You must’ve already heard the big news about the new HSK standards and vocabulary lists by now. But for you as a learner, what probably matters the most is — when will the new HSK exams be updated?
How much time do you have to pass the old HSK without worrying about the new HSK? And what is happening right now?
In this post, we look at the data presented at the HSK conference in Beijing on April 20, 2021, and make informed conclusions from it.
When will we see the change in the new HSK exams?
From what the official sources said at the conference, it might take from 1 to 3 years for the official new HSK exams to be updated.
So it looks like in 2021, you can still prepare for the old HSK levels.
What will happen in 2022 is not clear yet – but it might easily be another ‘transitional’ year. Maybe some ‘test mode’ tests will become available, but both old & new standards will be valid during the transitional phase.
What are the biggest changes in the new HSK?
The changes to the system are big.
Let’s look at the areas in which the changes are happening.
How long have they worked on the new HSK system so far?
The research team has been working on the new system for more than 3 years now. They’ve held over 50 internal discussions about it, and countless rounds of edits and changes before approving the level system that we all saw in April. They’ve also collected feedback from students in over 23 countries including the US, the UK, France, Germany, Japan, and Korea.
New HSK focus: Characters
The first part of the development team has been working on one the most important, in test developer’s opinion, lists — the ‘hanzi’ (Chinese characters) list. The HSK standards have been reviewed to make the characters a core component.
Every new HSK level has 300 characters. This team’s job was to select appropriate characters for each level — by sorting all the Chinese characters by difficulty and level of frequency. They’ve also evaluated the characters by their ability to ‘pair’ with other words – and choose the ones that can easily make part of other words.
This explains why, for example, such an essential (☕️!!) word as “coffee”, 咖啡 (kāfēi) doesn’t appear in the new HSK 1 or 2, and was moved to HSK3. Not because it’s not important – but because the characters for it are more complex, and both 咖 and 啡 are very low down the list by the order of frequency, and they almost never appear as part of other words.
New HSK Vocabulary: Changes in Topics
The second part of the team has been working on the vocabulary list. Even though for the learners it’s arguably the most important list, this team says they had to compromise a lot.
First of all, if you look at all the new vocabulary, you will notice a certain pattern: a LOT of words in Beginner levels (1, 2, 3) have been added to accommodate a certain type of Chinese learners – foreign exchange students, or 留学生 (liúxuéshēng). This way in the future, the new test will provide a good base for the students who come to China on language exchange programs. The new vocabulary will help them not to get lost (e.g. campus-related vocabulary, study-related vocabulary, other ‘survival’ vocabulary).
But this trend influenced the words that might be useful to other learners, e.g. adults in China and abroad who aren’t planning on coming on a university exchange program (for example, ‘coffee’, ‘waiter’, ’cat’ and ‘dog’ disappeared from HSK1-2).
One more important point is, the new list developers mentioned that they want the students to be able to use the characters from each level in as many ways as possible, that’s why the lists feature as many combinations of the 300 characters as possible (e.g. 打车 “to take a cab”，打电话 “to make a call”，打开 “to open”，打球 “to play basketball”, all in HSK1).
A lot of colloquial phrases have been added too — so Chinese learners can feel more comfortable in the everyday exchange (e.g. “加油!”, “You can make it!” wasn’t on the HSK list before, but now is in HSK2).
New HSK Grammar: Extended
The third part of the team has been working on the grammar list. A lot of grammar items have been added, and all grammar has been split into 4 categories: Words, Phrases, Sentences, and Paragraphs.
Also, while in the past, the Grammar part used to consist of mainly speech elements – adverbs, conjunctions, sentence structures etc. – now it’s going to be expanded to include a lot of cultural, expressional, ‘EQ’ elements.
The learners will be expected to know & understand not only what is being said, but also what is meant and how to interpret the situation.
New HSK Exams: Formats Yet to Be Set
Finally, the fourth part of the team has been working on the exam paper development. This is the part that’s going to be important in the next 1-3 years, as the new test papers will have to match the standards set by the new system.
Perhaps the biggest change is that the 5th element has been added to the classic 听说读写 system — 泽, “translation”:
听 + 说 + 读 + 写 + 翻译
tīng shuō dú xiě fānyì
Listening Speaking Reading Writing Translation
It’s described as the ability to “carry out translation of the content and topics in the corresponding level” in a casual (not official) setting with a high accuracy rate and an understanding of the cultural differences. It’s an important addition to the 4 classic language skills, “listen-speak-read-write”, because it requires a different level of language awareness.
To Be Continued
There’s a lot to process from this conference. We’ll keep analyzing the new HSK with our teachers and sharing level overviews.
What questions do you have regarding the new HSK exams or the new HSK in general?
Leave them in comments below, and we will include them into our next post.