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Dutch Language Tests for PhD Study

by Mark Bennett

Studying a PhD in the Netherlands (or in Dutch-speaking parts of Belgium) may require you to take a language test to ensure that you will be able to complete your research in a foreign-language department. Not all universities will stipulate Dutch language tests as a specific requirement for admission to PhD programmes, but some will. In any case, the ability to speak the local language will make life much easier when you come to attend conferences and seek to present or publish your research in a Dutch-speaking academic community. You may also find that completing a Dutch language test can enhance your ability to find a career in your country of study once you have received your doctorate. This may be particularly desirable if you have made good research contacts, or if your PhD equips you well for ongoing research projects with postdoctoral opportunities at your university or its partners.

There are two Dutch language tests commonly used by universities. The first is the Staatsexamen Nederlands als tweede taal. This translates as 'State Examination of Dutch as a Second Language' and is abbreviated as the 'NT2' test. The NT2 is run by the Dutch office of education (DUO) and is designed primarily for students wishing to study in the Netherlands. The Certificaat Nederlands als Vreemde Taal (CNaVT) is a more international test, put together by the Dutch Language Union, and is appropriate to academic study in a range of Dutch-speaking regions, including parts of Belgium.

The NT2 exam

There are two levels (referred to as 'programmes' or 'schedules') at which the NT2 exam is offered. PhD students will usually need to complete Schedule II. This is the test of Dutch for university study or employment in the Netherlands. It is recognised within the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and is measured at level B2 of the CEFR scale. This means that a Schedule II NT2 certificate will demonstrate that you are an independent speaker, with upper intermediate language skills and the ability to comprehend and discuss abstract academic concepts in Dutch.

There are four individual components in the NT2 exam and you can complete each of them separately. Some are assessed using a conventional exam paper, whilst others will use computerised testing.

  • The Speaking exam tests your ability to speak on particular subjects at varying degrees of length and complexity.
  • The Listening asks you to answer questions following selections of spoken recordings, testing your comprehension of what you have heard.
  • The Reading exam is designed to assess your comprehension of written samples and works through multiple choice questioning.
  • The Writing exam will first ask you to complete partial Dutch sentences and then to write short and medium pieces of your own on given topics.

Each component of the NT2 is graded individually, with candidates either passing or failing. You can still receive certificates for passed tests if you have been unsuccessful in others. This allows you to continue re-testing in particular areas until you have the four certificates necessary for the full NT2 qualification. More information on the content and procedure for individual tests is available at the website of the Dutch College of Tests and Exams (CvTE).

Enrolment for the NT2 exam takes place at the website of the DUO. The actual testing is usually done in the Netherlands, with venues in five cities. As of 2014 these are Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Rijswijk, Rotterdam and Zwolle. You will be charged for test components individually. Each costs €45 ($58), meaning the combined fee for the entire NT2 exam is €180 ($230).


If you are planning to study a PhD at a Dutch language institution outside the Netherlands, the CNaVT language test may be a better option for you. This test is designed for studies in Dutch more generally, with input from Dutch-language organisations in other countries such as Belgium.

The CNaVT can be taken at a range of proficiency levels. As a minimum, admission to higher education in Dutch will usually require candidates to complete the 'Profile language proficiency higher education' (PTHO). Like Schedule II of the NT2 exam, this is equivalent to level B2 of the CEFR framework and meets the requirements for independent language use and high-level comprehension of complex information and abstract topics. However, PhD level study may eventually require you to complete the 'Profile academic language proficiency' (PAT) version of the CNaVT. This is the level appropriate to those seeking to work professionally in an academic context. As such it may be required by some university departments, particularly if you are employed as a paid researcher or teacher. Your university will be able to advise you as to the specific language requirements in your case.

There are three components in the CNaVT test.

  • Part A is based on listening, with questions set in response to sequences of pre-recorded audio.
  • Part B is designed to assess reading and writing skills and usually involves the completion of an exam paper.
  • Part C tests your speaking ability and takes place through a conversation with an examiner.

As with the NT2 your result for the CNaVT will usually be assessed as a straight pass or fail.

The CNaVT is designed to be easily taken abroad. Individual examiners at universities and similar institutions are approved to conduct the test and are provided with the necessary materials by the CNaVT secretariat. A list of currently approved testing centres in a range of countries is available on the CNaVT website. Registration for the CNaVT is usually around €75 ($95).

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