German Proficiency Tests and Certification

Testing Your German Language Proficiency

Students Taking Test in Classroom

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At some point in your study of the German language, you may want to, or you might need to take a test to demonstrate your command of the language. Sometimes a person may want to take it for his or her 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 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, no one book or course 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 an excellent Web site. (For more about the Goethe Institute, see my article: Das Goethe-Institut.)

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 an international 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 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.

Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom (KDS, "Intermediate German Language Diploma")

  • Organization: Goethe Institute
  • Description: The KDS was established by the Goethe Institute in cooperation with the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich. The KDS is a German language proficiency test taken at an advanced level. The written test involves the understanding of texts, vocabulary, composition, understanding instructions, as well as exercises/questions about specifically chosen texts. There are also general questions on geography and German culture, plus an oral exam. The KDS satisfies university language entrance requirements.
  • Where/When: The GDS can be taken at Goethe Institutes and other testing centers in Germany and other countries. Tests are held in May and November.

OSD Grundstufe Österreichisches Sprachdiplom Deutsch - Grundstufe (Austrian German Diploma - Basic Level)

  • Organization: ÖSD-Prüfungszentrale
  • Description: The OSD was developed in cooperation with the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Transport, the Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs. The OSD is a German language proficiency exam which tests general language skills. Grundstufe 1 is the first of three levels and is based on the Council of Europe's Waystage Level specification. Candidates should be capable of communicating in a limited number of everyday situations. The exam comprises both written and oral elements.
  • Where/When: At language schools in Austria. Contact the ÖSD-Prüfungszentrale for more information.

OSD Mittelstufe Austrian German Diploma - Intermediate

  • Organization: ÖSD-Prüfungszentrale
  • Description: Candidates must be able to handle a level of German beyond everyday situations, including intercultural skills. See the listing above for more about the OSD.

Prüfung Wirtschaftsdeutsch International (PWD, "International Test for Business German")

  • Organization: Goethe Institute
  • Description: The PWD was established by the Goethe Institute in cooperation with Carl Duisberg Centers (CDC) and Deutscher Industrie-und Handelstag (DIHT). It is a German business proficiency test taken at an intermediate/advanced level. Students attempting this examination should have completed 600-800 hours of instruction in German business and economics. Students are tested on subject terminology, comprehension, business letter standards, and proper public relations. The examination has both written and oral components. Students attempting the PWD should have completed a course in intermediate business German and preferably an advanced language course.
  • Where/When: The PWD can be taken at Goethe Institutes and other testing centers in Germany and other countries.

TestDaF - Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache ("Test (of) German as a Foreign Language")

  • Organization: TestDaF Institute
  • Description: The TestDaF is a German language proficiency test recognized by the German government. The TestDaF is most commonly taken by people who want to study at the university level in Germany.
  • Where/When: Contact the Goethe Institute, other language schools, or a German university for more information.

Zentrale Mittelstufenprüfung (ZMP, "Central Intermediate Test")

  • Organization: Goethe Institute
  • Description: Accepted by some German universities as proof of German proficiency. The ZMP was established by the Goethe-Institut and can be attempted after 800-1000 hours of advanced German language instruction. The minimum age is 16. The examination tests reading comprehension, listening, writing skills, and verbal communication at an advanced/intermediate level.
  • Where/When: The ZMP can be taken at Goethe Institutes and other testing centers in Germany and other countries. Contact the Goethe Institute for more information.

Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung (ZOP)

  • Organization: Goethe Institute
  • Description: Candidates must show they have a good command of the regional variations of standard German. Must be able to understand complex, authentic texts and to express themselves accurately both orally and in writing. Level compares with that of the "Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom" (KDS). The ZOP has a written section (text analysis, tasks that test the ability to express oneself, essay), listening comprehension, and an oral examination. Passing the ZOP makes you exempt from the language entrance examinations to German universities.
  • Where/When: Contact the Goethe Institute.

Zertifikat Deutsch (ZD, "Certificate German")

  • Organization: Goethe Institute
  • Description: Internationally recognized proof of basic working knowledge of the German language. Candidates must be able to deal with everyday situations and have a command of basic grammatical structures and vocabulary. Students who have taken about 500-600 class hours can register for the exam.
  • Where/When: the examination centers set ZD exam dates. As a rule, the ZD is offered one to six times per year, depending on location. The ZD is taken at the end of an intensive language course at a Goethe Institute.

Zertifikat Deutsch für den Beruf (ZDfB, "Certificate German for Business")

  • Organization: Goethe Institute
  • Description: A special German test aimed at business professionals. The ZDfB was developed by the Goethe Institute and the Deutsches Institut für Erwachsenenbildung (DIE) and is currently being administered by the Weiterbildungstestsysteme GmbH (WBT). The ZDfB is specifically for those students interested in business relations. Students attempting this exam should have already completed an intermediate level course in German and additional courses in business.
  • Where/When: The ZDfB may be taken at Goethe Institutes; Volkshochschulen; ICC members and other testing centers in over 90 countries.
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Flippo, Hyde. "German Proficiency Tests and Certification." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Flippo, Hyde. (2020, August 28). German Proficiency Tests and Certification. Retrieved from Flippo, Hyde. "German Proficiency Tests and Certification." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 20, 2023).