2021 Fall Academics Germany Language Studies Miquela Berge Temple Exchange

Taking the DSH: what to expect

For weeks upon weeks, I forced myself to trudge to the library, through wind and rain, on Fridays and Saturdays, to prepare for one of Germany’s most well-known language programs: Die Deutsche Sprachpruefung fuer den Hochschulzugang, or DSH for short. If you don’t speak German and found that word incredibly long, strenuous, and incomprehensible, no worries. Literally, the DSH is short for the German language exam for access or acceptance to places of higher education, or universities. Institutions of higher education thus require speakers whose first language is not German, to prove their language is of a certain level before they can actually begin their studies.

While I was not actually planning on completing a bachelor’s program here in Germany, the test, which usually costs a few hundred euros, was offered free of charge to students matriculated at the University of Hamburg. So, I decided to take a chance and find out how good, or how bad, my German level really was. 

Three books stacked on top of one another. One is a text book, the other a practice book, and the last a German grammar book.
Some of the books I used to study for the exam

Around two months before the start of the test, I made sure to buy a test book, practice book, and grammar book to make sure I was aware of all of the information on the test. If you are unfamiliar with the DSH or are interested in taking the test yourself, it is important to note that the exam consists of two components: the written and oral exams. The written exam consists of listening comprehension, reading comprehension, grammar exercises, and a written portion. After completing all sections, which takes around four or so hours, the spoken exam usually takes place one-and-a-half weeks later, when test-takers are required to hold a short presentation on the spot for around 15 to 20 minutes. 

I know, it’s a lot. There were times when I mentally wanted to give up after reading the same sentence over and over for the reading comprehension section. Despite the tediousness and concentration which comes with studying for a language exam, I pushed through and finished both the test book and the practice book by the time test day came, so naturally, I was 100% prepared to ace the exam and act like speaking German was as easy as brushing my teeth. 

Except I wasn’t. The thing is, tests scare me. It doesn’t matter what type of test, standardized or not, I struggle to mentally prepare for exams. So, the night before the big day I made sure to hit the lights at 11 p.m. after studying. And then, because why not, I woke up at around 3 a.m. and could not manage to fall back asleep. By the time it was 8 a.m., I had decided to make myself some coffee and was seriously considering not writing the test. But because I didn’t want to blow this one shot on a bad night’s sleep, I decided to pack my bag, get dressed, and head out the door to the university. Of course, this was also the day when the subway connection to the university was unavailable due to construction and busses were only running around every 20 minutes, so I had no other choice but to speed-walk my way over to the lecture hall where the exam was taking place. 

By the time I arrived, I was exhausted and running on one cup of coffee, a slice of bread, and a few hours of sleep. Despite my drowsiness, I forced myself to become more attentive throughout each portion of the exam. On reflection, I truly wish I had received a better night’s sleep, as I believe my tiredness did halt me from producing the work I can. 

Image showing someone on the beach with a book in hand. Behind her is sand, a blue sky, and in the distance is the Elbe river with container ships and cranes in the distance.
Studying for the exam on the beach!

On reflection, I found that the exam was doable, which says a lot. My goal right now is to reach German level C1 (lower advanced), and while I cannot say for certain that those will be the results of my test scores, I am still proud of myself for not only taking and studying for this test but also being able to at least understand most of the material that was provided to me. When I first started learning German, I thought that I would never be able to improve it past a certain level; that there were too many words I didn’t understand, and that it all sounded like gibberish when I tried to speak. Now, I know that getting past those hardships or doubts is doable, and with enough practice, it gets easier. Learning a language is a gradual process, and I still am always attempting to find new ways to improve my vocabulary or work on my speaking skills. Even if the test results do not reflect the score I wanted, I am at the very least, proud of myself for coming so far, and know that I will try again, if that is what it takes. 

See other students’ experiences with language exams here!

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