German courses are formatted very differently than their American counterparts. Whereas the standard US class normally consists of three weekly fifty-minute meetings, most courses in Germany are scheduled in two-hour blocks and meet once per week. Here’s our guide to the most common forms of courses you’ll encounter as a student in Germany.
Lectures in Germany are very similar to those in the US. Think big lecture halls, PowerPoint presentations, and a sea of students bent over their laptops. The biggest difference is that these lectures are likely to be held once a week, rather than three times a week. They also tend to be larger at most German universities. Every university has an "Audimax," which is the name of the largest lecture hall on campus. At some campuses, the Audimax has seating for over 1000 students.
At the end of the semester, lectures end with a Klausur, or final exam. Although there is some variability, grades for the courses are normally dependent on the result of this final exam.
After a few lectures, many students are excited to enroll in their first seminar. These are courses in which you can engage with your professors and fellow students in deeper discussions about the topic at hand. Generally these are organized around presentations, in which a small group of students provides an overview of the topic of the day at the beginning of class and then leads a discussion. This gives participants a chance to really dive into content in these courses. Students are normally required to give a presentation (15 to 20 minutes typically) or an exam at the end of the course. Further requirements, such as a final paper, will generally depend on the course load you choose.
Whereas seminars are theoretically focused, labs are concerned more with applying theory into practice. Opportunities to study in a lab setting are, however, not limited to the natural sciences. For example, students of statistics could have seminars in which theory is taught and labs where statistic-software is actually used by the students.
Blockseminare (Block Seminars)
Block seminars have the overall length and focus of a normal seminar, but do not take place regularly. Some block seminars can be just two all day classes over a weekend (all day Saturday and Sunday). Others meet once during the week over the course of the semester’s opening week, and then two or three classes over a couple Saturdays over the semester. These can be both refreshing and exhausting: refreshing since a semesters worth of content is covered over the course of a few days, yet exhausting because these few meetings are highly intensive. Needless to say, block seminars are not for everyone.
Many American first-years struggle with their new college schedules, but this is even more challenging in Germany. If you’re planning to come to Germany, it’s crucial to know the structure of German courses before you enroll, so you can focus on the content.