YKI Test is not rocket science

YKI Test is not rocket science

Mari Nikonen is a Helsinki based Finnish teacher. She has been teaching Finnish since 2008. She is helping students to prepare for the YKI test (YKI Testi: yleinen kielitutkinto). 

Do you think the YKI Test is a difficult one?

No, I wouldn’t. One thing that can make YKI difficult is that students don’t know what to expect, and that can be something that makes it difficult. But when you know what to expect, you know some strategies, and you have some good basic everyday language skills, it’s not a difficult test in that case.

Are there any books you would recommend to prepare for YKI?

I’ve written a textbook for YKI preparation, and I naturally think that it’s the best one out there! It’s called YKIä kohti (Towards YKI). It’ll be out in March 2024, and it’s already available for pre-order on the Finn Lectura website

YKIä Kohti book cover

YKIä Kohti book cover. Photo: Fin Lectura

Another good book available now is Gimara’s “Ykäänkö vai ykiinkö”, which is awkwardly named. The name means “Shall I throw up or shall I go to the test”? That’s a funny name.

Another great book is “Harjoitus tekee mestarin 4”. Those, I believe, are the best specific books that exist.

Then, of course, we have lots of general language textbooks like Oma Suomi, Suomen Mestari, etc. My personal favorite to use as a teacher with a student is Oma Suomi. I also like “No niin”, if I were teaching an intensive class that lasted for several months. For a student who’s doing a lot of self-study, I would choose Suomen Mestari because it has answers at the back and is more grammar-driven.

Any YKI Related websites that students must check up? 

  1. The official YKI Sample test: Tutustu testiin
  2. YKItreenit 
  3. Koti suomessa is also good for that
  4. Then for just general advice, I like my blog Ask a Finnish teacher 
  5. And then there’s Random Finnish lessons, which is great. And Hanna has years and years of YKI experience, so she has really great advice.
  6. Also Helsingin Aikuisopisto has compiled a big database for everything to do with the YKI Test. It’s a nice compilation of resources. 
  7. For general language learning there is Kielibuusti
  8. Gimara has a vast collection of free YKI-related resources

In your everyday life, how would you suggest people practice their Finnish?

Well, if you are living in Finland, then the whole world is your classroom, of course. And I know that it is much easier said than done. Finnish speakers are notorious for wanting to be polite and switching to English all the time. However, it is doable. Just start using the language, beginning with the greetings you know. Always remember that if you need to switch to English for a minute, that’s fine. There are great language cafes where you can also practice in a safer, more contained environment to get yourself going, etc.

How would you advise people to prepare for the writing part of the test?

Well, I would suggest practicing writing extensively. Sit down with paper and a pencil, as that’s what you’ll be using during the test, at least for the time being. Practice without relying on additional resources such as translators or autocorrect tools. While these tools are beneficial in everyday situations, they won’t be available during the test. 

In the writing part, you will encounter two different types of messages to write—typically, an informal message and a formal one. Additionally, you need to express an opinion. 

I recommend beginning with the official sample tests and then considering everyday situations you may need to address. Practice writing messages such as complaints about a product or reporting issues with a website or a malfunctioning product. You might also need to send a message to a doctor’s office. Practice writing responses to these scenarios.

While teachers compile resources to make it easier for you, don’t hesitate to trust your own instincts and pick your own brain for practicing writing tasks.

Should students worry about grammar?

No, they shouldn’t. They should consider it more as a tool. The more accurately they can express themselves in the test, the easier it will be for the assessor to understand them. However, at level 3 (B1), perfection is not the goal. There can be numerous mistakes; the crucial aspect is the ability to make oneself understood. Grammar serves as a tool for communication, but it’s only one of many. Assessors don’t insist on perfection, such as having every object in the right case, for example.

What are students’ main fears or concerns regarding YKI?

It’s, of course, really individual. One common fear is the worry of completely blanking out during the YKI test, and unfortunately, I have to tell them that it’s very possible that it will happen.

This happened to me when I took the intermediate YKI test a little while ago just to refresh my memory. I found myself struggling to talk about what makes a good colleague, gasping for air for at least a minute or so. However, it’s normal, and I think it reassures people to know that it happens to many test-takers, and it doesn’t prevent you from passing.

I received my YKI 4-level certificate. It would have been pretty embarrassing if I hadn’t, even though the stakes were super low for me. I was really nervous, even though I knew I had nothing to worry about.

There are also students whose lives hinge on whether they can pass or not, and those situations are really stressful. It’s essential to remember that not everybody is starting from the same point or has the same opportunities to study. So, I believe not comparing yourself to others is really important as well.

Share some success stories of your students who passed the test.

The students I’ve had the privilege of teaching over the years have been truly awesome. Unfortunately, I cannot name them as I haven’t asked for their permission.

Currently, the people I am working with, and those I am most proud of as a teacher, are the students who have faced the greatest challenges. I’ve had students in very difficult situations, such as single parents juggling full-time jobs, trying to find a little time here and there for their studies and to polish their Finnish for the YKI test.

I believe that these stories of struggle and success have been the most emotional and wonderful to witness. It’s truly inspiring to be a part of their journey.

How could you inspire someone to keep learning a language?

From my perspective, if you are living in Finland and want to build a life here, you might miss out on a lot if you don’t speak the language. I understand that it’s not always easy, but it’s not impossible. 

To advance in your career or improve your personal relationships, speaking the language can provide a much deeper and more rewarding experience in life. However, I also believe that the language itself is not a goal; it’s a means. It’s something you can have fun with, enjoying speaking, reading, and learning new words. The process can be rewarding in itself, not something you need to persevere through until one day you receive a reward. I think the key is to find what’s rewarding about it right now, and that will vary for different people.

Some may find joy in listening to music, while others, like grammar enthusiasts (such as myself), may enjoy the beauty of grammar structures like participles. Discover what inspires you about the language and keep doing that.

Could you share more about your YKI courses? 

My next upcoming YKI course is in February 2024. It’s a self-paced course for the speaking part of the YKI test. The way it works is you watch pre-recorded video lessons and do exercises whenever works best for you, record your work and share it with me and the group in our dedicated Facebook group. I then listen to your work and give you feedback on it. 

I did a similar course on the writing part in January 2024. The next chapter of that course will be coming up again in autumn, but the course material is still available on my website for those who would like to study the material more independently. Those who buy the material now can still join the autumn interactive course, should they choose to do so. 

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