HSK Test Guide and Preparation

HSK test prep course

When my Mandarin Chinese students come to China and study in our program, they often think that the stressful, high-pressure days of test-taking are behind them. Not quite!
Mandarin Chinese students have goals to set and reach just as junior high and high school students do. Although in class we focus on speaking and communicating orally, the test that these students focus on in their self-study is comprised of listening, reading and writing and can be approached alone or with a tutor. So, what is this comprehensive test that Mandarin Chinese students will set their sights on? Why, it’s the HSK of course!
The Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì (HSK), translated from the “Chinese Proficiency Test”, is China’s only standardized test of Standard Chinese language proficiency for non-native speakers and learners.
Before anything else, preparation is the key to success!”- Alexander Graham Bell

So, how can a Chinese language student prepare for the HSK, the most important evaluation of their Mandarin abilities?
First things first : Know which test level you’re preparing for and know the demands of that particular level:
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Here is what I generally tell my students, who range from beginners to advanced:
Level 1: for students who have no or very limited prior knowledge of Chinese language and may not know basic Chinese words and phrases.
Level 2: for students who know some basic Chinese words and phrases but find it difficult to conduct with confidence some routine communication tasks in Chinese.
Level 3: for students who can ask and answer questions and exchange ideas and information on routine topics in predictable everyday situations.
Level 4: for students who can communicate with confidence on familiar routine and non-routine matters related to their interests and professional fields although some pauses and mistakes usually happen.
Level 5: for students who can talk with native speakers in Chinese fluently and somewhat effectively. You have a broad active reading vocabulary, but may experience some difficulty in delivering a lengthy Chinese speech.
Level 6: for students who can understand a wide range of demanding topics, recognize implicit meanings, but still have some difficulty in expressing yourself spontaneously, and precisely.

This following chart may help you better understand what’s required of your study preparation:
HSK test vocabulary list

One thing that each level of testing has in common is that they contain a nearly equal mix of Reading and Listening questions. Writing is not tested in Levels 1 and 2, but is tested in Levels 3 to 5, with an essay composition required only in Level 6.

Official study materials:

《HSK 标准教程》 HSK Standard course
《HSK 考试大纲》 HSK Test Syllabus
《HSK 真题解析》 HSK Analysis
Once a learner has completed these study materials, they can take mock tests online and find their strengths and weaknesses.

There are apps that may also be of help for your HSK study as well as to your overall Mandarin progress. Some of these include:

Anki, a flashcard system.

Anki is an “intelligent” program, meaning the more you’ve mastered a flashcard, the less it’ll show up in your deck. This is a good, progressive way to study.
Duolingo and Memrise  are becoming more popular options for learning Chinese and other languages when you’ve got free time.
Pleco is a dictionary that will help introduce and improve with Chinese writing, in particular.
Skritter is also great for memorizing and practicing writing characters. Although speaking/listening is more important in the beginning, you may find the characters offer an interesting glimpse into the Chinese culture and way of thinking.
All of these will help you with the nuts and bolts of Mandarin that you will need to brush up on to do well on the basics of the test.
So, is self-study enough for the HSK?
In short, no; especially for Intermediate and Advanced Level 3 to Level 6 students, being able to have feedback that is personalized and follows your progress as you do self-study is invaluable.
A qualified, experienced Mandarin teacher trained in HSK preparation will give a detailed analysis of your strengths and weaknesses going into the test. For different types of questions, there are very systematic learning methods. For example, I would divide most of the HSK Listening Questions into six different types:
1. Math Problems.
2. Time and Place Questions
3. Profession, Identity and Human Relations Questions.
4. Requests or Plans.
5. Objective Clause Questions.
6. True or False.
Defining and organizing each kind of possible question can help students to set clear goals for practice and be prepared for the different types of listening tests well in advance. This is hard to know on your own!
So, where is a good place to find a qualified native Mandarin Chinese teacher to guide you through your HSK study?

It’s not always easy finding a qualified, native-speaking Mandarin teacher when you are outside of China. However, now whether you’re in Dallas or Denmark, online options nowadays make it easier than ever to study with a qualified teacher in China.
eChineseLearning has face-to-face, live 1-to-1 courses designed for students at all levels of the HSK test. In addition to teaching each level of HSK in conversation, the teachers can help you with each step of your own self-study as well!
Teachers and resources for HSK at eChineseLearning provide a wide variety of Chinese level tests and mock HSK test for you to use when learning Chinese online. These Chinese tests are FREE and are designed by our professional teaching staff to help you test your Chinese level, build your Chinese vocabulary, and to act as a supplemental tool for your Chinese language studies. These tests go hand-in-hand with eChineseLearning’s wide range of Chinese test prep courses.
Whichever way my students choose to study for the HSK test, I always remind them to stay motivated and to not head off in the wrong direction through misguided self-study. Be sure that there is a professional to help steer them into the right current!

HSK 3 quiz

If you are aiming to pass the HSK Level 3 exam, how many Chinese characters do you need to learn (new)?
A. 173
B. 270
C. 447
D. 627

―Written by Becky Zhang―

She is a teacher at eChineseLearning.com. She has over eight years of experience teaching Mandarin Chinese to foreign students and promoting Chinese culture. She lives in Beijing but loves traveling to ancient Chinese villages. One day she’d like to be a tour guide in China!

Further Reading:

What is HSK and why take HSK?
HSK Quiz: Chuān(穿) VS Dài(戴)
HSK Quiz: Zài (在) VS Zài (再)

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