7 things you should know about the HSK test

Sometimes people have to take a language test. It is a hurdle that we all have to jump once in a while. For people like me, we must take TOEFL or IELTS (both are English proficiency tests) when applying for universities in the UK or the US as part of the admission requirements. For non-native Chinese speakers, the equivalent test is HSK if they want to enter a university in China.

#1: What is HSK?

HSK stands for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (汉语水平考试), translated as the Chinese Proficiency Test. It is China’s only standardised Chinese test for non-native Chinese speakers, evaluating their Chinese language ability in both written (simplified Chinese characters) and spoken (putonghua) forms.

HSK is a written test. The speaking test is called HSKK. The two tests are taken separately, but the results are often jointly required. 

The tests are administered by Hanban (汉办), an affiliation of Chinese government, who also oversees two other tests, YCT (Youth Chinese Test), and BCT (Business Chinese Test). According to Hanban, there were 770,000 people taking HSK, HSKK, YCT and BCT in 2017. 

#2: Why do people take HSK?

First of all, it is part of the admission requirements for non-Chinese speaking students get into a university in China. According to China’s Ministry of Education, in 2017, there were 489,200 international students enrolled in Chinese institutions. That is to say, at least 489,200 people took the HSK test and passed.

Secondly, it is a requirement for students to apply for Hanban scholarships or summer/winter camps. Other Chinese government scholars ask for it too.

Thirdly, it may help professionals find work in Chinese companies.

Lastly, there are people take the HSK test simply because it is a challenge. It is a validation of hard work and Chinese language skills.

#3: What are the structures of HSK and HSKK?

There are six levels of HSK, in corresponding with three levels of HSKK. The following table shows how they are tied together.

Six levels of HSK test people’s ability in:

  • Level 6: easily comprehending any written and spoken information in Chinese, and effectively expressing themselves in Chinese in both written and spoken form. Vocabulary level is at 5000 words or above. The test includes three sections: listening, reading comprehension and writing.
  • Level 5: reading Chinese newspapers and magazines, watching Chinese films, and giving lengthy speeches in Chinese. Vocabulary level is at 2500 words or above. The test includes three sections: listening, reading comprehension and writing. 
  • Level 4: conversing in Chinese on a wide range of topics, and communicating fluently with native Chinese speakers. Vocabulary level is at 1200 words or above. This test includes three sections: listening, reading comprehension and writing. 
  • Level 3: communicating in Chinese at a basic level in daily life, study or work, and when travelling in China. Vocabulary level is at 600 words or above. The test includes three sections: listening, reading comprehension and writing.
  • Level 2: communicating in a simple manner with direct exchange of information on daily life. Vocabulary level is at 300 words or above. This test includes two sections: listening and reading comprehension. Pinyin is provided along with characters.
  • Level 1: understanding and using simple Chinese words and phrases. Vocabulary level is at 150 words or above. The test includes two sections: listening and reading comprehension. Pinyin is provided along with characters.

Three levels of HSKK test people’s ability in:

  • Advanced: understanding other’s opinions and expressing their thoughts fluently.
  • Intermediate: understanding and communicating rather fluently with native Chinese speakers.
  • Beginner: understanding and expressing themselves in daily life topics. 

#4: How is HSK scored?

For level 3-6, the maximum score is 300 with 180 (60%) required to pass.

For level 1-2, the maximum score is 200 with 120 (60%) required to pass.

#5: The practical details about HSK: where to register and take the test, and how much it costs?

There are test centres all over the world. Check out this website to find a location: http://www.chinesetest.cn/goKdInfoOrPlan.do  

The fee for the test varies depending on the locations. In Hong Kong, the fee in 2019 is as below:

#6: Who benefits from HSK?

HSK is a huge business. I would say Hanban benefits the most. They are the indisputable authority, who also offer a range of products and services, such as HSK preparation books, mock tests, courses, and so on. The next would be publishers and schools, who also offer HSK preparation books and courses. Students are the last to benefit form HSK. They get anxieties and uncertainties, especially when they have to take the same test a multiple times in order to get the best result possible (there is no limit on how many times a person can take HSK).

#7: What does MSL Master have to do with HSK?

The answer is “nothing at all” and “everything”.

We don’t approve, neither practice, excessive test culture. Our main objective is to develop relevant and innovative learning materials and help students improve their overall Mandarin Chinese language skills. We promote learning Mandarin through fun class activities, and students’ participation and contribution. Our students have achieved stellar learning result without taking the HSK test. They managed major exhibition fairs when at Mandarin Express Intro Level, have travelled throughout China when at Mandarin Express Basic Level, and have started reading documents in Chinese at Mandarin Express Pre-Intermediate Level. Our four-stage learning path is designed to open up students’ mind and for them to experience a different world. It has nothing to do with HSK. 

However, for people who plan to take HSK, they can get real help here. Our entire curriculum is communication based. Students have access to many level-appropriate listening and reading exercises in Work Books, and have opportunities to improve communication skills with peer students and with the teacher. 

Finishing the Foundation Stage, students can easily handle HSK level 1-3. Finishing the Development Stage, students can take on HSK level 4. And finishing the Acculturation Stage, score high on HSK level 5 & 6! 

Moreover, We have access to the mock test papers, which can be used to help students cultivate their test skills.


April Zhang
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