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New Format HSK:

What's Changing and How Does it Affect Mandarin Students?

Students Taking Exams

Hanban have officially announced that they are redesigning the HSK Exam to be more relevant for Mandarin learners across the globe. Perhaps unsurprisingly this has many students scared of what the new requirements are and whether their current HSK level will still be relevant once the new format is released. 

To help put your minds at ease we've created this article to answer as many questions as we can about the new HSK format and what it means for you.  We hope it helps :)

What is HSK?

HSK, or Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi ( 汉语水平考试 ), is the official standard for assessing Chinese language ability in non-native speakers.  The assessment criteria were developed at Beijing Language and Culture University in 1984 and the organisation and grading of the test is now managed by Hanban ( 汉办 ).

The exam itself is designed to test students' reading, writing and listening ability, with speaking being assessed in a separate exam known as HSKK.

To find our more about the exams in their current format, study tips and 2022 HSK exam dates, you can explore the information pages below.

Is There a New Version of the HSK and why?

In May 2020 Hanban released an official statement on Twitter, confirming that the HSK will be increasing from 6 to 9 levels in total (dubbed HSK 3.0), with an increase in the number of learned words needed to reach each level.


In short, this has been done to make the exam harder so it can stay relevant with the growing number of Mandarin students across the globe. The new format is also designed to more precisely align with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CERFL). Under these guidelines, the highest achievable grade of C2 can be considered "near-native", whereas the current highest grade for HSK, HSK6, is actually quite far from the ability of a native Mandarin speaker (sorry if this ruins your day!).

How is the New Version of HSK Different?

In addition to becoming more difficult in general, there will be a restructure in terms of what students need to learn to pass each level. Instead of the 6 levels used currently, the new format will see 9 levels, split into 3 overall difficulties. Levels 1 to 3 will fall under "beginner", levels 4 to 6 will fall under "intermediate" and levels 7 to 9 will be "advanced".

Levels 1 to 6 will actually be slightly more difficult than they are now, with the addition of the 3 advanced levels to test for native-level proficiency. It's worth noting that the advanced levels are designed for learners who wish to study Mandarin to an exceptionally high level, such as those doing Master's degrees in Chinese history or literature. Levels 7 to 9 could be considered overkill for someone wanting to live and work in China or just communicate effectively on a day-to-day basis.


For a review of the new vocabulary list, check out the video below.​​

What are the Requirements for the New HSK Format?

With the new structure come some new criteria on which students will be tested. Specifically, each exam will assess students' ability to use and understand the following 4 language elements effectively: Syllables, characters. vocabulary and grammar.

A comparison of the requirements by level is included below. HSK 7+ is still being designed and as yet the requirement split has not been made official.

New Format HSK1-9 Requirements.png

You can also see the differences in vocabulary requirement between the old and new HSK systems below. HSK1 for example has increased its vocabulary requirement by 350! While this is enough to make anyone's eyes water, it's important to remember that it also means the new format HSK1 qualification will be more powerful than the current one (almost comparing to the current HSK3 qualification). It may require more work but it will be worth it in the end!

New HSK Vocabulary Requirements.png

When Will the New HSK Format Come Into Effect?

The new HSK syllabus officially launched on the 1st of July 2021, but there will be no changes to the HSK exams for the rest of the year. In fact, at the time of writing, all HSK exams are currently postponed in the UK due to coronavirus restrictions. 


While the curriculum will come into effect relatively soon, new versions of the HSK exams for levels 1 to 6 probably wont launch until 2023, with the rollout set to gradually occur over the following years. This suggests anyone currently studying for HSK has nothing to worry about for a while yet.


While exams for levels 1 to 6 will take time to roll out, the all new HSK 7 through 9 examinations will officially launch in March 2022 in order to begin testing for higher education institutions. If you're a student currently holding an HSK6 certificate you have our sympathy but at least you have a new target to aim for :)

Will My Old HSK Qualifications Still be Relevant?

Hanban have stated that: “The scores of candidates participating in HSK 1-6 levels are still valid, and the validity of the certificates already obtained remains unchanged. The textbooks and courses compiled and developed according to HSK 1-6 levels can still be used. In the next 3-5 years, HSK 1-6 levels will be gradually adjusted according to the “Standards” and the actual conditions of Chinese learners in various countries.”

This strongly suggests that any qualifications attained under the current format either now or in the future will remain just as valid for higher education or employment applications. Changes will also be gradually phased in to allow these institutions to adjust.

Chinese Course London

How Can I Prepare for the New HSK?

Not many resources are currently available for the new format HSK, with textbooks and official courses still under development. However, Hanban have released the official wordlist for HSK 3.0, which you can download for free below. 

There's also no better way to prepare for a Mandarin exam than by getting lessons from a professional teacher. If you're thinking about taking HSK in any format, we can help you reach the level you need to be. Explore our courses today and see what we can do for you!

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