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The HSK Exam:

Everything You Need to Know

What is the HSK Exam?

HSK stands for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi ( 汉语水平考试 ), literally translating to "Mandarin Level Exam", and is the internationally recognised standard for assessing the Chinese language level of non-native speakers.

 

The HSK exam was developed by the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) in 1984 and is now managed by Hanban, the organisation responsible for the Confucius Institutes in universities around the world.

The HSK test is designed to assess taker's reading, writing and listening abilities. There is no speaking section as this is tested through a separate exam called the HSKK (Hanyu Shuiping Kouyu Kaoshi or Mandarin Level Spoken Language Exam).

This page is solely dedicated to explaining and providing resources for HSK. You can view information on HSKK here.

How Many Different HSK Levels are There and What is Required for Each Level?

The HSK is broken down into 6 distinct levels from, 1 being the easiest and 6 being somewhere close to fluent. Each level has a set vocabulary list to learn, which you can find at the bottom of this page or by clicking here.

 

The below table shows the number of characters and words required for each level and the estimated time it takes to pass each one. It should be noted that the answer to the question: How long does it take to reach HSK 6?, is not an easy one. Different students learn and advance at different rates. Somebody with knowledge of Chinese characters, a Japanese speaker for example, will likely be able to advance more quickly as they already know how to interpret character meaning. 

Data adapted from Hanban. 

How Do I Know What HSK Level I am Now?

If you are new to HSK, understanding your current level can be difficult but luckily we have you covered. LingoClass have developed a totally free online test to help you find your current level without pouring through past papers or vocabulary lists.

What are the Benefits of Taking the HSK Exam?

The HSK exam is often used as a standard for employment and higher education in China. For example, many universities will require a level of HSK 4 or above to apply for a degree that's taught in Chinese. Similarly, many companies will ask for a level of at least HSK 4 in order to hire you as this shows you can keep up with day to day interactions and tasks in Chinese. 

A word of warning: An HSK 4 level does not automatically qualify you to study or work in Chinese. Many students attain this level and still don't feel able to read and write fluently enough to do so, while others may be able to do so at HSK 3.

How is the HSK Exam Structured and What are the Passing Grades?

Different levels test different content and have different grades required to pass. The below table shows each level in detail. It should be noted that each level; listening, reading and writing, are all graded separately but the pass or fail criteria is based on your total score for all 3. This means you can fail in one section and make up for it in another.

​HSK 1 and 2 both include pinyin but higher levels do not. All questions in the listening and reading sections are mulitple choice, writing is only required for the writing section.

How Much Does it Cost to Take the HSK Test in the UK?

The cost of the HSK test varies depending on where you take it. For our UK students taking the test at SOAS in London, the fees are as below. Please note. You will also need to pay a £10 registration fee and a £3 postage fee if you want your results posted directly to you. Alternatively you can go and pick up the results yourself and waive the postage cost.

When can I Book the HSK Test?

Due to high demand for the HSK test, it's held 9 times each year. There is no limit to how many times you can take it so if you fail, you can always resit the exam the following month.

The exam dates for 2019 are included in the below table.

2019 test dates adapted from The China Education Centre. 

Where can I Book the HSK Test?

HSK Test Centres can be found in most major cities across the world. To see a comprehensive list you can visit the China Education Centre website hereFor all UK Test Centres visit here.

Since LingoClass is based in London, our students often take their exams at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), which is based in Russell Square, a short walk from the tube station. Comprehensive instructions on how to register for your test with SOAS can be found here.

How Long Does an HSK Certificate Last?

The HSK certificate is valid forever and can always be used to evidence your Chinese language ability. However, it is worth noting that the accompanying test report will only be valid for 2 years from the date of your exam. This report is often used as an admission criteria by Chinese universities.

 

What are the Best Online Study Resources for HSK?

Since HSK is so popular, there is a wealth of detailed information online on the best ways to study vocabulary, listening, writing etc. We recommend identifying your weaknesses and trying to improve on those by searching google or YouTube for that specific language element. 

However, there are some standard practises that our students often use with great success. Below is a list of what we think are the most useful sites for online learning resources.

Vocabulary Lists: HSK Academy provides full vocabulary lists for all levels. Simply visit the site and select your level to view the lists, complete with Chinese characters, pinyin and audio files. 

Past Papers: Testing yourself using questions from previous exams is a great way to familiarise yourself with the format of the test, understand the timings and figure out where to focus your study. Luckily there are a number of sites out there that provide past paper resources to help you do just that. 

YouTube: YouTube provides excellent resources for HSK practice. You can follow channels such as HSK Academy or (the somewhat less catchy) HSK Preparation and Practice. Alternatively you can search for exactly what you want to find and see if it comes up.

What are the Best Textbooks to Help Prepare for the HSK Test?

One of the best ways to prepare for any HSK exam is by using the official BLCU HSK books. These are available in texbook and workbook form, both of which are accompanied by an audio CD and are suited to different things.

 

The textbook is great for learning new material and contains useful exercises, vocabulary and explanations. It's often best used in a classroom environment with a teach and/or other students to aid your understanding.

The workbook is perfect for self-study. It contains exam style questions and audio, helping you to prepare for the exam. This book is best used once new words and vocabulary have been learned using the textbook and is often used for homework in our classes.

What are the Best Apps to Help Prepare for the HSK Exam?

There are literally hundreds of apps out there designed to help you improve your Chinese language skills but which is the best and which one should you focus your time on? How do you target specific elements of language like speaking or writing?

LingoClass created a page dedicated to answering just that. 

What are the Top Tips to Help Pass the HSK Exam?

1. Prepare!: This page has given you all the resources you need to help prepare for the exam. Make sure you do past papers under exam conditions, identify your weaknesses, work on them and retest. It is often said that there are no shortcuts in learning Chinese. There is no way to fake preparation so make sure you put the work in.

2. Speed is Important: You don't need to 100% understand the meaning of each character in the question to be able to answer it correctly. Try to understand the general meaning of each question you encounter and see if you can answer it. If not, it may be worth dedicating some more time to that particular question but you will know the answer to many straight away.

3. Have a Strategy: A winning strategy for many of our students is to go through the whole paper, answering all the questions but marking the ones they aren't totally sure of with a star. This way, if there's time at the end, they can revisit those questions and see if they change their mind. Another useful tip for the listening section is to read ahead where possible. The recording can seem very fast when you don't understand the answers on the page so if you're able to answer one quickly, use the time to read ahead and prepare for the next audio question.

The best strategies will vary by student so we advise using past papers and textbooks to understand how you can answer most effectively, then building this into your approach to the exam.

How Long Does it Take to get my HSK Results and Where Can I View Them?

After taking the test, your results will be available to view online here, usually within 6-7 weeks. To view them you will need your examinee number and 8-digit password, both of which should be printed on your test voucher.

All the information you need to understand passing grades and how to read your score report can be found here.

Now you should have everything you need to find, book and pass the HSK exam. If you want to make it even easier you can arrange some lessons with one of our expert teachers.

We have a wealth of experience helping students prepare for HSK. You can opt for private lessons or join a group of other students of your level and begin practicing with like-minded people.

Good luck!