How to study Cognitive Science

Be advised that starting with the winter term 2011/12 there are new study regulations. Therefore, asking older students who study according to the old regulations might lead to misinformation. Most importantly, you can no longer retake certain exams once you have passed them and you get a different amount of credits for some courses.

In a nutshell

The Bachelor programme will get you 180 ECTS credits, of which

  • 86 are from compulsory courses of the different modules
  • between 46 and 57 are from so-called “optional compulsory” courses, which deepen your knowledge in the different areas
  • 3 will be from the introductory “Foundations of Cognitive Science” course
  • 3 will be from an oral examination
  • 12 will be for your Bachelor’s thesis
  • the remaining 19 to 30 credits can be from any course you’d like to take, including e.g. language courses, internships at other labs (for example during your semester abroad), sewing and stitching, …

The Basics

Studying Cognitive Science basically works like this: each semester, you take a number of courses, in your fifth semester you’ll be at some awesome place abroad, and in your sixth you’ll write your bachelor’s thesis. To make sure that you’ll get the basics of all the different disciplines involved in cognitive science, courses are grouped together as modules.

Technically, there are eighteen different modules. Ten of which are compulsory (Pflichtmodule), and another eight are optional compulsory (Wahlpflichtmodule). Each module has a number of credit points (Leistungspunkte). Each course you take grants you a number of credit points (rule of thumb: 2 credits for each contact hour (Semesterwochenstunde) - exceptions apply). To complete a module, you’ll have to take (and pass) enough courses assigned to the module so that the sum of their credit points meets or exceeds that of the module. It’s a bit like a skill check in Dungeons & Dragons, just that you won’t get to roll dice.

Compulsory simply means that you’ll have to complete this module; out of the eight optional compulsory modules you’ll have to complete five. Now, eighteen different modules might sound confusing as hell, but actually it’s fairly simple. For all practical applications, just consider the following eight modules:

  • Computational Linguistics
  • Computer Science
  • Cognitive (Neuro-)Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Mathematics
  • Neuroinformatics
  • Neuroscience
  • Philosophy of Mind and Cognition

Each exists in a compulsory form and an optional compulsory form. In other words, for each of these eight modules, you’ll have to take the compulsory courses, and in five of these you’ll also need some optional compulsory courses.

Additionally, there are two more compulsory modules:

  • Foundations of Logic
  • Statistics and Data Analysis

These modules are really just single compulsory courses that had to dress up as modules to make governmental regulators happy. Nevertheless, they form an important foundation for many other courses and practical work, so don’t underestimate them. In principle, nobody cares in which order and Semester you take your courses. We’ve compiled a suggested plan of study for your first 3 semesters, along with a few options to customise your time table. If you plan any greater experiments that’s fine, but please do consult with your student mentors first!

The Grand Formula

Alright, so now you know that you have to take compulsory courses in eight modules (plus Logics and Statistics) and some more compulsory optional courses. What then? You will have to do five module examinations. Technically, these are multi-module examinations, since each exam combines one compulsory module with the respective optional compulsory module. But for now let’s just pretend there are only eight module, and each has a compulsory and an optional part. To qualify for a module examination, you need to complete the module by passing enough compulsory and optional compulsory courses first. You then have the choice of either doing an oral exam - a 30 minute test of your knowledge - or simply be graded for this examination by courses you already did in the module (“Scheine einreichen”). In the latter case, your grade will be the weighted average grade of your compulsory and your optional compulsory courses of that module (weighted so that an eight credit course counts twice as much as a four credit course, rounded down to one decimal). If you have more optional compulsory courses than required, you may choose which one to use for your module exam - but you have to use your compulsory courses no matter what. Of your five module exams, at least one has to be an oral exam - and at most two. And you’ll even get three ECTS credits for your oral exam!

Now, here’s a funny thing. Due to a subtlety of our study regulations, the module exams are proper exams (i.e. failing them is generally bad thing) but the courses are not - they are “Prüfungsvorleistungen”. That means, you can fail and retake your courses as often as you want to! That doesn’t mean you should, though…

So, curious about which grade will be on your diploma? Simple: your five module exams count two thirds towards your final grade and your Bachelor’s thesis with one third. In other words, each module exam is 2/15th of your final grade. And if this happens to be 1.2 or less, you’ll get a neat “cum laude” remark. Now if that’s not worth it!

Examination and Study Regulations

In the Bachelor's program you will be graded according to the following grade scale:

  • 1,0 / 1,3
    excellent (sehr gut): a magnificent achievement
  • 1,7 / 2,0 / 2,3
    very good (gut): an achievement considerably over the average requirements
  • 2,7 / 3,0 / 3,3
    quite good (befriedigend): an achievement which conforms in everything average requirements
  • 3,7 / 4,0
    satisfactory (ausreichend): an achievement which satisfies the minimum requirements despite its deficits
  • 5, 0
    fail (nicht ausreichend): an achievement which does not satisfy the requirements due to its significant deficits

This is further explained later on under modules.

There are three types of modules:

  • compulsory
  • compulsory optional
  • and optional modules

The compulsory modules have to be attended and passed by all Cognitive Science students. They provide core contents of Cognitive Science. Specialization is realized by the compulsory optional modules which are necessary to fulfill the prerequisites for the attendant-study exams, so called module exams. The optional modules can be chosen from the remaining course list offered in Cognitive Science and other fields of study and are necessary to get the required ECTS points for the Bachelor.
Please consider that Stud.IP is not a mandatory course list, but only the institute's lectures list.


Latest at the end of your second semester you need to copy your "Scheine" and go to the examination office to show that you obtained the 44 ECTS credits (see Admission Regulations, §5) which are necessary to get into the third semester. It is possible and strictly recommended to hand in the copies of your "Scheine" as soon as possible. You can even go to the examination office after your first semester, if you got enough credits. Just hand in the 44 ECTS - do not forget to chug them and annote "Rückmeldung" - and there will be no worries to get into the third semester.


Courses can also be of different kinds such as lecture, practice, practical work, and seminar. After successful participation in a course or module exam you get a performance record, so called “Schein”. It will show things like the name of the course or module exam, the number of working hours per week, and the acquired ECTS credits. The ECTS points or European-Credit-Transfer-System points allow for adequate comparison with other universities and for easier transfer of credits. To get a “Schein” different effort is necessary, e.g. attending the lecture, practice exercises, homework, oral exams, presentations, written exams, or writing a paper. Often more than one kind is required. What is relevant for a certain “Schein” depends on the lecturer.

Compulsory modules

Learn which courses are needed for compulsory modules (read the study obligations) and which are helpful for other courses you might wish to take later on. It may be better not to take too many courses during the first semester. If you don't take a course, you usually need to wait one year (two semesters) before you can take it again since each course is offered either in the summer term or in the winter term.

Bachelor's thesis

You should apply as early as possible for the Bachelor's thesis, usually by asking the appropriate lecturer you want to be tested by if he would examine you. What you need to hand in to sign up for the Bachelor's thesis can be found in the examination regulations. The thesis is supposed to proof your ability to process and demonstrate a defined problem of Cognitive Science under guidance within a given time in an independent manner.
It is recommended that you have already narrowed down your area of interest and deepened your knowledge in the area you want to write your study thesis in during the fifth or at the beginning of the sixth semester at the latest.

You can work on the thesis alone or in a group, where the work of each one has to be marked clearly. For the examiners you need two people, where one has to be a professor or has to have a PhD. They decide with you on the topic of your thesis. The first examiner will supervise you during your work. You have three months for the thesis after your topic has been officially announced. Only within the first third of this time, so within the first month you can return your topic. Usually your thesis has to be corrected within four weeks after you hand it in. There is the possibility to repeat the thesis and even to get another topic, in case you didn’t do so already in the first try. But this consumes even more time, and I guess you want to finish fast by that time.