How to pass the B1 Italian language test for citizenship

When you apply for Italian citizenship by marriage or residency, you are required to pass an official B1 Italian language test to prove that you will be able to study, live and work in Italy and be an active member of society.

On this page, you will learn everything you need to know to obtain the B1 Italian proficiency certificate that is required from you when you apply for Italian citizenship by marriage and residency.

What vocabulary and grammar do you need to know to pass the test? Just what is this test? Where can you take the test? How long will it last? Read on to find out.


What’s the B1 Italian proficiency test for citizenship?

It’s an intermediate-level language test (see section: What’s level B1?) that some applicants for Italian citizenship have to pass in order to acquire citizenship (see section: Do I always need to pass the B1 Italian language test to become a citizen of Italy?). Passing this test is proof that you will be able to live, work and integrate into the country without issues.

The B1 Italian language test is administered by these authorities:

  • the CILS (Certificazione di Italiano come Lingua Straniera, Italian Certificate as a Foregn Language)
  • the CELI (Certificati di Lingua Italiana, Italian Language Certificates)
  • the PLIDA (Progetto lingua italiana Dante Alighieri, Dante Alighieri Italian Language Project)

All proficiency exams include an application fee and are held on specific days of the year, so make sure you check the schedule in the language center of your choice (see section: Where can I take the B1 Italian language test?).


Do I always need to pass the B1 Italian language test to become a citizen of Italy?

No. You don’t actually need to obtain any language certification if you are applying for Italian citizenship by descent (you descend from Italian citizens, more info on the linked page). The Italian language is so beautiful, however, that it might be worth it to learn it anyway! 🙂


What’s level B1?

The CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) divides language proficiency into 6 levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. A1-A2 are beginner levels, B1-B2 are intermediate levels and C1-C2 are advanced levels.

The B1 level is the lower-intermediate language level and that’s the one you need to reach in order to acquire Italian citizenship by marriage or residency. Specifically, a student with a B1 level of Italian:

Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

This means that for passing the B1 Italian language proficiency test you will need to have an intermediate level of Italian. You won’t certainly have to become the next Dante Alighieri or have a gift for the gab, but you must be proficient enough to get by and interact with daily activities in the country.

It may sound daunting to you if you’ve just started out learning Italian, but I can assure you that the road to getting to a level B1 of proficiency in the language is shorter than you think.

If you are applying for Italian citizenship by residency, chances are you are already proficient enough in the Italian language. However, to acquire citizenship the government needs to have proof of your skills regardless of your proficiency in the language – you can speak Italian like a pro, but your personal claim won’t be enough. You need proof.

The table below shows a comparison between CILS and CELI levels to CEFR.

CEFRCILSCELI
A1A1Impatto
A2A21
B1Uno2
B2Due3
C1Tre4
C2Quattro5

Where can I take the B1 Italian language test?

You can’t take the B1 Italian language test just anywhere. First of all, it must be taken in person. The language center where you will take the exam must be approved by either the MIUR (Ministero dell’Istruzione, Ministry of Education) or the MAECI (Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

As there are many certified CILS, CELI and PLIDA exam centers around the world, you might want to look for the language center closer to where you live. Click on the links below to get an exhaustive list of all certified centers in Italy and around the world.

CILS-certified centers in Italy by region

CILS-certified centers by continent

CELI-certified centers around the world (interactive map)

PLIDA-certified centers around the world (interactive map)


How long will the B1 Italian language test last?

We can’t say exactly how long the test will last, as the length will depend on several factors: your skills, the certified language center you register at, the exam structure itself, etc.

For example, the standard length of the B1 CILS exam specific for acquiring Italian citizenship (UNO B1 Cittadinanza) taken at Università di Pavia is 2 hours and 5 minutes and it’s structured in this way:

  • 30 min. listening
  • 40 min. reading
  • 40 min. writing
  • 15 min. speaking

In any case, you can expect a commitment of at least a few hours, so get plenty of rest overnight and don’t eat a peperonata the day before the exam! 😉


What will I be tested on during the B1 Italian language test?

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, proficiency exams follow a specific structure. Your skills will be tested thoroughly:

You can find facsimiles of the B1 Italian language tests here:

CILS facsimile exam 1

CILS facsimile exam 2

CELI facsimile exam 1

CELI facsimile exam 2 (look for heading “CELI 2 IMM. – LIVELLO B1 CITTADINANZA“)

PLIDA facsimile exam (look for heading “PLIDA B1 prova esempio“)

CILS B1 Cittadinanza or CILS Uno B1?

Please note that the CILS B1 exam for acquiring Italian citizenship is different and simpler than their standard Uno B1 exam:

ITA Avendo obiettivi specifici, l’esame CILS B1 Cittadinanza ha un costrutto e un formato diverso da quello dell’esame CILS UNO B1. In particolare il B1 Cittadinanza descrive una porzione di competenza molto più limitata rispetto al B1 standard e per questo ha una spendibilità limitata ai soli scopi della cittadinanza. Tale esame non copre gli scopi lavorativi, accademici ecc.

ENG – Having specific objectives, the CILS B1 Citizenship exam has a different construct and format than the CILS UNO B1 exam. Specifically, the B1 Citizenship describes a much more limited portion of competence than the standard B1 and therefore its expendability is limited to citizenship purposes only. This exam does not cover work purposes, academic purposes, etc.

https://cils.unistrasi.it/188/357/B1_cittadinanza.htm

If your goal is only to obtain Italian citizenship, and not study or work in the country, then the CILS B1 Cittadinanza exam is all you need. It is easier than a regular B1 exam.

However, since it tests a limited portion of competence (see quote above), you will be limited in your activities and will not be able to use the certificate for work or academic purposes. You might want to study a little more and go for the standard Uno B1 CILS exam, which allows you to do many more things along with granting you Italian citizenship!

You can find the guidelines for all CILS exams here, and the specific syllabus for the B1 Cittadinanza exam here. Please note that the skills listed in the syllabus for the B1 Cittadinanza exam DO NOT include the skills that are acquired in lower levels (A1, A2), so if you are new to learning Italian make sure you check those in the complete guidelines file.

Remember: B1 is an intermediate level of proficiency, so you will first need to learn basic vocabulary and grammar (A1-2) before you can tackle B1 topics.

You don’t have to take the A1 and A2 exams before applying for the B1 exam. If you feel confident enough, you can even apply for the C2 exam as your first Italian test ever!

Since these guidelines are in Italian, I translated what grammar is needed for each level into English for you below.

Grammar topics required for the CILS B1 Cittadinanza exam for Italian citizenship

CILS A1

The applicant needs to have a passive knowledge of:

  • Definite and indefinite articles
  • Gender and number of nouns (masculine, feminine, plural)
  • Subject and complement pronouns
  • Adjectives (grande, piccolo, rosso, alto…)
  • Possessive adjectives and pronouns
  • Demonstrative adjectives and pronouns
  • Interrogative adjectives and pronouns
  • Indefinite adjectives and pronouns
  • Cardinal numbers (1, 2, 3…)
  • Ordinal numbers: primo, secondo, terzo
  • Simple prepositions and articulated prepositions
  • Active conjugation of verbs essere and avere and potere, dovere and volere modal verbs
  • Active conjugation of regular verbs in the following modes and tenses:
    • present indicative
    • present perfect indicative
    • present infinitive
    • imperative (active and negative form in the 2nd person singular and plural)
    • recognition of the polite form vorrei
  • Most frequent qualifying adverbs of time, place, quantity, affirmation and negation
  • Simple sentence: declarative, interrogative and volitional clauses using the imperative mood
  • Complex sentence: copulative, adversative, declarative coordinate clauses
  • Complex sentence: casual, temporal, relative and final implicit subordinate clauses
  • Hypothetical sentences introduced by se.

The applicant needs to have an active knowledge of:

  • Gender and number of regular nouns (masculine, feminine, plural)
  • Subject pronouns
  • Qualifying adjectives (noun-adjective agreement is not required)
  • Possessive adjectives
  • Demonstrative adjectives and pronouns (questo, quello)
  • Interrogative adjectives and pronouns (chi, cosa, quale, quanto)
  • Indefinite adjectives and pronouns (tanto, molto, poco, tutto)
  • Cardinal numbers from 1 to 20
  • Simple prepositions
  • Active conjugation of verbs essere and avere and potere, dovere and volere modal verbs
  • Active conjugation of regular verbs in the following modes and tenses:
    • present indicative
    • present perfect indicative (appropriate choice of the auxiliary verb, the past participle doesn’t need to agree with the subject)
    • present infinitive
    • imperative (active and negative form in the 2nd person singular and plural)
  • Most frequent adverbs:
    • of affirmation and negation (sì, no)
    • of time (prima, poi, dopo, già, ora/adesso, sempre, mai, oggi, domani, ieri)
    • of place (qui/qua, lì/là, sopra, sotto, giù, dentro, fuori, vicino, lontano, davanti, dietro, a destra, a sinistra)
  • Other more frequent adverbs (così, molto, poco, tanto, più, meno, bene, male)
  • Simple sentences: declarative, interrogative clauses introduced by chi, come, dove, quando, perché, che cosa, quanto
  • Complex sentence: coordinate clauses introduced by e and ma;
  • Complex sentence: causal subordinate clauses introduced by perché, temporal clauses introduced by quando, final implicit clauses introduced by per with verbs in the infinitive.

CILS A2

On top of what is required for A1 level exams, applicants need to have a passive knowledge of:

  • Subject, direct and indirect pronouns
  • Impersonal si
  • Indefinite adjectives
  • Ordinal numbers
  • Articulated prepositions
  • Active conjugation of regular verbs, irregular verbs andare, bere, dare,
    dire, fare, stare, venire
    , and of modal verbs in the following modes and tenses:
    • present perfect indicative
    • imperfect tense
  • Simple sentence: exclamatory clauses
  • Complex sentence: subordinate objective clauses, implicit temporal clauses
    introduced by prima di.

On top of what is required for A1 level exams, applicants need to have an active knowledge of:

  • Noun and adjective agreement
  • Complement pronouns: tonic forms, atone forms lo, la, li, le
  • Cardinal numbers
  • Ordinal numbers: primo, secondo, terzo
  • Articulated prepositions formed with di, a, da, su
  • Active conjugation of regular verbs, irregular verbs andare, bere, dare,
    dire, fare, stare, venire
    , and of modal verbs in the following modes and tenses:
    • present perfect indicative
    • imperfect tense
  • The most frequent qualifying adverbs of time, of quantity, of place, of
    affirmation, of negation
  • Simple sentence: exclamatory clauses
  • Complex sentence: coordinate clauses introduced by o, invece, allora,
    infatti, non solo…ma anche
  • Complex sentence: subordinate objective clauses introduced by che, relative
    clauses introduced by che and subject-centered, hypothetical clauses introduced by se.

CILS B1 Cittadinanza

Please note that the CILS B1 Cittadinanza test is not the typical CILS B1 Uno test and will only allow you to obtain Italian citizenship. You can’t use it for work/study. See section CILS B1 Cittadinanza or CILS Uno B1?.

On top of what is required for A1 and A2 level exams, applicants to the B1 Italian language test for citizenship need to have knowledge of:

  • Definite and indefinite articles
  • Position of qualifying adjectives
  • Comparative and superlative adjectives
  • Subject pronouns and other pronouns: tonic and atonal forms, reflexive pronouns
  • Relative pronouns
  • Possessive, demonstrative, interrogative adjectives and pronouns
  • Indefinite adjectives and pronouns ogni, ciascuno, nessuno, qualche
  • Articulated prepositions
  • Conjugation of the active and reflexive form of regular verbs, modal verbs and verbs dare, fare, stare, andare, potere, sapere, bere, dire, venire in the following modes and tenses:
    • present indicative
    • present perfect indicative
    • imperfect indicative
    • present infinitive
    • imperative
    • present conditional
  • Most frequent qualifying adverbs of time, of quantity, of place
  • Simple sentence: declarative, interrogative, exclamatory, volitional clauses with the imperative and conditional moods
  • Complex sentence: copulative, adversative, declarative coordinate clauses
  • Complex sentence: implicit objective subordinate clauses, temporal, causal, declarative, explicit relative clauses.

You will also need to learn enough vocabulary to manage your everyday activities.

ITA – Il candidato è in grado di capire il senso generale di testi contenenti parole del Nuovo Vocabolario di Base della lingua italiana, più un’eventuale parte di lessico comune fino al 5%.

ENG – The candidate is able to understand the general meaning of texts containing words from the Nuovo vocabolario di base della lingua italiana, plus a possible up to 5 percent common vocabulary portion.

CILS guidelines for the B1 Italian language test for citizenship

Refer to the highlighted words in the free Nuovo vocabolario di base della lingua italiana for reference on what words are most important to learn. Here you can download the PDF version of the vocabulary.


Tips and tricks for passing the B1 Italian language test

Focus on what’s actually needed

B1 is an intermediate level of proficiency in the language, so it makes no sense to study topics and grammar rules that only advanced learners need to know. It’s more important for you to know the translation for car (automobile), or ticket (biglietto), than the translation for disqualification (squalifica).

At the same time, you don’t want to study the Italian past subjunctive case if you still don’t know how to conjugate verbs in the present tense. Focus on the vocabulary and grammar you actually must learn to get a level B1 in Italian!


Study the exam structure

Studying the exam structure is almost as important as studying vocabulary and grammar.

Knowing what you’re going to be up against is of the utmost importance for your exam to be a success. This is because there are time limits for all the required tasks and it’s likely that you will need to exercise two skills at the same time.

During the listening comprehension part of the exam, for example, you will be asked to fill in details on a paper while listening to an audio recording in Italian, which you will only be able to listen to it a limited number of times.


Reading: Read, read, read!

Don’t jump straight into answering the questions on your sheet. Read the exercise delivery first, then the text itself, and read it well. This way, you will get familiar with the topic of the text and you will be better prepared to give your answers later on.

Remember that you have a limited time to complete the task. There’s no point jumping back and forth between reading and writing as you will only waste your time.

Make also sure you know all the vocabulary that you need to understand the text. You don’t have to understand each and every word, but if you can’t understand too many of them, then getting the general meaning of the text and answering the questions will be much more difficult.

If you don’t know the meaning of a word and can’t infer it from context, don’t waste any more time and keep reading. Again, time is limited.

The best way to improve your vocabulary is to read books in Italian and focus on word lists for each lever. For example, here is the vocabulary you should know to pass the Italian A1 level.


Writing: Don’t bite more than you can chew

My Italian high school teacher once said, “If you can’t handle sentences with three or more subordinate clauses, don’t“. And she was talking to native Italian speakers. This is some very good advice that applies to any language you learn.

Connectors and linking words are especially important to use in your writing part of the B1 Italian language test (not so much in lower levels), but if you can’t handle them correctly, you risk writing an unreadable sentence, and that’s even worse than not using connectors altogether.

Your writing needs to have a logical flow. At the same time, it needs to be clear and easy to understand. You must convey all information in a limited time and space, so focus on that. Don’t digress. Ask yourself what, when, why, where, who, and how. Ideally, keep each answer to these questions in a different paragraph.


Listening: Don’t panic and just listen

The listening comprehension part is very often feared by students. Don’t panic. Read the questions carefully on the page.

Want a very useful trick? Read the questions on the sheet to get familiar with the topic, but DO NOT write anything down as you first listen to the audio recording. Just listen to it and let it flow. This way, you are much more likely to understand the general meaning of the dialogue and you don’t risk missing words that might slip your attention as you scramble to mark any answer on the sheet as soon as you hear parts of it. Don’t do this, don’t panic. You can listen to the recording more than once.

When you will listen to the recording a second time, that’s when you will fill in the required information.

How can you improve your listening skills? Study on an exam facsimile (I’ve listed a few here, but you can find many more through a quick search on Google) and write down every word you understand. You basically want to do a transcription of the audio recording.

If you focus on the general meaning of the recording, you have a higher chance to guess the correct answer to questions you missed. Never leave an answer blank, especially if there’s no setback for giving random answers. Listening often involves multiple choice questions and there’s always a chance you might bump into the correct answer.

If there’s any word that you don’t understand, look at the answer keys and ask yourself why that word was so hard to hear. Is it because it’s unfamiliar? Is it because it was pronounced too fast? Depending on your answer, you can focus on your weak spots.


Speaking: Spaced-repetition is your friend

Speaking is especially tricky for beginner and intermediate proficiency levels. This is because you should be able to talk about a limited number of topics with relative ease, but at the same time your vocabulary is also limited and you have to stick with the words you already know. If you can’t translate a word, you will have to fall back on synonyms or other descriptions.

If you fear your speaking skills are not still up-to-par with what is required of you during the B1 Italian language exam, you can exercise yourself by repeating sentences out loud.

Yes, you read that right: all you need to do to improve your speaking skills is to repeat whole sentences like a parrot at different intervals depending on your familiarity with each sentence or language element. On the internet, you will find a number of free resources that do just this, like Memrise or Anki.

This method is called spaced-repetition and it’s scientifically proven to enhance your language skills.


Books for self-study

If you are new to studying Italian, you might want to take a look at some Italian textbooks for beginners before delving into preparation books for B1 learners.

That said, here are some very useful books you can buy to prepare for your B1 Italian language test to obtain Italian citizenship. Remember: studying the exam structure is as important as studying grammar and vocabulary.

Percorso CILS Cittadinanza B1

Percorso CILS Uno B1

Test di preparazione CELI 2 B1

Preparazione al Celi: Celi 2 + CD

Quaderni del PLIDA: Nuovo esame B1

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.

Best of luck to you! Buona fortuna! 🤞

Leave a Comment