DISCLAIMER: This article on German language tests is a personal research and is based on my experience of 10 years of teaching German. Despite I long researched to compile this article and I used the most care, it is possible that some info is wrong or outdated.

Therefore I always suggest you, for all the important matter, to double check on the official channels (Universities and other mentioned institutions websites).

The German language test can be split into four groups:

  1. the language test of the Goethe-Institute is for general purposes.
  2. the testDAF is for who want to study in a German university (or Hochschule).
  3. the DSH is a German language test used for admission to German university and Hochschulen. Is alternative to the testDAF.
  4. the telc language tests are alternative and similar to Goethe’s. The telc organization does language test also for other languages.

In some websites, the DSD (Deutsches Sprachdiplom level I und II) is mentioned among the possible language test. The DSD is a degree defined by the ministry of German culture (Kulturministerkonferenz) and can be achieved after a multi-year program of study. So it is something quite different from a language test and it is not considered here. Below there are some references if you want to know more about the DSD.

1. Goethe-Institute language test

The language test of the Goethe-Institut are summarized below

Goethe certificate A1: Start in Deutsch 1 e Fit in Deutsch 1

It corresponds to the A1 level of the Common European Framework (CEFR).

It is the lowest level and attests an elementary knowledge of the German language. There are two possible language tests, depending on the age of the candidate:

  • the Goethe certificate A1: Fit in Deutsch 1 is developed for children and teens of age between 10 and 16 years.
  • the Goethe certificate A1: Start Deutsch 1 is the A1 level for adults.

The two language test prove that one is able to:

  • be understood in simple situations, under the precondition that the interlocutor speaks slow and clear;
  • understand and use, in daily situations, sentences and frequent expressions of normal use, for example, information regarding the person and his family, purchases, work and known circle;
  • introduce oneself to another person, ask questions to an interlocutor about him, for example, where do they live, who they know, what they have.

Goethe certificate A2: Start in Deutsch 2 e Fit in Deutsch 2

The A2 level demonstrates that one is able to communicate in a simple way. There are two language tests:

  • Goethe certificate A2: Fit in Deutsch 2 for young up to 16 years;
  • Goethe certificate A2: Start Deutsch 2 for adults.

Both tell that one is able to:

  • 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 own 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

The B1 level demonstrates a basic knowledge of German and autonomy in daily situations. In Germany is requested as evidence of proficiency in German for public and private employment and for the acquisition of the German citizenship.

Goethe certificate B2 and certificate Deutsch für den Beruf

The B2 level attests a good knowledge of German: the B2 is accepted for the admission to Germanistics faculty.

Goethe certificate C1

The C1 level indicates an advanced knowledge of German.

Goethe certificate C2: GDS (Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom)

The C2 level implies an advanced knowledge of German. It corresponds to the highest level of the Common Reference Framework and allows the admission to a German university of foreign students.

CEFR levels Generic Young Study
A1 Start Deutsch 1 Fit in Deutsch 1
A2 Start Deutsch 2 Fit in Deutsch 2
B1 Goethe-Zertifikat B1 Goethe-Zertifikat B1
B2 Goethe-Zertifikat B2 testDAF
C1 Goethe-Zertifikat C1 testDAF
C2 Goethe-Zertifikat C2: GDS Goethe-Zertifikat C2: GDS

The Goethe-Zertifikat A1: Start Deutsch 1, as well as all the higher certificates (from A2 to C2), are accepted as demonstration of proficiency with the German language for getting a family joining visa, you will find a reference further below in the page.

Take the Goethe-Institut language test at any authorized test locations, find the closest on this page.

2. testDAF language test

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 the students who:

  1. haven’t done a secondary school in Germany and
  2. want to study in a German university (or in a Hochschule which is something similar) or
  3. 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 to do a language test to prove their achieved proficiency with German;
  • a person who needs a language test 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 the 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 is able to get an overview of the daily study subjects. Scientific texts are still too difficult. 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 is able to understand texts of some complexity, regarding either 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 is able to comprehend long and complicate text regarding different subjects discussed in deep details. 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 over 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 the 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.
  • in the most universities, the testDAF level 4 in all the 4 disciplines is required for the admission,
  • the testDAF level 5 is required for some study or faculty where talk 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 is the latter that issue the certificates, not the test location where the exam has been taken.

If you want to find the closest test center search it on the official page of the testDAF-Institute, click here.

3. DSH test

The DSH (Deutschen Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang) is a language test demonstrating enough knowledge of the German language to be admitted to a German 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 difference 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 language test. Consider also that each 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 re-do 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.
In this page you find a detailed comparison between the exam of the testDAF and the DSH, so you can choose what can be the best fit for you.

4. telc language test

The company telc GmbH (The European Language Certificates) developed in 1999 a system for the standardization of the evaluation of the knowledge of a foreign language.

The telc certificate attests a knowledge of the German language. Worth to mention telc language test can be taken also for other European languages.

Telc test is valid officially in Germany in the following cases:

  • some German universities, not all, accept the certificate for the admission at the University.
For example, telc is accepted by the following university:
– Hamburg University, click here
– Giessen University, click here
– Münster University, click here
It is suggested to verify directly with the university you are interested in if they accept the telc certificate or not.
  • is accepted as evidence of language proficiency for German citizenship request (Einbürgerungstest).
References about the acquisition of German citizenship:
– link to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugee, click here 
– for the Wikipedia page click here.
  • the German Interior Ministry accept the telc Deutsch A1 as requisite for getting a family joining visa.
Reference to family joining visa in Germany:
  • it is accepted from many foreign universities and institutions in case a German language proficiency is requested to get admitted or hired.

These are the German test, with corresponding the certificate, that is possible to take:

  • telc Deutsch A1
  • telc Deutsch A1 Junior
  • telc Deutsch A2
  • telc Deutsch A2+ Beruf
  • telc Deutsch A2 schule
  • Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer A2-B1
  • Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer A2-B1 Jugendintegrationskurs
  • Zertifikat Deutsch / telc Deutsch B1
  • telc Deutsch B1+ Beruf
  • telc Deutsch B1 Schule
  • telc Deutsch B1-B2 Pflege
  • telc Deutsch B2
  • telc Deutsch B2+ Beruf
  • telc Deutsch B2-C1 Medizin
  • telc Deutsch C1
  • telc Deutsch C1 Beruf
  • telc Deutsch C1 Hochschule
  • telc Deutsch 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.

In this page, you find the list of all available German language test.
Here you find the authorized test centers.

5. German lessons in Munich

I offer lessons for preparation of the German language test, you might want to take lessons for:
– refresh your knowledge of German,
– 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.

If you want to know more about my German lessons click on the link or contact me on my contact page.