Updated: Jan 17
Although I have been studying Mandarin since 2006 and lived and worked in China from 2008 until 2013, I didn't meet anyone who had actually sat for the HSK until 2018. Perhaps because it was too daunting for many 老外, perhaps because many of my peers in Beijing already felt secure at their jobs. Whatever the reason, the HSK always felt like something to check off my list -- but later on.
After returning to the US to launch Manhattan Mandarin, I realized that signing up and taking the exam was far more difficult than I thought. We hoped Manhattan Mandarin could become a testing center but put this on the back-burner until Confucius Classrooms started disappearing left and right around 2018.
Under the leadership of our COO Michelle, our team officially became an HSK Testing Center and hosted our first test in the fall of 2022. We realized that the key to becoming a successful testing center was 3 fold.
Make it easy for students / parents to sign up
Prepare students for success through private and group classes
Follow up to putting students on the path to complete the next level
This was a lot more difficult than we originally surmised and I'm incredibly proud of our HSK team for getting things off the ground. This post is to introduce the exam as a whole so students and parents feel less intimidated by the process. There will be follow-up posts about steps to success, signing up, and more.
What is the HSK?
The HSK is an international standardized test for Chinese proficiency established to assess the Chinese proficiency of non-native Chinese speakers (including foreigners, overseas Chinese, ethnic Chinese and Chinese minority candidates).
This exam is used to measure how well test-takers can use the Chinese language in their daily, academic and professional lives. The test is available to take around the world, multiple times each year at set dates.
HSK stands for: 汉语水平考试 (Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì) - Mandarin Level Exam
What are the HSK Levels?
The current HSK consists of six levels. HSK 6 is the highest level and candidates who pass this level should be able to easily understand what they hear or read in Chinese, and express their opinions fluently in Chinese in oral or written form.
Below is the number of Chinese words and characters students are expected to know at each level:
HSK 1: 150 words, 174 characters
HSK 2: 300 words, 347 characters
HSK 3: 600 words, 617 characters
HSK 4: 1,200 words, 1,064 characters
HSK 5: 2,500 words, 1,685 characters
HSK 6: 5,000 words, 2,663 characters
Is there a new standard being released?
Yes! In 2020 it was announced that the HSK will soon change yet again. In the future, it will consist of three levels (Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced) and 9 "bands."
The main reason for this change is believed to be that the original changes to the HSK that took place in 2010 made the exam a little too easy.
Although HSK 6 is currently the highest level, the language skills of Chinese learners who achieve this level are nowhere near the “native” C2 fluency level as measured by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CETR). After the proposed changes, the highest band of the new exam will better reflect the C1/C2 threshold set by the CEFR system.
There is still a lot of speculation regarding what the newest version of the HSK will be like and few details have been released so far. It is still unclear when (and if) these changes will take place, but it seems like exciting news!
Why do I need to take the exam?
Gain admissions into a Chinese university.
Apply for scholarships in China.
Open up job opportunities in China
Show your skill levels to Chinese-facing companies.
Show off all your hard work!
Get a sense of where your Mandarin skills really are
Qualify to become a Manhattan Mandarin teacher
Where Can I take the HSK?
There are generally two ways you can take an HSK Test: in person or online.
Online HSK tests are mainly administered in test centers, except you take them on a computer instead of writing a paper test. However, since the pandemic in 2020, you have the option of taking the test at home over a video call, as long as you follow certain requirements.
One reason why you might prefer the online test is that you can type answers. This might be appealing to those who have trouble remembering how to write characters or who prefer to type because it’s faster.
Either way, you can use the online registration to conveniently register for the test.
Manhattan Mandarin conveniently offers the exam right in the heart of Manhattan!
What is the test actually like?
The HSK exam is offered in testing centers across China, as well as in select locations around the globe. When you register for the exam, you can choose to take the HSK in written form, or on a computer.
All HSK levels include listening and reading sections, and HSK 3 through HSK 6 also include writing portions.
Listening: 20 questions; 15 minutes
Reading: 20 questions; 17 minutes
Total Time: ~40 minutes
Listening: 35 questions; 25 minutes
Reading: 25 questions; 22 minutes
Total Time: ~55 minutes
Listening: 40 questions; 35 minutes
Reading: 30 questions; 30 minutes
Writing: 10 questions; 15 minutes
Total Time: ~90 minutes
Listening: 45 questions; 30 minutes
Reading: 40 questions; 40 minutes
Writing: 15 questions; 25 minutes
Total Time: ~105 minutes
Listening: 45 questions; 30 minutes
Reading: 45 questions; 45 minutes
Writing: 10 questions; 45 minutes
Total Time: ~125 minutes
Listening: 50 questions; 50 minutes
Reading: 50 questions; 50 minutes
Writing: 1 question; 45 minutes
Total Time: ~140 minutes
There is no speaking section on the HSK, but you can opt to take a separate speaking test called the HSKK (Chinese Level Oral Test) if you choose.
Common HSK question formats for the listening and reading sections include true-or-false, matching, fill-in-the-blank, and multiple choice. The writing section of the HSK 3 and 4 test is usually sentence-ordering or fill-in-the-blank. There may also be a picture or other essay prompt for HSK levels 5 and 6.
What is a good score?
Luckily, no one really cares about your exam score. The most important qualifier is the HSK level that you pass. Therefore, a good HSK score is 60%, which is the minimum to pass for each HSK level.
A passing grade on HSK 1 and 2 is 120 points out of 200. A passing grade on HSK levels 3, 4, 5, or 6 is 180 points out of 300.
Of course, you can always aim higher! Set yourself a goal and shoot for the stars. In the end, a good HSK score is what you make it.
How much does it cost?
When can I take the exam?