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Dutch Language Tests for Masters Study

by Mark Bennett

If you are planning to study a Masters degree in the Netherlands, or the Flemish region of Belgium, you may need to take a Dutch language test. This will demonstrate to universities that you have the necessary language skills to successfully complete a Masters programme taught wholly or partly in Dutch. The most commonly used Dutch language tests are the Staatsexamen Nederlands als tweede taal (NT2) and the Certificaat Nederlands als Vreemde Taal (CNaVT). Your prospective university will be able to tell you which Dutch language test is most appropriate for your Masters course.

Remember that many Masters programmes in Europe are now taught in English. These courses won't usually require you to take additional language tests, though they may require tests of English-language proficiency if you are not a native English speaker.

The NT2 exam

The Staatsexamen Nederlands als tweede translates as 'State Examination of Dutch as a Second Language' and is abbreviated as 'NT2'. It is organised by the Dutch Office of Education (DUO) and the Dutch College of Tests and Exams (CvTE) and is designed specifically to ensure that candidates have the necessary language skills to work or study in the Netherlands, but may also be accepted by Flemish universities in Belgium.

The NT2 exam is offered at two levels, or programmes. As a student on a Dutch-language Masters, you will need to complete Program II. This is the level of the test designed for higher education or employment. It is equivalent to level B2 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This means that completion of the NT2 Programme II will certify you as an independent user of the Dutch language, with upper immediate language skills and comprehension sufficient to understand complex ideas at a specialised academic level.

The NT2 examination consists of four components: Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking. These are assessed individually using a combination of interactive, computerised testing, and written answers.

  • The Reading exam tests your comprehension of sample texts through multiple choice questioning.
  • The Listening exam is similar, asking you to answer questions after hearing selections of spoken recordings.
  • The Writing exam involves various tasks. You will be asked to complete partial Dutch sentences and to produce short and medium written examples of your own on given topics.
  • The Speaking exam will require you to speak on particular subjects at varying degrees of length and complexity.

Grading for the NT2 exam is simple, with results being deemed either 'satisfactory' or 'unsatisfactory'. If you are unsuccessful in one or more individual components you may still receive certificates for the others. This will not usually be sufficient to enrol on a Masters course in Dutch, but will allow you to complete your NT2 qualification by re-attempting only the components of the test you did not pass (rather than having to re-take all four components). You can read more information about the content and examination of the NT2 Dutch language test at the website of the Dutch College of Tests and Exams.

You can enrol for the NT2 exam at the website of the Dutch Office of Education. Actual testing takes place very regularly, with test-sites at six major university cities in the Netherlands. Each individual examination component costs €45 ($60), meaning that a set of all four tests will cost €180 ($230).

The CNaVT exam

The Certificaat Nederlands als Vreemde Taal (or 'Certificate of Dutch as a Foreign Language') is designed for a more general international audience, as opposed to students specifically seeking to work and study in the Netherlands. This means the CNaVT may be more relevant to Dutch language Masters programmes in other countries, such as Belgium. You are also more likely to be able to find an official testing centre overseas, which may be useful if you don't intend to live and study in the Netherlands itself.

Different proficiency levels can be tested and attained, depending on the candidate's needs. In order to study a Masters programme in the Dutch language you will need to achieve 'Profile language proficiency higher education' (PTHO). This is equivalent to level B2 on the CEFR framework, meaning that you will be an independent Dutch speaker, able to comprehend complex ideas in Dutch and to express yourself fluently and spontaneously.

The CNaVT is tested in three components, assessing Listening, Reading and Writing and Speaking.

  • Part A assesses Listening. You will be played pre-recorded audio and asked to complete questions in response. This takes 1 hour and 15 minutes at PTHO level.
  • Part B assesses your Dutch Reading and Writing ability using an exam paper. This takes 1 hour and 55 minutes at PTHO level.
  • Part C involves a conversation with an appointed examiner, testing your ability to communicate effectively. It takes around 20 minutes at PTHO level.

Results are graded as 'passing' or 'failing'.

The CNaVT examination can take place in various countries, usually in May (with results available in June). It is conducted by an examiner whose capability is recognised and affirmed by the CNaVT secretariat and who is responsible for administering the testing. Registration for the test usually costs around €75 ($100). You can view up to date lists of institutions offering the exam in various countries at the CNaVT website.

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