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Taking an HSK Exam: What You Need to Know

By Natasha Cohen12/11/2020 Learn Chinese

Short for ‘Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi’ (汉语水平考试), the HSK is a standardised, internationally-recognised exam to test the proficiency of non-native Mandarin speakers.

There are currently six different levels, with the most basic level being HSK 1. However, this will be changed to nine levels in 2021, to fall in line with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). 

What are the benefits of taking it?

As well as being a great way to test your knowledge of the language, having HSK certification can boost your career potential as it’s a globally-recognised test. In many cases, it’s also essential to have an HSK qualification in order to study at a university in China.

Working towards an HSK test can also give you the extra motivation you need to boost your vocabulary and grammar skills, as well as consolidate and strengthen existing knowledge.

Where can you take the exam?

The exams are taken at authorised test centres, which can be found across the UK as well as the world. You can attend them in-person (or, due to the pandemic at the moment, through Zoom meetings). It’s also possible to take a computer-based test, although some centres advise against this as if your computer equipment causes you to miss parts of the exam, the centre won’t be responsible.

How do you register for an exam?

First, you’ll need to register an account on the official HSK website, where you can choose the default language of the website at the top of the homepage.

Once you’ve created your account, you can register for an HSK exam by choosing your level, which will then take you to a page where you can choose your preferred test centre and/or method of taking the test, and your preferred test date. You’ll also need to enter your details and a photo of yourself for ID. Finally, you’ll need to pay a registration fee, which varies depending on which level you’re taking.

How do you know which level to take?

If you don’t have a teacher who you can ask for advice, you can find and download free HSK vocabulary lists for each level (currently HSK 1–6). A good indicator of which level you’re ready for is finding the vocabulary list at the highest level that you’re most familiar or comfortable with. You don’t necessarily have to already know every single word on the list, but confident enough that you’ll be familiar with all of them by the time your exam date comes around.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that from HSK 3 onwards, no pinyin is provided in the exams – only hanzi. 

How can you prepare for an exam?

Having a teacher who can give you mock tests and explain the answers to you is one of the best and fastest ways to learn. Lingoinn’s teachers can provide HSK exam preparation lessons – so not only can you study under expert guidance, but you can do it in the home country of the language too. Visit our Services page to find out more.

There are also lots of great free apps that can help you prepare your vocabulary and grammar points, for example In Flow Chinese and Chinese HSK. You can also find and download free past papers online to practise with.

What happens during the exam?

You’ll be tested on listening, reading and comprehension skills in a timed setting. You’ll also be tested on writing skills from HSK 3 onwards, where you’ll need to be able to write characters from memory (or, for the computer-based test, type characters using your keyboard). The reading and listening tests are multiple-choice, for example, listening to an audio clip or reading a section written in hanzi, and then selecting an answer from four options.

HSK doesn’t test speaking proficiency – an independent test called the HSKK can be taken for this, but is not considered part of the HSK itself.

What happens after the exam?

One month after your exam date, you’ll be able to check your results on the official HSK website. You’ll then be able to arrange to pick your certificate up from your test centre, or pay to have it posted to you (usually around £3).

A few last things to consider

Once you achieve your HSK certificate, it’s valid forever. However, if you want to use it for a university or job application in China, the certificate and test score expire after two years. After that, you’d need to retake the exam to prove to the university or business you’re applying to that your level of knowledge is still the same (or higher).


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