Learn about the national Norwegian language exams. What to expect and how to prepare.
Foreign residents have to take tests in the Norwegian language for various reasons when living in Norway. This includes university applications, citizenship and some permanent resident permits.
Those choosing to learn Norwegian for fun can also take exams to track their progress, and figure out where best to focus their efforts.
There are a couple of options to prove competence in the Norwegian language. The well-known Bergenstest is relatively advanced and used to prove competence for university admission and certain jobs. There's also a set of national Norwegian exams known as the Norskprøve.
One of the ways you can demonstrate “adequate knowledge” of Norwegian for a residence permit according to UDI is to have “passed all four parts of the Norwegian exam at least level A2.” In many cases, a B1 level of spoken Norwegian is required. To gain entrance onto a university course, you'll need to achieve B2.
Those four parts are reading, listening, writing and speaking. Typically, you must pass all four parts at the required level to prove competence in the language.
You may see references to “Norskprøve 2” and “Norskprøve 3” online, but these have now been replaced with one set of exams that uses the A1-C2 grading system. Norskprøve 2 is equivalent to A2 and Norskprøve 3 is equivalent to B1.
How Norskprøven works
Kompetanse Norge administers the Norskprøve nationally. But the tests themselves are actually carried out locally through various schools and/or adult education centres. Norskprøven takes place just four times per year.
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The written, listening and reading parts of the exam all take place on a computer, and are typically taken at the same time. The oral exam is held separately.
How to register for the Norskprøve
The website of Kompetanse Norge lists the windows for booking the tests. As I said there are four per year, and there is a relatively short booking window open several weeks before the exams are due to take place. Capacity is limited, so it's best to note down the date when the next booking window opens.
When you book online, you must choose the level for the writing and oral exam. More on this later. You must also pay, with the amount set by the local testing centre. The price is anything up to NOK 2,200. The fee I paid was towards that upper limit.
Some people are entitled to free tests, in particular those going through the arrival program for refugees. In these cases, tests are arranged through a different process.
One factor in the booking process that I didn't like is the uncertainty about testing dates. Exams are held during a two-week window. Unfortunately you don't find out the exact date until 2-3 weeks beforehand.
This is a problem for those without fixed schedules or those who travel a lot, especially as the exams are non-refundable.
Results of the exam
As with the citizenship test, the results of Norskprøven take approximately 4 weeks to become available. Results are sent by post and also available online.
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You have the right to appeal the results of the writing exam, but not the speaking exam. The reading and listening exams are marked automatically. There is no opportunity to appeal these unless there was a fundamental problem with the test process.
Now, about the exams themselves!
The written exam (skriveprøve)
The written Norwegian exam is the only one of the the tests that is not in some way adaptive. This means you must register for a specific test level, and you cannot be awarded a higher grade.
So, if you register for A1/A2, you cannot achieve B1 no matter how well you answer the questions. That's because the level you choose sets the difficulty of the questions.
In my A2/B1 writing exam, there were three questions that included describing a scene in an image, writing a complaint email, and a longer descriptive text about an everyday topic. I felt that the time allowed (90 minutes) was more than enough to complete the tasks, with plenty of time for reviewing and editing before submitting.
The reading exam (leseprøve)
Both the reading and listening exams are adaptive, meaning the questions towards the end of the exam will get easier or harder depending on your performance in the earlier questions.
More specifically, there are three main tests, A1-A2, A2-B1, and B1-B2. The early questions funnel you into the most appropriate test. This means that even if you take the A2/B1 writing test—as I did—you can still end up taking the B1/B2 reading (and listening) exams—as I did!
This structure also means it's difficult to assess how well you have done. For example, if your skill level is B1, you will find the A2/B1 exam very easy, but you will find the B1/B2 exam much more challenging. You may get every answer correct in the first case, and many answers wrong in the second case, but still end up with a B1 grade.
The questions themselves typically involve you having to read a passage of text and then select from a list of possible answers to a question. At higher levels, you may have to distinguish between different opinions, based just as much on what people are not saying as what they are saying!
Another question type involved selecting missing words/phrases from passages of text. This sounds straightforward but at an advanced level these were extremely difficult.
In some cases the options for the missing sentence fragments were similar. This meant you had to consider the context of the whole text to select the correct answer.
The listening exam (lytteprøve)
Your understanding of spoken Norwegian is under the spotlight in the listening exam. As I said before, the format is very similar to the reading exam. That means the questions could get easier or harder as the test progresses.
You listen to the audio distraction-free through a set of headphones. These are distributed at the beginning of the exam.
Typical questions include discussions of people's calendars, work situations and at higher levels, expressions of opinion and debates. Once again, you need to select from a series of answers.
At A1, A2 and B1 levels, you hear the audio twice, but questions at B2 level are played only once. I also heard dialects and generally quicker speech in B2 level questions.
The oral exam (muntligprøve)
One of the things that made me nervous about the speaking exam was the format. You take the exam together with another candidate, although you will of course receive individual grades.
The reason for this is so the examiner can assess your ability at answering his or her questions and also assess how you are able to participate in a conversation with the other candidate.
In my exam were two assessors, one scribbling notes and the other asking the questions and participating in conversation. The questions are straightforward yet they allow you to demonstrate many aspects of speaking skills, from vocabulary to pronunciation and fluency.
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If I remember rightly, there were three individual questions and one conversation task. The examiner can ask follow-up questions if they want you to elaborate on something.
That could be because you haven't been speaking for long enough. Or maybe they want to give you an opportunity to express an opinion rather than simply explaining something. This may give you a chance to reach a higher level.
Of course, you don't need to be perfect to receive the lower grades. It's more about making yourself understood. The biggest difference between the lower grades (A1/A2) and the higher grades (B1/B2) is the ability to move from explanation and description to expressing opinions and constructing arguments. Grammar, pronunciation and word choice also comes more heavily into focus.
For example, a typical A1/A2 question might be to talk about winter in Norway or to explain your job. To reach higher levels, you'll need to express your opinion. For example, by talking about whether it's too expensive to drive in Norway.
The examiners may feel you could reach a higher level than the test allows. In these cases, they can ask you to stay for an additional, harder question. For example, if you do well in the A1/A2 test, they can choose to also test you for B1. This is entirely at their discretion.
How to prepare for Norskprøven
Sample questions for each different level of all four parts of the exam are available on the Kompetanse Norge website. These are a fantastic resource and will give you an immediate idea as to which level you are currently working at.
My own belief is that the spoken exam is the hardest part. The other three parts allow time for thinking. While you can of course take a moment to consider your answer in the speaking exam, there is more time pressure.
But this could be different for you. If, for example, you have learned Norwegian primarily through speaking and your native language is not Germanic, you may struggle more with the writing exam. So, the key to prepare is to know your strengths and weaknesses.
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I can't really answer questions about the exam as I am no expert. That being said, I hope this article this gives you a place to start from in your preparation. Lykke til!