Academic grading in Germany
Germany uses a 5- or 6-point grading scale (GPA) to evaluate academic performance for the youngest to the oldest students. Grades vary from 1 (excellent, sehr gut) to 5 (resp. 6) (insufficient, nicht genügend). In the final classes of German Gymnasium schools that prepare for university studies, a point system is used with 15 points being the best grade and 0 points the worst. The percentage causing the grade can vary from teacher to teacher.
Grades by education
Primary and lower secondary education
In primary and lower secondary education (1st to 10th grade), German school children receive grades based on a 6-point grading scale ranging from 1 (excellent, sehr gut) to 6 (insufficient, ungenügend). Variations on the traditional six grade system allow for awarding grades suffixed with "+" and "-".
To calculate averages of suffixed grades, they are assigned fractional values, where 1 is 1.0, 1- is 1.3, 2+ is 1.7, 2 is 2.0, 2- is 2.3 and so on. As schools are governed by the states, not by the federal government, there are slight differences. Often a more granular scale of "1-" (equal to 1.25), "1-2" (= 1.5), "2+" (= 1.75), etc. is used; sometimes even decimal grading (1.0, 1.1, 1.2 and so on) is applied.
In end-of-year report cards, only unmodified integer grades may be used; in some regions they are written in text form.
Many states currently also prescribe the use of behaviour-based notes (Kopfnoten), which grade things such as Orderliness or General Behaviour.
Teachers who teach Grundschule (primary school) or Sonderschule (special education school) are allowed to use "pädagogische Noten" ("pedagogic grades"). Thus if a student tries very hard, but still does very poorly compared to the rest of the class, the teachers are allowed to give them good grades because they tried so hard.
Upper secondary education
In the final classes of Gymnasium schools (11th to 12th/13th grade) the grades are converted to numbers ("points"), where "1+" equals 15 points and "6" equals 0 points. Since 1+ exists in this system, theoretically a final Abitur grade of less than 0.6 is possible and such grades are used in an informal setting, although officially any student with less than 1.0 will be awarded a 1.0 Abitur. When the point system is used, a grade of 4 (5 points) is the lowest passing grade, and 4- (4 points) the highest failing grade.
|15-point grading system in upper secondary education|
German universities (except for law schools) grade with a scale of 1 to 5:
- 1.0–1.5 sehr gut (very good: an outstanding achievement)
- 1.6–2.5 gut (good: an achievement which lies substantially above average requirements)
- 2.6–3.5 befriedigend (satisfactory: an achievement which corresponds to average requirements)
- 3.6–4.0 ausreichend (sufficient: an achievement which barely meets the requirements)
- 5.0 nicht ausreichend / nicht bestanden (not sufficient / failed: an achievement which does not meet the requirements)
Most of the universities use "mit Auszeichnung bestanden" (passed with distinction/ excellent) if the grade is a perfect score of 1.0.
For law students at German universities, a similar system to the 1 to 5 scale is used that comprises one more grade that is inserted between 2 (gut) and 3 (befriedigend), named vollbefriedigend. This is because the grades 2 (gut) and 1 (sehr gut) are extremely rare, so an additional grade was created below gut to increase differentiation. Every grade is converted into points similarly to the Gymnasium system described above, starting at 18 points (excellent) down to 0 points (poor). 4 points is the lowest pass grade.
|German Grade System|
|Percentage||Grades by education||Descriptor||Conversion to the US system*|
|(varies with school/subject)||primary & lower secondary (1st-10th grade)||upper secondary (Gymnasium, 11th-12/13th grade)||tertiary (Fachhochschule & Universität)|
|91-100%||1+||15 points||1.0||"sehr gut" (very good/ excellent: an outstanding achievement)||4.0|
|81-90%||2+||12 points||1.7||"gut" (good: an achievement that exceeds the average requirements considerably)||3.3|
|66-80%||3+||9 points||2.7||"befriedigend" (satisfactory: an achievement that fulfills average requirements)||2.3|
|50-65%||4+||6 points||3.7||"ausreichend" (sufficient: an achievement that fulfills the requirements despite flaws)||1.3|
|0-49%||4-||4 points||5.0||"mangelhaft" / "ungenügend" / "nicht bestanden" (insufficient / failed: an achievement that does not fulfill requirements due to major flaws)||0.0|
* This conversion scheme is intended as a guideline, as exact conversions may differ.
Conversion of grades
A matter of particular interest for those considering studying abroad or even enrolling full-time in a German university is the conversion of grades. While the below information may prove useful, it is recommended to contact the interested university directly to inquire which method they use to convert grades.
Modified Bavarian formula
A number of systems exist for the conversion of grades from other countries into German grades. One such system, used by most universities in North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria, is called the "Modified Bavarian Formula":
where = German grade, = best possible score in foreign country's grading system, = lowest passing score in foreign grading system and = obtained foreign grade (to be converted into German grade). The resulting value is rounded to the next German grade (e.g. 1.6 is rounded to the German grade 1.7 and 2.4 is rounded to 2.3). For resulting values between two German grades, the score is rounded to the better grade (e.g. 2.5 is rounded to the German grade 2.3 and 1.15 is rounded to 1.0).
In particular doctorate's degrees, e.g. Dr. phil. or Dr. rer. nat., are graded by using the Latin versions. In this case the grade (Note/Zensur) is called Prädikat. The following rough guide may be used to convert into standard German grades:
- summa cum laude (<1.0 = mit Auszeichnung, "with distinction")
- magna cum laude (1.0 = sehr gut, "very good")
- cum laude (2.0 = gut, "good")
- rite (3.0 = bestanden, "passed")
There is no fail grade; in that case the dissertation is formally rejected without a grade.
East Germany (1950s-1980s)
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In former East Germany, a 5-point grading scale was used until July 1991:
|1||sehr gut (very good)||best possible grade|
|2||gut (good)||next-highest grade|
|3||befriedigend (satisfactory)||average performance|
|4||genügend (sufficient)||lowest passing grade|
|5||ungenügend (insufficient)||lowest possible grade and the only failing grade|
With the polytechnic reform of the school system initiated by the Act on Socialistic Development of the School System in the German Democratic Republic the Ministry of People's Education wanted to adapt academic grading for all institutions in its jurisdiction, which were general educational schools, vocational schools and professional schools for the qualification of lower classes teachers, educators and kindergartners. Therefore, a reorganized grading scale was enacted in Directive on the introduction of a unified grading scale for secondary schools, extended secondary schools, special schools, vocational schools, institutes of vocational masters' education, institutes of vocational school teachers' education, institutes of vocational teachers' further education, institutes of teachers' education and pedagogic institutes. This directive was unchangedly effective from September 1, 1960, to August 25, 1993.
For all of the different subjects there were further recommendations with even more specific descriptions in relation to the general grading scale. These particular comments should help the teacher to grade the achievements of the students as objectively as possible.
This scale is identical to the current Austrian grading scale.
Criticism of German grading policies
The case of Sabine Czerny
At public schools in Germany, teachers are supposed to evaluate students against fixed course-specific criteria, but often feel implicit pressure to grade students on a curve where grades are awarded based on performance relative to all other individuals rather than performance relative to the difficulty of a specific course.
Specifically, in the 2008 case of Sabine Czerny, a Bavarian primary school teacher, Czerny thought that 91% of the class would be able to make a successful transition into a Realschule or a Gymnasium (high schools for which normally only circa 50% of Bavarian children qualify based on their educational achievements). While the parents liked this result, the educational authorities questioned Czerny's grading standards. Czerny claims that her students' results stood up in cross-classroom tests; nonetheless she was transferred to another school. Czerny received much public sympathy and later went on to write a book about her experiences.
Comparisons between Gymnasium and Gesamtschule (comprehensive school)
German Gymnasiums are schools which aim to prepare students for college education. These schools are selective, and tough grading is a traditional element of the teaching. The culture of these works against students of average academic ability who barely qualify for a Gymnasium place, and who may then find themselves on the bottom of their class; these same students would have achieved better grades for the same effort if they had attended a non-selective comprehensive school (Gesamtschule).
A study revealed that a sample of Gymnasium high school seniors of average mathematical ability who chose to attend advanced college-preparatory math classes at their school ("Leistungskurs") found themselves in the very bottom of their class and had an average grade of 5 (i.e. failed the class). Comprehensive school students of equal mathematical ability found themselves in the upper half of the equivalent course in their school and obtained an average grade of 3+. It was found that students who graduated from a Gesamtschule tend to do worse in college than their grades in high school classes would predict - and vice versa for Gymnasium students.
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Often the German grades are treated like an interval scale to calculate means and deviations for comparisons. Despite the fact that it lacks any psychometric standardization, the grading system is often compared to normally distributed norm-referenced assessments. Using an expected value of 3 and a standard deviation of 1, transformations into other statistical measures like Percentiles, T, Stanine etc. or (like in the PISA studies) an IQ scale are then possible.
This transformation is problematic both for high school grades and for university grades:
At high school level, schooling in most of Germany is selective — thus for instance a Gymnasium student who is underperforming compared to his classmates is likely to still be close to or above average when compared to his entire age group.
At university level, the distribution is highly non-normal and idiosyncratic to the subject. Substantially more German students fail exams in university than in other countries (usually about 20-40%, often even more). Grades awarded vary widely between fields of study and between universities. (In law degrees, for instance, only 10-15% of candidates get a grade better than "befriedigend".)
This might be one reason for the low graduation rates at university in international comparisons, as well as for the small number of people who obtain an "Abitur" in the first place. However, several empirical psychological studies show that the grades awarded in Germany at school and university have a high reliability when taking up higher education and research jobs. The universities usually demand high grades in Diploma Thesis or a Master Thesis. Thesis grades are by far the most critical factor while applying for job or higher education e.g. PhDs. One study from 1995 found that GPAs from school are a mild (weak) predictor for success in university and to a slightly better degree for success in vocational trainings, and that GPAs from school or university have nearly no predictive value for job performance. Nevertheless, due to rarity of psychometric testing (like Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and the like in the US) the GPA is usually used as the most predictive criterion available within an application process. For job recruiting, school/university grades have a high impact on career opportunities, as independent scientifically based recruitment and assessment is used by less than 8% of the German employers (50-70% in other European countries ).
- Christ, Sebastian (2007-08-21). "Super-Abiturient Felix Geisler: König der Überflieger". Spiegel Online. Retrieved 2018-01-16.
- "Die Oberstufe des Gymnasiums in Bayern" (PDF). Retrieved December 20, 2016.
- "University of Stuttgart: Bavarian Formula" (PDF). Retrieved December 19, 2016.
- "German Grade Calculator - Convert native grade to German Grade". Retrieved October 19, 2020.
- Christian Bleher: "Wenn die Kids zu gut sind: Bitte nicht für Schüler engagieren". TAZ. July 30th 2008
- Christian Bleher: "Kritische bayerische Lehrkraft versetzt: Störerin des Schulfriedens". TAZ. August 4th 2008
- Manfred Tücke. "Psychologie für die Schule, Psychologie für die Schule: Eine themenzentreirte Einführung in die Psychologie für (zukünftige) Lehrer". 4. Auflage 2005. Münster LIT Verlag; p. 127
- who scored 100 on a math test, provided by the scientists
- Manfred Tücke: "Psychologie in der Schule, Psychologie für die Schule: Eine themenzentrierte Einführung in die Psychologie für (zukünftige) Lehrer". 4 Auflage 2005. Münster: LIT Verlag; p. 127; the study was done in Nordrhein-Westfalen, students were attending a Leistungskurs
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