german classroom

How the German School System Works

Either you already have kids or you are planning on having kids, this summary about the German school system will definitely be helpful to you.

In Germany, kids are enrolled at primary school at the age of 6 years and have to attend school for at least 9 years. Due to the schooling system not being organized at a federal level, the educational content, available subjects, examinations, etc can differ a bit from state to state.
Compulsory school attendance exists in Germany, which means homeschooling is not allowed.

Vorschule (Preschool)

Before starting school, your children can already be prepared for the awaited tasks of reading, writing, and calculating in preschool. In bigger cities like Berlin, there is also a variety of Preschools that are bilingual. Going to preschool is optional.

Grundschule (Primary school)

When your child is about 6 years old, they can attend primary school. The location of your apartment will decide at which school your child will be enrolled. The primary school includes classes 1 to 4. In the first class, children will not yet get grades. Starting from the second class, there are also exams and your kids will get graded. In Germany, the school grades go from 1 (=best) to 6 (=worst). Grades 5 and 6 mean the test is failed.

In fourth grade, an average score of your grades in German and Mathematics will be calculated. For instance, you have a 2 in German and a 3 in Maths, you´re score will be 2,5. Depending on this score, teachers will advise you to either go to the Mittelschule or the Gymnasium. However, it is not a final decision. During your course of education, it is still possible to switch from Mittelschule to Gymnasium or vice versa.

Mittelschule and Gymnasium (Middle and High School)

Realschule includes classes 5 to 10, whereas Hauptschule already finishes after class 9. After finishing your finals, you are able to start job training.

To native English-speaking people “Gymnasium” might sound like you are taking a sports class. What it actually means is getting an education which will lead to taking the “Abitur”. The Abitur is an exam that provides the basis for applying to a university or Hochschule. It includes written and oral parts.

There are some variations between the different German states in the structure of this two-year-period and in the final examination.
However, you can break it down into the following: after class 10, you can decide in which subjects you want to continue and which you want to opt-out of. However, some subjects such as German and Mathematics are mandatory.

Furthermore, you have to decide which courses are your “Leistungskurse”. There will be a special focus on these courses. Meaning more hours per week, a deeper specialization, and the necessity to take your final exam in this course as well.

Your Abitur score is composed of your credits in all subjects during 11th and 12th grade plus the grades in your final exam “Abiturprüfung”. Some university courses such as medicine require a certain high average score. Meaning a lower score might limit your access to degree programs or force you to wait and not continue directly with your studies after taking your Abitur.

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