Mandarin Chinese Hacks: How to Study for the AP Chinese Exam

HSK 3 quiz

Quite often, I receive messages from parents outside China who would like some guidance and suggestions on how to motivate their children to learn Mandarin Chinese and what goals to set. While standardized tests may only motivate some students, I do find that the AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam is an excellent way to cap off a teenager’s Mandarin language progress and also save money and time on college classes, since it gives students a head-start at university. Whichever score they do receive, there is no doubt that the process of studying for this exam is beneficial to their overall learning.
“AP Chinese”, as it’s often called, is short for Advanced Placement Chinese Language and Culture which is a course offered by the College Board as a part of the Advanced Placement Program in the United States. The AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam is approximately three hours in length. The test assesses interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational communication skills in Mandarin Chinese, along with knowledge of Chinese culture. Although the test originates from the USA, about 90% of Canadian universities and 20 other countries now recognize the scores. It can help reduce the cost of university education, and shorten the duration of university education for students who take the exam. The AP Chinese examination scores is a very important factor for applying for universities.

So, you’ve decided to take the AP Chinese exam. Good decision! How do you begin to study?

First, you can purchase some books to help you prepare and to take mock-up tests. You can buy these, new or used, online with sites such as Amazon. These texts will help you become familiar with the structure of the test, which is:
Listening: 25%, 45 mins
Reading: 25%, 45 mins
Writing: 25%, 45 mins
Speaking: 25%, 45 mins
This AP Chinese exam is an internet-based test. Therefore, it’s best that you practice your inputting speed on a computer. Make sure you have become familiar with Chinese pinyin and phonetic symbols when inputting them on the computer. You don’t want technical errors to affect your score!

Once you’ve become familiar with the layout and content of the exam, it’s time to refine and clarify your skills, strengths and weaknesses before the test. It’s time to work with a native-speaking, qualified professional tutor familiar with the AP Chinese exam.

The exam itself is not a piece of cake. Even some native Chinese speakers may fail it! Every year, the exam materials change, so a taker must be prepared to improvise and be confident in their abilities. Writing is also a hurdle for many examinees. Sometimes, students try to write what they want to express in Chinese, but they usually didn’t tell a full story as needed. Also, grammar mistakes may lower their score. A professional teacher can give your detailed feedback for your daily practice and give you useful tips how to self-study. A student will need to know a lot about Chinese culture and history to thoroughly answer the exam questions. A qualified native teacher familiar with the AP Chinese exam is absolutely your best resource when preparing for the AP Chinese exam. Your teacher will help you develop a method on how to take the test, not just cram for it with self-study.

Overall, goals, motivation and your chosen study method will be your stepping stones as you work towards the top score on the exam.

You cannot cut corners, get off on the right food! The Chinese AP exam is a worthwhile milestone in a young person’s Mandarin Chinese progress; a doorway to a more exciting and lucrative future ahead.

―Written by Becky Zhang―

Becky Zhang is a teacher at 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!

3 thoughts on “Mandarin Chinese Hacks: How to Study for the AP Chinese Exam”

    1. jennifer.zhu

      Thank you for your comment! If you want to learn more about AP Chinese, you can take one of our free trials here.

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