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German Proficiency Tests and Certification

Testing Your German Language Proficiency


Which German Proficiency Test?

At some point in your study of the German language you may want or need to take a test to demonstrate your command of the language. Sometimes a person may just want to take it for his or her own satisfaction, while in some cases a student may be required to take a test such as the Zertifikat Deutsch (ZD), the Großes Sprachdiplom (GDS), or the TestDaF. There are more than a dozen tests you can take to certify your proficiency in German. Which test you take depends on several factors, including for what purpose or for whom you are taking the test. If you plan on attending a German university, for instance, you need to find out which test is required or recommended.

While many colleges and universities have their own in-house proficiency tests, what we are discussing here are established, widely recognized German tests offered by the Goethe Institute and other organizations. A standardized test such as the widely accepted Zertifikat Deutsch, has proven its validity over the years and is recognized as certification in many situations. However, it is not the only such test, and some of the others are required instead of the ZD by some universities.

There are also specialized German tests, particularly for business. Both the BULATS and the Zertifikat Deutsch für den Beruf (ZDfB) test a high level of language competency for business German. They are only suitable for people who have the appropriate background and training for such a test.

Test Fees
All of these German tests require payment of a fee by the person being tested. Contact the test administrator to find out the cost of any test you are planning to take.

Test Preparation
Since these German proficiency examinations test general language ability, there is no one book or course that prepares you for taking such a test. However, the Goethe Institute and some other language schools do offer specific preparatory courses for the DSH, GDS, KDS, TestDaF, and several other German tests.

Some of the tests, particularly the business German tests, provide specific requirements (how many hours of instruction, type of courses, etc.), and we outline some of that in the following list. However, you need to contact the organization that administers the test you want to take for more detailed information. Our list includes Web links and other contact information, but one of the best sources of information is the Goethe Institute, which has local centers in many countries all over the globe, and a very good Web site. (For more about the Goethe Institute, see my article: Das Goethe-Institut.)

German Proficiency Tests - Listed alphabetically

BULATS (Business Language Testing Service)
Organization: BULATS
Description: The BULATS is a worldwide business-related German proficiency test administered in cooperation with the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. Besides German, the test is also available in English, French, and Spanish. BULATS is used by organizations to assess the language skills of employees/job applicants in a professional context. It comprises several tests that can be taken separately or in combination.
Where/When: Some Goethe Institutes around the world offer the German BULATS test.

DSH - Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang ausländischer Studienbewerber ("German Language Test for College Admission for Foreign Students")
Organization: FADAF
Description: Similar to the TestDaF; administered in Germany and by some licensed schools. The DSH examination is used to prove a foreign student's ability to understand lectures and study at a German university. Note that, unlike the TestDaf, the DSH may be retaken only once!
Where/When: Usually at each university, with the date set by each university (in March and September).

Goethe-Institut Einstufungstest - GI Placement Test
Organization: Goethe Institute
Description: An online German placement test with 30 questions. It places you in one of the six levels of the Common European Framework.
Where/When: Online at any time.

Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom (GDS, "Advanced German Language Diploma")
Organization: Goethe Institute
Description: The GDS was established by the Goethe Institute in cooperation with the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich. Students taking the GDS must be virtually fluent in German as it is rated (by some countries) as being the equivalent of a German teaching qualification. The exam covers the four skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking), structural competence and dictation. In addition to spoken fluency, candidates will need advanced grammatical ability and be capable of preparing texts and discussing issues about German literature, natural sciences and economics.
Where/When: The GDS can be taken at Goethe Institutes and other testing centers in Germany and other countries.

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