The test is split in to 4 language disciplines; Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. A recent change in the rules means that in order to pass, you only need to achieve level 3 in one certain combination of these disciplines and there are 3 different combinations accepted. Read more about this change HERE. This is great news, it means they are being more lenient to us poor struggling foreigners :)
The Test in Practice
The process on the day can vary according to the test centre, their own practicalities and the number of people sitting the test.
We were split into 3 groups of 10, or so and each group followed its own schedule. I had heard from friends before about the order of the parts of the test and I was thinking to myself "Great, speaking comes last, so by that time I'll have a lot of Finnish in my mind and I'll be well-prepared." Low and behold....the order for my group was:
1. Listening and Speaking (!)
This made me a little nervous, but what can you do!
This part lasts for about 90 minutes. You will be seated in a room, or language centre equipped with headphones and mics for this part. You sit in your own little booth very close to your neighbours on either side. Honestly, for me this was the most stressful part of the whole test, and I'll tell you why...
For the Listening Comprehension, you are required to listen to several spoken announcements and stories/reports and then answer questions on what you heard. The answers are either in multiple-choice format or there is a blank space where you need to fill in the answer. First you are given a short time to read the task, then the speech will be played to you once in full, then you may read the questions for the first half. Then you will hear the first half of the speech and have time to answer. The same then occurs for the second half. There are a number of different listening exercises with different types of excerpts, such as police reports, train station announcements and conversations.
For the Speaking part, you will invariably feel very rushed and stressed all the time but do your best! This is because there is not much time to read and understand the task, before you suddenly need to speak on the command 'Aloita puhuminen nyt!'. The length of time you need to speak for varies according to task. In some, you only have to speak for 20 seconds, in others for up to 2 minutes where you are required to give your opinion on a given topic, e.g. why it is important that children learn musical instruments in school. In my test, another task asked you to explain what makes you angry. There is a space on the paper where you can fill in some notes to help you when you talk. One of the funniest tasks is the dialogue because you feel quite stupid having a 'conversation' with the headphones, but everyone's in the same boat, so no worries!
Stay tuned for info on the reading and writing sections :)