skip to content

Faculty of InternationalSample Institute

German Language Examination (DSH)

prerequisites for taking the DSH, components of the examination, examination sequence, passing the examination, retaking the examination, exemption from the examination, other certificates, sample examination

German language examination (DSH)

Before taking a course of study, applicants who have not gained their higher education entrance qualification at a German speaking institution have to fulfill the following requirement: They have to prove the German language proficiency necessary for taking a course of study. Proof is given by the DSH.

The abbreviation DSH stands for "Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang". That means: German language examination for admission to a German higher education institution.

Applicants have to pass the DSH at the latest one year after they have been admitted to or registered for a preparatory German language course.

Other certificates indicating the necessary German language proficiency (Feststellungsprüfung, TestDaF) will be listed under 6.

1. Prerequisites for taking the DSH

The DSH may only be taken by students:

a) who have attended the preparatory German language courses offered by the department "German as a Foreign Language" at the University of Cologne and have obtained a certificate (with a grade) for Deutsch IV (CEF B2.2) of the University of Cologne (participation in the DSH after attending a preparatory German language course),

b) who have obtained a letter of admission, but have to pass the DSH and have given proof that they master the intermediate level (Goethe-Zertifikat-C1 ZMP-grade:excellent). (Participation in the DSH without previously attending a preparatory German language course at the University of Cologne).

All participants of the DSH have to enrol for the DSH at the office of the department "German as a Foreign Language" before they take the examination. More detailed information on the examination dates and registration deadlines is available in the International Office or in the office of the department "German as a Foreign Language".

Students who have definitively failed the DSH exam at another higher education institution or at a Studienkolleg (preparatory courses) are not allowed to take the DSH at the University of Cologne.

2. Components of the examination and examination sequence

The DSH consists of a written and an oral examination taking place on two separate days. The written examination takes place before the oral examination.

2.1 Written Examination

The written examination of the DSH consists of the following components:

a) listening comprehension (understanding and working with a text),
b) textproduction based on given keywords,
c1) reading comprehension (understanding and working with a text),
c2) comprehension and processing of structures used in academic scientific language. 

(a) Listening comprehension

This examination component requires the students to prove that they can follow lectures and presentations held on an academic or a scientific topic, that they can make meaningful notes and work with these notes.

The text will be presented twice. Before the second presentation the students will be given a handout worksheet containing the tasks. Students will have 10 minutes to read through this worksheet and to compare the tasks/questions with their notes. Then, the text will be presented for the second time with short breaks between the different paragraphs of the text.

Some possible tasks:

  • Writing headings for the individual sections of the text by using noun phrases 
  • Answering questions

The students will be given 40 minutes to write out the answers.

(b) Text production based on given keywords

This examination component requires the students to demonstrate that they are able to write - independently and coherently - a longer continuous text based on a topic. They will be given 5 keywords, and they are expected to present adequate chains of thoughts for each keyword.

The students will be given 70 minutes for this task.

(c1)  Reading comprehension 

This examination component requires the students to demonstrate that they are capable of understanding and working with a written text.

Students have to complete tasks such as:

  • Writing headings for individual text sections,
  • Answering questions, 
  • Explaining a term that appears in the text,
  • Explaining an individual text section, 
  • Explaining the function of words and phrases (creating references between pronouns and nouns).

The students will be given 1 hour to complete the tasks.

(c2) Comprehension and processing of structures used in academic scientific language

This examination component requires the students to prove that they master the relevant grammatical structures of academic scientific language as it is used in the text. That means: they can recognize, understand and use these structures. 

To put it more concretely, students will be expected to reformulate certain sentences on the basis of a text without changing their original meaning. They are not expected to use a specific grammatical terminology.

The students will be given 30 minutes for this task.

The entire written examination takes no more than four hours with a short break between the examination components (b) and (c).

Notice for the written examination

Writing paper will be provided for the participants of the DSH. The participants only have to bring their own writing implement: blue or black ballpoint pen (with extra cartridges, if needed!). The participants are not allowed to write with a pencil.

Dictionaries and other aids may not be used during the examination and may therefore not be taken into the examination room. Handbags, coats or jackets need to be left in the cloakroom before the examination begins.

It is not allowed to bring a mobile telephone into the examination room.

2. Oral examination

In the oral examination the participants are expected to demonstrate that they are capable of carrying out linguistic actions such as discussing, evaluating, exemplifying or giving information and to react to utterances spontaneously, fluently and appropriately. Furthermore, they are supposed to cope with relevant strategies of interaction, e.g. change of speeker, cooperation, and asking for further information.

The oral examination is carried out as a conversation and takes 20 minutes. Short newspaper articles serve as the basis of the oral examination. The participants are given 20 minutes to read the text. During this preparation period they may make use of a monolingual German dictionary.

3. Result of the examination

The following distinctions are made:

  • DSH-1, if in both, the written and the oral examination, at least 57% of the requirements are met,
  • DSH-2, if in both, the written and the oral examination, at least 67% of the requirements are met,
  • DSH-3, if in both, the written and the oral examination, at least 82% of the requirements are met.

In order to be admitted to take a course of study at the University of Cologne it is necessary to achieve DSH-2 as the total result.

At the end of the oral examination the participant will be informed about the total result.

After passing the DSH a certificate will be given indicating the total result of the written and the oral examination as DSH-3, DSH-2, or DSH-1. The results of the individual exam components will be stated. The certificate receives the date of the day, on which the last part of the examination was taken.

If the total result is below DSH-1, a confirmation may be given on request.

4. Retaking the examination

Generally, the DSH can be retaken once.

5. Exemption from the DSH

If you want to be exempted from the DSH you have to apply for exemption at the International Office. The head of the department "German as a Foreign Language" will decide on your application to be exempted from the DSH.

If you wish to be exempted from the DSH examination, please contact: University of Cologne, International Office, Albertus-Magnus-Platz, 50923 Köln.

Exemption from the DSH is possible for

1) applicants, who have gained their higher education entrance qualification from a German school,

2) applicants who have passed the DSH with DSH-2 or DSH-3 at another German University,

3) applicants who hold the certificate telc deutsch C1 Hochschule,

4) applicants who hold the Goethe Zertifikat C2: Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom,

5) applicants, who have gained their higher education entrance qualification in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg,

6) applicants, who have gained their higher education entrance qualification in the German-speaking community of the Kingdom of Belgium.

6. Further means of proof of the necessary knowledge of German

As proof of the German language proficiency necessary for taking a course of study the following will be accepted:

a) an examination in "Deutsch", passed within the "Feststellungsprüfung" at a "Studienkolleg",
b) a TestDaF-certificate indicating at least level 4 in each of the four examination components (TDN 4),
c) applicants, who hold the German language certificate, level II (DSD II), of the German standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Culture (Deutsches Sprachdiplom der Kultusministerkonferenz - Stufe II - DSD II),

7. Sample Examination

If you are interested in taking the DSH you can ask for a sample examination at the office of the department German as Foreign Language.