Is the HSK Exam Right for You?

Jan 10, 2017 | HSK

What is HSK and why is it important?

The HSK or 汉语水平考试 (Hànyǔ shuǐpíng kǎoshì) is an official examination designed to assess the Chinese language proficiency of non-native speakers from beginners’ to advanced levels. It is an internationally-recognized standard in assessing your Chinese language level and the result can be used to apply for the Confucius Institute Scholarship (CIS). It is also accepted by universities in China as a proof of Chinese proficiency.

The HSK tests include writing, listening and reading skills, and it’s divided into 6 levels of proficiency. Whilst a large percentage of test takers are students, obtaining a HSK level is a great way for professionals to get a competitive edge in the job market. On a personal level, it is an opportunity to continue improving your Chinese.

what is hsk


Should you take the HSK exam?

The first consideration in undertaking the HSK learning process and exam is to see if it lines up with your targets in studying Chinese language. If you’re applying to a Chinese university, you will be required to show your HSK result as a prerequisite. On the other hand, if you’re seeking a job in China, most employers do not ask for HSK scores as a requirement.

While obtaining anHSK certificate isn’t necessary to finding a job, it could be your great selling point. All of the best career prospects in China are enhanced if you have Chinese skills, and language ability is also an essential component of understanding the work culture.

In China, prospective bosses want to know how well you will fit into the company, as well as how committed you are to staying in China. An HSK exam certificate is a clear way to demonstrate your commitment to staying in China for the long run. It’s also a way of showing that you not only know how to speak and understand the Chinese language, but you can also read Chinese characters (depending on your HSK level).

It’s also important to note that from April 2017, China will be implementing a work visa system whereby all visa applicants will be categorized into 3 different categories, A, B or C. To determine an applicant’s visa category, their HSK score will be taken into consideration. Those of higher HSK level can obtain more points and thus a better visa status (A or B).

How to prepare for the current HSK in Spring 2021?

After deciding whether HSK is the right step for you, you will choose a level to take. Think about how many characters you can learn before your test date, and look at the table below to see how many characters could potentially appear on each version of the test:

HSK LEVEL Characters and Words Score Certificate
HSK1 Characters: 178
Words: 150
1 Elementary
HSK2 Characters: 349
Words: 300
2 Elementary
HSK3 Characters: 623
Words: 600
3 Intermediate
HSK4 Characters: 1071
Words: 1200
4 Intermediate
HSK5 Characters: 1709
Words: 2500
5 Advanced
HSK6 Characters: 2633
Words: 5000
6 Advanced

If the number of characters looks intimidating, don’t be immediately disheartened. To pass any level, you’d only need to get 60% of the answers right. This means to pass HSK 6, you only need to know how to use 1,600 characters and 3000 words correctly. However, learning vocabulary alone will not guarantee you can pass your desired level of the HSK. At the advanced level, you will also be tested on every aspect of the Chinese characters, including circumstances they can be used in. This gets difficult in HSK 6, when it isn’t simply enough to know the meaning of characters. 

How to prepare for Newest HSK in Summer 2021?

The new standards for the HSK exam have come out on March 31, 2021. We’ve written about the changes in this article.

HSK LEVEL Characters Words Certificate
HSK1  300 new 500 new Elementary
HSK2  300 new / 600 total 772 new / 1272 total Elementary
HSK3  300 new / 900 total 973 new / 2245 total Elementary
HSK4  300 new / 1200 total 1000 new / 3245 total Intermediate
HSK5  300 new / 1500 total 1071 new / 4316 total Intermediate
HSK6  300 new / 1800 total 1140 new / 5456 total Intermediate
HSK 7-9  1200 new / 3000 total 5636 new / 11092 total Advanced

How to achieve the level that you want to achieve?

1. Get the basics

Understand the HSK and be sure about which level you should take. Get familiar with the basic outline of the test and its syllabus.

2. Build the right foundation

Learn and memorize the specific grammar and vocabulary list for your level, and practice using them in your Chinese conversation. To better understand local pronunciation of words and improve your listening skills, speak more with the locals.

3. Conquer the hardest part of the exam

Most people are less skilled at listening in comparison to other language-learning aspects.  Thus, many test takers find the listening part of the HSK exam the hardest part to tackle. When you receive the exam paper, read the questions on the listening section before the audio starts. This could help you in comprehending the content you’re listening to. 

The best HSK preparation method

Too many students register for the HSK without having a strategy for the test, making them more likely to fail the exam or go through the questions more slowly. Attending a coaching class helps tremendously. The teacher will show you exactly what the HSK graders are looking for on each question. They will break down each section into different types of questions, explaining how you should approach each type. You’ll find that with those strategies, you no longer need to overthink anything. You’ll not only know what’s coming but also how to attack it when it gets there.

The coaching class will aid you in your exam preparations. And by engaging in a group study, you will gain a competitive edge and increase your confidence. All you need to do is put in the work and you’ll see amazing results.

Finally, too much studying can be detrimental to your learning. It can make you feel too bored to easily retain the material you’re working on, and thereby drain your enthusiasm for learning Chinese. The mock exams are good study tools, as they demonstrate the skill level you have reached, but don’t confine yourself to your desk. Make sure you exercise regularly so you will be more relaxed and your mind can take a break, which will ultimately improve your studying. 

So, is the HSK exam right for you?

Taking the HSK exam is a good way to prove your Chinese skills, but also to encourage you to deepen your understanding of the language and continue to learn. Once you pass the HSK test, use it as a way to learn more. Go for a level suitable to yours, and use it as a building block to continually improve your Chinese proficiency. You can check out more on the That’s Mandarin’s official website about our HSK preparation for students.


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