Dutch diploma: Getting through the Staatsexamen NT2
When looking for studies or work in the Netherlands, you may come across the term "Staatsexamen NT2." This refers to the "Nederlands als Tweede Taal" (Dutch as the second language) test which evaluates Dutch reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.
The exam has two levels - NT2 level II is more difficult than NT2 level I - and it is more useful for people with higher education or those who aim for higher level employment. The NT2 II diploma is equivalent to the B2 language level as described within the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
The Staatsexamen is organised by the DUO - IB Groep, a division of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research, at different locations. A fee of 90 euros is charged to take the tests, and a score of 500 points is required to pass each of them. If not all four tests are passed, candidates can retake sections they failed.
Results are made available around five weeks after the exam and, if you succeed, the TNT will deliver your diploma to your home.
So, if you are learning Dutch and plan to take this exam, here are a few pointers that could help you during the two exhausting days of the tests.
Staatsexamen NT2 - Lezen
The reading part of the exam consists of a series of texts followed by around 40 multiple choice questions, for which only one out of three (sometimes four) answers is correct. Some texts require a broad, intensive reading, while for others, scanning the text should be enough. It is important to first search the questions for specific texts in order to decide what type of reading to employ, as 100 minutes might not be long enough for a thorough read of all the pieces.
The articles from the Staatsexamen II Lezen mostly deal with work situations as well as cultural or environmental issues, all with a tint of Dutch-ness. Themes can therefore be advantages and downsides of working four days per week, effective communication with less productive colleagues, energy saving, and production of sustainable goods.
From my experience, deciding upon the right answer doesn’t require an extensive quest within the fragments. Nonetheless, there are some questions for which two or all of the given answers may seem equally appropriate, and therefore reading between the lines is needed - simple words like "just" or "so" can reveal the correct interpretation of the sentence.
In any case, a long "inner debate" may lead to a rather useless and complex approach, when in reality it is not that difficult and first instincts tend to be right.
Staatsexamen NT2 - Schrijven
The first part of the writing part requires you to finish sentences, or make new ones that fit in with the two given ones. Another type requires writing, for example, a letter to a newspaper to express an opinion on an issue or an article for a company’s newsletter, all based on given information and guidelines. Available time: two hours.
As Dutch learners are probably aware of, building up sentences in Dutch can be demanding. Writing is the place where grammar and spelling are extremely important - even if they don’t have to be perfect. So, pay attention to the word order, nouns, and verb tenses.
Language teachers advise simplicity and straightforwardness when writing. Short, strong sentences can bring clarity, and avoid the risk of making (many) mistakes. At the same time, the vocabulary should add some nuances to the formulations, as this is also evaluated.
From my experience and that of my fellow-learners, the available time is not enough to write the sentences or texts on a sheet of paper first and then transfer to the actual test.
Finally, note that during the writing and reading section, you can use a dictionary!
Staatsexamen NT2 - Luisteren
Composed of three parts and multiple audio extracts, the listening section includes people giving interviews, on the radio and over the phone. It covers education opportunities, tasks at the workplace and family matters among other issues. Again, it is a multiple-choice part with around 40 questions with only one correct answer.
If you concentrate and have previously practiced in Dutch public spaces or in front of the television, this section can be doable. Nonetheless, it is often the case that one of the fragments deals with an obscure subject (such as a detailed interview with a beekeeper in my case), or uses the sounds of a fast talker blurred by a phone connection.
Sometimes, the fragments can seem long and boring, especially for candidates who already had a long day in the exam room. So, focus and be patient.
Staatsexamen NT2 - Spreken
Many candidates consider the speaking section the most difficult one. This half an hour test takes place in front of the computer, and the answers are recorded and afterwards evaluated. In the first two parts, shorter answers are required (20 and 30 seconds respectively), while in the third section, candidates have to present (two longer issues) in two minutes.
The themes again vary, and the questions come with brief explanations and / or drawings. Candidates are for example asked to give an opinion about internet shopping, explain to a friend how to treat a wound, or recommend parents the right day care centre for their children. Consequently, you have to play different characters and come up with appropriate and structured responses in a short time period and of course, in Dutch!
Again, what teachers recommend is to keep it short and clear, use the correct expressions and keep an eye on the grammar. Relaxing would also prove useful, as time flies and you need to keep matters in hand.
Also, and this goes for every section, mistakes are allowed. A pass does not mean your Dutch is perfect, but it proves you have a good understanding of the language and you are familiar with the grammar and vocabulary.