HSK & HSKK Exams:
What's the Difference and Which One Should I Take?
What is the Difference Between the HSK and HSKK Exams?
HSK is short for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi ( 汉语水平考试 ), which means "Mandarin Level Exam" in Chinese. HSKK on the other hand, stands for Hanyu Shuiping Kouyu Kaoshi ( 汉语水平口语考试 ), which means "Mandarin Level Spoken Language Exam".
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the HSKK exam is designed to assess test taker's speaking abilities, whereas the HSK is predominantly concerned with listening, reading and writing and has no speaking section (you can find out more about the HSK exam here).
Both exams are managed by the Hanban Institute and both are useful in helping students to understand and improve their Chinese level.
Should I Take the HSK or HSKK Exam? Which One is More Important?
The right exam for you depends on what you are trying to achieve. Many people argue the HSK exam is more important because it's highly focused on vocabulary, grammar and semantic meaning. Employers also tend to use the HSK exam as criteria for job applications that require the use of Mandarin.
However, the HSKK exam is just as important in many ways. Firstly, the ability to effectively communicate verbally is arguably more important in a work environment than having perfect written grammar and vocabulary. Secondly, the HSKK exam tests your pronunciation - an element of Chinese language that many non-native speakers find difficult. Improving this can really help you to speak more naturally and immerse yourself further into Chinese culture. Finally, the HSKK test offers a way to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your spoken language. If you use this effectively and develop excellent speaking skills, any interviewer will likely value this as more important than a perfect HSK score.
A lot of Chinese language students also want to develop their speaking skills without learning to read or write and so wish to take the HSKK exam but have no interest in the HSK test. This is OK for low levels but will be extremely difficult once you advance. Without the ability to read and write in Chinese, you massively limit your ability to self study, to read new content and to develop your grammar (also essential for speaking). Furthermore you can never truly understand Chinese language without at least a basic understanding of character meaning and pronunciation.
Our suggestion? Take both exams.
How Many Different HSKK Levels are There and What is Required for Each Level?
Data adapted from Chinese Education Centre.
While the HSK exam is broken down into 6 different levels, the HSKK exam can only be taken in Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced format. The table above shows approximately how many common words are required for each level. The vocabulary should roughly match that of the corresponding HSK level, so the vocabulary for the Beginner exam will be very similar to the vocabulary used in HSK1/HSK2, Intermediate: HSK3/HSK4 and so on.
How Do I Know What HSKK Level I am Now?
Understanding your current level can be difficult if you have never taken the exam before. Luckily, LingoClass has developed a free online testing tool to help you find your approximate HSK level. Using this tool you can estimate which HSKK exam is the most suitable for you and start taking past papers using the resources at the bottom of this page.
What are the Benefits of Taking the HSKK Exam?
The HSK exam is more often used as entrance criteria for Universities and employers in China but many of them also require an HSKK certificate as evidence that you are competent communicating in Mandarin to some level. For example, many Chinese University scholarships will require a minimum qualification of HSKK beginner level.
How is the HSKK Exam Structured and What are the Passing Grades?
The HSKK exam is much shorter that the HSK exams, with the advanced HSKK test lasting an total of only 14 minutes. Each exam has a slightly different question format to match the abilities of those taking the test. The tables below show all of this information in detail along with the timings for each section.
The exam uses an audio recording to ask you questions and you use a microphone to provide the answer. You will also be given a sheet of paper in case you want to make notes so be sure to bring a pen!
The pass grade for all 3 exams is 60/100.
Data adapted from ChineseTest.
How Much Does it Cost to Take the HSKK Test in the UK?
Different test centres have different pricing structures. Most of our LingoClass students take the exam at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) in London. The exam fees are laid out below buy you must also pay a £10 registration fee and a £3 postage fee if you wish to receive your results in the post rather than going to pick them up in person.
When can I Book the HSKK Test?
The HSKK exam is held 3 times a year, usually in March, May and October. The registration deadlines are usually a month before the test date so be sure to get your booking in early.
The dates for 2019 have all passed so you won't be able to book the exam until 2020. The 2020 test dates will not be released until January but they should be similar to those in the table below.
2019 test dates adapted from The China Education Centre.
Where can I Book the HSKK Test?
You can find HSKK Test Centres in most large cities. To see a full list you can visit the China Education Centre website here or click here to view those based in the UK.
Since our school is based in London, our students usually register at SOAS London, which is located a few minutes walk from Russell Square underground station. You can view step by step instructions on how to register here.
How Long Does an HSKK Certificate Last?
An HSKK certificate is permanent but many Universities will only accept it as an entrance certificate if the exam was taken less than 2 years before application.
So make sure you keep practising!
What are the Best Online Study Resources for HSKK?
Due to the similarity between HSK and HSKK, there is masses of information on the internet to help you study. To get to grips with new words and grammar, you can use HSK resources as well as those designed specifically for HSKK. Youtube is also great for practising listening and pronunciation because you can listen and repeat what native speakers are saying.
Our teachers often find different students have different requirements when preparing for exams. The internet is a great place to find information specific to you; if you have a problem with your tones, you can search for help on those. If you have a problem understanding when people speak Chinese very quickly, you can search for Chinese speeches or movies and practice listening.
We have laid out some of our favourite online resources below.
Vocabulary Lists: Vocabulary lists are a great way to familiarise yourself with the exam content. HSK Academy provides detailed lists for every HSK level. Although they are designed for HSK, they all contain audio and pinyin, making them perfect for HSKK study.
Past Papers: Once you have learned enough content to feel comfortable booking the exam, past papers are the perfect way to prepare yourself for the way the exam works. Try taking the past exams under exam conditions and see how you do.
YouTube: YouTube is ideal for studying HSKK due to the verbal nature of video communication. Videos can be used to train listening skills as well as target your pronunciation and use of Mandarin tones. There are several great HSKK playlists out there but you can also try searching for content specific to your needs.
Apps: Due to the growing popularity of learning Chinese, many developers have created Chinese learning apps to assist in the pursuit. LingoClass has a page dedicated to ranking the best apps for learning Mandarin and passing HSK/HSKK exams.
What are the Best Textbooks to Help Prepare for the HSKK Test?
Because it is an oral exam, it can be difficult to use a book to prepare for the HSKK. You need to practice listening and if at all possible, practice speaking with a native speaker or a teacher. However, the Hanban Institute does offer a book of past papers that may be useful for anyone wishing to understand the exam and question style. This book comes complete with an audio CD so you get the whole exam experience from the comfort of your front room.
Some HSK books can also useful, especially for learning the necessary vocabulary, grammar and exam terminology. For this, the best options are the official BLCU HSK books. These come in both textbook and workbook format and contain an audio CD to help you practice the listening part of the HSK exam (which is highly relevant for the HSKK exam as well). The textbook version is best used with a teacher to explain the exercises and let you know where your mistakes lie but the workbook version is perfect for self-study. However, it is noteworthy that as the levels go up, the amount of pinyin in the books goes down, so if you plan to use these you will also need to practice your Chinese reading skills.
What are the Top Tips to Help Pass the HSK Exam?
1. Prepare: You should now have all the resources you need to help you pass the HSKK but you will not get there unless you put in the work. There are no shortcuts, you must actively practice listening and speaking. The ideal way to do this is with a teacher or language partner but if this is not possible then you can try using one of the apps listed above.
2. Practice Listening: Although the exam is designed to test your speaking, listening is an essential part of this. Firstly you will need to have good listening skills to understand the questions put to you. Even the listen and repeat questions are easier if you understand the meaning of them. Secondly, it is very difficult to practice speaking before you practice listening. Listening to Chinese speakers regularly can help you familiarise yourself with the correct style, intonation and rhythm of native speakers and should help you speak more naturally yourself in time.
3. Relax: It's an exam but it's not the be all and end all. If you're relaxed, you will be far more likely to answer correctly and If you fail, you can always retake the test after more study. One of the best ways to help yourself relax is the make sure you have enough sleep, arrive to the exam hall at least half an hour before the exam and make sure you study enough past papers to let you know what to expect. Being familiar with the format and exam content will help to put you at ease.
How Long Does it Take to get my HSKK Results and Where Can I View Them?
You can view your results around 6-7 weeks after taking the exam by clicking here. To access them you must enter your examinee number and password. These can both be found on the test voucher you receive when taking the exam.
Everything you need to understand your grades can be found here.
Now you understand the difference between HSK and HSKK, which one will you take?
Why not come and have a trial lesson at LingoClass to see how we can help you improve and prepare for the exam?
We offer group courses, private tuition and corporate training for all levels.