Achieve B1 German in 6 months

Me with my certificate

Today I will share the 7 principles and practices I used to pass the Goethe Institut B1 German Zertifikat in 6 months of study.  The tools are grounded in scientific literature regarding effective ways of learning, and are achievable with a limited budget, internet access and a commitment to learn.  They include:

  • Practicing the exam early and often
  • Memorizing key words and phrases with flash cards and proceduralization 
  • Immersion and frequent feedback.

At the end of the article, I also include a list of the most essential (and free!) resources I found for my own learning journey.

Note: the advice here addresses passing Goethe Institut’s B1 German exam, but with a substitution of materials the same method applies for any foreign language or exam board.  

Our 6 months begin counting down – let’s waste no time!

1: Practice the exam early and often

Doing the exam early primes your learning from the start; you immediately see how the exam feels and understand the style of questions.  In educational Psychology, this is called the “forward testing effect“, and it correlates with better performance on end-of-year exams.

Obtain practice exams and undertake them frequently, without translation.  Memorize each section’s material (for instance, the writing exam always asks for one personal and one formal letter).  Use the results and experience as signposts in your learning journey.

2: Use flash cards

Flash cards provide an effective tool to improve information retrieval, reducing the amount of active thinking you need to perform in the exam.  In particular, you want to maximize your marks with pre-translated phrases (sometimes called “Redemittel”).  Some examples include:

Writing Exam

  • Letters: Starting and ending a letter, in both personal and formal tone
  • Excuses: Apologizing for responding late, or why you can’t make an appointment

Oral Exam

  • Making proposals: In the first task of the exam, you plan something with your partner.  Learn phrases to propose, agree and make counter proposals.
  • Presentation: You have to hold a presentation in the exam without knowing the topic in advance.  The presentation structure however remains constant, so it is vital to learn phrases which describe the structure, as well as transition across each section.

This list is not comprehensive, nor are flash cards only useful for phrases – use flash cards for vocabulary and grammar as well.

3: Commit regular time to learn

Without repetition, your chances of recalling a piece of information drop to 5% after 60 days.  This clearly hinders your 6 month performance, and worse, will discourage you.  Spaced repetition decreases memory decay rate and increases length of retention.  Even with just three well-spaced reminders, your chances of recollection over a 60 day period improve to 80%.

Make personal commitments to practice as frequently as you can.  Decide how much time you can spend a month and block out recurring time slots in which you will practice (e.g. one exam every two weeks on Monday, flash card practice every morning).

4: Drill your weaknesses

At any one time, 20% of your weaknesses will account for 80% of your exam errors. Therefore learning to spot, isolate and drill your recurring weak points will contribute the most to your overall performance.  Find good resources to create exercise material – textbooks become really beneficial here for grammar drills.

5: Immerse yourself

Surrounding yourself with a German environment will transform your speaking and comprehension skills into procedure, improving your retrieval.  A few ways to achieve immersion are:

  • Joining language communities (I highly recommend a German-speaking Discord channel)
  • Changing your OS and mobile language to German (Siri too!)
  • Watching TV and Netflix in German (Dark is a personal favourite)
  • Moving to a German speaking part of the world

6: Get immediate, effective feedback

To reach higher levels of performance, feedback plays an essential role.  Without it, your learning will stagnate or even decline.  Seek feedback on anything you want to commit to memory, as re-learning corrections later will be more difficult.  Your best resource is going to be German-speaking friends.  If those aren’t available, consider spending money on German courses or finding language partners.

7: Write and practice personal stories

Facts are 22 times more memorable as part of a story, so practicing personal stories will dramatically increase your recollection of key German words and phrases that relate to yourself.  As an additional benefit, it provides a chance to practise your speaking skills.

Learn with the following steps:

  1. Pick a 5-minute story which you enjoy talking about
  2. Tell it in English, then record yourself attempting it in German
  3. Watch your recording and use online translation (e.g. DeepL) to find phrases and keywords which would help you tell the story
  4. Memorize these translations with flash cards
  5. Retell the story at least once a day until you learn it all
  6. Return to step 2, but with a different story


In short: to pass the exam, learn to pass the exam; you are not required to have total general knowledge of German in order to succeed.  Be direct with your learning: practice the exam early and often, use flash cards and spaced repetition to memorize, drill your weaknesses, get effective feedback, immerse yourself and learn to tell personal stories.  The more often you practice these principles, the farther you will go.  Viel erfolg!

Free Resources