent most of the time mainly chilling. If I didn’t know something it was too late to cram it. And also, if I failed the exam, I could always re-take it. Saying this to myself eased my anxiety.
The exam day
I didn’t expect so many people taking language exams at the same time. There were hundreds of us taking all sorts of exams from A1 through to C2. My group was around 9 people. 5 minutes into registration, I learned that 3 of us are re-taking the exam. That’s freaking 33%. But as I did my homework, I kept my cool.
The first section of the written part is a 90-minute long reading comprehension section. I finished it in 45 minutes. I must've prepared really well. Or perhaps it's because it was freezing cold and I wanted to go to do number one really bad. Not sure.
The listening and writing sections were as easy as the reading part. The listening part, in fact, was easier than in the prep books I used. The thing is that the prep book audio CD (yes, it’s a CD) exercises are from the real-world interviews. So you can hear all sorts of accents. On the exam, however, the audios were much slower and the accents were always Hoch Deutsch. Easy peasy.
What I dreaded the most was the speaking part, but as it turned out - for no reason. It was lightning fast and I had hardly any time to say all those sophisticated, next-level phrases I memorized to impress everyone around me. As long as you understand your exam peer and can speak out your mind, you are good. A great hack for impressing the examiners is to correctly use Genitiv phrases and rules in the sentence. Worked like a charm!
The question on my mind now is if the exam felt easy because I prepared so well or is it because the complexity of the B2 exam is a bit overhyped. The truth is somewhere in the middle. No matter what you believe in, solid preparation does make it easier. Also, preparation is what’s in your control, so giving your best reduces the risk of failing overall.
- The telc B2 Deutsch test is doable with 2-3 months of a solid preparation
- Knowing the test format through and through is 20-30% of the success
- You have to address your weaknesses, but prepare holistically
- It’s not as scary as it seems. You got this!