Monday, March 25, 2013

Estonian B1 exam

A2-C1 Estonian language exam time-table 2013
2nd period exam consultation times
Test yourself

As some of you know last month I took the Estonian language B1 state exam (Eesti keele B1-tasemeeksam). I passed!

Two weeks before the exam the centre runs a group consultation where a teacher goes through the exam. It is, of course, not compulsory to attend but I would recommend it. It is a chance to get a feel for the paper and ask any questions. I had my consultation and exam in Pae Gümnaasium, Tallinn.

The consultation started at 09:58 and the majority of people left at 11:27. First the consultation co-ordinator gave an overview of the exam instructions. Then she did a mock oral with two volunteers. This lasts ~ 20m. Then we did the listening section. This is a set 35m. Then we just flicked through the reading and the writing. She went into a little more detail explaining how to do the writing - what to do, what NOT to do.

Technically you could stay to do a whole exam but you might very well be on your own. As I said, there were about 30 in the room and 1 left at 11.15 and 27 left at 11.27. I don't know if the remaining 2 or so stayed on longer or not. The consultation mostly takes place in Estonian (all info is in Estonian) but quite a bit is repeated in Russian as I think everyone else but me was native-Russian-speaking.

Half way through the listening section on a first listen of one of the tasks I got nervous and I kind of felt like I should drop out (you can cancel your exam no questions asked at least 1 week before). However, on the second time round listening I felt more confident. On the first listen one or two of the tasks always sound a bit tricky but the questions you are asked are generally straight-forward.

In general for the B1 level it's important to be very confident with question words and numbers in their proper cases. Overall you need clean, simple, correct language. Nothing fancy, just nice and basic.

The exam itself was roughly the same. The only different was the amount of people! I can't be exactly sure how many there were there doing the B1 exam but it was over 100 at the very least. However, you are put in small rooms with around 20 others so it's not like a big scary exam hall.

The examiners were very polite and friendly. They spoke real slow and clear when giving instructions. The exam is in two separate papers. There are four sections to the exam, each of which are worth 25 marks. First comes the written section for which you have 30 min. There are always two tasks. We had a 50-word note to write about missing a meeting (say why, reschedule and give contact details) and a 100-word word essay to write about a new hobby (why you like it, where you do it, and other interests you have). These were real easy and I finished the tasks very happy.

I made sure to plan my pieces ahead and write slowly and clearly. I wrote that my child was sick and we had to go to the doctors. The only mistake (not a mistake as such, more a change of meaning) that I had to go back and correct was that I wrote: Sellepärast et, minu laps on haige, me peame arsti juurde minema (As my child is sick, we have to doctor's place-to go). I changed it to Sellepärast et, minu laps on haige, me peame arsti juures käima, because if it's a trip to and back one uses the verb käima rather than minema (which then demands the inessive rather than the allative; and remember the verb pidama demands the -ma infinitive and not the -da infinitive!!) This task was then collected by the examiners.

Listening came next which lasted for 30 min. The first task is always real easy. You are given a number of short exchanges and you have to mark the correct answer from a list of choices. The only thing is that all possible answers marked on the page are actually mentioned in the text, just that only one of them is in the correct context for the question. Tasks two, three and four all contain only one text. The text in task 2 is normally an announcement and is also multiple choice but the possible answers are more wordy. In task three you have to write the answer yourself on the page (the start is done for you and you need to finish the sentences) and the text is normally an interview. Task four is again multiple choice and is also an interview.

The reading section last for 50 minutes. Task one is matching statements to little newspaper ads. Task two is a multiple choice text. Task 3 is fill in the gaps (multiple choice, 4 possible answers for every gap) and task 4 is also fill in the gaps but say if the text has 10 gaps you are given 12 possible fillers.

Then comes the final section, the speaking. There are two tasks. Before the tasks start the examiner will ask you some simple questions: where you were born, what is your favourite musician etc. She threw me off with a question I found weird which was Milleks te saate? which means What are you becoming? I looked really confused, not because I didn't understand the question but because I didn't understand why she was asking it. She had just assumed I was a student without asking, simply because I guess I look young and my conversation partner was a 19-year old student. I am not becoming anything, I am a teacher...

So yes, conversation partner. It's kind of weird. I have never had an oral exam before which was done in a pair. The first of the two tasks was we were given a page with pictures related to music and we were told to have a conversation about arranging a trip to a concert. My conversation partner was terrible. She hardly spoke and when she did it was with a really thick Russian accent. It was very hard to have a conversation with her but I did my best to talk as much as possible. The next task is in two parts. One of you is given a list of prompts and they have to ask questions of the partner. The other person reads out the answers (first the answers have to be found in the text which can be a little tricky to do as you are not given time to read the text beforehand). Then you swap roles.

My conversation partner totally messed up both parts (skipping questions, not waiting for my question before reading out the answer, giving me all the answers at one etc.) It was a disaster. Personally I'd rather do the exam with the examiner and work the role-plays like that but, unfortunately, because of time they have to double up to get everyone done that day.

That's something to remember. The exam started on the dot at 10 with the writing section. The reading section then finished at 11.55. Because I was lucky enough to be in the first pair because of my surname I had my oral section at 12.15 but beware that if your surname is at the end you might have to wait for 2 hours.

To pass you need to get 60 marks (60%) and in no task can you get 0 marks, i.e. every section is compulsory. Just be aware that you could be waiting up to 4 weeks for your result.

My result?  I got 90% overall: 23/25 for writing, 23/25 for listening, 25/25 for reading and 19/25 for speaking. I was hoping to get 80% overall but I am delighted with 90%, especially to score so high in writing, reading and listening. However, my speaking is a sad state of affairs in comparison. It would have been nice to get at least 21 pts. out of 25, but oh well.

tunnistus - attestation, certificate
tase - level (gen. taseme)
sooritama - commit, perform
oskus - ability, skill (part. oskust)
hindama - evaluate, rate

hinnati is the past form of the impersonal. hinnatakse - is (being) evaluated, ei hinnata - is not (being) evaluated, hinnati - was (being) evaluated, ei hinnatud - was not (being) evaluated

Tema keeleoskust hinnati järgmiselt.
Their language ability was evaluated as follows.


  1. Congratulations! I just knew that you'd ace it. :)

    Thanks for writing such a detailed account of the test., It sounds very similar to the YKI test in Finland, based on what I've read/heard. I've even done practice tests that included the "I'll be late/absent today" writing prompt. It seems as if the overall test is shorter, too.

    The speaking does sound unnecessarily difficult. I wonder how they score it, particularly if one person cannot complete the assigned task properly simply because of their partner's low skill level. Judging by your other scores, I'm sure you would have gotten more points if you'd been given a proper chance.

  2. Kiitos paljon! :-)

    Yes, it'd be nice to find out what the marking scheme is for the oral. It's a strange set-up.

  3. Congrats!

    Comment on (thought you might want to know) "The only mistake that I had to go back and correct was that I wrote: Sellepärast minu laps on haige, me peame arsti juurde minema (As my child is sick, we have to doctor's place-to go). I changed it to Sellepärast minu laps on haige, me peame arsti juures käima, because..."

    The only mistake in the sentence was missing "et".."Sellepärast, et"...It doesn't work with "Sellepärast" only. And there's nothing wrong with "me peame arsti juurde minema" , it simply means you'd need to go to doctors. "arsti juures käima..." however just means continuous visitations, lets say on weekly or monthly etc bases.

  4. Thanks.

    Thanks for the comments too!

  5. Hey Syntax,

    I would like to comment on two things.

    Firstly, "sellepärast" and "sellepärast et" (or "sest", or "kuna")
    They are the opposites, actually. Compare:
    Mu laps on haige, sellepärast läheme arsti juurde. (that's why, therefore)
    Me läheme arsti juurde, sellepärast et (=kuna, sest) mu laps on haige. (because, as)
    BUT, if you would like to use the latter conjunction in the beginning of the sentence, you should always use "kuna". No difference in meaning but Estonians would not start the sentence (in this case/context) with "sellepärast et" or "sest" either.
    So it should be: Kuna mu laps on haige, läheme arsti juurde.

    And another thing - are you sure you were asked "Milleks te saate?" I find it very hard to believe if the examiner was Estonian.. It should have been "Kelleks te saate?", or rather, "Kelleks te õpite?" or "Kelleks te taha(ksi)te saada?". I guess in English it's "what" but in Estonian it must be "who", therefore "Kelleks"

    Congrats on your achievement!
    Estonian (SL) teacher

  6. Thanks for the comment Katrin! I'll have to read your comment carefully later.

    I'm fairly certain that is what the examiner said. It struck me as very weird. But, you know, it was a nervous time so it is possible I misheard as well.

  7. Congratulations! Please tell which book you used in preparation for B1 exam?

  8. Thanks Kazashka. Eest keele õpik B1,B2 by Mare Kitsnik.õpik-b1-b2-cd/919510

  9. Have you prepared for the exam on your own or have you attended any preparation courses? Can you recommend any school or a private teacher?

  10. As I prepared on my own I can't recommend any school or teacher. You should ask the people on the "Foreigners Learning Estonian" Facebook page. They will be able to recommended someone/some school.