Typically, a majority of students in BA and MA programs in German language and literature studies (Germanistik or Deutsche Philologie) at German universities are future school teachers of German, not future linguists. For decades, linguists have been discussing how German grammar and linguistics should be taught to these students. Furthermore, it is often lamented that first-year students have not acquired sufficient skills in descriptive German grammar in their secondary education (Sekundarstufe), and that this stands in the way of teaching them German linguistics effectively. Our study makes an empirical contribution to this discussion. We assessed the proficiency of 220 BA students in a test composed of grammar exercises designed for students between the sixth and tenth grade. We show that, contrary to some earlier assessments, they achieve quite good results overall. However, it also becomes apparent from the results that studying linguistics does not significantly improve their performance in the test. Furthermore, exercises which require free analysis combining structural and functional aspects are handled significantly less well than more mechanical one-dimensional exercises. First, we argue that this is actually an ideal point of departure for deeper, more theory-driven linguistic analysis in university courses. Second, we propose that linguistics departments should continually perform similar assessments in order to be able to adapt their teaching methods and content to the previous skills and the intended career of the majority of their students.