Inburgeringexamen – My Experiences & Tips On Passing The Dutch Integration Exams! “Ik Ben Klaaaar… But Am I “ingeburgerd”?

My heading is a bit of a joke – Ik Ben Klaar! Back story was that a younger woman (I’d say early 20’s) in my first course would irritate the sh!te out of me and the person who sat next to me. Mainly because she had a workbook which was already filled in (clearly by someone else). When the instructor assigned us quiet work, she’d slam her pencil down and scream aloud – “Ik Ben Klaar“! Then when it was time practice time, she couldn’t speak Dutch and would contribute NOTHING! Then would be absent for a few days and then re-appear and begin shouting “Ik Ben Klaar” again – gosh we hated when she’d be assigned to our group. Anyway, wish her all the best … I really do!

I can still remember back to my first days here in the Netherlands – I was one of “those Americans” who didn’t think they had to “inburger”.  Married to a Dutchman, living together for so many years (even inside the EU, I thought I was in the clear until a few weeks after our arrival – a letter came – staying I was, in fact, inburgeringsplichtig!    Wait what?  Me?! I mean, I did agree to start learning Dutch but I now have to take actual exams within a period of 3 years and pass them to be allowed to stay.  I was truthfully a bit scared at this… could I do it?!

What if you don’t pass my exams in the time frame?

Well, if you don’t you can receive a substantial fine ((boete) €1,250 and then given two more years to pass. But really after being through it, I really think you need a very valid excuse to not pass! You have THREE years and it’s a level A2 as of now. Well if you are completely illiterate and have never learned to read or write – than I do think that would be the only real issue. But you can first take a literacy course and then go on to learn Dutch, etc. I met a woman who went this route and she was given a LOT of extra time.

You keep hearing American’s are exempt – Is it true?

Turns out American’s are only exempt from taking the “basisexamen inburgering buitenland” – which is an exam that some people (depending on which country you come from) have to take BEFORE arriving in the Netherlands. This exam is mandatory for non-EU/EEA nationals from countries who require an authorization for temporary stay (MVV); nationals from an EU/EEA country, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland, United States of America, and Vatican City are exempt.

That is the ONLY thing we are exempt from.  Well – actually unless, of course, you are not here on an EU/EEA family visa and are here on DAFT or a Highly Skilled Migrant visa (aka 30% ruling) than you also don’t have to take the exams. But but you don’t have the same rights and permanent visa that we have.  If you end up coming on one of those visas and changing, then you will, in fact, have to take the exams too.., so fair warning don’t wait – start learning Dutch.

Essentially the civic exam “diploma” is needed for some nationals to have the right to live and work in the Netherlands, to obtain a permanent residence permit and to apply for a Dutch passport. You may need to renounce your current citizenship when you apply for your Dutch citizenship. Again – exceptions and exemptions to that too.

How long – THREE years to pass all required inburgeringsexamen!

Once you become inburgeringsplichtig in the Netherlands, you have three years to pass all the exams.  “Inburgering” is simply this – integration into Dutch society.  It covers an elementary level of Dutch language (it’s really so you can get around, interact with people, answer simple questions and pretty much survive here), as well as, an understanding of Dutch culture and society.  It’s also a requirement for a lot of people who wish to stay in the Netherlands who are not a part of the EEA/EU.  Due to the ever changing status of the laws, I can’t say whether you will, or will not ever need to sit an Inburgeringscursus.  If you’re like me, and considered to come from a ‘civilised’ country, you’ll probably just have a recommendation to take a couple Dutch courses and take the exams within 3 years of registering with the IND.

What level of Dutch is required?

As it stands today, end of Dec 2020, to pass the tests your Dutch should be at a high A2 level.  Well actually you only have to get a 60% to pass so you could do it with a lower level but if you are like me and you want to have a good score you need a bit more knowledge.  And I say bit loosely – you DO NOT NEED too be fluent in Nederlands to pass.  If you’re starting from scratch I would advise taking an elementary Dutch course.  You need to understand the gajillion rules (so much I still don’t understand and mix up especially when speaking) …. Things like sentence structure, irregular verbs, word order, etc will make your head spin unless you consistently use it.   

When should I take the exams? 

As I said above and often talked about in the new news – it is worth noting that the Dutch government is planning to raise the level of the inburgering exams to level B1. They have been saying this for a while, so I don’t know when it will take effect. I DO, however, really understand why. A2 level is really low to truly function in society.  However, if you have been living in the Netherlands between 2013 – up to July 2021 you do stay in the A2-level inburgering category.  Click here on this link from DUO with a bit more information.   This information changes and there is even talk that even if you passed your A2 level exams, you must be at a B1 level to receive Naturalization!  But just today, December 4, 2020 – I read they are not going to B1 – YET!

Let’s talk about the actual exams.

The Inburgering exam consists of several parts: Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, Knowledge of Dutch Society (KNM), Orientation to the Dutch Labour Market (ONA) for those who came to the Netherlands after 1 January 2013 and Participatieverklaring for those who came to the Netherlands after October 2017.

I wrote out the order which I personally took my tests.  Note: You don’t have to take them in any particular order, and yes, you can take them all on the same day.  Some take this approach, but I wouldn’t do that. Some procrastinate and have no choice but to cram them all in at the end, others, cannot take time off work and find one day suits them best. For me, spreading them out worked best. 

KENNIS VAN DE NEDERLANDSE MAATSCHAPPIJ (KNM)
This is essentially knowledge of the Netherlands – including history, some laws, job hunting, buying houses, famous landmarks, politics, Dutch education system, geography and social behaviour of the Dutch.  All multiple choice. I am certain that one I got wrong was relating to social welfare and education streams depending on which middelbare school level attended – I now know all the ways thanks to my oldest going off to middelbare school in September.   

TOETS LEESVAARDIHEID
Listening exam – basic reading comprehension.   You read a paragraph, answer questions . Again – multiple choice. 

TOETS LUISTEREN
Listening exam – a bit like the reading comprehension – only listening.   You watch a scenario – normally two people talking and you answer questions.   Again – multiple choice. 

GESPROKEN NEDERLANDS
To do the speaking test, you have to respond to short videos using a few sentences of spoken Dutch for each video. You are in a shared room with other candidates. You wear a headset with a microphone which is hooked up to a PC. Your spoken Dutch response is recorded and played back later for assessment.  This was all okay but I found it REALLY distracting when the worker is walking around and stood behind me a lot – talk about embarrassing!  TIP: Answer in SHORT complete sentences.  Don’t blabber on as you’ll have greater chances of mistakes.

TOETS SCHRIJVEN
Written exam – you are given a booklet and a pen with four different exercises which tests your writing skills.  It is important to re-read the question twice to be sure that you write about everything that is asked; do not miss any point asked of you or you lose points.

PORTFOLIO ORIENTATIE NEDERLANDSE ARBEIDSMARKT (ONA)
In addition to the tests mentioned above, you will also have to create a “portfolio” as evidence of your orientation on the Dutch job market. Once you have completed this task, you send your portfolio in online.   Once it has been approved, you then have to come and speak about your portfolio. One or two examiners will ask you questions about your portfolio, mainly to test whether your answers are authentic. All this of course in Dutch. This takes around 35-40 minutes and this was the most nerve wracking to me. Unless you take a specific course (€€€€€) on this topic, you have to have an end interview to review your portfolio.

If you have a permanent paid job contract (which you work so many hours in the past 6 months  you can apply for exemption). I don’t currently have a paid job so I had to do this.  Also they have recently added some additional reasons for exemptions as they have a real backlog in this test for interviewers so maybe you can be exempt from this process. Truthfully I put this one off to the end as I thought it was the hardest and most difficult but when you actually set your mind to it and look what needs to be done, it’s not that difficult – especially if like me you are legitimately looking for a job.   You have to show that you know the Dutch labor market, can make a CV, cover letter, know how to search for jobs, and have a plan.

Same with all the tests, when you arrive at your test center, you check in and you must leave all things in your locker.  Jacket, watch, telephone, etc. You are not allowed to bring anything into the room with you except your ID.  NOTHING! In past exams, they walked around the room with a special hand-held device to test if someone had any electronic recording equipment taped to them. Apparently there was a big scandal some years back.

PARTICIPATIEVERKLARING
When you register at the local Gemeente, you are supposed to immediately get a letter that says you have to learn what is important in the Netherlands and are invited to a two-day workshop. After a 2-day, 3-hour workshop, you have to sign the declaration. This piece of paper is called the participation statement. By doing so, you state that you will actively participate in Dutch society and that you respect what is important here in the Netherlands. 

  • Everybody in the Netherlands is equal.
  • Everybody may choose their own partner.
  • Everybody may choose their own religion.
  • Everybody is allowed to go to school.
  • Everybody can say what they think. But it is not allowed to discriminate against somebody else.
  • We take care of ourselves. But we also take care of each other. The government helps when needed.

My class was very interesting to say the least – we had a mix of different cultures and religions and values so at times conversations became intense.    Largely aimed at Middle Eastern societies as the workshops emphasized the difference between Dutch and Muslim beliefs/practices. For example, here in the Netherlands, parents cannot force you at 16 year old to get married; it is acceptable to wear a bikini on the beach; you don’t have to wear a headscarf (many continue to do so – some don’t); kissing in public is normal; Dutch society accepts same-sex relationships, and so forth.

Results – How & when do you know if you passed?

Typically you know your results in a few weeks for the computer-based exams. You can log into the website and check if you passed, but you’ll always get a letter in the mail with the grade (cijfer). The ones where a human must correct – Speaking & Writing can take up to 8 weeks. (And now with Corona up to 12-15 weeks). Again, you only need a 60% score to pass the exams. You can keep retaking the exams, if you don’t pass, BUT you need to keep paying. I paid a total of € 290 for the tests.

Actually I joked that now that I passed my exams, I need to actually learn real Dutch now.  Which while I’m joking, my intent is there… Not sure what my exact plan is yet, but improving my Dutch and most importantly my speaking is essential.

How do you get your diploma?

Outside of the current “corona time” you would have had to pick it up. But now, once you are finished with the exams, it is automatic. So you don’t have to do anything special to receive your diploma, it will just be sent via registered post and arrive at your house. It is supposed to requires a signature, but I found mine in my mailbox without a signature. Don’t care – just happy I have it in my hand.

Costs & Preparing for the exams.

In the past, the courses for Inburgering were subsidized by the city councils but now you are on your own. Costs are really all over the place. To give you an idea, my first course was €1,300 for 8 weeks (9 hours a week)! DUO offers loans for select schools – but that I was not interested in doing. Truthfully in this day and age of the internet, you can do a lot (if not the entire exam preparation) self-study, if you wish. I think if you know zero Dutch, it’s best to start first with a beginners course (A0-A1) to get the fundamentals down. Check with your local library for free classes and Spreektaal groeps normally it’s for people with A2 or above but that is the level you should be at for the exams so it’s yet another place for “oefenen” practice! Then read, listen to podcasts and use the internet for additional resources if you don’t / can’t take a class.

There are also plenty of resources available on the internet which will help you to prepare and determine if your level is high enough to pass the tests. Just go to Google and see what suits you. The most important place is the OFFICIAL site = inburgeren.nl The practice tests here look EXACTLY as the format of the real exams so that is a huge help.  Of course, the questions differ – but it gives you the score at the end.  Very helpful in preparation. If you pass these exams consistently, then you’ll do okay with the actual exams.

I think Ad Appel is the second-best place to go for help.  They are a language school in Aerdenhout with an online based classes. But they also have so much valuable FREE information on the internet including Facebook groups and loads of Youtube videos!

Curious how YOU would do on these tests? 

Click here and you’ll see all the practice exams on the official site.   They take about 20-40 minutes each and you don’t need a login try them. I’d love to hear how you did if you tried one. HINT: Listening is the easiest!

My Top Three Tips!

Write & Speak in SHORT sentences.
Don’t Wait – take the tests now before the level goes up!
Practice, Practice, Practice on Inburgeren.nl and speaking as much Dutch as you can.

Final thoughts.

Just because you pass your “Inburgering Exam” doesn’t mean you are Inburgered or does it? 🙂 There is a funny blogger – AmsterdamShallowMan which I highly recommend posts some funny things. Here is a post about 10 Ways To Fit Into Dutch Society.

For example – as I don’t own a car, I use my bike. So I take my PMD bags to the dump – yes it looks funny but I’m not the only one who arrives with yellow bags hanging on their handle bars. I try to shove them in my saddle bags as I have issues using my hands to signal 🙂 That big blue thing is toilet paper shoved under the seat as the bags were full with my shopping.

Keep in mind – this is all based on my personal experience. In the end I am glad to have it done over with. My level of Dutch is somewhere between A2-B1 based on the tests I’ve taken. But speaking continues to struggle because I just don’t do it often!! The benefit of the Inburgering is that you know more about Dutch society – so it is all about Integration – hence the name of the exam itself. But the Staatsexamen NT2 is a better choice for those who purely want the language without the fuss of integration! I guess it all depends on your budget, time and visa requirements.

I personally think the Dutch government should invest a bit more in immigrants and offer them packages or a ways to incentivise them to learn the language at a higher level. You are basically left on your own to sink or swim. I do know that they do offer some support for people who never had the opportunity to learn to read and write even in their language, or for people who do not know the Roman alphabet. While I’m sure it’s not perfect, but I think Germany does something great by subsidizing the courses – everyone pays less than €2. per session. So much more affordable than the courses offered here – which can cost several thousand.

What do you think? Did you try the exams above? How did you do? Have you also passed (or in the process) of doing your Inburgering exams here in the Netherlands?

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