The Law Stack Exchange question “Can you take action against a miserable pass-rate of an exam?” is about an exam at a German university where:

The first exam had a failure-rate of 58% (265 paticipants), after the bound to pass was lowered. The second exam had a failure-rate of 93% (111 paticipants). [The German commentors assume that students only needed to pass one exam (either one), not both.]

The author of the question states that such low pass rates are obviously unacceptable; several comments say the opposite. One such comment by Wrzlprmft invites interested users to ask for more details on this site:

As already noted, the failure rates you describe are pretty normal and generally accepted in at least some fields in Germany (including at least maths and physics). I have myself organised an exam with similar rates and I will happily explain to you why. However, since this would exceed the space and purpose of a comment, …, I invite you to ask about this on Academia.


9 Answers 9


My background

I studied physics and maths in Germany where such failure rates (50% in the first exam, 90% in the make-up exam) were common. I also organised one first-semester physics course with similar failure rates in the exams. Finally, I attended many exam corrections as a tutor. I will limit my self to these subjects, though I am quite confident that my answer also holds for others.

Relevant aspects of the German academic system

  • German students pick a field of study when entering university.
  • Studying is essentially free in Germany.
  • As a result, universities do not treat students as customers.
  • In many fields, including maths and physics, there is no admission cut-off by high-school grades (“Numerus Clausus”) or only a very lenient one.
  • There is a considerable number of “eternal” students who unsuccessfully study a subject for many years before eventually dropping out.

As a result, everybody who completed high school (Abitur) can enrol in such programmes.

Also see this answer of mine.

Why do many students fail?

The drop-out rates for students of maths and physics are rather high in Germany. There are several reasons for this and not all are good, but in my experience, the following are predominant:

  • At a university level, these subjects are quite different from their school counterparts. The level of abstraction and speed is higher. Many students encounter proofs for the first time at university.

  • Students are required to work much more independently at university. If they decide not to do anything at all, nobody will reprimand them quickly.

  • Exams (and exercises) focus much more on understanding and being able to apply things than memorisation and blindly applying methods.

In my estimate, roughly half the students who begin studying physics or math are just not in the right field of study and have no chance of completing the programme, no matter how well the courses and exams are designed. (A considerable portion of these realises this very early and never writes a single exam.) On top, there are many students who need a few semesters to get the hang of studying.

Why it is accepted that many students fail?

Due to the above reasons, there are no good predictors of whether somebody succeeds studying. For example, some students who excel at school maths are completely unsuited for studying mathematics and cannot know before they actually study it. Conversely, entrance restrictions for these fields would keep away some excellent students who have struggled with the school system (I know some of these).

Therefore, the best way to tell whether somebody is really suited to study maths or physics is to let them do it. As a result you get many students who fail exams, in particular in the first semesters.

Why not let more students pass?

The general idea is that students who fail an exam missed the rudimentary goals of the course and will only have more trouble with advanced courses (which are considered to be even harder). Therefore it will be best for them to repeat the course or drop out. Yes, the course might have been didactically bad or similar, but even then, there is no benefit to let students pass to make up for that. In particular, you do not want that students graduate who have not learnt what they should, as it devalues the degree and causes all the problems people doing jobs they are not qualified for.

I witnessed and participated in some discussions around setting fail–pass thresholds for exams with different people. The main focus was always whether all people who would pass the exam had met the minimal goals of the course, not on whether the right amount of people passed or similar.

In “my” exam, the vast majority of students who failed made a series of fundamental mistakes that indicated a severe lack of understanding. For example, many used energy conservation to solve a problem with explicit and unknown friction. Mind that this was a fully open-book exam, so skills like memorising played hardly any role. I acknowledge that some people were suffering from examination anxiety and were failing due to other issues, but I am quite confident that most people who failed the exam had no chance of ever obtaining a physics degree (at least one that wasn’t completely worthless). Also, a considerable portion of students failing this first-semester course had already been studying for years.

In physics, another aspect is that often only students who passed their first exam may enter the lab courses, which require more resources per student, in particular students who put in no effort whatsoever and may break things as a result. By contrast, another student in a lecture with exercises costs almost nothing.

What about the second exam?

If both exams are equally difficult, a 90% failure rate in the second exam indicates that the exams are fair and have a reasonable difficulty. If exam success completely depends on luck, you would expect the failure rates to be the same for both exams.

By contrast, if most students who bring in the requirements for the course and put in the effort pass the first exam, mostly “bad” students remain for the second exam and those are more likely to fail. Of course, you also have students who were sick for the first exam, had a bad day, or really made an effort between the exams and those make up the 10% that pass the second exam.

I also witnessed some cases where both exams were badly designed and focussed on different skills and topics than the exercises or common sense would let you expect. Here the pass rates in the second exams was much higher because then everybody was prepared for what the exam designer was throwing at them.

Reverse example: medicine

In Germany, access to medicine programmes is highly restricted. You essentially need to finish high school (Abitur) with the best possible grade or wait very long or meet pre-conditions such as having worked as a nurse, etc. Also, the contents of the field are less abstract, etc. People tend to joke that the entrance criteria for medicine capture exactly the skills required for studying medicine, namely blind memorising and similar (and unfortunately these skills are less relevant for practising medicine). As a result, drop-out rates for medicine programmes are much lower and the mentioned failure rates may cause a ruckus.

  • 21
    @AzorAhai-him- In Germany there are quite a few professions that don't require a university degree, but a "Ausbildung" instead. This is 2-3 years (depending on the profession) of basically learning on the job (and attending some related school courses on the side). To become a nurse in Germany, you also have to do this "Ausbildung" (not a university course) = vocational training.
    – Sursula
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 18:03
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    @Max If you consider "High school" to refer to the last phase of secondary education, then that's exactly what will result in an "Abitur" (or failure). German schools either finish after grade 10 (no Abitur), or 12/13 (Abitur). Whether it is 12 or 13 years depends on state and school, ask a question if you want to know the convoluted details of the German secondary education system. The 12/13 years schools are called "Gymnasium" and ALL "Gymnasium" end with the Abitur-exam (and degree if you pass). However, there are a bunch of specialty schools in different states, so ask if you want to know.
    – laolux
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 3:57
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    @Wrzlprmft you might want to add that later exams are actually even harder (at least I had to prepare more for those), but pass rates are higher nonetheless, because the not so good students have been kicked out at an early stage. Quite nice to do so early instead of dragging them along and have them fail later.
    – laolux
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 4:00
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    One comment on admission requirements in Germany (The NC - Numerus Clausus): It's not an indication of how hard a course it but entirely a result of comparing applicants to available study spots in a given field. In the cases of maths and physics, the first semesters typically have hundreds or thousands of spots available, and not as much interest as say Medicine, so there is no NC, or a rather low one. This does not mean that it's easier than studying Medicine, which typically has a very restrictive NC, just that there's a better study spots/applicants ratio.
    – Mookuh
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 8:31
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    @RedSonja: re 1st semester chemistry having more students than all others. The failure rates are no secret, we knew them before the 1st week of the 1st semester started. I'd consider it worse to not give the students the freedom to try whether chemistry (or any other subject) is "theirs" or not. I'd find it tragic if the "sieving exams" were after years into the studies, and I'd find it tragic if people are prevented from trying out whether university studies in general and a particular field suits them. Experience from school IMHO doesn't give a very good basis for this decision. Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 20:28

At the university I was studying at, (at least in the engineering and science specialities) they accepted quite a large number of students into the first semesters, and then "weeded" out the not-so-great ones through very hard exams with a low pass rate in the first couple of semesters.

The reason behind this is (I guess) that the average grades from schools are not a great indicator, as school exit exams and teaching quality are not uniform, and also some people with very good specialized skills might have bad average grades because they were not overall good students in school. By using the "weeding out" method, you will filter out the students that are actually capable in the specific subject.

Even though this method might be questionable from some perspectives, it nevertheless seems quite effective to find those that really fit well with a certain subject.

  • 39
    The key thing here is that generally the motivation for weeding out students should not be to reduce the numbers, but to ensure that whoever is left meets some minimum standard. I once took part in giving and correcting a similarly bad first semester exam. None of us liked failing people, but we all agreed that it does not make sense to teach the continuation class to people who did not understand the basics. In fact the best compliment I ever heard was "I failed, but I thought the exam was fair."
    – mlk
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 12:10
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    The other reason for weeding out is to give students a second chance. If you fail within the first six months, no big deal, you can switch to studying geography or sociology. If you fail after having already invested three years of hard work, that's a more serious problem.
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 7:32
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    @EricDuminil: I think "make-up exam" is used here as a translation of the German word "Nachholklausur". It is a second instance of the exam at the end of a course (and usually takes place several weeks after the "original" exam) and it can be attended by those who failed the original exam, in order to give them a second chance to pass. ("make-up exam" since it allows a student to "make up for failing the original exam"). Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 22:02
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    @JochenGlueck: Thanks. english.stackexchange.com/questions/345326/… , so possibly "repeat exams", "supplementary exams", "re-takes", or indeed, "makeup exam". Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 10:57
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    I would like to add that the "make-up" exam is no different from the first exam and some students choose to take the second exam for other reasons than failing the first one, e.g. additional time to prepare or overlapping personal business
    – tistorm
    Commented Apr 18, 2022 at 10:23

My answer would cover the same aspects as Wrzlprmft's excellent answer, but with a slightly different weighting due to my field of study: Chemistry. The fail rate on the first Chemistry exam (there were also auxiliary exams in Math and Physics) was above 60% (exam plus make-up exam). Contributing factors are: large difference in available lab space versus number of first-semester students and students with no intention of studying Chemistry, who are hoping to score credit useful in their intended field of study, which is typically Medicine, Dentistry or something else that they could not get in at that point in time, but believe to get in later. In subsequent exams, the fail rate was far lower, except for the last two exams, which were just hard.

I was involved in the student government and we discussed this on occasion. The general consensus was that it was better to let everyone, regardless of achievement in high school (beyond passing the diploma: Abitur), have a chance at getting into the field. High school chemistry typically has little to do with what is taught and practically done at university level, so neither overall grade average nor Chemistry grades would be a good indicator of a successful student. While I do not have quantitative data, I can easily recall students who did well in high school, but floundered in Chemistry at university and vice versa.

Overall, it may be more useful to consider drop-out rates, especially students who do not leave e.g. Chemistry for Medicine, but "complete" drop-outs without a degree.

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    In programming there is a best practice guideline, which essentially boils down to fail early and fail hard. I see this principle at work here as well, it is better to let everybody have a go and weed out early, than limiting the number of students via some obscure entry test, and carry them through the studies. Using the lectures of the first year in your field seems a more targeted weeding-out-agent than some test or exam prior to beginning the studies.
    – Dohn Joe
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 9:32

Chemist here. In addition to the points already covered in other answers:

When I was studying (≈20 years ago), the exam in our 1st semester had a fraction of IIRC 1/4 passing at the first attempt, I don't recall how many passed 2nd attempt, but all in all, about half of us eventually dropped out. Most of that happened at the beginning - and it was considered good policy to have a harsh exam first rather than finding out years later that one didn't pass the thesis exam after all.

Since someone mentioned the difficulty of lab space: back then there was an economic crisis in the chemical industry, with the side effect that we were so few students that we could have had 2 lab places each if we wanted. And the library held sufficient copies of the relevant text books for everyone. So in my case, we can exclude difficulties with these resources as reason.

  • That exam was put together from a large (and known! - we could look up as many old exams as we liked for preparation) pool of exam questions that had been in use for several decades,

  • the failure rates had also been high throughout these decades.

  • We did not see anything unfair, it is not that there were questions of overwhelmingly high difficulty, or misleading questions. Not even the concepts needed were all that difficult - many of them we had met to some extent in school (redox equations, law of mass action).
    It didn't really make sense to go on deeper into this until one had mastered those basics.

  • But the sheer workload at university was radically more than what we used from school. Many of us had been very good at school (at least in natural sciences) - and in consequence we did not know yet how to actually study hard (and efficiently).

  • So that exam did serve as a wake-up call.
    We had clearly been told that our chances are slim unless we actively put in time to study on our own throughout the whole semester. But telling was't sufficient for most of us (and I decidedly include myself here, even though I passed at the first attempt).

  • University told us early on that we were not treated like school children any more. No one cared how much we study at home, whether we do homework exercises or not. No one cared which textbook we use, if any. In principle, no one cared whether one attended the lecture or not (at least unless attendance was so low that it upset the lecturer, say, less than 3 [= half of us in the higher semesters]; unfortunately this argument has been abused to try to excuse bad teaching.).
    All they cared was that in order to pass, we were able to solve a given amount of questions about certain topics in a given (not too large) amount of time.

  • Since it is discussed in some comments: Memorization was actually required to a certain extent - we very much resented it since we considered it much harder work than understanding and applying concepts (I think chemistry is heavier on this than maths or physics). Exam questions typically required both, and good scores/grades required one to be sufficiently fluent in the subject matter to actually solve all or most of the questions in time.

There were also some factors that mitigate this harsh grading policy:

  • The score/grade did not have any influence later on.
    This changed with the transition to BSc/MSc, though.

  • There was no limit on how often you could take that exam (guessing wouldn't get you anywhere with those exams, btw.) or on how many years you can study (at 0 tuition). The exam was offered every semester, plus a 2nd attempt (typically later during the semester holidays, so there'd be a realistic chance to put time and effort into studying that subject). If you failed for 2 semesters (i.e. after having failed 4 times), you had to go and have a talk with the dean who'd try to find out whether chemistry is genuinely not the right subject for you, or whether the reasons were not related to your general ability to study chemistry.
    Back then, it was still considered a perfectly valid approach to work for your living and in consequence require substantially longer for your studies.

  • Having failed that exam prevented you from taking the follow up one. However, there was typically some leeway in the sense that you could take that exam as well, and as soon as the first failure was fixed would get that pass, too. So there was another chance not to lose a whole semester even after 2 failed attempts. (Same for labwork, btw.)
    And you could go on with all subjects that did not depend on that particular exam. A failed inorganic chemistry exam would not hamper you wrt physics or math. (In math, you could anyway take math II before math I, IIRC the same for physics.)

In general, if you want to achieve consistent grading over the years:

  • If you think your questions may be inadvertently varying in difficulty, and this variation is larger than the (random) variation in student output => adjust the grading scale or pass level according to the score distribution

  • If you think your questions are of consistent level of difficulty, but student output may in fact vary more (from 2nd - 4th semester, we were between 4 and 8 students) => grade according to preset score scale

    I may add that in Germany grading by a pre-specified scale applies to the vast majority of [written] exams for all subjects I'm familiar with.


In a nutshell, because the universities test qualification, not endurance.
In other words, if a hundred morons with enough money study to be a doctor, how many do you think should pass?

  • 1
    Does this imply that rich students must be “morons”? Or that students who do poorly must be “morons”? Or am I just overthinking everything? On another note, what does “endurance” mean in this context? Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 13:36
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    @BrianDrake My former Swahili teacher in Poland started studying economy in Polish without knowing almost any Polish. What he did is he memorized the whole book and at the exam, when he heard a familiar phrase, he just quoted a page or two—and passed. Later his Polish improved which enabled comprehension of the contents, but I supposed this is what endurance is without qualification. I would expect future doctors not just pass test in 20 tries, but in one. Would you like an accountant who is 10 times slower than his peers? What do you think of passing driving lince in 12 tries? Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 14:53
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    @MrVocabulary So can we say “memorisation” instead of “endurance”? Now we have new a problem, because apparently “memorisation” is the same as “qualification”, at least according to your anecdote. Later, you talk about students who are 10–20 times slower than their peers. Where does this come from? Didn’t your Swahili teacher pass the exam on the first try? Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 14:58
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    @BrianDrake I can't speak for the author, I just gave you an example of how endurance can be realized. But no, it is not qualification: he passed the exam with the lowest grade, but he couldn't perform any tasks related to this discipline. How is that qualification? Qualification also means you can perform consistently (excluding luck) and at a specified pace (specified period to master a skill or knowledge). Endurance is about getting to the goal of passing the exam at some point, but exams supposed to verify if you can perform adequatly in real life. Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 15:12
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    @BrianDrake I assume endurance in this case means how many times are you willing to take a stab at it and keep on trying.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 22:27

It could be tactical behaviour by students

Now, for Germany in particular, I cannot answer, but as a student of a European university I have some experience. I failed plenty of courses. As long as there are "infinite" do-overs and you didn't at any time have more than one failed semester of courses you could proceed. If ever you got more than one semester the administrators would start making your life hard for you if you wanted to attend your classes for next year. They'd essentially make you do the year again, to catch up.

Thing is, a passing grade cannot be retaken. So if you have ambitions of getting a good grade on that particular exam, it could be tactically sound to fail it, and try it again. Especially on courses which retake-exams were organized in the end of the mid summer break. All the time in the world to prepare for one particular exam, no ongoing classes, projects or work to be delivered the same time.

Another justification would be the opposite, here are 2 difficult and 1 "easy" exams in a short interval. Let's punt the short one to next summer, focus on the hard ones.

And then there is the "oh snap" moment on the exam where you realize that your grade will be weak. Decision time: Accept weak outcome or try for better? Only way for the latter outcome is to fail the exam. Crumble your answers so far, deliver blank sheet, retake next semester.

I had my share of tactical "conts" (continuation examination). Some planned from the start of the semester, some as a split second decision in situ. But all of them on purpose. And no time lost in the end, I spent 5 years on a 5 year program.

Driving forces for this was:

  1. Low tuition (~50$ for 2 semesters)
  2. As many "conts" as you want
  3. Passing grades stand! (you have to retake the entire course, tasks, laboratory exercises and all to get a do-over with a passing grade! on a failing grade you were automatically signed up for the do-over)
  4. Short period for examinations, fairly unbalanced loads from semester to semester and enough courses in total that the hand you were dealt could be back-to-back examinations.
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    These kinds of tactics demonstrate why exams are such a terrible assessment method to begin with. Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 13:33
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    @BrianDrake Well, if you go for simple indicators like pass/no-pass or "grading by the curve" then I agree with you. But from my own rememberance: Having exams was necessary for me to prioritize doing the work needed to learn. To me exams are less of an assessment method than a streamlining function. This is what you must do, in order to get a grade. It incentivized preparedness, discipline and self study. (And to some degree, strategy...) These things are fairly important for anything you chose to do in life afterwards. I don't see any other efficient way to do it.
    – Stian
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 13:39
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    My daughter (here in Germany) actually suggested failing an exam on purpose, to get a better mark next time. It was suggested to her that she pay her own fees and upkeep in future...
    – RedSonja
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 14:13
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    @Eric I'd say the students are merely acting on their incentives. It isn't egoistic in a stronger sense than any other capitalistic behavior. The students have the smallest mandate to change the system. I wouldn't call them the abusers. I suspect written exams exist because they are the absolute least burden on professor time so it can't be that bad.
    – Stian
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 6:24
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    @EricDuminil: I doubt that "egoistical" is an appropriate description of this behaviour. In my experience, grades have a significant influence on future career perspectives; thus, we cannot expect students to simply live with bad grades in order to save the course instructors a bit of work. Also, I agree with Stian that the marginal cost caused by somewhat who intentionally fails an exam in order to retake it, is negligible (it might even be negative). I would not hestitate to advise my own students to do precisely this if they are confident that they will do better next time. Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 10:13

Not an answer to the question specifically, but this is not unique to Germany. I would offer a perspective from Russian universities, where advanced education is free like in Germany and we also have those "eternal students", and I believe the answer should generalize reasonably well.

Now, there are all combinations of dropout rates (low/high) and how hard/prestigious the program itself is. For example, MSU/NSU would drop about 50% of their students in the first couple of years, while in MIPT this figure would range from about 10% to 30% (and harder to get into programs would have lower dropout rates). And you would also have some low-tier universities with virtually no dropouts and barely any entry requirements as well.

The reason for that is that the goal of the process is not to make students and their families feel good, it is to provide the society with highly skilled specialists - who will, in turn, have job security based on their credentials actually meaning something (in Russia, this is actually problematic now, but, as far as I know, less so in Germany). Universities fill a certain role in society, and for students, dropping out of a program they have no hopes of completing does not necessarily translate to a "failure in life". Many of the failing students would be transferred to easier programs or try to find something else entirely. I personally know quite a lot of people who either never finished their education, stopped at BSc (which is still considered weird here, despite the change to the Bologna process), or dropped out 3+ times before completing their studies. All of them do not view this experience as something hampering their future success - it is just time they have spent on soul searching and maturing.

I share the view that it is highly harmful for education to make guarantees about the future employment, even if it is being provided as a service. Failures happen; it is deceptive to paint them over, reframe them and present as successes. It is impossible to mind control the students, and without that, they may not learn no matter how much effort one expends teaching them. So, then, the best approach is to admit the problem as soon as possible instead of engaging in goalposting and redefining the program requirements to accommodate the students.

Finally, one may suggest that the dropout rates so high is a failure at the screening stage. Possibly so, but common solutions are incredibly restrictive to the student ("you will never be good at maths so there is no way we would admit you to any of the maths programs"), and the overall efficiency is debatable.

So the short answer is: more readiness to admit failure, less burden of a dropout (this includes both monetary and opportunity costs), less associated stigma.


I am currently enrolled in a public university (in my case known as "Hochschule") for economic computer science so I can offer some of my insight.

The difficulty of the subjects ranges from very basic and essentially freebies up to insanely difficult with the latter being usually a 1st semester subject. The goal of the teachers in the first semester is to filter out a lot of the less determined students thus causing high failure rates. The further you progress into your major, the easier it usually becomes.

Since the lecturers decide the contents of the exams it can not be said that x subject has the same difficulty across the country. In my university, the math basics for computer science that is being taught in the first semester is the highest difficulty exam you can experience in our university. It is not uncommon for students to have cleared out every single exam and have 145 out of 150 credit points due to not being able to finish this subject.

At the same time, many subjects have a final exam that lasts 60 or 90 minutes with the former being more common due to corona regulations. A semesters worth of content is impossible to condense down to this short of a exam time so luck becomes a factor. A student has about 6 subjects to pass each semester so being prepared perfectly for each is unlikely.´This means that many students that studied decent enough are still at odds to fail if a question that is worth 20 out of 60 points isn't something they are well prepared for.

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    +1 The "145 out of 150 credits" issue seems to be quite a common problem. When I studied mathematics, there was a third semester course on "measure theory" which many students considered to be the "killer" course within the program. Sometimes there were students who had already completed their Bachelor's thesis, and then finally had to quit because they failed the "measure theory" exam too often. Very sad, and an incredible waste of resources. Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 12:29
  • @JochenGlueck I agree with you, it is a waste of resources and feels incredibly unfair that all your efforts and successes across years can be brought low by a single subject.
    – Squary94
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 12:41
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    @JochenGlueck Hah, yes. My nemesis was "applied thermodynamics". Should have been named "Strictly hypothetical thermodynamics" or "Ponderously complicated numerical optimization problems requiring matrix computations you have yet to learn"
    – Stian
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 13:57
  • @StianYttervik Mine is enterprise resource planning. Due to Corona the classes were held online and the style of the exam was overhauled during each semester putting many others including me into the situation of having cleared every subject except one. It's a incredibly unfair feeling since this is not a problem any of us would have encountered if we started university a bit earlier.
    – Squary94
    Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 8:49
  • @StianYttervik That is very reminiscent to the cryptography course I partook in. Suddenly we already had to be familiar with group theory, set theory, matrix calculations and some other advanced theory from linear algebra. I think only a third passed the course in the end. Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 7:47

I want to add another perspective.

Background: I was a tutor/teaching assistant for a first semester engineering mechanics course for several years (doing exercises, exam creation, exam grading, etc.) during my PhD at a German university.

We usually had failure rates at around 60 %, even with a low passing threshold of 1/3 of the total points. However, this was considered acceptable, because in every cohort, there was always a number of students who "got it" and achieved excellent grades with above 90 % of the total points. This showed us that the exam was not impossible or unfair. The grade distribution always looked like a skewed bathtub curve; many "failed", some "good/very good", almost nothing in between.

We usually had to deal with a great number of students in the first semester (around 500) and students assumed that our course was used to "weed out" weak students. However, we never intentionally aimed at this goal. After the first four semesters, most weak students have dropped out and failure rates generally decline, although courses are becoming more advanced and exams more difficult.

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    Sounds like the entry requirements for the course are too low.
    – Ian
    Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 20:55
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    @Ian: Quite likely, there was either no admission requirements at all, or only a rather loose one. Public universities (read: almost all universities) in Germany are required by law to admit all students who have a certain degree from highschool (named the "Abitur"). Restrictions of admission are only possible if the capacity of the university does not suffice to offer teaching to all students who apply. Since lectures can be scaled to many hundreds of students, this does not result in strong admission restrictions for many programs. [...] Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 22:09
  • [...] Concerning the course itself: As this was a first semester course, there are no entry requirements for the course. The generel idea in Germany is that the "Abitur" certifies sufficient qualification to just start studying any subject. Nobody checks whether some students might need additional preparation for a specific course, and there is no such thing as "remedial courses". Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 22:09
  • @Ian As Jochen suspected, there were no entry requirements for either the course or the degree program. Anyone with a "Allgemeine Hochschulreife" (general university entrance qualification) could attend the course, which you automatically obtain after Abitur/high school. This removes entry barriers and liberates higher education, as poor students could not afford private prep courses. On the other hand, I personally know students who have wasted years in the "wrong" degree program.
    – max0r
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 8:24

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