This summer has been quite busy for me, as I was preparing to take a YKI Test (yleinen kielitutkinto). It’s a Finnish language test that is required for different purposes, most often official (Finnish citizenship, employer’s requirement, etc.). There are three test levels, and the most common one is intermediate level. This is the one I’ll be talking about.
I’m not sure what I have been thinking about when I was choosing the date. The test is organized several times a year, and I somehow thought that summer will be slow and I’ll have plenty of time to study. However, summer is that time of the year that people n Finland enjoy sun, “white nights” and, occasionally, nice weather. It is also THE time for parties and celebrations, and this is why we didn’t have any free weekends in July. It’s not easy to be constantly divided between a desire to walk in sunny streets of Helsinki and enjoy some book and ice cream in the park or stay at home and study for the test. So, from the timing prospective, although autumn and winter are generally busy seasons, I think I’d choose November or January for test taking purposes. Darkness really helps studying 🙂
Another thing to keep in mind about timing is that it takes around 2 months to get the results. In practice it means that if you fail the first time, you’ll always have to skip the next available test date, because at the time the registration starts you don’t know you results yet. For example, if you take a test in April, you get you results in June. Next test will be held in August, but registration is already in May. It’s not bad per se, and one can use that gap time to prepare, but it might be crucial for those that need to pass a test by a certain date.
It’s important to register on time. One thing I learned in the process, there is no unified registration start time apart from the date. Some places open as early as 8am, some at 12pm and so on. Most places also require immediate payment of the test fee. If you are in Helsinki, most test places are gone within the first 15 min or so. My issue was that I didn’t know about immediate payment part, and as I didn’t have my e-codes with me, I had to chose the test center that offered “pay later” option.
There are four parts of the test: writing, reading comprehension, listening comprehension and speaking. All of those are timed. Everything was as described on Finnish Board of Education site, except that listening comprehension part it is 20 min of actual test and then 10 min of moving the marked answers from the booklet to the answer sheet. I didn’t have any problems with the time, but I think it’s because I did a lot of similar tests before: one similar language test (TOEFL) and a lot of multiple choice question tests while studying in States. Loosing scores just because you didn’t have time to finish a task is not good. On the bright side, this is something that can be fixed by training and practicing.
In terms of difficulty, it’s not so black and white. I can’t say that whether YKI test was easy or difficult. Its content varied and tasks had different level of complexity. Maybe the easiest way to describe it is to have a look at each section separately.
Reading comprehension section had the most different levels of tasks complexity. One group of tasks was very short texts (one or two paragraphs) with three questions to answer. This was very difficult for me. Questions were very detailed, and texts had lots of words I didn’t know. Given that they were short, there was no chance to get more context. I had to guess a few times and just write my best guesses. Other group of tasks were mid-size texts and true or false questions. There it was important to read the question carefully and compare the statement to what’s actually said in the text. It was not so difficult, apart from a couple of questions written in an especially complex way. The third group of tasks – long texts with multiple choice questions was the one I liked the most. Plenty of text, which means you have better chances to pick up the main ideas, and a lot of chances to get it right even without understanding everything. For example, if you know that two other options are wrong, then the remaining one is the right one.
Listening comprehension was tricky. Some tasks were very easy and in some tasks I wouldn’t understand everything. All of the tasks involved listening, and required either writing down the answer in your own words, or choosing right or wrong, or multiple choice questions. In few cases, the question would name a number of answers you need to give. For example, list the reasons why this or that happened (2 reasons). And I would understand only one or none at all 🙂 I don’t know how those answers of mine will be graded, but hopefully not too low.
Speaking was tricky, but not complex. We had a very short time to prepare ourselves and think what to say before we would start to speak. The hardest part was somewhere in the middle when there are 6 different situations, and you need to say something about each. They moved fast, it was almost always 30 sec to think and 20 sec to say something. I didn’t have any watch showing a count of seconds, so I never knew whether I still have time or whether I need to wrap up quickly. A couple of times recording would stop in the middle of my sentence, and other times I would have 10 sec of silence as I finished before time. Not sure whether it was a good or bad thing, but it’s really hard to do without having a watch. I didn’t do any practice for speaking – I speak every day at work and elsewhere, but I think practicing speaking with timer could help me to understand better how to make a good use of speaking time.
Writing was a relaxed part. There are only three tasks and generous 50 min to finish them. One task was to write an opinion piece, and you can choose the topic. When I was getting ready for the test, this was the hardest part for me. I would always make mistakes, consult with a dictionary, browse grammar book for an hour take a break, and then quickly try to write something. At the actual test it went quite smoothly, and after I was done with the first task, I felt like the situation is under control.
All in all, the YKI test was quite tricky, it was easier than I expected, although it took a toll on me. It takes 4.5 hours on Saturday, and I needed a lot of time to recover. There was one long break half way through (30 min), and one short bathroom break after the first part. The “lunch” break was nice to have as there is time to put yourself together, have a snack and continue with new energy.
The results will be available only in two months, so I will know how I did on the test only in October. In the meantime, I’ll write a separate post on how I studied for the test and some tips. It’s not an easy test, but also is not the end of the world. Good luck to those who are taking the test in November 🙂