New HSK Levels 2021: All You Need To Know

by | Apr 1, 2021

New HSK Levels 2021 | That's Mandarin Blog

Rumours about the new HSK system have been going around since last year, but this week, official standards were released, so we don’t have to speculate any more!

The official data from Hanban came in a 260-page document. We’ve looked through it and turned it into an infographic. But if you prefer text – scroll down below 👇

New HSK Infographic
New HSK Details

HSK Levels 2021: Infographic

Here’s a quick summary of the things we know about the 2021 HSK system & levels.

New HSK Levels 2021 Explained - Infographic | That's Mandarin Chinese Language School

HSK Levels: Details Q&A

1. When will the new HSK standards come into effect?

The newest HSK standards will be effective on July 1, 2021. 

2. How different is the new HSK from the old HSK?

Very different in 3 ways.

First, there will be 9 HSK levels instead of 6.

Secondly, each level will have a set number of 300 new Chinese characters in each level, and a varying number of 500 to 1140 new words in each level based on all possible combinations of these characters. This means that Levels 1, 2, 3, 4 will be harder than before, but Levels 5 and 6 will be a bit easier – so the whole learning process will be more gradual.

And thirdly, the word lists have been revised to exclude some outdated words (e.g. “fax”).

Now let’s look at each of these points in detail.

 3. How many levels will be there in the new version of the HSK?

The updated HSK system will have 9 levels.

This system is called “Three levels and nine bands” – with “levels” referring to 3 language levels (Beginner level, Intermediate level, and Advanced level) and “bands” referring to 9 HSK Levels (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

New HSK Levels 2021 | That's Mandarin Blog

4. How many words will each HSK level have?

There be 300 new characters in each updated HSK level.

Since Chinese characters can make up many more new words when put together, the number of words in each new HSK level will vary. It’s the snowball effect: Level 1 is going to be a bit easier, since only 500 words can be made of 300 characters; but when you move on to HSK Level 2, you will have all the combinations of the new 300 characters PLUS the 300 from the previous level.

5. Why there are so many more words in the new HSK levels 1, 2, 3, 4?

The old HSK system had a big disadvantage: it was very easy to pass HSK 1 and HSK2 (with only 150 words in each level), but really difficult to get to HSK 5 and 6 (with 2500 and 5000 words respectively).

So the new system tries to solve this problem by adding more words to HSK Levels 1, 2, 3, 4 to “spread out” the new words across levels, and to make the learning progress more gradual.

We’ve been trying to analyze how many words in each HSK level remain unchanged (spoiler – not many!) here:

New HSK 1: All You Need to Know + PDF Word List 

New HSK 2: All You Need to Know + PDF Word List 

New HSK 3: All You Need to Know + PDF Word List 

6. What are the new advanced HSK levels 7, 8, 9 all about?

The old HSK only had 6 levels. In the updated HSK system, they added new Levels 7, 8 and 9. These three are the highest level in the new system.

HSK7-9 levels will be higher than the old HSK6, and targeting the Chinese learners of higher proficiency levels (think of it as of Chinese for academic purposes).

If you look at the levels table, you will notice that HSK Levels 7, 8, 9 share the total number of new Chinese characters (1200) and new words (5636). It means all Level 7-9 test-takers will take the same test, and based on the score they get, they will qualify either for Level 7, 8, or 9.

7. What does this change mean for That’s Mandarin and NihaoCafe?

We’ve been excited about this news since the beginning. That’s Mandarin uses its own, in-house curriculum developed for NihaoCafe. It is roughly based on HSK levels, but features many more important and handy words from everyday life. So we are happy that HSK has finally caught up! For example, in our NihaoCafe Level 1, we have 547 new words. And according to the new system,  there will be 500 words  in the new HSK 1 — so our level will be covering just a bit more.

For That’s Mandarin curriculum development team, this means that in the upcoming months we will need to update the HSK tags for every word in the system, and make sure that we are not missing out on any of the new words.

To Be Continued

We hope this information was helpful. We will keep updating this post as we get more familiar with the 253-page document published by Hanban.

If you are interested in learning more about the HSK, including information about the different levels, the benefits of taking an HSK exam and an expected timeframe for learning, have a read here!

Happy learning!

P.S. if you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments below. 👇


Further Reading

For more news about the new HSK, make sure to check these articles: 

When Will the New HSK Exams Come Into Effect? | That's Mandarin Blog
When Will the New HSK Exams Come Into Effect?
Written and Spoken HSK to Be Combined | That's Mandarin Blog
New HSK 3-6 Changes: Written & Spoken Exams Combined (Update 2022) 

To learn more about the updated HSK levels and download free PDF word lists (New HSK vocabulary lists for HSK 1,2,3), read these posts:

New HSK 1 Word List PDF + Infographic | That's Mandarin

New HSK 1: All You Need to Know + PDF Word List 

New HSK 2 Word List PDF + Infographic | That's Mandarin

New HSK 2: All You Need to Know + PDF Word List

New HSK 3 Word List PDF + Infographic | That's Mandarin

New HSK 3: All You Need to Know + PDF Word List

1 Comment


    There are no books on the market that display New HSK 3.0 content with 1) Hanzi, 2) Pinyin, and 3) English translations. I would like to purchase a book that shows the 11,092 words and 3,000 characters broken into the seven levels – HSK1, HSK2, HSK3, HSK4, HSK5, HSK6, and HSK 7-9 – with English translations. If within each level, words were broken into the parts of speech, namely – common nouns, proper nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, interjections, time words, numerals, expressions, and measure words – that would be a bonus. I, also, believe the listing of the 1,100 Chinese syllables as indicated in New HSK 3.0 would be an excellent resource for students learning Chinese. I’m aware that 572 grammar points are present in New HSK 3.0, but explaining each of them would likely require another book. I saw your website’s New HSK 3.0 Level 1 List and it is clear that your group is capable of creating a book showing the lists of all the New HSK 3.0 Levels.

    Thank you very much.

    Mark Baehr



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