Gymnasiums in Germany

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  • The focus of this article is exclusively set on Gymnasiums in NRW, Germany, and their educational system

Gymnasiums in NRW

Gymnasiums in Germany and other secondary schools differ in some aspects in the 16 Federal States.

After the first four grades of elementary school, pupils continue with education in secondary school. One of several options for secondary school is a gymnasium.
The gymnasium lasts from fifth to twelfth grade. It is the so-called G8 system. Recently, the G9 system was introduced. This implies attending a Gymnasium will last longer, up to the thirteenth grade. The pupils that will graduate in 2023, 2024, and 2025 will not be affected by G9.

Students walking and sitting on the grass

The focus of this article is exclusively set on Gymnasiums in German federal state North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen or NRW).

Types of Gymnasiums in Germany

The main subjects in Gymnasiums always remain the same, regardless of the school, city, region, or state. But considering each Gymnasium is oriented to different topics, this will lead to the subject range may differ in each school.

  1. Gymnasium for Foreign Languages
  2. Gymnasium with MINT as Main Focus
  3. Social Science Gymnasium

1. Gymnasium for Foreign Languages

There are some Gymnasiums whose focus lies overall on languages. This means that the subject range will be mainly focused on foreign languages, and the scope will be widened with each school year as after every school year (or every other), the students must choose one additional subject based on their interests.

Having a language focus usually goes hand in hand with having a Europe Certificate. Those schools usually have bilingual classes. That means some subjects are in English or maybe French instead of German. Another addition could be Cambridge Advanced Classes for older students. Those Cambridge Advanced Classes are preparing students to take an exam for a C1 Certificate in English.

2. Gymnasium with MINT as Main Focus

Additionally, there are Gymnasiums mainly focused on math and science, so Math, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Computer Science are the main subjects. Usually, students can get a MINT Certificate, but there are some terms and conditions the students must fulfill to get it. When you are interested in that, you can always find more details on school websites.

3. Social Science Gymnasium

Gymnasiums with a social science focus are not extremely common, but certainly possible. Their focus is on subjects such as pedagogy, history, sociology, and philosophy.

Three Stages of Gymnasium

1. Lower Stage (Unterstufe)

The Lower Stage (Unterstufe) is reserved for the fifth and sixth grades in Gymnasium. During this period, essential subjects and basic knowledge are taught to the children in the gymnasium. A maximum of ten different school subjects is held per school year. The scholars must take tests in the three main subjects – German, Math, and English. The grades in other school subjects are based on

  • the number of times one raises their hand in class, that is, comes up to answer a question
  • answers the question correctly
  • if the homework is always done

There is also a chance of some quizzes in those subjects, though it depends on the teacher. Some gymnasiums also have some extracurricular activities.

2. Middle Stage (Mittelstufe)

The Middle stage (Mittelstufe) in Gymnasiums begins in the seventh grade and ends in the ninth grade. Students are introduced here to new subjects – mandatory subjects and optional subjects. As I previously mentioned, the range of school subjects is closely related to the main academic focus of a gymnasium. The final half-year and full-year grades are determined by the school grades based on classwork and tests, (rare) oral questions, participation in assignments, and homework done during the school year. The pupils always get a school certificate for both the first and second semesters.

3. Upper Stage (Oberstufe)

The Upper Stage (Oberstufe), which starts in tenth grade, differs from the previous two levels in a few aspects.

The main change is that students have not separated in grades or classes anymore. They are now divided into courses. That means every student participates in chosen subjects only.
Before the Upper stage, at the end of the ninth grade, the students must choose the subjects they wish to have during the remaining school years and whether they will be taken orally or by written. Of course, not all student’s wishes can always be granted. There are some rules all students must follow. The school coordinators for the perspective stage will explain these rules.

EF, Q1, Q2, Q3

During the tenth grade, also called EF, the students have more subjects to gather enough information to choose which topics are relevant for their Gymnasium Diploma. The ultimate decisions are made at the end of the tenth grade when students must decide which leading courses they want to take.

In those courses which are only taken orally, the students do not have any tests or quizzes. The oral grade depends on the student’s class participation, extra work, and homework. On the other hand, in courses where written exams are essential, the oral grade only makes up half of the overall result. The test duration is from 90 minutes. This keeps changing during eleventh grade (also called Q1) and twelfth/thirteenth grade (also called Q2/Q3). The academy grades no longer exist as numbers from 1 to 6 but rather as points from 0 to 15. The worst is 0, while the best is 15.

Overall, during the entire Upper stage, leading courses play the most crucial part. Two courses are taken for five periods each week. These courses are also the first two written subjects in the diploma examinations.

After the 12th or 13th grade, the students take state-level exams. They contain four subjects: two main written courses, one basic written course, and one basic oral course. The point average is built up of the diploma exams grades and grades from Q1 and Q2(Q3) certificates.

Must-Read Info

Everything about the school system you can read in the article German School System.


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