Yleinen kielitutkinto (YKI) or National Certificate of Language Proficiency test is one of the requirements for those that would like to apply for Finnish citizenship. This test can be taken in Finnish or Swedish as these are the official languages in Finland. Friends tell me that if it’s for the citizenship, might as well take YKI in Swedish since that’s easier to relate to than Finnish. Still I chose Finnish, not because I wanted a challenge, but because in addition to the citizenship, I would like to understand the locals, ads, and newspapers. In that aspect, Finnish is most often used.
I already took the YKI test back in November 2015 and luckily passed it. So I would like to share how I prepared for the test and how the test was carried through for those that are yet to take it.
Some people sign up for the Finnish language intensive course. This course is quite fast-paced with several homework for you to catch up with the language quickly. These classes are held daily for around 5 hours and lasts for 3-4 months. If you have that much spare time, definitely go for this course. Unfortunately, for those that are employed like me, committing to that kind of schedule would be close to impossible.
Before I moved to Finland, I started reading on simple Finnish words like colors and fruits, but to be honest I wasn’t really that engaged then. In our workplace, the default language is English so you can imagine how much I learn about the language everyday.
During my first year in Finland, our workplace hired a Finnish teacher, as requested by us foreigners, to teach us basic Finnish even if we didn’t really need it for work. Classes happened twice a month for two hours. Since it was a small group of people that know each other, the class was pretty chaotic. We kept repeating the same topics because others would skip a class or two and would request that we go back to the topics that they missed. The pace was also dictated by us. When we didn’t understand a certain topic, we spent all of our class time to settle that. In the end, we managed to finish around 4 chapters of the Suomen Mestari 1 book.
I decided to quit the Finnish course in our workplace because I wanted to move forward so that I can take the YKI test once I reach my fourth year in Finland. To make sure I have time for it, I enrolled in Finnish evening courses provided by Helsingin Aikuisopisto, particularly these courses:
HYVÄÄ ILTAA SUOMI! OSA 1
HYVÄÄ ILTAA SUOMI! OSA 2
Total cost: €288
Duration: 3 months
Recurrence: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 17.00-19.30
Book: Suomen Mestari 1
HYVÄÄ ILTAA SUOMI -JATKO 1 (€96)
HYVÄÄ ILTAA SUOMI -JATKO 2 (€96)
HYVÄÄ ILTAA SUOMI -JATKO 3 (€86)
HYVÄÄ ILTAA SUOMI -JATKO 4 (€106)
Total cost: €384
Duration: 5 months
Recurrence: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 17.00-19.30
Book: Suomen Mestari 2 and Tarkista Tästä
For 8 straight months I attended Finnish courses twice a week. Unlike the one provided in our workplace, the pace there was faster, but still not as fast as the intensive course. If you decide to go to such school courses, it helps if you already have a bit of knowledge before getting into this because the teacher won’t spend too much time on a topic if you’re the only one who doesn’t get it. In that sense, the basic slow and repeating classes that I got from the office actually helped me start off well in these evening courses.
These courses that I took enabled me to reach CEFR level A2.2. Finnish citizenship requires that I get YKI level 3 (B1) or 4 (B2). The book Suomen Mestari 3 supposedly gets me to YKI level 3. Instead of attending yet another evening course, I decided to just buy the book and CD so that I could study by myself because at least I already understood the basics and how books 1 and 2 work.
There was another set of courses that I enrolled in, though, which was focused more on the YKI test itself rather than learning Finnish. They were also provided by Helsingin Aikuisopisto:
YKI-VIIKONLOPPU A (€40)
YKI-VIIKONLOPPU A:N JATKO (€40)
Total cost: €80
Duration: 4 times
Recurrence: Friday 17.00-20.15 and Saturday 10.00-15.15
Both were 2-day courses that were primarily for giving the students a mock YKI test. I’d have to say, this is one of the best courses I’ve had related to YKI. Knowing the Finnish language and actually doing the test are quite different things. The YKI course helped me prepare for the format of the test. I’ve never taken a language test before so I was totally surprised on how the test will be done, especially for the speaking part. I believe that this course made a big contribution to me passing the test. I definitely recommend this to whoever is planning to take the YKI test.
I scanned the materials that I got from this course and from other sources as well and provided them all at the end of this post. Feel free to use it.
Aside from attending courses in school, I made it a point to watch TV with Finnish subtitles. There I learned useful phrases that weren’t included in the books that we used in school. I also read newspapers and magazines daily just to familiarize myself with commonly used words.
A website that not only helped me in my listening skills, but also updated me with current news events in Finland was the YLE uutiset selkosuomeksi. Previously they only had radio and text news sections to practice one’s listening and reading skills, but now there’s also a TV section. There are also questions at the end of the page to verify if you understood the news correctly.
Another excellent website that proved to be valuable was kotisuomessa.fi. It has conversational and speech exercises similar to the actual YKI test. The pace of the audio for listening is also the same as that of the test. You can try out the exercises without a need to register by clicking on the “Itsearviointi” button.
In times that I was on the road, I made it a point to memorize phrases and words. Anki was a very handy software that enabled me to install and even create my own flash cards. It supports several platforms including mobile, so I installed it in my phone and I memorized while I was in the bus or in the car.
I practiced speech at home, as well. My partner isn’t Finnish, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t converse in Finnish. Granted that our grammar most likely sucked, but the point of that really was to make it easy for me to compose sentences and talk longer.
All About the Test
The test covers four skills in the Finnish language – speaking, listening, reading, and writing. In previous years, grammar was included in the test, but they have removed that part so don’t spend too much time correcting your grammar. It’s more important to be understood and have a more substantial content.
The test booklet is not where you should place your answers, unless it is the writing skills test or a free-form / open-ended question. For true or false and multiple choice, the answers must be put in the answer sheet provided separately at the beginning of the test. I made a mistake of putting my answers in the reading skills booklet during my actual test, but luckily managed to transfer my answers before they got to my desk to claim the answer sheet. Pay attention to the question number because you will be using the same answer sheet for entire test (except for the writing part and free-form or open-ended questions). You may end up answering from somewhere in the middle of the answer sheet because of the order of your exam. The order of the skills in the test varies, depending on the testing center’s schedule.
Speaking (50-60 minutes)
For speaking, you will be using a headphone with a microphone that is attached to the computer where your speech will be recorded onto. There will be no human interaction, rather you will be speaking with a pre-recorded voice from the computer. All teachers I’ve talked to advised me that for the Speaking test, I should just keep talking whenever I’m expected to speak even if I misunderstood the question. I guess you still get some points out of that. Everyone taking the test will be in the same question as you are, so you can imagine a bunch of people in one room all speaking at the same time. Don’t be too bothered by that. Just focus on your own test.
Speech Test Content
Situations / Occasions (Tilannetehtävät)
This section will contain around 6-8 situations. You will hear from the audio when you can begin familiarizing yourself with the corresponding situation. For example, you can hear something like “Tutustu tilanteeseen yksi”. You will be given a few seconds to read the situation and prepare for your speech. I would advise that you start jotting down keywords that you’d like to use instead of writing the exact sentences because you don’t have that much time. The number of seconds for you to respond is shown at the end of each situational text. After a few seconds, you will be told to start speaking. The recording will end after the number of seconds for your speech has been consumed. Then you will be asked to proceed to the next situation.
This part was the most challenging for me. Mainly because my weakest point is listening and in this section, I needed to listen, comprehend it, and respond back appropriately while making sure that you didn’t speak long enough to overlap with the pre-recorded voice. Otherwise I would’ve risked missing some parts and not be able to respond correctly. This part is usually comprised of around 2-3 conversation tasks. You will be given a situation so that you can start the conversation. When the recording begins, you are usually asked to say greetings and explain your situation. After which, the pre-recorded voice will respond by possibly asking a question which you are expected to answer. At times, you will be instructed to agree or disagree in your response, so pay attention to the text in the booklet to know which part of the conversation you’re already in. The entire conversation can last up to 6-7 exchanges.
Here you can be asked to talk about opinions or experiences. Usually, there are 2-3 narration tasks, and at times, you will be given the option to choose which topic to talk about. You will then have 1-2 minutes to jot down your thoughts, again I suggest that instead of full sentences, write down words or phrases you’re planning to use. After which, you will be asked to speak for 1-2 minutes. If there’s still time and you’re done talking, force yourself to speak. Elaborate on a thing you just mentioned. There are also guide questions under each topic that can help out spur ideas.
Listening (30 minutes)
For Listening, you will be in the same room as in the speech test since you will be needing the headphone and computer. The test is a mix of true or false, multiple choice and free-form text or open-ended questions. Some of the recording excerpts are played once and some twice. The entire test is split into 5-7 parts. This includes listening to announcements, advertisements, reports (e.g. news reports), interviews and conversations.
Reading (50-60 minutes)
The reading test is performed in a different room, which generally looks like a classroom. There is absolutely no need for you to understand each and every word in the test, so don’t stress too much on that. Worse comes to worst, just guess! It’s multiple choice, anyway. And if it’s free-form or open-ended, then just write the entire sentence that you feel might be the “best” fit. Also, manage your time. It’s quite easy to consume most of your time comprehending a sentence and forget that there are still 3 more parts to go. The test is composed of 6-7 parts which may include announcements, notifications, advertisements, reports (e.g. news reports), and opinions or stories.
Writing (50-60 minutes)
The writing test is done in the same room as in the reading test. It is always better to write a lengthy text than to write a really short one, but please make sure that the text is substantial. A lengthy text that does not make sense will not help. Also, if you are asked to write a letter, remember your opening and closing remarks. This test is usually composed of 3 parts. Scenarios vary per test, but the themes are often about writing an invite, complaint, inquiry, and opinion. There will be guide questions that need to be answered in each part, like:
What is the event?
What is going to happen in the event?
When and where will it be held?
How will the guests get there?
What would you like the guests to bring?
What is the problem? Describe it.
When and where did it occur?
How can the problem be resolved?
What is your inquiry?
What do you want to know or change?
Why is this important to you? Why do you need this?
In this section, you will be given 2-3 topics to choose from. This is an essay. You will need to write about your opinion on the matter and elaborate on it enough to fill at least two full pages of the test booklet. Theme of the topics are usually: You and your background, Your home or residence, Travel, Health and welfare, Work, Environment, Society, Interpersonal relationships.
Opetushallitus (OPH) also enumerated the format of the test in their website.
The YKI test for Finnish intermediate level (keskitaso) is held 4 times a year, in January, April, August, and November which all falls on a Saturday. You can check the exact test dates, registration period, as well as the fees from the OPH website. When I took the test, the cost was €100. Now it says €123.
The test centers are available in this OPH link. There are several testing centers covering major cities in Finland. The OPH site also shows whether all slots have been filled, and indicates whether they accept online registration.
I registered in Axxell Vantaa for my YKI test because they provide online registration, it’s accessible from where I live, and they are the only ones that had plenty of free slots remaining the day before the start of registration. Apparently, there are testing centers that pre-register their students. That means, for those who aren’t enrolled, they’d have to try their luck in finding a slot on their own.
If you are one of those that would register on your own, I highly recommend Axxell. It’s easy to navigate and figure out where the registration link is. The registration links become available in this page beside the testing center name once registration begins. The slots run out quite fast, so I suggest that you wake up a few minutes before 9.00 on the day of the registration and watch and refresh that page until the registration link comes up, then click it right away! Based on my experience of registering two people on different exam dates, slots of as much as 50 run out within 2 minutes of registration opening.
If you managed to click on the registration link, a page that looks like this will appear.
The test fee is paid after the registration. Axxell will send a confirmation of your registration and payment details to your home days after you register.
Days prior to the test day, Axxell will send an invitation letter to your home that mentions the testing center address, test date and time (it can be in morning or afternoon), as well as basic instructions on what you need to do and bring. Here are some things you need to keep in mind:
- Please bring an official ID such as passport or photo ID issued by Finland as proof of identification.
- You can bring snacks, if you plan to eat. I only brought crackers and water because I can’t digest when I’m nervous.
- Phones are not allowed throughout the duration of your test, even during breaks. They will be collected by the proctor before the test begins, and will be returned after the test. I didn’t bring my phone with me because I was concerned about it being misplaced or stolen, but they ended up being suspicious of me. So I suggest that you bring your phone and just surrender it. It seemed that there weren’t risks of it being stolen, anyway.
- Be there early enough that you won’t miss the test and still have time to look for your room. I almost missed my room because I didn’t know that the names of testers were posted outside their respective rooms. Once you find your room, you’d have to wait until the proctor lets you in.
- As you may have gathered from the test format above, you will have two testing rooms – one for speaking and listening and another for reading and writing. You will be escorted whenever you need to change rooms.
- The seats are pre-labeled with the testers’ names, so go and locate your seat.
- All bags are placed on a shelf far from the testers. So basically, you just have your pencil and eraser with you. You can access your bag during the break.
- The entire test lasts for around 3,5-4 hours.
- If you’re going to use a car for transportation, check that they have parking. I brought my car, and they had enough parking spaces there.
A certificate of the results will be sent to your home coming from OPH in about 1,5-2 months from the testing date. The result will show what level you are in, per skill. It could be 3, 4 or under 3 (alle 3).
How will you know if you fulfilled the requirements for Finnish citizenship?
If all skill levels are 3 or 4, then you definitely passed the requirements. However, if you have some skills that are under 3, you’d have to verify if you met the correct combinations. Below are the accepted combinations:
Speaking (level 3 or 4) + Writing (level 3 or 4) or
Listening (level 3 or 4) + Writing (level 3 or 4) or
Reading (level 3 or 4) + Speaking (level 3 or 4)
If you fulfill any of these combinations, then you have passed the Finnish citizenship requirement for language skills. The certificate has no expiration.