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How to Pass HSK, the Mandarin Chinese Proficiency Test

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Are you curious about what level your Chinese is at?

Would you like to be certified in your Chinese language abilities? 

Are you thinking about applying for a job or a college program in China? 

Do you need motivation to push your Chinese to the next level? 

If you’ve ever wondered about these questions, it’s probably time for you to look into a Chinese proficiency test called the HSK exam.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Study Strategies in Chinese Table of Contents
  1. Step 1: Knowing the HSK Exam
  2. Step 2: Understanding the Six Levels and Finding Your Own Level
  3. Step 3: Drilling for the HSK Exam
  4. Step 4: Using ChineseClass101.com to Help You Prepare for and Pass the HSK Exam
  5. Conclusion

Step 1: Knowing the HSK Exam

Taking the HSK Test

1- What is the HSK exam?

HSK stands for 汉语水平考试 (Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì), which means “Mandarin Proficiency Test.” It’s a standardized test for non-native Chinese-speakers to assess their language abilities in daily, academic, and professional life. 

The test has six levels, with Level I being the most basic and Level VI being the most advanced. 

There’s a listening section and a reading section in levels I and II. From Level III and up, there’s an additional writing section; in addition, the Chinese characters will not be marked with Pinyin, as they are in levels I and II. All of the Chinese characters are in simplified Chinese. 

The HSK exam does not test on speaking. If you’re interested in testing your Chinese speaking skills, there’s a separate test for that: HSKK.

2- Why should I consider taking the HSK exam?

Taking the HSK Chinese proficiency test and getting the certificate can benefit you as a Chinese-learner in a few ways, by:

1. Providing a more tangible way to monitor your learning progress and performance (this is especially true for self-taught Chinese-learners). 

2. Opening doors to study at Chinese universities. Many colleges in China require that foreign student applicants pass the HSK IV. 

3. Offering an advantage over other candidates when seeking employment in China. Even though not every employer in China requires their foreign employees to have an HSK certificate, having one will definitely work in your favor.

3- Who is eligible to take the HSK exam, and how much does it cost?

Any non-native speakers, such as foreign students or overseas Chinese, are eligible to take the test.  

There are fees to take the HSK exam. Level 1 costs 150 RMB, which is about twenty American dollars, and it’s 100 RMB more for each level higher.

4- When and where can I take the HSK exam?

You can take the HSK exam any time throughout the year. There are usually one or two tests every month. Check out the HSK exam dates in 2020 here

The test can be paper-based or Internet-based. There are many HSK test centers inside and outside of China, where you can choose to take the paper-based test or Internet test. To find a test center near you, click here

Once you’re ready for the test, register by following the steps on this chart

Language Skills

Step 2: Understanding the Six Levels and Finding Your Own Level 

Level I

HSK Level I requires test-takers to know 150 Chinese words and very basic grammar patterns. At this level, there’s a listening section and a reading section. There will be both multiple choice and true-or-false questions. The test lasts about 40 minutes.

Basic vocabulary and daily expressions are used in the questions. For example, the reading section of HSK Level I tests one’s understanding of simple sentences, such as: 

她很喜欢这本书。
Tā hěn xǐhuān zhè běn shū.

他在睡觉吗? 
Tā zài shuìjiào ma?

我们明天坐火车去。
Wǒmen míngtiān zuò huǒchē qù.

(Translations: “She likes this book very much.” “Is he sleeping?” “We’re taking a train there tomorrow.”)

Level II

HSK Level II requires test-takers to know 300 words and related grammar patterns. The test also has a listening and reading part. The duration is about 55 minutes.

At this level, you should have the ability to conduct daily communications such as giving self-introductions, describing weather and moods, making comparisons, etc. 

Below is an example of a dialogue in the listening section of Level II: 

– 小王,你女朋友呢?
Xiǎo Wáng , nǐ nǚpéngyou ne?

– 她没来。她下午要考试。
Tā méilái . Tā xiàwǔ yào kǎoshì.

Question: 

小王的女朋友为什么没来?
Xiǎo Wáng de nǚpéngyou wèishénme méilái?

On the answer sheet, you’re provided with three possible answers in multiple choice format:

A. 要上班  yào shàngbān
B. 要考试 yào kǎoshì
C.  要开会 yào kāihuì

(The correct answer is B.)

Level III

To be able to pass HSK Level III, test-takers are expected to know 600 words and related grammar patterns. 

From this level up, there’s an additional writing section. For the writing section, you’ll be writing in Chinese characters on paper, or typing Chinese characters with Pinyin on a computer, depending on which form of the test you choose. In addition, Chinese characters will not be marked with Pinyin. The duration of a Level III test is about 90 minutes.

Language skills tested at this level include asking other people for suggestions, using conjunction words to express opinions, using specific measure words, being able to express present/past/future events, etc.

Here’s an example of a writing task:

Put the words and phrases below in the correct sentence order. 

妹妹, 最, 吃, 我, 苹果, 爱. 

Note that there’s no Pinyin on any of the Chinese characters.

(The correct sentence order is: 我妹妹最爱吃苹果。[Wǒ mèimei zuì ài chī píngguǒ.], meaning “My younger sister loves to eat apples the most.”)

Level IV

For HSK Level IV, test-takers are expected to master 1200 words. With a listening section, a reading section, and a writing section, the test will be about 105 minutes.

In the listening section, each sentence and dialogue will only be read one time. The materials used in the reading section are more in-depth than those for previous levels. 

If you have the ability to read Chinese newspapers and magazines, and carry out conversations on a wide variety of topics with native Chinese speakers, you should consider taking this level. 

It’s also worth pointing out that passing HSK Level IV is one of the requirements for non-native Chinese-speakers to study in Chinese universities.

Going to College in China

Here’s an example of a passage used in the reading section:


什么是真正的朋友?不同的人总有不同的理解。

我的理解是:在需要帮助的时候,朋友会勇敢地站出来,及时帮你走出困境, 解决问题;在受伤难过的时候, 朋友会陪在你身边,逗你开心让你快乐; 无论你是穷人还是富人,真正的朋友永远值得你的信任。

And your understanding of the passage will be tested by the questions:

1. 根据这段话,朋友可以帮你: 
A. 获得爱情  B. 照顾家人 C. 解决难题  D. 走出贫穷 

2. 这段话主要介绍的是: 
A. 困难 B. 亲情 C.爱情 D. 友情

(The correct answers are 1. C and 2. D.)

Level V

Anyone wanting to take this level should have at least 2500 Chinese words in their word bank. With the questions being more complicated, it takes about 125 minutes in total to finish the test.  

Below is an example question from the Level V listening section.

On your answer sheet, you’ll see:

A: 男的手机坏了
B: 男的下载了一个没有声音的视频
C. 男的下载了一个新软件
D. 男的没有开电脑的声音

In the audio recording, you’ll hear:

男: 你帮我看看? 这个视频怎么没有声音。 
女: 我看看。是你下载的吗? 
男: 是啊,有画面但是没有声音。 
女: 怪不得听不到声音,你的电脑调成静音了。 

问:根据对话,可以知道什么?

(The correct answer is D.)

Level VI

In addition to the 5000 Chinese words that test-takers need to know to consider taking this level, how difficult is the highest level of the Mandarin proficiency test?

Let’s find out by looking at the writing section of HSK Level VI. 

First, you have 10 minutes to read a story with 600 to 1000 words. While reading the story, you’re not allowed to take notes

When the 10 minutes are up, this story will be taken away from you, leaving you 35 minutes to paraphrase the story in about 400 words.

You’re only supposed to paraphrase the story, not give your own opinions. 

As intimidating as Level VI seems, once you’ve passed and earned the certificate of HSK Level VI, your  Chinese is officially as good, or even better, than that of average Chinese native speakers!

Celebrating Passing HSK VI)

Step 3: Drilling for the HSK Exam

After you find your own level and register for the exam, follow the steps below to make the most of your HSK test preparation and drills:

1. Go to the HSK official website chinesetest.cn and study the outlines of the six levels very closely. In the outlines, you’ll find information about what language skills are required at each level, which vocabulary words and grammar points will be tested, plus a complete mock test with answers. 

2. Once you have all the language skills listed in the outlines, take the mock tests. It’s very important to treat them like real exams. Find a place where you won’t be interrupted and take the exams within the time limit.

3. The next thing to do, which is also a great learning method, is to collect the questions you got wrong. Put them in categories and find out where your weaknesses are. Is it a certain sentence pattern or grammar point? Or do you need to work on your reading speed? Can you improve your listening scores by doing more listening practice? 

4. When you’re done with one mock test, search for more mock tests and do at least two tests every week until your test date.

Studying Hard Every Night

Step 4: Using ChineseClass101.com to Help You Prepare for and Pass the HSK Exam

Preparing for the HSK exam on your own takes a lot of planning, research, hard work, and discipline. Don’t forget that ChineseClass101.com has abundant learning resources that can make preparing for the HSK exam at any level twice as efficient.

ChineseClass101.com

1- Vocabulary

In addition to our frequently updated vocabulary lists that cover a wide range of topics, our lists of the 100 and 2000 core words will gradually bring you up to speed on vocabulary as high as HSK Level V.  

2- Listening

Can’t find listening materials that are appropriate for your level? Look no further! ChineseClass101.com has hundreds of lessons with audio for you, from the absolute beginner level to the advanced level. You’ll find dialogues recorded by native speakers, with scripts, lesson notes, vocabulary lists, and grammar points. You’ll never run out of listening practice materials!  

3- Reading

The fact that Chinese has a non-romanized writing system makes reading even more challenging than it is in other languages. We have special lessons designed to improve your reading skills and prepare you for reading in daily life. Check out this reading comprehension lesson for intermediate-level students here. 

4- Writing

The downside of studying on your own is that you don’t have constant guidance on your learning path. Having personalized advice is especially important when it comes to writing. The good news is that with a Premium PLUS subscription, you can get one-on-one interaction with an assessment from our certified teachers. They’ll answer all your questions, develop personalized learning programs based on your needs, and of course, correct anything you write in Chinese. Try it out and submit your Chinese self-introduction in writing now

5- Speaking and More…

The HSK doesn’t have a speaking section, unless you take the separate HSKK to get credentials just for your Chinese-speaking skills. Whether you’re taking the speaking test or not, ChineseClass101.com offers you the tools you need to master everyday communication.

Asking for Directions in Chinese

With a Premium subscription, you’ll be able to record your own speech to compare with that of a native speaker, so you can work on your accent and pronunciation. With a Premium PLUS subscription, you’ll get feedback on your speaking assignments from your personal teacher right away. The best part? You can do it anywhere, any time, at an affordable price! 

5. Conclusion

Everyone can pass the HSK exam when they’re well-prepared. If you have more questions about the HSK exam, or you’d like to know how our site can help you with it, don’t hesitate to visit us at ChineseClass101.com and leave us a message! 

Happy Chinese learning, and good luck on your test!

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