If you want to study at a German university (and not all of your courses are in English) then you will have to pass a German fluency exam. At most universities, you will have two exams to choose between: TestDAF or DSH.
So, if you are like me when I was applying to German universities, then the question you are asking yourself is: “Which German language exam is easier? DSH or TestDAF?”
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. With so many differences between these exams, figuring out which one will be easiest for you depends on your personal strengths and learning style. So, to figure out which test is right for you, I have outlined the unique pros and cons of the TestDAF and the DSH.
1. Standardized Worldwide
The TestDAF is a completely standardized test. That means that it always follows the same format and has the same difficulty no matter where in the world you are. For studying purposes, this is a huge bonus, as you know exactly what types of what questions to expect and in which order.
2. No Grammar Section
Grammar is the absolute worst part of the German language. So, not having to answer questions about German grammar rules is an obvious bonus! Of course, you do still need to know the rules for the TestDAF writing exam and the TestDAF speaking exam, but what you don’t have to remember is which rule is called Konjuktiv I and which is Konjunktiv II.
3. 4 Hours in 1 Day
Whether this is actually a pro or con will depend on what kind of test-taker you are, but I like it. It’s like ripping off a bandage in one go. The TestDAF is four section, each of which takes 30-60 minutes, and you get short breaks between each section. After about 4 hours, you are completely done and can go home.
4. Take the Exam Anywhere in the World
There are TestDAF exam locations all around the world. This is very important for foreign applicants that are waiting for their acceptance to a German university before actually moving to Germany.
Taking the TestDAF costs a standard fee of 175€. Not exactly cheap, but there’s no way to get around it. However, the DSH is a little bit less expensive, depending on where you take it…
2. Speaking to a Computer
The speaking exam is the worst part of the TestDAF. Not just because it is (at least for me) the most nerve-wracking — but because you have to talk to a computer. Just picture it: you are sitting in a room with 20 other people, each sitting at their own terminal, with headphones on, screaming into a microphone. You click a play button to start the section, but clicking any button after that moment will ruin your entire exam. So, you better be careful, and you better start and stop talking at the right moments. Ugh.
3. Waiting for Results
After you are finished with the TestDAF, the exam gets shipped off to a grading center somewhere where a minion of German grammar experts evaluate your language proficiency. This process takes 6 six, and you receive your final results as a letter in the mail. Unless you enjoy having your heart beat out of your chest as you check the mailbox each day for a month, then this is a definite con.
1. Human Connection
The DSH is given at German universities, which means the exam is usually conducted by and graded by the university’s German teacher. By taking preparatory courses at the same university where you will take the exam, then you will have contact with this person – and they will serve as a valuable resource in ensuring that you are well-prepared for the exam.
Another facet of the human connection advantage is the oral exam. Unlike with the TestDaF, where responses are simply recorded by a computer, the DSH oral exam is a face-to-face conversation with your examiner. This makes the DSH oral exam much more forgiving, as you can build upon your responses, read the examiners’ response, correct mistakes, and explain yourself more naturally without such strict time restraints.
2. Fast Turnaround
Since the exam is graded right at the university where you took it, the turnaround can be very efficient. The actual time it takes to get your results will depend on how many people took the exam and the examiner’s schedule, but the DSH does generally boast a much faster turnaround than the TestDaF.
3. Less Expensive (Usually)
Once again, this one depends on where you are taking the exam, but the DSH can vary from as little as 50€ up to 170€ (about the price of the TestDaF).
1. Grammar Section
Grammar is by far the worst part about learning German. So, the fact that the DSH includes a grammar section all about those tricky little language rules is a pretty serious disadvantage. Nevertheless, it is important to have a good grasp on grammar rules no matter what, as poor grammar will result in a low grade on the writing and speaking portions of both the TestDaF and DSH.
2. Listening Section
In the TestDaF listening exam, you have the questions in front of you while you listen to a recording. For DSH, you have to listen to the recording while taking notes, after which you receive the questions. This can make the listening section of the DSH much more difficult than that of the TestDaF.
3. Subjectivity & Uncertainty
I am sure that the majority of DSH examiners perform their job with the utmost professionalism; however, it is often just a single person giving these exams, and it is entirely possible that their bad mood (or other subjective factors) could affect your grade – especially on the oral exam, as you literally have to have a conversation with that person.
The format and difficulty of the DSH can also vary depending on the university. In fact, some German universities are known for giving easy DSH exams, while others are known for their difficulty. So, if you do choose the DSH, I suggest doing some research to see what past test-takers say about the universities you are considering.
Which exam are you planning to take (or have taken)? What are your reasons for picking it over the other exam?