I found it difficult to figure out what actually happens on the ТРКИ1 (Test of Russian as a Foreign Language Test #1).  My friend Nastya sent me this document (all in Russian), which details the requirements, but I still wasn’t totally sure of the procedure.  The fact that a book I found in Буквоед contradicted the requirements didn’t help; nor did the fact that the university’s webpage seemed to have an entirely different idea again.  So, without further ado, here’s what I had to do for the test:

  1. Grammar-Vocab
    This is composed of four parts, which you have an hour to complete.  It’s 160ish multi-choice questions in total.  The first section tests your vocab knowledge (a lot of them were verbs, and not high-frequency verbs, either).  It’s mainly selecting the correct tense and ‘state’ (ie perfective/nonperfective/СВ/НСВ).  The following three parts check your cases, your prefixes and prepositions, your verbs of motion and participles/verbal adverbs.
    For preparation, I recommend using ‘Тесты, тесты, тесты‘.  I also used the learnrussian.rt.com website (there are no answers, but I’ve uploaded my answers to exercises here), plus all the books mentioned in my post about learning Russian.
  2. Writing
    This was composed of two parts, for which you have an hour again.  The first part was reading a story (approx one typed page) and then essentially rewriting it, by answering some questions.  The second part was writing a letter, in which I had to address a massive list of guiding questions, again.
  3. Reading
    This section was 50 minutes.  There were three parts, with multi-choice questions.  I personally found that the reading part wasn’t too complicated.  Each text was around one typed page, or just over.
    For preparation, I recommend graded books with answers, such as ‘Читаем? Читаем. Читаем!’
  4. Listening
    This section was a lot harder than I anticipated.  It runs for 35 minutes.  I heard 6 texts (with an average of 5 questions each).  You hear each text one time only, and the questions are not in order.  Nor are the questions phrased in the same way as the listening: you will have to really understand and remember what you’ve heard to be able to answer them.  Furthermore, there were a few answers (it was multi-choice, again) in which I didn’t understand every word.
  5. Speaking
    This section took roughly 40 minutes, and was comprised of two activities.  The first (for me) was to have a chat with the examiner (one:one).  Possible topics are listed in that document I included above.  The second activity was to read a text and then essentially retell it and answer questions about it.  This part was much harder than the other: the text I had to read was harder than any text in the written or reading parts of the exam, and you had to read in-between the lines.  Expect low-frequency language.

For preparation in general, I strongly recommend a familiarity with Russian history and culture, as a lot of the texts and questions assumed knowledge.  There were questions I could answer without first listening to/reading the text, due to my knowledge of those particular peoples’ lives/that particular part of Russian history.

You can use a dictionary for the writing, reading, and speaking parts of the exam.  (For the next level, your dictionary must be monolingual, ie entirely in Russian; above that, no dictionary is permitted).

Первый уровень corresponds to the Preliminary English (PET) Test run by Cambridge; it’s the test of B1 level in the Common European Framework; and it’s equivalent to IELTS 3.5/4.5.  It’s enough to enter a bachelor’s degree program at a Russian university.

To pass, you need 66% in four sections, and 60% in the fifth.

You can read my post about how to learn Russian here.


  1. Oh, my. Where does one even start learning Russian history and culture? Of course there’s Wikipedia and rt.com’s Russiapedia. Are there any books you’d recommend? You could link them through Amazon and get a commission when people buy them.

    I live in the US and I loved learning US history, but the US is a baby in comparison to Russia! (Not complaining, just pointing out the difference in education.)

      1. No no, not insulting at all. I haven’t really read enough books about Russian history in English, though I mention a good oversight one here: http://www.explaura.net/2013/04/quote/
        Most of the history etc I learned was actually in Russian, and in the course of working through my textbooks over there. Those particular books don’t have answer keys and I don’t think are available overseas, though.
        I’m a book depository affiliate, but couldn’t quite figure out the Amazon system. It all seemed a bit too hard! I’ll have to look into it in a couple of months when I publish my book though.
        Also your comment re the US being a baby reminded me of this post: http://www.explaura.net/2012/11/bread-and-bears/
        I’m from Aus, so younger again!

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