Interested in testing your Mandarin language skills? If so, there is one exam you cannot afford to miss. That’s the HSK test, the most popular Chinese proficiency test.
Chinese has become more popular in the past decade. Learning Mandarin has many benefits, like careers, hobbies, and education in China. You will also gain insight into China’s rich culture, history, and tradition.
If you are a Chinese learner, you may want to know your current language ability.
HSK is known to almost everyone who has taken a Chinese course. But what is HSK exactly? Why do you need to take it, and is it worth it?
Let’s find out everything from test centers and fees to dates and test structure to question format and marking system.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What is HSK?
- The types of HSK examinations
- All about Standard HSK
- How to prepare for HSK?
- Should you take the Chinese HSK Test?
What is HSK?
The acronym HSK stands for Hànyǔ (Chinese), Shuǐpíng (level) Kǎoshì (test). Hence, it refers to the “Chinese Level Test.”
Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi / 汉语水平考试 is the standard official Chinese test.
HSK measures the language ability of non-native speakers. It is open to foreigners, overseas Chinese, and ethnic minorities within China.
Who conducts the exam?
The Center for Language Education and Cooperation (CLEC) administers the HSK test globally. The Ministry of Education (MOE) of China oversees its operations.
CLEC is a non-profit educational and cultural organization that promotes Chinese language study. It also conducts standard tests like CTCSOL and HSK.
They run over 500 Confucius Institutes in over a dozen countries. It also offers flagship programs like Chinese Bridge, teacher training, and many scholarships.
They promote studying in China and student exchange programs.
Hanban was the last name. But in July 2020, it changed its name to CLEC because of controversy over how it functions.
Recognition of HSK worldwide
HSK was founded in 1984. They conducted the first HSK exam outside of China in 1991.
Over the years, it has become the most prestigious test of the Mandarin language for non-native Chinese speakers.
The Chinese government institutions officially recognize and award different variants of HSK.
HSK test is by far the most popular language test for Chinese today. And that is why all government bodies, businesses, and public and private educational institutions accept and trust HSK certification.
Should you take the HSK Test?
The HSK offers several benefits. This exam aims to certify the skills of non-natives.
You can use HSK in many ways. This includes, but is not limited to, a relaxed stay in China, jobs requiring Chinese, study abroad in China, academic pursuit, boosting confidence, etc.
Those who do not speak Chinese as their first language but would like to work or study in China will find it helpful. As an ESL teacher in China, it can be helpful.
You may not be able to impress potential employers with your Chinese knowledge alone.
In most cases, companies demand documentary evidence before an interview. In that case, HSK credentials could increase your chances of getting shortlisted.
As a result, this increases your chances of getting a scholarship chance, visa, and permanent residency in China.
It also confirms your understanding and motivates you to do better. You become more confident.
Who can take the HSK test?
There are no special requirements or guidelines.
Foreigners who don’t speak Mandarin as a first language can take the HSK test to find their current ability. It is also open to the Chinese diaspora and ethnic minorities in China.
There is no age restriction. There are no minimum and maximum ages.
The types of HSK examinations
There are 5 main variants of the HSK. The most popular and common one is the standard HSK.
Besides, there are 4 more specialized tests. The HSK Speaking Test (HSKK), Youth Chinese Test (YCT), Business Chinese Test (BCT), and Medical Chinese Test (MCT).
1. HSK Speaking Test (HSKK)
The HSKK (also called the HSK speaking test) assesses a candidate’s verbal competency.
There are three levels of HSKK: Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced. In all three sublevels, there are three sections, i.e., listen and repeat, picture description, and answer the question.
They conduct the HSKK test by recording audio. The HSKK evaluates your pronunciation, tonal ability, and flow. And your overall Mandarin fluency.
The advanced level corresponds to level C of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
The maximum score is 100, and the minimum score is 60 to pass the test. Results are valid for two years following the announcement of results.
Because this is only an oral exam, you can combine it with other Chinese ability tests. They record the candidate’s speech during the interaction.
2. Youth Chinese Test (YCT)
Students whose mother tongue is not Chinese can take the new Youth Chinese Test.
Through YCT, test takers show their ability to express themselves in day-to-day activities. Plus also for educational pursuits and professional experiences.
There are two independent tests — an oral exam and a written test.
The written has four levels (I, II, III, and IV). In speaking, there are two (elementary and intermediate).
Within three weeks of passing the test, you will receive the results.
3. Business Chinese Test (BCT)
Peking University designed BCT following the directions of the Chinese Language Council International.
BCT measures candidates’ Mandarin skills in business communication, professions, and everyday work settings.
Business Chinese Test has two independent tests — (listening & reading) and (speaking & writing). It is possible to take either or both tests at the same time.
The specific skill scores (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) range from 0 to 500, and each level is 100.
Recently, they introduced two forms of tests: paper-based and computer-based.
There are two levels of written exams: BCT (A) and BCT (B). The score is valid for 2 years, with no minimum or maximum age requirements.
4. Medical Chinese Test (MCT)
Are you interested in pursuing MBBS in China?
Take the Medical Chinese Test. They will conduct the 2023 exams in May and November.
The MCT program is for foreigners who wish to study medicine or nonmedical fields in China, including clinical diagnosis.
They measure the candidate’s ability to communicate Mandarin effectively in their field. For example, patients, doctors, nurses, medical personnel, and hospital staff.
There are three parts of MCT: reading, listening, and writing. Your score indicates your ability to communicate in the language.
You must also learn hundreds of words, phrases, and sentences related to medicine and pharmaceuticals.
All about Standard HSK
Here is everything related to the standard HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi).
What are the HSK levels?
The HSK test comprises six levels: I, II, III, IV, V, and VI.
- HSK 1 — Knowledge of beginner Chinese words and phrases.
- HSK 2 — Ability to use basic Chinese and carry out simple tasks.
- HSK 3 – Can communicate daily for personal, academic, and professional goals.
- HSK 4 — Speak upper intermediate with native speakers on various topics.
- HSK 5 — You can speak fluently and read a Chinese newspaper.
- HSK 6 — Express yourself the way you want in any situation, either speaking or writing. Almost near-native.
HSK 1 and 2 include both writing and reading skills. HSK 4, 5, and 6 have writing, reading, and listening.
The speaking section doesn’t exist. Thus, to test your speaking skills, take HSKK. The oral tests have three levels.
- (i) HSK (Elementary),
- (ii) HSK (Intermediate), and
- (iii) HSK (Advanced).
The new HSK levels (HSK 3.0)
HSK is undergoing the most significant reform in its history. A nine-level structure replaces the current six-level system. So, it forms the “Three Stages and Nine Levels” test grading system.
They added levels 6-9 to make it on par with the CEFR scale. HSK levels 6 to 9 would be close to advanced C1 and near-native C2. The new format will look more or less like the one below.
- HSK 1, 2, and 3 — Beginners, like A1 and A2.
- HSK 4, 5, and 6 — Intermediate, like B1 and B2, and
- HSK 7, 8, and 9 — Advanced, like C1 and C2.
The beginners have 3 levels: beginners, elementary, and pre-intermediate. HSK 3 will be identical to A2. Likewise, HSK 6 and 9 will look similar to B2 and C2.
The difficulty level, cumulative vocabulary, passing marks, and arrangement will also change.
There would be one notable difference in the number of words. For example, the highest level will cover over 10,000 vocabularies instead of 5,000. This is necessary to bring it up to level C2, near-native of CERF.
The new HSK 3.0 is more complex than the current HSK 2.0. For example, learners must study vocabulary, grammar rules, and characters more.
New HSK levels 7, 8, and 9 and exams will be introduced in 2023.
Test structure and syllabus
Most questions are MCQs (Multiple-Choice Questions or True/False). But there are also subjective questions at the higher levels.
Let’s find out the exact outline of each level, how many words it requires, and the test duration.
|HSK Levels||Description||Test Duration||Total Words Required|
|HSK1||Level 1 of HSK is the easiest. As a novice learner, you will understand simple Chinese phrases, greetings, beginner vocabulary, grammar, and simple sentence formation. This builds the foundation for further study.||40||150|
|HSK2||HSK-2 prepares candidates to write and read about everyday situations and activities. Here, you have a general understanding of familiar subjects and can hold basic conversations. An elementary level is the starting point for a lower intermediate level.||55||300|
|HSK3||Level 3 of HSK goes beyond basic concepts and is the midway point for Mandarin proficiency. Communicate for various purposes, both personal and professional, using intermediate-level sentences. You can also use this level to communicate with Chinese speakers abroad.||90||600|
|HSK4||Aim for an HSK 4 if you wish to study or work in China. You can write long essays and discuss various topics with native Chinese speakers at this level. In addition, with upper-intermediate words, tricky tones, and grammar skills, you’ll be able to communicate more effectively.||105||1200|
|HSK5||Level 5 of HSK is considered advanced. You can read Chinese newspapers, magazines, documents, and web pages in Chinese with it. You can speak, read, and listen to virtually any topic with it. You can also enjoy movies for learning Chinese, tv-shows and listen to music with little problem||125||2,500|
|HSK6||HSK 6 is the highest and most challenging level. It allows you to write and speak Chinese fluently. Even though you may not be near-native fluent, you can use several idiomatic expressions, and complex tones and make complex sentences almost spontaneously.||140||5,000|
How does the HSK test work?
You can either take the exam on a computer or in written format.
Here are some valuable pointers about the test before choosing a computer vs. written exam.
- HSK 1 and HSK 2 are the primary HSK exams and include Pinyin and characters. Both tests require listening and reading.
- HSK 3 to HSK 6 has only Chinese characters without Pinyin. It has 3 sections: listening, reading, and writing.
I suggest the computer test. Most learners and foreigners may find writing every character by hand challenging.
You can easily score in the HSK test by typing the Pinyin on the keyboard and automating the characters.
The scoring system & passing mark
There is a maximum mark of 100 for each of the three sections: writing, reading, and listening.
For the first two levels, they provide all the characters and Pinyin. In contrast, they do not offer Pinyin for the remaining levels; everything is in Chinese characters.
HSK 1 and 2 do not have a listening section, so the total score is 200. Thus, to pass, you must score at least 120 points out of 200.
HSK 4, 5, and 6 each have a maximum of 300 points. To pass, you must score 180 points out of 300.
What is the HSK score validity?
HSK test scores expire after 2 years from the test result date. Once the validity is over, you need to retake it to be officially counted.
If your goal is to enroll in a university in mainland China. In that situation, your scores are valid for only two years from the test date.
How to register for HSK?
Each exam will have a different final date. So be sure to check the deadline before submitting your application.
The official website allows you to register directly. You can also create a new account if you don’t already have one.
Afterward, you can choose the level, dates, and test center and pick between paper-based and online testing.
Next, upload your photo, and enter your identification number (passport, driving license, etc.). Finally, submit the application form along with the payment.
You can also contact the nearest HSK test center, and they will assist you with the registration process.
HSK testing centers
Chinese Testing International (CTI) is a government-funded organization that manages the Chinese test. They do this either independently or in collaboration with educational institutions worldwide.
CTI maintains 1,208 HSK testing centers in 155 nations as of January 2023. It supports over 30 million Chinese students across the globe.
Taiwan (the Republic of China) does not administer the test. Instead, Taiwan has its own separate Chinese exam, i.e., the TOCFL. And this is not available in mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau.
HSK 2023 test dates
They publish the test dates once a year, and they usually conduct them 14 times a year worldwide. So you have plenty of dates to select from.
The registration period often lasts four weeks before the exam. But for internet-based exams, the deadline is ten days before their respective test.
|Exam Dates||Written Test Registration Last Date||Online Test Registration Last Date||Paper Results Date||Online Results Date|
|Jan 7 (Sat)||Dec 11, 2022||Dec 28, 2022||Feb 14||Jan 30|
|Mar 18 (Sat)||Feb 19||Mar 08||Apr 18||Apr 10|
|Apr 09 (Sun)||Mar 13||Mar 30||May 16||Apr 24|
|May 14 (Sun)||Apr 17||May 04||June 14||May 29|
|June 11 (Sun)||May 15||June 01||July 11||June 26|
|July 16 (Sun)||June 19||July 06||Aug 16||Aug 01|
|Aug 20 (Sun)||July 24||Aug 10||Sept 20||Sept 04|
|Sept 16 (Sat)||Aug 20||Sept 06||Oct 23||Oct 09|
|Oct 15 (Sun)||Sept 18||Oct 05||Nov 15||Oct 30|
|Nov 18 (Sat)||Oct 20||Nov 08||Dec 18||Dec 04|
|Dec 03 (Sun)||Nov 06||Nov 23||Jan 3, 2024||Dec 18|
HSKK 2023 speaking exam dates
|Exam Dates||Paper and Pencil Test||Internet-based Test||Date of Results|
|Jan 7 (Sat)||Dec 11, 2022||Dec 28, 2022||Feb 13|
|Mar 18 (Sat)||Feb 09||Mar 08||Apr 18|
|Apr 9 (Sun)||Mar 13||Mar 30||May 16|
|May 14 (Sun)||Apr 17||May 04||June 14|
|July 16 (Sun)||June 19||July 06||Aug 16|
|Oct 15 (Sun)||Sept 18||Oct 05||Nov 15|
|Dec 3 (Sun)||Nov 06||Nov 23||Jan 03, 2024|
2023 examination fee
The test fee varies depending on where you take the test.
Its cost is like other popular language tests, such as DELE, CILS, DELF, CILS, SIELE, CIPLE, and Goethe-Zertifikat. But higher than exams like JLPT and TOPIK.
For instance, the price in the USA ranges from $30 to $80. While in India, it is between ₹ 1500 and 6500.
HSK level 1 costs 150RMB in mainland China. After that, the price goes up by 100RMB after each grade. And for the highest level, i.e., level 6, it goes up to 650 RMB.
How to prepare for HSK?
Chinese is one of the most challenging languages. But there are ways to simplify it.
Success in the HSK test requires passion, perseverance, practice, and preparation.
You can find many online learning resources in the era of easy internet access. For example, books, Chinese learning apps, audio and video lessons, and LMS programs.
These can be a starting point but not an end. Most online study materials are geared towards beginners rather than higher levels (3 to 6).
Finding an experienced teacher or enrolling at a Chinese institute will prove more beneficial. But the great news is there is no shortage of language centers in major cities.
As language and culture intertwine, you can also learn about China’s history and cultural aspects.
To help you prepare better and ace the exam, you can also find the sample papers and previous year’s questions on the websites.
Should you take the Chinese HSK Test?
You might want to know how much you studied and your exact level. It is reasonable to expect a minimum score for a visa application in China.
HSK certificate can help you show potential employers how good you are at Mandarin. Plus, you might want to improve your Chinese proficiency for career advancement.
The HSK test is an excellent way to set yourself apart from competitors regardless of your motives.
The HSK test certificate can add significant value to your resume. Plus, it can help you with enormous success in your personal, academic, and professional dreams!
Do you intend to take the exam? Share your views and questions in the comment below.
How can Indians register for the HSK examination? Can we get some links?
You have to contact the nearest test centers, and they will provide you options on how to register yourself. For example, Mumbai University conducts the test. You can check the list of testing centers on the official website.