German Language Tests
1. Before applying
The most pressing thing you have to do if you want to enroll in a German University is prove that you have an adequate German language skills. Different universities, however, have different definitions of "adequate." If you are attending classes on a grant or an exchange program and don´t intend to get a German degree, you don´t have to take any tests at all.
Before you even turn in an application, you have to have written proof that you´ve passed a preliminary test. At the Free University (FU) you have to take the Intermediate II Test (Mittelstufe II), but the test material belies the nomenclature. The writing segment requires you to write an essay on an academic topic, and the grammar section assumes you know prepositions that most Germans probably haven´t ever seen. Luckily, the other German universities only ask for the Intermediate I Test (Mittelstufe I). Both tests consist of reading and listening comprehension sections with long answers, a grammar section, and a writing segment.
Both the Mittelstufe tests can be taken at any language school that offers certified tests.
Universities will also except the following certificates in lieu of Mittelstufe test results.
Deutsches Sprachdiplom (Stufe II) der Kuturministerkonferenz (DSD II)
Zentrale Oberstufeprüfung (ZOP) from the Goethe Institute
Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom or Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom, which you can also take at the Goethe Institute
A DSH from another German institute of higher education
2. The German Language University Entrance Test - (Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulgang (DSH))
Once you´ve applied to your university of choice, they will inform you that you must take a DSH test on a date that they have selected. You must take the test on the university campus. This is the first in a long series of requirements for which the universities only give you short notice. They will send you the test date around two weeks beforehand, and you can´t reschedule. Be prepared to spend the whole day doing the test. When I did the DHS, I arrived at 9:00 and couldn´t get away until 16:15.
On the test date they will give you another date and time when you have to be at the university to retrieve your results, generally about a week after you take the test. Again, you cannot change the time, and they won´t tell you your results over the phone. Your personal schedule is not a relevant part of this process. Once you pick up your results, you will find that the difference between the DSH and the Mittelstufe tests lies mainly in the strictness of the grading. For the DSH they systematically deduct points for every mistake, whereas your grade on the Mittelstufe test might depend on where you take the test and how well you know the person who grades it.
In order to pass the DSH, you need at least 67% correct on all sections. If you don´t pass, they evaluate your level and place you in a semester-long German course. Again, you don´t find out about the class dates and times until you pick up the results, a week before classes begin.
When you pick up your results, you can also look at the graded test, but you may not take it home with you. The proctors (who grade the tests) are available for about an hour to briefly answer questions about their grading.
The test itself isn´t any more difficult than the Mittelstufe II - the grammar looks much simpler, and in the writing section you don´t have to actually produce a text. The proctor reads something fairly slowly, twice, and you have to re-produce it in 90 minutes.
The proctor reads a longer text for the listening comprehension segment of the test, and repeats it twice. They give you some questions before they read the text, and you can take notes on a separate sheet of paper. You will have 75 minutes to answer the content related questions. Although they tell you that they don´t deduct marks for grammar and spelling on this section, when you pick up your results you will notice that they do mark the mistakes when they grade it. Whether or not this affects the way they look at your overall abilities is anyone´s guess.
For the reading section they will give you an authentic, somewhat academic text that is about 800 words long. You will have to answer a series of both long answer and true or false questions in 90 minutes. Make sure you read the questions carefully: they have no sympathy if your answers show that you understood the text but not the question.
There is an oral section of the test, but you only have to take it if they think your performance on the other sections didn´t indicate your abilities clearly enough. They will tell you if this applies to you on the day you pick up the results. You will have to take the oral test on the day that they´ve scheduled for you. When I took the test, it was the day after they announced the results.
You can only retake the DSH once, and you have to wait a semester after your first attempt. The DSH becomes invalid if don´t take up studies at a university within one year.
You may use a bilingual dictionary when you take the test!! If you don´t bring one with you, the proctors will not provide one, although they might help you define certain words on the test if you ask. Whether or not you use a dictionary isn´t taken into account when the tests are graded.
3. Preparing for the tests
Of course, you can take a German class at a private language schools when you are preparing for any of the formal language tests, but the University doesn´t offer any preliminary courses. If you want to prepare by yourself, there are a number of routes you can take.
Klett, a German publishing company, sells a set of two books and a CD called Mit Erfolg zur Mittelstufenprüfung that are fairly useful. One book has a series of exercises to prepare you for each section, and the other has actual practice tests. For some strange reason, the actual tests are nothing like the practice tests they provide, and most of the information they give you about the tests is incorrect.
The bright yellow Verlag für Deutsch Practice Grammar of German has very useful grammatical explanations and exercises, although it does feel a little dry and repetitive. They print one version with English explanations and one with German, and you can also buy an answer book if you are working alone.
If you take the Mittelstufe tests or are taking classes at a private language school, your teacher can probably give you copies of old Mittelstufe and DSH tests and some other exercises.
For fluency, you might also try watching German movies with the sub-titles covered up, or cutting up articles from German newspapers and trying to put them together in order.
4. If you need a visa to take the test
You must take the DSH on campus, which can pose a problem if you need a visa to enter the country. Luckily, you can get an application visa (Bewerbungsvisum) to come into Germany for the test. When you send in your application, ask the Admissions Office to send you proof that you have applied. You need to bring this document to the German Embassy or Consulate in your home country and they will issue the visa. It is valid for three months, but six additional months can be added once you are here. After you have received a letter of admission, you can convert the application visa into a student´s visa and resident permit without leaving the country. EU/EFTA citizens and citizens of Honduras, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Switzerland, and the US can take the test on a tourist visa.
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