Taking the TORFL B2 / ТРКИ II online.

Today I took the five exams of the B2 level Test of Russian as a Foreign Language, or ТРКИ II. I took it online, as this is an option available since Covid, and I took it with via Herzen University St Petersburg. I thought I would describe the process here to help anybody else who googles this. I don’t think I have passed all five subtests; I am hopeful of the Speaking and know I failed the Reading because I ran out of time and guessed quite a few questions. However, here are my impressions:

Speaking: This was done on Zoom; it lasted 40 minutes and followed the schedule as in the practice tests, so no surprises. I had to first of all disagree with some statements, using antonyms, then agree, using synonyms, then read out a series of statements in certain emotions (surprise, disgust, happiness etc) and then initiate a telephone call asking for more information about (in my case, a competition, but in other situations it might be a job) I was then shown a short video clip which I had to describe and say what I thought was happening, what the characters’s motivations were. This was quite a modern film – there was a troubled young girl who looked to me dressed like a a Goth (I am not going to be too detailed so as not to give away spoilers). I didn’t understand it all but managed to say enough, I hope. Finally there was a discussion on a topic suggested by the examiner, which in my case was education related – luck of the draw or what? I managed to get a promo for Moodle in there too! This is the only subtest which I am confident I passed, so even if I fail one or more of the others – which I think I have – then I will be pleased to announce that I can officially speak Russian at B2 level (albeit without the certificate.)

Then I had a 45 minute break and then joined another Zoom call where there was a proctor who got me to share my screen and log in to the test site. I was surprised because the subtests came one after the other with no pause. I had expected a short break in between. but no.

Lexis/Grammar: This lasted 45 minutes with (I think) 100 questions. Well at least 95 but I got confused when it suddenly stopped and moved to the next subtest – I think I had 2 minutes left; I really needed all the time I could muster. I was disappointed with this test because I had thought I was OK on grammar and vocab but it was if they knew all my weakest areas and put them all in the test, along with some words I had literally never seen before. I guessed quite a few – in fact by the end became blasée in the way teenage students who lack confidence or don’t know the answers pretend to be annoyed and just answer at random. Whether I can get the required 66% I don’t know. In the practice tests I usually got between 70% and 75% but this was harder than the practice tests.

Reading: This lasted 30 minutes and I ran out of time. This was a disaster – in fact I twice looked to check they hadn’t given me the C1 exam TORFL 3 by mistake, but no. There were two very long texts with a slightly shorter text in between. I confess I found it hard to concentrate on the long texts, and switched between trying to read them carefully and then simply looking at the questions and then going back and trying to find the answers. I think for that reason I probably wasted too much time and was just clicking my final guess (I didn’t manage to read everything) when I got cut off. There is a handy but scary timer at the top of the page as you go through the exam.

Listening: This was 30 minutes and 25 questions although I finished it in about 25. There were interviews, some news items and a couple of video clips where it said (in Russian) “Watch this clip” but I was only able to listen. When I got to the second of these, I questioned the proctor (you are allowed to do that) and she said – oh  it’s just a mistake on the test; just listen instead; it’s fine. Hmmm.. Anyway some of these I felt confident in, some I guessed. I felt better about the Listening than the Reading though.

Writing: This was 35 minutes, two questions, and I finished it in just under 30 minutes. You can either type your answers on the screen or, as I chose, write them and then email the letters. The proctor typed the email into the chat and I took a photo on my phone and emailed them once I had finished. One letter was some kind of official document requesting a postponment of studies – I wasn’t confident about that and I don’t think I wrote enough words but by then I was past caring (and was feeling somewhat negative about Russian bureaucracy anyway) The second letter was an informal  letter of recommendation, recommending a friend for a job. I had learned some set phrase for such a letter (as you do!) and added them with a bit more confidence than the first one. It remains to be seen how this exam is graded, whether the better second letter will make up for the poorer first one.

And that was it. I photographed and emailed the letters, made one last click and was done.

If I pass the Speaking and fail one or more of the others, I am not sure I will try again. I’ve spent five years now – what was meant to be a hobby at the start of this blog has turned into a somewhat stressful obsession, so it’s probably time to call a halt, focus on my speaking (which is all I basically need anyway) and relax!

If you are planning to do the TORFL II B2 online then I hope my experience has been useful to you. Also, know that if you don’t pass the whole thing you only have to retake the subtests that you didn’t pass – not the whole lot, which is good!

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