TestDaF & DSH Exam: How to Prepare

The TestDaF is a high-level language examination and covers proficiency levels B2 to C1 in accordance with the six-level scale outlined in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Successfully completing all four sections of the TestDaF exam at TestDaF level 4 results in the issuance of a certificate, serving as proof of language proficiency essential for admission to a wide range of subjects and degree programs at German universities and higher education institutions.


The following advise is assuming that you are a disciplined learner with a pretty stable life: No drugs, no sex, no rock’n roll. At least for seven months. A troubled mind can not learn fast.

General Advice

If you have the time, rather invest a few extra months or even a full year to really build a solid base in German as the DSH and the TestDaF exam are merely the entry level to your studies. The better your German is when you start studying, the more successful you will be with your studies. Studying in Germany most likely differs very much from studying in your home country.

You will need quite some time to get things sorted out and if you have to read scientific material in German language you might need up to twice as long for one text as your German fellow students. I always advice those who ask me this kind of question to invest more time to solidify their knowledge of German to have a better life on the long run.

If you are young and taking a gap year, use that time to become really good at German and develop your language skills, like e.g. learn how to learn or deepen your knowledge of the German society (<– I urge you to read this book), history and culture. Those will help you greatly on the long run. You don’t just want to be the fastest student, you mainly want to be one of the best. There are really quick ways to master the German language like the Learning German faster course, but to prepare for DSH & TestDaF it takes more.

Do Not Come to Germany

…before you have passed your B1 exam. Dealing with a new environment, language and culture at the same time is extremely demanding and also inefficient. Even if you don’t fail completely, your experience of Germany will be one of suffering a lot. Don’t listen to anyone, that claims, the fastest way to learn German is to come here. Especially mistrust them if they take your money for this rubbish advice. They might call that immersion. But Immersion doesn’t make sense before having reached level B1 due to the above mentioned reason. That being said, let me help you with getting through your DSH / TestDaF exam.

German DSH TestDaf Exam

If it just was this easy / Image by Pixabay

B2 Does not Equal B2

Both the DSH / TestDAF exam are very challenging exams. While passing the TestDaF generally requires level B2, it is not comparable with a standard B2 level, as they check whether you are ready to study in German language at a German university. There are immense differences in vocabulary and a stronger focus on grammatical structures mainly used in scientific literature and writing. Also the topics of the speaking exam are far more formal than in the standard B2 exam.Take a glance at a sample here.

How Long Does it Take to Prepare for the TestDaF / DSH Exam?

Of course, everything depends on your skills and the efficiency of your learning process. There are different scenarios:

Learning German on Your Own

If you are learning German on your own and you are NOT an experienced language learner, it is very unlikely that you will ever reach that level of B2, especially if German is your first foreign language. You might become fluent in functional German, meaning, having conversations about things that you usually talk about in your daily life but writing, especially scientific writing is a whole different level.

Sure, you might be one of the 1% exceptional German learners that just hears or reads a word of German somewhere and instantly learns it, but you most likely belong to 99% of normally intelligent German learners, that simply takes more time and effort than those talented folks. I strongly recommend that you seek a private tutor or in the second-worst case a group in some cheap language school (200-400€ per month). No need to waste much money on the expensive schools as your experience is mainly influenced by your teacher and fellow students.

Learning German in a Class / Group

This is the second-worst option. There are plenty of disadvantages of groups.


Just to name the most important ones:

  • Group dynamics take time off teaching.
  • No significant individual correction/support
  • Each learner has different goals, background, intelligence and learning speed.
  • A group moves on an average speed. You might be slower or faster.
  • Missing a class gets you into learning trouble.
  • Having to come to a fixed place sums up to 180 hours of valuable lifetime.
  • Teachers usually don’t teach you how to learn, but mainly what to learn.  
  • 90% or more of the speech in the class is bad input as the only native speaker is the teacher.
  • Any group taking place less than 3x per week and longer than 45mins is a waste of your time.
  • You still have to do 90mins of homework after class which more than often doesn’t get corrected.


BUT: They are better than studying German on one’s own for most learners as they at least provide you with a solid structure. And that structure is designed with a lot of redundancy so that even if you do not do your daily homework here and there you might advance slowly towards your goal.

To reach a standard B2 one needs 9 months in average in so-called intensive classes. Usually that means 3hours of tuition five days per week plus 90mins of daily homework for 9 months in a row without any (!) break but weekends and the national holidays. Counting in travel time you will spend 810hrs of learning + 180hrs of travelling = 990hrs on your German learning if things run smoothly.

Learning with a very cheap school in Berlin you’d have to invest ~2000€ for your tuition in a group with up to 20 people (incl. exam fee and books) until standard B2. At the Goethe Institute Berlin that would cost you 9000€ also in a group with up to 20 people.

But you’d still have to take part in a DSH / TestDaF preparatory course for another 4-8 weeks and pay another 1000€ (Goethe) or400€ (Hartnackschule Berlin) course fee. The final DSH / TestDaf exam will cost you another 100€-175€.

Total costs so far to reach DSH / TestDaF B2: ca. 2500-10200€

I found those courses dead (!) boring as students are mainly drilled to fulfill the minimum requirements of those exams. And I highly doubt that those courses are efficient as they assume that you learn like a machine and not a thinking human being. 50% of foreign students cancel their studies.

Of those many students say that they were having trouble with the German language. And those were just the ones who made it into the studies. I have requested the number of those who pass the TestDaF exam from the creators of that test today.

Let’s see how they respond. I do not expect a high success rate.

Learn German with a private tutor when in a hurry

So you have 2300€ to burn. Let’s consider an averagely priced private German tutor. For 45mins he charges 20€. That would give you 115 lessons with that tutor within your budget. Let’s also assume you learn a 30% faster without all the downsides of a group.

Assuming seven months until your DSH / TestDaF exam, that would give you 16 lessons with that tutor per month or one session every other day. If you have 10000€ to burn you might get 32 lessons per month for nine months for the same price.

Higher tuition fee doesn’t necessarily mean a better tutor but that tutor at least has a higher self-value which might (!) be the result of better teaching. Always try 3-5 tutors before booking one for a longer period of time.  

Many offer shorter but free trial sessions. And even if you booked one, feel free to change him if, after a few weeks, you realize that he wasn’t the best choice. He will survive and probably get other clients, but you might lose a year of your life if you stick with the wrong tutor. That tutor needs to provide you with a lot of homework.

You need to work at least 2-3hrs on your German in addition to your lessons. Do not let him get away with anything below that. The more you work on your own, the more questions will come up and that is exactly what you should use your tutor for.

He’s the expert and even if he doesn’t know the answer right away, he will tell it to you next time. The problem will be, that your tutor probably wants to teach you. But you don’t necessarily need that. You can work with my German grammar course which covers everything you need to know until B1 and 90% of what you need to know for B2 regarding the German grammar.

After having worked on your basic German skills, make sure to get as many sample exams as possible to get an impression of the exam and work your way through them with help of your tutor. If you know what is expected of you, you will feel much calmer in the exam and raise your chances for success.

I strongly recommend that on your path to DSH / TestDaF you take the B1 exam. A1 and A2 are redundant and taking two different B2 exams would be a distraction. But the B1 is an important waymark and will keep your expectations real while boosting your motivation significantly.

Speaking is a Problem

16 lessons a month seem like very little to those who are used to being offered 120 lessons for 200€. But less can be significantly more when it comes to learning. If I can achieve the same results in 16 lessons as I would in 120 lessons than I’d always choose the first option. Also, consider that you (!) are still studying at least 70 lessons in addition to your tutor sessions. But you’d still save a lot of time in the end. Now, to get to b1 speaking is probably the easier part.

If you use 30 minutes of your tutor-session for questions and answers and supervision, you’d have 15 minutes left for practice of speaking. And that shouldn’t be random speaking. You’d need to drill a few German sentence patterns and work on your past participles, prepositions and dative but as soon as possible you should prepare for the oral B1 exam. You can find some samples here. The oral exam lasts 15mins of which you will be speaking roughly 3x2mins.

Working 15mins every second day on that should do. I will also soon present you a technique with which you will be able to work on your pronunciation on your own. I call that technique the oral dictation. I will introduce you to this technique in my new book (coming end of June 2016). For now, though, you can check out our B1 prep course.

Once B1 is behind you, the work begins. Mastering level B2 means that you have already dealt with most of the grammar but that you have to learn approximately 1500-2000 new words in a very short time. And that is only possible with the right effort.

You might go straight to studying DSH exams but the vocabulary will most likely kill you. I leave it to your tutor to lay out the path for this challenge. But you should use memrise as it optimizes your vocabulary learning greatly.

Preparing for the oral exam should now be a major part of your work with your tutor. If he doesn’t feel ready for this challenge, look for another one. Don’t hesitate just because you have grown to like him. You simply don’t have the time to make friends in this phase. Either you are serious about studying in Germany or you aren’t. There’s no grey zone for foreigners when it comes to studying successfully. The oral exam of TestDaF also differs a lot from the oral exam of DSH-exams. Make sure to check these sample exams: TestDaF oral exam and DSH oral exam.

It’s a Long Journey. Prepare for Rough Times

7 or maybe 9 months of intensive studying 3-5 hours a day, without any significant break, are a rough ride for most of us. You will experience downs and for such times you might need support. The better you are prepared, the faster you get out of the hole.

If you have a solid learning structure and see your tutor every second day, you should not suffer long from these downs but they will come. Building a learning group, in which you simply sit together while each of you learns his on his own and in which you could occasionally help each other with advice might be a good idea to even stabilize your efforts a bit more. But be careful not to turn this into a Kuschelparty. If you become friends, discipline will suffer. Save that for after your exam. You wanted to learn fast.

If you want to enjoy your learning more on an emotional level, I suggest that you calculate more time for your preparation. It is probably not easy to arrange such a group if you don’t recruit the others from your language learning class. I’m not talking about a so-called Tandem here as during your studying time you should rather focus on learning German than teaching others your native language.

I haven’t found a useful platform for this yet but maybe you can simply take a trial lesson at one school and try to make some friends on that first day. That’s not the fine English way as we say in German “Die feine Englische Art” but again it is about you saving a year of your life. Feel free to share your strategies with me and I’ll add them to this paragraph.

FAQs about the TestDaF language proficiency test

Here are some of the questions people ask about this popular German proficiency test.

What is the TestDaF level equivalent to?

The TestDaF corresponds to proficiency levels B2 to C1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), making it an advanced-level language exam.

What is the success rate of the TestDaF exam?

The success rate of the TestDaF exam varies, and statistical data indicates that success is achievable with adequate preparation. The exam is widely accepted by most German universities and academic institutions.

Can I use the TestDaF for admission at a German university?

Yes, the TestDaF is widely accepted by most German universities and various academic institutions as evidence of language skills necessary for admission to pursue higher education and and allows you to complete scientific projects and enter academic professions..

What language skills does the TestDaF test apart from written examination, listening comprehension and reading comprehension?

The TestDaF evaluates four language skills: oral and written skills, listening skills, and reading skills. The oral examination assesses speaking proficiency in an academic context, making it a comprehensive language exam.

Summing Up: TestDaF & DSH Exam

My recommendation as always is to squeeze your budget to the max and get a good private tutor. Approach him with clear aims and demands. If he fails to meet your demands, never hesitate to change your tutor no matter how much you like them. You are on a mission here to save the life of a very important person: you.

Your speaking skills will be the bottleneck of this operation. You can cover all necessary grammar easily with my learning material and focus on what’s difficult for you with your tutor. Learning fast is always stressful. If you are rather easy going calculate 10 months of learning in a group. But don’t expect good results coming automatically.

Passing language proficiency exams and aiming at an academic career requires precision and is always a lot of work. Nothing worth having comes easy in life. You will appreciate yourself a lot after you have made it through the exam.

Studying in Germany, in German language or not, is a lot of work, especially when you are not excellent in German. This being said, I wish you success. It’s possible. Do you really think you can do it? If you want help, come check out our SmarterGerman courses today!