Ready for VIP treatment?
We’ve got your all-access pass to German student life right here.
It’s called the TestDaF.
Do well on this German language exam, and every university in the country will recognize your language skills.
While you’ll have to jump through some other hoops for university acceptance, the TestDaF will get that red carpet rolled out ahead of you.
Wondering whether this exam is right for you? Already signed up and looking for some study mojo?
Here’s everything you need to know.
Bite the Bullet! Benefits of Taking the TestDaF
The beauty of TestDaF is that it’s recognized across Germany so if you pass it, it means you’ve fulfilled the essential language requirements for all universities. A nice plus: unlike milk, your test score doesn’t expire, so you’re under no time pressure to get those school applications sent in.
Now, while most individuals take TestDaF for purposes of attending university, there are other benefits to taking the exam, too.
Gaining a clear assessment of how your German skills measure up across a national standard is undoubtedly advantageous, as is being able to demonstrate to a potential employer that you can effectively work within a German-speaking environment.
And of course, let’s not forget bragging rights to your friends because passing TestDaF has got “winner” written all over it!
TestDaF VIP: Your All-Access Pass to a German University
1. What Is the Test Format?
TestDaF stands for Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache (German as a Foreign Language Test). This standardized exam was developed by the TestDaF Institut in Hagen, Germany and is used to assess peoples’ proficiency in the German language before university acceptance.
To sit for the exam, TestDaF recommends that you have at least an upper-intermediate to advanced language level (B2 to C2 language level proficiency, per the Common European Framework of Reference scale of language competence).
TestDaF is made up of four specific assessment areas for reading, writing, listening and speaking. Let’s take a look at these four areas to see what test takers can expect to encounter. You can find more in-depth information about the test structure on this official exam fact sheet.
Format: Three texts with 30 items, 60 minutes
TestDaF’s reading comprehension section is made up of three individual texts. The content requires you to understand topics ranging from everyday situations on a university campus to more complicated texts covering academic topics.
Format: One task, 60 minutes
The written section of this exam requires a logical and well-structured essay based on a given topic. You’ll be required to express a point of view.
This section is also likely to include graphs, tables or charts that’ll need to be analyzed and referenced as part of your written response.
Format: Three audio tasks with 25 items, 40 minutes
During this section of the test, you’re tested on your ability to comprehend a series of audio recordings from dialogues, interviews or lectures. You should be able to understand the contextual ideas of the recording and answer questions following its conclusion.
Format: Seven speaking tasks, 30 minutes
In the oral component of TestDaF, you’ll need to express yourself in spoken German coherently. Situational settings will challenge you in such areas as opinion-giving and engaging in group discussions and debates.
Note that this takes place via a computer-aided interface and not a live conversation.
2. How Is the TestDaF Graded?
TestDaF grades each of the four sections of the test independently. A score of a TDN 5 or TDN 4 across the board guarantees placement (from a language perspective) in all universities throughout Germany.
TDN 3 is the lowest passing score you can receive on TestDaF—however, your university choices do become extremely limited at that point since the majority require a TDN 4 or 5.
So about now, you might be asking yourself, “What happens if I hate my score?” Well, one of the plus points of TestDaF is that nothing is held against you if you re-take the test. You can take it as often as you like.
However, although the test is divided into four parts graded individually, it’s the sum of all those parts that you’re ultimately evaluated on. So if you get a TDN 3 in speaking but TDN 4 in the other three areas, you can’t merely take the speaking part over again if you wish to increase your score. It’s all or nothing!
3. Where Can I Take It?
So you’ve gotten this far and now’s the time to find a place where you can take the actual test. Thinking you need to hightail it over to Germany to accomplish this task?
Well, thankfully that isn’t the case. There’s a global network of TestDaF centers that are certified to administer the exam. Jump on over to the TestDaF website, which has a page exclusively devoted to helping you find the testing center closest to you
If that happens to be in Germany, you’ve got your pick of over 170 centers!
Fees associated with taking the test are dictated by the individual testing center and can fluctuate. Your best bet is to get in touch with your center of choice directly to gain an understanding of costs.
4. How Should I Study?
You know the famous Benjamin Franklin quote.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Okay, you say to yourself, I get, but now what? Preparation for TestDaF is undoubtedly the key but how do I prepare, with what tools and… who can help?!
Pssst… we can.
In fact, we’ve actually taken a lot of the guesswork out of this process for you. Stick around because we’ve compiled some actionable tips that’ll help you to not only prepare for the test but also set you up to succeed!
Know Your Capabilities
This is the time where we’d like to offer up the friendly reminder that TestDaF candidates should have a minimum of an upper-intermediate language competency level before even considering taking the test. Do yourself a favor and get an assessment of your language capabilities before investing the time, energy and money in anticipation of taking TestDaF.
You can even walk yourself on over to the TestDaF website, which offers a free online placement quiz for prospective test-takers.
Explore Official TestDaF Materials Online
Speaking of the TestDaF website…
While there are a host of sites offering information, study materials and insights on how to prepare for the TestDaF exam, your first stop should be the TestDaF website itself.
Here you’ll find a host of audio files, instructional test guides, a list of recommended study materials and real-world test examples designed to get you familiar with what you can expect to experience on test day.
Immerse Yourself in Authentic German
Since the TestDaF is comprised of university-level audio and reading material, watching “Peppa Pig” in German won’t be a good use of your time in advance of the test.
Instead, focus on German news, op-eds, columns and commentary from an academic, economic, scientific and socio-political perspective.
Der Spiegel, for example, is one of the most widely read German-language news websites and features subject matter/themes similar to those found on the TestDaF. Online newspapers such as Frankfurter Allgemeine, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Welt.de are also excellent additions to you reading roster, with the kind of content to get your brain primed and ready for test day.
Okay, but what about your listening skills? Vocabulary? Pronunciation? Ah!
Don’t fret. FluentU is your best bet for developing authentic German language skills (and actually enjoying it).
Each video comes with interactive captions—click any word for an in-context definition, native pronunciation and memorable picture. FluentU will also show you other videos that have the word, so you can understand how it’s used in any context. There are also flashcards, exercises, vocabulary lists and full transcripts tailor-made for each video for you to review and reinforce what you’ve learned.
You’ll find great TestDaF study material, from economic news to interviews with German students. Since the videos are organized by genre and learning level, it’s easy to find the ones that work for you. Best of all, you can squeeze in some studying anytime, anywhere with the FluentU mobile app.
Sign up today for a free trial of FluentU, and start your test prep right away.
Take a Test Prep Course
Hands-down one of the best ways to prepare for TestDaF is to take an intensive exam prep course. These courses fluctuate in length depending on the institution but typically last anywhere from two to six weeks. While every class is structured differently, the overall goal is to provide you with the necessary skills to master the four sections of the test as described above.
With these courses, you’re likely to secure helpful insights into time management for the exam, understand the essential vocabulary you’ll likely encounter there, secure useful strategies on how to complete challenging tasks and benefit from taking practice exams based on previous TestDaF test material.
The classes are usually small, allowing you to home in on your strengths and weaknesses through the individual support of your instructor.
The one drawback of these prep courses is that they appear to be primarily available in Germany. However, you can easily access TestDaF prep courses online, like this one from Collegium Palatinum Heidelberg. Goethe Institut also offers an in-person test prep course at their New York facility.
So there it is—a handful of tips and tricks designed to help you put your best foot forward in the lead up to TestDaF. And while acing the test is no simple feat, with the proper preparation there’s no reason why you too can’t be a winner!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.