The certificates of knowledge of the German language can be divided into four big groups:
- standardized certificates of the Goethe-Institute, for all that want to attest their knowledge of German for reason different than studying at a German university.for
- testDAF, for who wants to study in Germany.
- the DSH is proof of German language knowledge useful for high school admission (university and Hochschulen). It is an alternative to the testDAF, but there are also many differences we’ll see in detail further down the page.
- telc language test, are alternative and similar to Goethe’s. They do certificates also for other languages.
It’s worth mentioning the DSD (Deutsches Sprachdiplom level I and II) that in some sources is mentioned among the possible certificates. DSD is a degree that can be obtained after a multi-year program of study defined by the ministry of culture (Kulturministerkonferenz). So it is something quite different from a test of knowledge of the language and it is not considered here. Nevertheless, there are some references if you want to deepen the topic.
Wikipedia Deutsches Sprachdiplom
Das Deutsche Sprachdiplom der Kultusministerkonferenz
The exams, with corresponding certificates, that can be done at the Goethe-Institut are summarized below:
Goethe certificate A1: Start in Deutsch 1 and Fit in Deutsch 1
Corresponds to the A1 level of the Common European Framework (CEFR).
It is the lowest level and attests to an elementary knowledge of the language. There are two possible certificates:
- Goethe certificate A1: Fit in Deutsch 1 is a certificate developed from the Goethe-Institute for children and teens of age between 10 and 16 years.
- Goethe certificate A1: Start Deutsch 1 is the A1 level for adults.
Both certificates attest that the student can:
- be understood in common situations, on condition that the interlocutor speaks slow and in a clear way;
- understand and use, in daily situations, phrases and frequent expressions of common use, i.e. information regarding the person and his family, purchases, work, and known circle;
- introduce oneself to another person, ask questions to an interlocutor about him, i.e. where do they live, who they know, what they have.
Goethe certificate A2: Start in Deutsch 2 and Fit in Deutsch 2
A2 level, demonstrate that one can communicate in a simple way. There are two exams:
- Goethe certificate A2: Fit in Deutsch 2 for young up to 16 years;
- Goethe certificate A2: Start Deutsch 2 for adults.
Both certificates attest that one can:
- comprehend and use common and recurring expressions;
- be understood in ordinary situations, exchange information of daily use regarding work and leisure time;
- describe with simple sentences his origin and education, the surrounding environment e the most common contexts.
As you can see the difference between A1 and A2 is not so clear in the description, the main difference is in the subjects that are studied.
Goethe certificate B1
B1 level demonstrates basic knowledge and autonomy in daily situations. It is requested in Germany as evidence of proficiency for public and private employment and for the acquisition of citizenship.
Goethe certificate B2 and certificate Deutsch für den Beruf
B2 level attests a good knowledge: the B2 is accepted for admission to German studies (Germanistik).
Goethe certificate C1
C1 level indicates an advanced knowledge of the language.
Goethe certificate C2: GDS (Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom)
C2 level implies a very advanced knowledge. It corresponds to the highest level of the Common Reference Framework and allows admission to a German university.
|Start Deutsch 1
|Fit in Deutsch 1
|Start Deutsch 2
|Fit in Deutsch 2
|Goethe-Zertifikat C2: GDS
|Goethe-Zertifikat C2: GDS
Just to mention, the Goethe-Zertifikat A1: Start Deutsch 1, as well as all the higher certificates (from A2 to C2), is accepted as a demonstration of proficiency with the language for getting a family joining visa, you will find a reference further below in the page.
Only a few years ago were existing some other certificates:
- Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung (ZOP),
- Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom (KDS),
- Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom (GDS).
Those have all been replaced by the Goethe-Zertifikat C2: Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom. If you see the certificates above mentioned somewhere you already know they are outdated. Of course, the already obtained certificates are still valid.
The test Deutsch als Fremdsprache (German as a foreign language), short-name testDAF, is a centralized, standardized and not free, language test. It gives the possibility to a foreign student to be admitted into Germany’s higher education system (universities and Hochschulen).
To be more precise, the testDAF is for all students who:
- haven’t done a secondary school in Germany and
- want to study in a university (or in a Hochschule which is something similar) or
- want to continue in Germany a study started in a foreign country.
Other categories of people who can attend the testDAF are:
- foreign students that need to demonstrate their proficiency with German in their country;
- students that, within the scope of a student exchange program, at the end of their study program in Germany want a certification of their achieved proficiency;
- a person who needs a certificate to get a job in a scientific/research field.
The testDAF comprises 4 components:
- written comprehension
- oral comprehension
- text production
- oral communication
Each component is marked separately with one of the following levels:
- testDAF level 3 (TDN 3) – worst
- testDAF level 4 (TDN 4)
- testDAF level 5 (TDN 5) – better
After each component of the test gets its own mark according to the scheme above, the final test result is not an average but it comprises the 4 levels achieved.
If the result is not enough for admission to the chosen university (because, for instance, you’ve got only a TDN3 in the oral communication) the test can be repeated as many times as wanted.
The three levels of the testDAF correspond to the level B2 to C1 of the CFER:
- TDN 3. The candidate can get an overview of the daily study subjects. Scientific texts are still too complex. The candidate can summarize text regarding a subject he knows, possibly making errors that can compromise the comprehension of it. Also during talking errors that can lead to misunderstandings are done.
- TDN 4. The candidate can understand texts of some complexity, regarding concrete and abstract subjects. The candidate is able to communicate orally without doing errors that can compromise the intelligibility of the conversation. He is able to lead a talk with a mother tongue, without preparing the conversation upfront and on different subjects.
- TDN5. The candidate can comprehend long and complicate text regarding different subjects discussed in deep detail. Implicit information, like speakers mind or irony, are understood by the candidate. In the production of text, only a few errors are done, these errors anyway don’t compromise at all the comprehension of the text. With speaking he is able to express himself fluently without preparing the conversation in advance and without the need to stop and think about the words to use.
What result is needed to enter a university depends on the university or faculty.
- According to my research, with a testDAF level 3 one can access only at the University of Konstanz in the faculty of physics, mathematics, and financial mathematics.
- Some universities require a testDAF level 3 to access the Studienkolleg. The Studienkolleg is an entity parallel to the university where the gap between student’s knowledge and minimum cultural and linguistic requirements for the admission is filled. Not all universities have a Studienkolleg.
Studienkollegs in Deutschland
Studienkollegs in München
Page of Bamberg university: university or Studienkolleg?
- in most universities, a testDAF level 4 in all the 4 disciplines is required for the admission,
- the testDAF level 5 is required for some study or faculty for which talking in German is a cornerstone, like for example German philology, Germanistics, Law.
The testDAF can be done in one of the 450 authorized test locations in 95 countries in the world. Since it is a centralized test the result of the exam is verified directly from the testDAF-Institute and the latter issue the certificates, not the test location where the exam has been taken.
The DSH (Deutschen Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang) is a certificate demonstrating enough knowledge of the language to be admitted to a university.
The test to get the DSH is organized by the university itself or from other schools commissioned to make the test on behalf of the university.
One of the main differences with the testDAF is that the latter is a standardized test, this means the structure of the test is always the same only the content is different, regardless where you take the exam. Consider also that the test is corrected from the testDAF-Institute.
On the contrary for the DHS there are guidelines, but in general, the implementation is done by the university, so the DSH is not a standardized and centralized test like the testDAF. This means the difficulty of the exam and its structure change among different universities.
This also implies that a DSH exam is not equally recognized by all universities and it is possible, if you move to another university, you have to redo the DSH test.
For the sake of completeness, I have to add that there are currently attempts to standardize the DSH test, but the situation is still confused.
The DSH is also comprised of 4 parts, like the testDAF, but the final mark is unique, differently from testDAF.
The exam comprises a written and an oral test. The written test is intended to evaluate the following:
- listening comprehension
- written comprehension
- text production
The oral test evaluates the following:
- comprehension of a partner
- ability to express a concept in an independent way
- linguistic and lexical correctness
- pronunciation and intonation
Each test (written and oral) is graded for itself and the final mark is the minimum between the two.
For each test the grade is given calculating the percents of the number of achieved points over the total points and is expressed as follow:
- DSH-3, at least 82% of the total points
- DSH-2, between 67 and 81%
- DSH-1, between 57 and 66%
- with less than 57% the test is failed.
So for instance:
- if in the written test you get 76% of the available points, the mark of the written test is DSH-2,
- if in the oral test you get the 65% of the available points, the mark of the oral test is DSH-1,
- the final total mark for the test is the minimum of the two, then DSH-1.
The company telc GmbH (The European Language Certificates) developed starting 1999 a system for the standardization of the evaluation of the knowledge of a foreigner language. The development was done in collaboration with the Goethe-Institute, with the mandate of the Interior Minister.
Thus the telc certificate attests knowledge of the German language. Worth to mention telc certification can be taken also for other European languages.
Telc certifications are valid in Germany as official certificates in the following cases:
- some universities, unfortunately not all, accept the certificate for admission to the university.
- is accepted as evidence of language proficiency for requesting German citizenship (see Einbürgerung and Einbürgerungstest).
- the Interior Ministry accepts the telc Deutsch A1 as requisite for getting a family joining visa.
- it is accepted from many foreigner universities and institutions in the case German language proficiency is requested to get admitted or hired.
In general the levels are the same as for the Goethe certificate. Additionally to the common levels there are some dedicated to specific groups of people
These are the exams, with the corresponding certificate, that is possible to take:
- level A1
- telc A1
- telc A1 Junior
- level A2
- telc A2
- telc A2+ Beruf
- telc A2 Schule
- Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer A2-B1
- Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer A2-B1 Jugendintegrationskurs
- level B1
- Zertifikat / telc Deutsch B1
- telc B1+ Beruf
- telc B1 Schule
- telc B1-B2 Pflege
- level B2
- telc B2
- telc B2+ Beruf
- telc B2-C1 Medizin
- level C1
- telc C1
- telc C1 Beruf
- telc C1 Hochschule
- level C2
- telc C2
All the telc test can be taken at the telc GmbH, or at authorized language schools, or authorized universities, or at the Goethe-Institut.
5. German course in Munich
I offer courses for the preparation of the language test, you might want to take this course to:
- refresh your knowledge,
- assess what are your weaknesses and get rid of them,
- take a trial test to see how you react under stress and with time limitation.
DISCLAIMER: Despite I long researched to compile this info and I used the most care some info may be wrong or outdated.
Therefore I always suggest you, for important matters, to double-check the official channels.