Updated July 2016
The role of the federal government in education is limited and specialised. Legislative and administrative responsibility rests firmly with the federal states (Bundesländer).
There is a broad uniformity in the educational systems of the 16 states, although nomenclature and periods of study may vary.
Lower and upper secondary education usually covers eight or nine years to grade 12 / 13.
The Realschulabschluss is awarded in grade 10 across most states. This is seen as acceptable at grades 1 – 4 in lieu of GCSE on a subject for subject basis (except English language).
In most states, the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (Abitur) is obtained after the successful completion of 12 / 13 consecutive school years.
The Zeugnis der Allgemeinen Hochschulreife is awarded in grade 12/13 and represents the assessment of the two final years of upper secondary schooling including final examination (Abiturprüfung).
Subjects are chosen from three subject areas, all of which must be represented and studied throughout the school career up to, and including, the Abitur examination itself:
i. languages, literature, arts
ii. social sciences
iii. mathematics, natural sciences, technology.
At least two subjects are taken as main intensive courses (Leistungskurse) of which one must be German or a foreign language or mathematics or a natural science; the other subjects are taken as basic courses (Grundkurse).
Two states (Länder) Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, have abandoned the differentiation between these course types and all Abitur subjects are taught on the same level.
English (in some states, French) is compulsory to Realschulabschluss level but need not be a major component of the Abitur examination.
Nonetheless, one foreign language must be studied during the final two years to the Abitur level and is part of the overall result.
Acceptable as a group qualification satisfying general HE entrance requirements.
For further information on the qualification level you may wish to refer to UK NARIC, which is the UK body responsible for providing comparability of overseas qualifications.
Germany uses a 6-point grading scale to evaluate the performance of schoolchildren generally up to grade 10:
- sehr gut (very good)
- mangelhaft (poor) (fail)
- ungenügend (very poor) (fail)
In the upper secondary level grades (Oberstufe, grades 11-13) are converted to numbers (points) in order to calculate the average for the Abitur.
Upper secondary level grades
up to 5 –
Abitur subject grades are expressed as marks out of 15 points, whilst overall Abitur grades are expressed using the six point scale to one place after the decimal point e.g. 2.3.
The final Abitur grade is rounded down to 1.0 even if a student has received 1+ (=15 points) in every subject.
When the points system is used, a grade of 4 (5 points) is the lowest passinggrade for subjects, and 4- (4 points) the highest failinggrade.
Some states use a more granular scale of 1- (= 1.25), 1-2 (= 1.5), 2+ (= 1.75)or decimal grading (1.0, 1.1, 1.2 and so on).
The best possible grade of 1.0 can be achieved if the overall score achieved ranges between 823 and 900 points. The percentage of students achieving 1 is normally only around 0.3–2% (see Certification information).
The Abitur examination comprises at least four and at most five components (in most states, three written examinations and one oral).
The first and second written examinations are in subjects taken as main intensive courses (Leistungskurse); the third written examination and the oral one are taken in one of the subjects taken as basic courses (Grundkurse).
Depending on the legislation in place in some states, a fifth subject can be examined in either written or oral form, or particular achievements (e.g. a year paper or results of a project) may be incorporated into the Abitur examination.
The final grades of the Abitur are based on the marks obtained in the examinations and on class performance in all subjects (up to 10) during the last two years of upper secondary education.
Each semester of a subject studied in the final two years yields up to 15 points for a student, where main intensive courses count double. The final examinations each count quadruple.
The exact scoring system depends on the federal state (Bundesland) in which the Abitur is taken. Passing the Abitur, in general, requires a composite score of at least 300. Students with a score below that minimum fail and do not receive an Abitur.
There are some other conditions that the student also has to meet in order to receive the Abitur, e.g. taking mandatory courses in selected subject areas, and limits to the number of failing grades in core subjects.
Students often have the option of omitting some courses from their composite score if they have taken more courses than the minimum required.
For UK HE admissions purposes, the Abitur is regarded as comparable in programme size with 3 A levels.
The Abitur is a broad qualification more akin to a Baccalaureate qualification than the UK A level.
Where specific subjects are required at A level, HEPs often require students to take these subjects as Leistungsfächer (LK) – main intensive courses, as opposed to basic course. See the subject score alignments under grade bands.
Abitur examination dates and publication of the results vary from state to state. Due to Germany’s federal structure there is no single results day for the whole country.
Each of Germany’s 16 states is fairly autonomous in the organisation of its education system. Therefore, there are 16 education ministries and 16 education ministers. The federal constitution gives the individual states their cultural sovereignty.
Although the states have taken steps to ensure a high degree of uniformity in their individual systems, there are some major differences. As a result, there is no single Germanywide date when school examination results are published – dates vary from state to state, and might even vary in different counties or cities within the same state.
There are no national figures available on grade distributions.
As a rough guide, it is estimated that less than 2% of Abitur candidates achieve a 1, whilst 12 – 30% achieve between 1.0 and 1.9.
The Zeugnis der Allgemeinen Hochschulreife admits to all courses offered by German HEPs.
The Zeugnis der Fachgebundenen Hochschulreife (often referred to as Fach-Abitur) is used in admissions to subject specific courses at universities or Fachhochschulen (universities of applied sciences), depending on the focus of the courses taken at school.
When applications outnumber the places available, the number of places will be restricted (numerus clausus) and a centralised selection process will take place (for selected subjects only).
The centralised selection process for admissions is currently operated for medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine and pharmacy.
This process incorporates three main quotas. For 20% of the places, the average grade (Durchschnittsnote) of the entry qualification is the highest priority criterion, for another 20%, the waiting time after gaining the HE entry qualification is the main selection factor. The remaining 60% are selected by the universities themselves. The average grade of the entry qualification must have a major significance among the selection criteria. Complementary criteria include the final grades for specific subjects, the results of admissions tests, professional experience and interviews.
The majority of the other courses are covered by similar local/ regional selection processes.