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The B1 Exam

Thank you to Leslie Smith for sharing her experiences with us all here!

In November of 2022, I wrote the DEPLE or B1 exam offered by the official Portuguese-
language CAPLE Evaluation Centre.

My exam was held at the Portuguese Consulate in Toronto, Canada, a five-hour train journey
from my home. I needed to stay overnight in Toronto to be sure to be fresh and ready for the 3.5
hour exam. The exam started at 2:30 p.m. but candidates needed to arrive 30 minutes before.

There were four candidates in total and the atmosphere was warm and cordial.
We started with reading comprehension and moved on to aural (listening) comprehension of
audio clips. Following a break, there was a written segment in which we had to write a post
card and also an invitation to neighbours to a block party.

There were two scheduled short breaks for water, snacks and restrooms. I brought superfoods
like coconut water and dates to be sure my energy levels stayed high.

After another break, we were divided into pairs and with my partner, we looked at some photos
and described them. Then we looked at a second set of photos and compared them and had an
exchange of opinions.

My partner and I were in the first group, and were able to leave the building by about 6:15 p.m.

The examiners complimented me on my level of Portuguese, so I left feeling pretty confident.
I waited two months for the results, which came out exactly 61 days later. My final result was
"Bom"… higher than I expected. I was happy and disappointed at the same time. I achieved

100% on reading comprehension, 77 per cent on my oral interaction, 80 per cent on my
listening/oral comprehension….and a sub-par 54% on my written work. As candidates receive
no feedback on their exams, there is no way to determine where things went wrong.

I talked to my teacher (who designs courses for the Camões Institute) and she observed that my
very enthusiasm for communication (since I am a writer) actually hampers me, since I never
play it safe…even when I am trying to. Her advice to me was just to keep on experimenting and
getting things wrong, because I learn more. But other teachers have advised me (repeatedly) to
ONLY write what I am absolutely sure of, as the marking scheme takes points away for every
error similar to a dictée or dictation; however, multiple errors using the same misspelled word
are only counted as one error. Using this formula, total errors add up…and the mark quickly
plummets.

A friend who wrote the same B2 exam a few months before me had similar results even though
she was at a more advanced level than me. She remarked that it was nearly impossible to
achieve a good mark on the writing portion, because of the marking scheme. She advised that
passing this exam is good enough!

All in all I was happy with my result, but I will be working even harder on omitting grammar and
spelling errors for my next big challenge, the DIPLE B2 exam next fall.

The Preparation

I only decided to write the B1 exam in the summer of 2022, so I had to buckle down pretty
quickly. I studied several hours every day from mid-August until early November, using all
available resources.

I had two tutors, each with different styles and emphasis. I also used the resources of
Portuguese Lab Academy.

I tried to write several letters, postcards, stories and other samples each day and submit them to
my teachers for correction. I carefully noted my errors and kept copies in my filing system. I
even asked my teachers to correct my e-mails to them, so my errors would not become
ingrained.

I listened to podcasts, Portuguese radio and TV whenever I could, using earbuds as I walked
the dogs or cleaned the house, for instance. I watched Portuguese TV and chose the
‘described video’ option, which gave me subtitles but also an oral description in Portuguese, of
what was happening when there was no dialogue.

I used only Portuguese sites rather than Brazilian, as the dialects really are different.
I usually had two lessons per week but I increased this in the last two weeks before the exam to
a lesson nearly every week day.

Prior to this, I had taken an extended trip to Portugal in 2021 where I spoke as much
Portuguese as possible and tried to do everyday things only in Portuguese, such as opening a
bank account, buying train tickets, reserving accommodation and so on. I had some fascinating
conversations in laundromats, which I highly recommend. There is always a captive audience
ready to help you with your Portuguese!

I relied heavily on textbooks such as Português em Foco, Gramática Ativa and others. I
completed as many full practise exams as I could, and practised oral exam situations from start
to finish with my teachers and any Portuguese speaking friends.

The B1 exam was quite a bit harder than the A2 exam, but because I had already done the A2,
I did not feel the same sense of trepidation while writing the exam. In fact, I quite enjoyed it,
because it was the natural culmination of a lot of hard work.

Why write the B1?

I am basically a lazy, disorganized, scattered person, so I need goals to motivate me and force
me to learn in an organized manner.

Yet, I want to learn to write intelligibly, communicate effectively, and understand news reports,
and that takes a certain level of commitment. Once I started down that road, there were bumps,but things began to seem easier with practise.

The B1 is not necessary for residency in Portugal, so most people only study for the basic A2
exam. Some people feel the B1 exam is twice as hard but I feel that once I had committed to
really learning Portuguese, that distinction wasn't that important. What was important was
heeding the warning of others, that the difficulty of the B1 exam is not to be underestimated.

Sitting the B1 exam was a lot of hard work for me but I really feel I learned a lot more useful
Portuguese, and at a higher level, than I would have without the pressure of the upcoming
exam. As a result, I felt more confident using Portuguese frequently and writing to people in
Portuguese.

I am already studying for the B2 (though still a bit haphazardly) but I feel I have the tools and
resources in place now for further success. Most of the myriad verb tenses have been learned,
if not mastered, and it is a matter of increasing vocabulary, competence and confidence.
The B1 is usually held three times annually internationally and within Portugal. If you are
thinking of sitting this exam, be sure to prepare thoroughly but don’t forget to enjoy the process –
– and take pride in your accomplishments so far.

Boa sorte e um abraço!

RESOURCES
Here are some of the resources I used to prepare. There are many others available.

ONLINE

Portuguese Lab Academy portugueselabacademy.com
Practise Portuguese PractisePortuguese.com
Instituto Camões https://www.instituto-camoes.pt/en/
RTP Ensina https://ensina.rtp.pt
Estudo em Casa https://www.rtp.pt/play/estudoemcasa/
RTP Notícias https://www.rtp.pt/noticias/
Portuguese with Leo https://www.portuguesewithleo.com

TEXTS

Gramática Ativa 1 & 2
Português em Foco 1, 2 & 3
Por Falar Nisso Ana Boléo & Rita Dourado
Qual é a Dúvida? Teresa Sousa Henriques & Frederico de Freitas

LEARNING PLATFORMS

iTalki.com
preply.com

EXAM REGISTRATION AND DATES

https://caple.letras.ulisboa.pt

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