German Language Proficiency Examinations

There are several reasons why people from non-German speaking countries may be required to take a German language proficiency test. In most cases, foreign nationals need to pass a German language exam in order to move to Germany to join their spouse, to study or to work. Sometimes they have to pass an exam even before their arrival in Germany. There are numerous language tests given by different German institutions to certify an individual’s German skill level that people can take in Germany or in their home country. Most of them follow the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for languages but despite their common basis are used for different purposes. You may be wondering which of them apply to your particular situation. Read on to learn more.

Types of German Language Certificates

In general, standard German language proficiency examinations include those that have been developed by highly respected educational institutions in the German-speaking world such as the Goethe Institute, telc gGmbH and the testDAF Institute in Germany or Verein ÖSD in Austria. However, some institutions in Germany and outside Germany issue their own German language certificates. These may not be as widely accepted as the standard ones, though some schools and employers (especially in non-German speaking countries) do accept them. But in most of these cases, standard certificates (e.g., those issued by the Goethe Institute) will also be accepted alongside other, non-standard types of German language certificates. The reverse, however, is not true, so you better take the standard German exams.

German Language Certificates for the Purpose of Family Reunification in Germany

Foreign spouses and family members from the so-called third countries (that is countries outside of the European Economic Area and excluding nationals of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and the USA) must demonstrate their ability to speak some basic German (level A1) when applying for a residence permit for the purpose of family reunification in Germany. They will need to pass one of these German language examinations before departing to Germany:

  • Start Deutsch 1 jointly developed and provided by the Goethe Institute and Telc GmbH can be taken at any of the Goethe Institute’s foreign offices and Telc accredited test centres in nearly 100 countries around the world. Under the link above you will find a set of model exercises and practice materials, downloadable listening comprehension files and exam guidelines that should help you test your readiness for the exam. There is also a video that will enable you to peek into the examination room.
  • ÖSD Zertifikat A1 (formerly also known as Grundstufe Deutsch 1) is part of the family of Austrian German-Language Diplomas (ÖSDs). This certificate is provided by the Austrian society ÖSD and is also accepted in Germany as proof of German language proficiency required for issuing a residence permit to foreign family members. Free model exams can be found at their website. More information about recognition of different ÖSDs in the German-speaking world can be found here.
  • TestDaF (Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache) is yet another alternative but it requires a much better knowledge of German than the previous two exams (you can find more information about TestDaF below under German language certificates for foreign students).

German Language Certificates for German Residents of Foreign Nationality

  • Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer A2/B1 or DTZ (a German language test for immigrants levels A2/B1 – beginner/intermediate) is for those who are already living in Germany and wish to apply for German citizenship. It is part of the integration course for immigrants and, for refugees, it is free of charge. This test was jointly developed by the Goethe Institute and telc gGmbH. On their websites you can find vocabulary list, examination handbook, sample tests and practice materials that are available for download.

German Language Proficiency Certificates for Foreign Students

Different universities in Germany may have different requirements for international applicants regarding their language proficiency levels. It is best to get the information directly from the university itself. Some may accept more than just one type of German language certificate, while others may require specific tests not mentioned here. The most common German language proficiency tests for foreign students wishing to apply to German universities are:

  • Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang ausländischer Studienbewerber or DSH (a German language test for admission to the university for foreign applicants) is a necessary proof of German language proficiency for all foreign applicants to German universities. The DSH test can only be taken in Germany. A large number of German universities offer this exam.
  • Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache or TestDaF (German as a foreign language test) is yet another test for foreign students wishing to study at German universities. Besides Germany, this test can be taken in more than 96 countries around the world. More information about requirements, exams dates, locations and fees can be found at the TestDaF website. Please note that the testDAF Institute is not a test centre but a certificate issuing authority.

However, students who have already passed any of the following exams will be exempt from the DHS and TestDaF examination:

  • Abitur (school leaving examination) at a secondary school anywhere in the world where German was the main language of instruction.
  • Goethe-Zertifikat C2: Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom or GDS which is provided by the Goethe Institute in its offices around the world. For more information and downloadable materials visit the website of the Goethe Institute by following the above link.
  • Deutsches Sprachdiplom der Kultusministerkonferenz Stufe II or DSD II (a German Language Certificate of the Education Ministers Conference Level B2/C1). This German language proficiency exam can be taken at accredited schools in 65 countries around the world. Follow the link above to find more information about this examination.
  • Telc Deutsch C1 Hochschule (telc German language exam for universities level C1). Students can take this exam at any of more than 3,000 accredited schools worldwide. For more info and downloadable practice materials visit the link above.

German Language Certificates for Foreign Employees in Germany

Some employers in Germany may require a proof of German language competence from employees whose native language is not German. The most commonly accepted tests that international applicants may need to take to find employment in Germany include:

  • Prüfung Wirtschaftsdeutsch International or PWD (International Test for German Business Language Skills level C1). This test is given by the Goethe Institute, Carl Duisberg Centres and the German Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industries which are present in about 100 countries around the world. If you follow the link above you will be taken to the website of Carl Duisberg Centres where you can learn more about this examination and download related materials.
  • Zertifikat Deutsch or ZD (Certificate German level B1) is given by a number of institutions and it is equivalent to the Goethe-Zertifikat B1. Study materials and sample tests for the Goethe Certificate B1 can be downloaded here. Zertifikat Deutsch is commonly accepted as proof of sufficient German language competence by thousands of employers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and also for a German or Austrian citizenship.
  • Goethe-Test PRO: Deutsch für den Beruf (German for Employment) formerly known as “BULATS Deutsch für den Beruf” was developed by the Goethe Institute to certify the German language proficiency for professional (business) purposes. It is a computer based test using the BULATS (Business Language Testing Service) scoring system that can be taken at Goethe Institutes and partner testing sites around the world. This test is not specifically designed for any skill level as its purpose actually is to determine your level of business German communication skills. Goethe-Test PRO: Deutsch für den Beruf also replaces the Zertifikat Deutsch für den Beruf or ZDfB (Certificate German for Employment level B2) which has been discontinued.
  • Telc Deutsch C1 Beruf (telc German language examination for employees level C1) is for candidates in professions that require excellent German communication skills (e.g., doctors). You can download mock examination (pdf file) and listening text (MP3 file) for free from the link above.

Free Training Materials for German Language Examinations

  • Practice Materials from Goethe Institute – here you can find and download materials for any of the exams at the Goethe Institute. Select the exam you wish to take and then at the bottom click on the link “view the practice materials”. Materials include exercises for practicing German grammar and vocabulary and a listening comprehension file. There is also a video of the exam session at the Goethe Institute to give you a feel of how it is done. In addition, if you follow this link, you can try any of the Goethe Institute’s German proficiency exams online to see how well you would perform. These tests are “accessible”, which means they were made for people with disabilities. Since they are the same as standard tests, anyone can use them to evaluate their German language proficiency.
  • Materials for TestDaF set 1 and 2 and will give you an idea about the structure and content of the exam and the type of exercises and testing time for each task. You can use these materials to test yourself online to see how well you are prepared for this examination.
  • Klett Sprachen has a collection of samples of German language tests (Goethe, telc and ÖSD, i.e., Österreichisches Sprachdiplom Deutsch) in pdf and MP3 formats that you can view or download.

Moreover, if you wish to see how some other oral examinations are conducted and what will be expected from you, visit these youtube channels for telc exams, German Language Test for Immigrants (DTZ) and for TestDaF. For an independent assessment of your German language proficiency you can also choose from free German online tests provided by various institutions, including some private language schools.

Remember, if you do not know yet where exactly you are going to use your German language certificate, take a German language proficiency examination provided by one of the major certificate issuing authorities (Goethe or telc for Germany, ÖSD for Austria) and aim for the highest level you can comfortably pass. If you manage the level C1 that should be good enough for any university and any major German employer while the level B2 is accepted by most German employers. There are no significant differences in terms of difficulty, structure, format or focus between the equivalent tests provided by the two major certificate-issuing institutions from Germany (Goethe and telc), so choose by their location, exam schedules or price the one that suits you best. Alternatively, you may need to take the testDAF levels 3, 4 or 5 (equivalent to B2-C1) if you wish to study at a German university.