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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 at the ÖSD website.
- 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. This test was jointly developed by the Goethe Institute and telc gGmbH. On the website of the Goethe Institute you can find vocabulary list, examination handbook, sample tests and practice materials for the DTZ test that are available for download. However, telc is no longer offering this test from 2023. It was replaced with their own exam telc Deutsch A2-B1 which is also recognized as proof of German-language competence when applying for German citizenship.
German Language Proficiency Certificates for Foreign Students
The general requirement for admission to a German-language degree programme at a university is the language competence level B2 but for some programmes the minimum requirement can be set at C1. That is, 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 (literally a German language test for admission to the university for foreign applicants) is a standardized proof of German language proficiency for foreign applicants to German universities. Candidates must achieve a score which is high enough to demonstrate that their language competence is at least at level B2 (i.e., min. 57% from DSH 1). However, for some degree programmes they will be expected to show language skills at level C1 (i.e., min. 67% from DSH 2). The DSH test can only be taken in Germany. A large number of German universities offer this exam. Unlike all other German language certificates discussed on this page that are valid indefinitely, the DSH certificate is valid only for two years.
- Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache or TestDaF (German as a foreign language test) is an equivalent alternative to DSH for testing the language competence of foreign students wishing to study at German universities. It corresponds to proficiency levels B2-C1. Besides Germany, this test can be taken at 500 test centers in 100 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 most likely 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.
- Goethe-Zertifikat C1 is yet another language proficiency certificate from Goethe Institute that can allow for exemption from having to take a German language entrance test for foreign university applicants (DSH test).
- 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.
- Österreichisches Sprachdiplom Deutsch C1 or ÖSD Zertifikat C1 (an Austrian German-Language Diploma C1) – in addition to the above listed certificates issued by German institutions, many universities in Germany also accept the Austrian German-language certificate ÖSD C1.
In summary, there are four major authorities issuing German language certificates that are accepted by German universities as proof of language competence. They include TestDAF, Goethe Institute and TELC in Germany and the Austrian society ÖSD. This is in addition to the DSH test provided by many German universities. And last but not least, there is a test DSD II that is also widely recognized as proof of German language proficiency for admission to German universities. Check with your university which of them they will accept.
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 employment 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.
Which Exam to Choose
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.
German Language Exams FAQs
Can I take a German exam online?
No, none of the relevant ones such as Goethe, telc, TestDaF, DSH or DSD offer such option. These exams must be taken at accredited test centers if you wish to obtain a recognized certificate. Only some model exams that just give you indicative results may be available online.
Can I take a German language test online?
Yes, you can take a German language test online to independently assess your German-language knowledge so as to know how good you are. Just follow the links from this page. However, none of the recognized German language certificates will be issued as a result of passing such online tests. That’s because they are not the same as standard exams you normally take if you need a language certificate for the school, employer or government authorities. If you wish to learn what recognized exams look like, follow the links from the current page to find model exams that you can download for free. You can use them at home to train your exam skills. But, to obtain a relevant German language certificate you will need to take one of the recognized exams in the accredited test centre.
How much does the Goethe exam cost?
The price of Goethe exams increases with proficiency level and depends on the test center location. In Germany (as of 2023), the A1 test will cost you 135 euros, A2 155 euros, B1 255 euros, B2 285 euros, C1 299 euros and C2 355 euros (see exam fees Germany). However, for example in Mumbai, India the fees are between half and two thirds of German fees (see exam fees India).
How much does the telc exam cost?
The prices of telc tests are not unified throughout Germany and elsewhere. But, to give you an idea, when taken in central Berlin (as of 2023), A1/A2 tests will cost you around 129 euros, B1/B2 149 euros and C1 199 euros (source: Kapitel Zwei). They can cost a little more or less at other locations.
How much is TestDaF?
In 2023, TestDaF will cost you 210 euros if taken at a German university and a little less, that is, 195 euros if taken at the Goethe Institute.
How much is DSH?
The DSH exam costs vary widely between 40 and 170 euros, depending on the university providing the test.
How much is DSD II?
Unlike all other major German language proficiency tests, the DSD tests (a German Language Certificate of the Education Ministers Conference) I and II are free of charge.
How long is the Goethe test valid?
The Goethe certificates for all proficiency levels (A1 through to C2) are valid for unlimited period of time. But, do not be surprised if the receiving institution asks you to provide a language certificate not older than two years.
How long is the telc certificate valid? Does telc expire?
Just like the Goethe certificate, the telc certificate is valid for lifetime but many institutions expect you to provide a certificate that is no more than two years old.
How long is TestDaF valid?
TestDaF is valid indefinitely but some institutions may require you to submit a test result that is maximum two years old.
How long is the DSH certificate valid?
Unlike most other German language certificates which never expire, the DSH certificate is valid only for two years.
How long are DSD certificates valid?
DSD I and II are valid for life, though in some instances you may be required to show a certificate that is no older than two years.
What is A1 A2 B1 B2 German?
These are language competence levels according to the CEFR with A1 being the lowest (beginner) level and C2 the most advanced (high German fluency) level.
Which German proficiency test is best?
The Goethe and telc tests are more or less equivalent and widely accepted by schools, employers and other institutions in Germany. If you need proof of German language proficiency for a university study, the DSH or TestDAF certificates are also a good option. Choose the test that has an examination center close from you and convenient exam dates rather than by the issuer.
Can I take the telc test online?
Only a model test or a telc placement test, but not the real one. The real test must be taken at one of more than 3,000 telc accredited schools around the world.
Which test is easier – telc o Goethe?
There is no major difference in difficulty between the two if you are comparing the same language competence levels. They are both widely accepted in Germany and elsewhere but telc tests tend to be a little less expensive. Choose the one that is nearest to your location and suits your time schedule.
Is telc and Goethe the same? Is telc or Goethe better?
These two tests have very similar acceptance in Germany and can be regarded as fully equivalent. Just choose the one that has a test center closer from your current location and testing dates that better suit your schedule. In Germany, telc is less expensive but this may not be always true in other countries.
Which test is harder TestDaF or telc?
They should be about the same but some participants who took both of them believe that the telc test is harder. However, TestDaF is more comprehensive because it assesses your entire knowledge of the German language not just the chosen level as in the telc test.
Do German universities accept telc?
Yes, they do accept ‘telc Deutsch C1 Hochschule’ as proof of language proficiency of a foreign applicant for admission to German university.
Where is telc accepted?
Telc certificates are highly respected and recognized by German schools, universities, employers and government authorities. They are also accepted as proof of German language competence by many important institutions in Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Spain, the UK and elsewhere.
Which certificate is better Goethe or ÖSD?
The ÖSDs are Austrian German-language certificates. An ÖSD Zertifikat A1 is accepted also in Germany as proof of German language competence for issuing a residence permit to foreign family members. Though the ÖSD certificates (B2, C1, C2) are commonly accepted by Austrian universities they are not as readily accepted by all German universities. Therefore, if you wish to study at a German university, take the Goethe test instead.
Can I take German A2 without A1?
Yes, the Goethe Institute and telc allow you to do that.
How many hours do I need to study for A1 German?
You would need about 120-150 hours of study, including 60 hour of classroom lessons. But these numbers are just indicative. The ability to learn languages varies among individuals.