Estonia increases wait between language proficiency exam retakes

State Estonian language exam. Photo is illustrative.
State Estonian language exam. Photo is illustrative. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Interest in taking Estonian language proficiency exams has skyrocketed. To cut down on crowding for exam times, the state has moved toward increasing the waiting period between exams and retakes – from just a few months previously to now more than half a year.

Nearly one in two people earning their driver's license in Estonia fails the driving test. The situation is about the same for non-Estonians taking Estonian language proficiency exams; around half manage to pass on their first try.

According to Auli Udde, an official at the Education and Youth Board's Testing and Evaluation Department involved in organizing these exams, it's completely understandable if you don't manage to pass on your first attempts due to nerves, for example.

It's the point where you're taking the same level exam for the fourth time that it needs to be acknowledged that merely taking the exam alone isn't going to improve your language efficiency, Udde noted.

"The thing still is that [your] Estonian language proficiency will only improve if you are actively using it in both speech and writing," she stressed.

Until now, examinees could retake their language proficiency exam in as little as just a couple months' time, and those to earn just 35 of 100 points were welcome to retake theirs as well. As of this month, however, stricter limitations have been introduced on retakes – only those to earn at least 45 points will qualify for a retake, and anyone scoring lower than that will have to wait and work on improving their language skills for at least half a year.

"There is no state fee for Estonian language proficiency exams – no registration fee, not for consultations that take place prior to each exam – there is no fee whatsoever," Udde highlighted. "In that regard the state has been very examinee-friendly. But on the other hand there's the side that we don't have wait times; everyone that has registered is able to take the exam. But if you think about it this way, that it's like a recurring expense – exam prep, the conducting of all those [exams], grading – all of that is taxpayers' money."

Another reason for reducing how frequently one can retake an exam is to avoid people having to wait for exam times in the first place.

Thus far, everyone who has signed up to take a language proficiency exam has been approved, although the number of examinees has skyrocketed in recent times and will only continue to swell even more next spring.

Examiner Piret Reidla finds the change completely justified.

"If that score falls below 45, then that means there are shortcomings present across all skill areas – in speaking, listening, writing and reading alike," Reidla explained.

Asked whether it wouldn't be possible to improve one's language skills enough within a period of just three months to earn the required minimum score of 60 points, the examiner acknowledged that maybe in some cases it is, and she can't deny that.

"But I believe it's very difficult for someone to manage this if they're studying the language on top of work and their hone lives," she added.

While Finland charges for language proficiency exam retakes, in Estonia one can retake their exam once per quarter for free.

Over the past five years, one person has taken the same higher-level language proficiency exam 18 times, while two people have taken the same intermediate-level exam 11 times each.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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