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Why HSK is so important and its standards


HSK banner with students

With the steady improvement of China's economy and political importance, their language, Mandarin Chinese, is becoming more popular among non-native Chinese speakers. Because China also has the largest population in the world, this also means that Mandarin Chinese is one of the most spoken languages in the world. People who study Mandarin Chinese as a second language or a foreign language believe it will bring them more opportunities - not only in their career but also in terms of understanding the world.

If you are learning Mandarin Chinese, and you are specifically interested in studying or working in China in the future, then this is the RIGHT article. In the following paragraphs, we will introduce you to the most authentic Mandarin Chinese proficiency test, the HSK - its significance, its examination structure, forms, passing score, and links to past papers.



What is HSK? What does HSK stand for?

HSK is an abbreviation of three Chinese words - Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi. Hanyu means Chinese, usually Mandarin Chinese as this is the official language of China, Shuiping stands for proficiency, and Kaoshi means test. Therefore, put them together, HSK is the Chinese proficiency test. HSK is administered by Hanban, an agency of the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China.

Let’s put it in this way, HSK in China is like IELTS in the UK or TOEFL in the US. It is the only official Mandarin proficiency test in China. In fact, the certificate of passing HSK 4 and above is a pass to enter many good Chinese universities and well-known companies. Therefore, if you plan to study or work in China, you definitely need to know more about HSK.

HSK Examination Structure

There are currently six levels of HSK, from HSK 1 to HSK 6. HSK1 is the most basic test, while HSK6 is the most difficult one. One piece of important information that needs to be mentioned is that the HSK will change its format from 6 levels to 9 levels, starting from July 2021. Moreover, the old version does not include speaking tests, so with the current HSK you need to take another test, HSKK (Hanyu Shuiping Laoshi Kouyu), to prove your speaking level. In the new version of HSK this is not necessary as speaking is included in the test. In general, the new version after July 1st 2021 will be more comprehensive and complicated than the old version. If you are planning to take the HSK soon and want to do current one, it is better to register for the test now. Let’s take a look at all six levels of the current one - what language knowledge do you need if you want to pass a specific level.

  • Suggested studying time: 30-45 hours
  • Vocabulary required: 150 words
  • Characters required: 52 characters
  • Sentence structures required: 50 sentences

HSK 1 Overview: HSK 1 is an introductory course to learning for the HSK, as well as a starter course in Chinese that integrates listening, speaking, reading and writing. In HSK 1 level, you will learn how to greet, express time and weather, and simply introduce yourself and some other communicative expressions.

  • HSK 2

HSK 2 Overview: HSK 1 and HSK 2 are both basic survival Chinese. However, the HSK 2 comprehensive lessons will help you to build your Chinese thinking patterns step by step. After completing this course, you will be able to: introduce the weather and directions, express personal emotions, shopping, travel, see a doctor, etc.

HSK 3 Overview: HSK 1 and HSK 2 are both survival Chinese that focuses more on vocabulary expanding rather than characters recognizing and reading. However, HSK 3, the start of the intermediate level of Chinese, requires reading characters rather than reading Pinyin. Moreover, more Chinese social background and cultural knowledge will be introduced to learners. HSK 3 covers a variety of daily social scenes, such as making comparisons, expressing emotions, describing the development of events, etc.

HSK 4 Overview: HSK 4 has two textbooks: textbook 1 and textbook 2. Therefore, the time devoted to learning HSK 4 has doubled at this level. However, by studying the whole HSK 4 level, learners will be able to use Chinese to discuss topics in a wider range of fields and communicate with native Chinese speakers relatively fluently.

  • HSK 5
  • Suggested studying time: 160-240 hours
  • Vocabulary required: 2500 words

HSK 5 Overview: The higher the level, the more time you need to devote to learning and reaching the requirements. In HSK 5, Learners will study and discuss a wide range of deeper topics in life and work, for example, philosophy of life, and social issues. Passing this level, learners will be able to share their insights in the above aspects and even give complete speeches in Chinese.

  • HSK 6
  • Suggested studying time: 240-320 hours
  • Vocabulary required: above 5000 words

HSK 6 Overview: The last level HSK 6 requires learners to master complicated Chinese adverbs, and complex sentence patterns. After studying, learners should be familiar with topics like society, culture, famous Chinese characters, history, geography, technology, etc. By learning more reading materials and expanding vocabulary, learners will have extensive reading ability, and some scanning techniques to quickly grasp keywords and search for details in a long article.

HSK Registration Form

If you want to register for the HSK test, there are two ways: register online or offline. However, no matter which way you choose, you will be asked to fill in the registration form. Please check this link to download the form from HSK official website: http://www.chinesetest.cn/godownload.do.

Please click on the “HSK报名表” in the Forms category. If you have any questions or need any help in the registration process, please contact us, and we try to help you to solve your problems.

HSK Registration form

You may have heard there are two formats of HSK test: Paper-based Test and Online Test (or Internet-based test). What is the difference between them? Which type of test should you register with? If you have questions like this, do not miss the following paragraphs!

The paper-based test is the traditional way to take a test and is very easy to understand. You will be asked to go to an official HSK test centre, sit at a desk and use a 2B pencil or a pen to answer all questions in listening, reading and writing parts (only in HSK 3-6). All you need to do is following all instructions of the invigilator and finish your paper.

The internet-based test does not mean you can take the test wherever you want once you have got a computer. You still need to go to an official HSK test centre, sit in front of a computer that is connected to Hanban servers (but now since we are still in the pandemic, the home edition of online tests is allowed). The test content is exactly the same as the paper-based test: listening, reading, and writing parts (only in HSK 3-6).

Since we know how these two types of tests work, which one should we choose to take?

The biggest difference between a paper-based and an internet-based test is whether to write characters or type characters! This is very easy to understand for anyone who has learned a little Chinese. Typing Chinese only requires the learner to know the Pinyin (pronunciation) and can successfully recognize the correct character from a list of characters that have the same pronunciation. every details of strokes and do not make any mistakes. Since there will be a writing part starting from HSK 3 level, it really makes a big difference for HSK 3-6 tests whether you choose to take a paper-based one or an internet-based one.

The second difference is the time of registration and checking test results. If you are in an urgent situation - for example, you need the test result for entering a university or getting a job, then the online test will be your best choice. It not only allows you to register for it just 10 days before the test but also keeps you waiting for only two weeks for the release of the test result. However, the registration and waiting time for traditional paper-based tests are both 28 days.

It sounds like the online test is much better than paper tests so far. Nevertheless, paper tests have their advantages as well. First of all, many exam centres do not provide computer-based exams, but they must provide paper-based exams. Therefore, you need to double-check whether the test centre close to you is able to provide a computer-based test or not. Secondly, if you are a person who is used to taking notes while doing the listening and reading parts, then probably the traditional paper-based test is your best choice. Computer-based tests apparently cannot allow you to do that. Thirdly, paper-based tests also allow you to freely arrange the time for each part (listening, reading, writing), and you can go back to any part to double-check your answer. However, each part has a fixed time in computer-based tests. If you are specifically slow in finishing one part, then why not try traditional paper-based tests?

In conclusion, the online HSK test is easier in writing part in HSK 3-6, and is more efficient in registration and receiving the result. However, if you are a person who is used to take notes on the question paper and freely arrange your time for each part, then probably the traditional paper-based test is your best choice.

HSK Passing Score

The passing percentage of HSK tests is 60%. HSK 1-2 only have listening and reading, and each part has 100 points, so the passing score is 120 out of 200 points. For HSK 3-4 which have one more writing part, the passing score is 180 out of 300 points. However, HSK 5-6 does not have an explicit passing line. The official website of the HSK test states that just like TOFEL and IELTS that do not have a passing line, “passing the test” does not indicate one’s language ability, while the concrete score can be. Therefore, to encourage Mandarin learners to continuously improve their language skills and get a better score, there will only be specific scores without any “pass” or “fail” on HSK 5 and 6 test certificates.

Download HSK past papers

If you want to know what will the test paper look like at your level, you can check HSK 1-6 sample papers from the official website:


As it showed in the following picture, go to the Sample Volume Category, you will see sample papers of HSK 1-6 respectively from left to right, and from top to bottom.

HSK test past papers


Who can take the HSK Exams?

Whoever wants to sit in this exam can take HSK exams. Normally, people who are not Mandarin native speakers and want to prove their Mandarin competency as a second language learner or a foreign language learner will take HSK exams. They can be people who want to work in China and required by Chinese companies to prove their Chinese proficiency by taking HSK exams; Or they can be international students who want to study in Chinese Universities but need to meet language proficiency which is required in their conditional offer; They can even be people are from ethnic minorities in China, who do not speak Mandarin as their native language but want to prove their Mandarin proficiency to have more Mandarin-related opportunities.

How long do I need to study for HSK tests?

The suggesting learning time for each level is very different. Basic levels cost much fewer learning hours than advanced levels. The official suggested time for studying HSK 1 or 2 (basic levels) is 30-45 hours, for studying HSK 3 or 4 (intermediate levels) is 80-120 hours, while for studying HSK 5 or 6 (advanced levels) vary from 160 to 240 hours. If you want to reach an advanced level, you need to devote lots of time to study Chinese. However, most Chinese universities and colleges are only asking for the pass of HSK 4. If you are attending intense Chinese lessons taught by our professional and experienced Mandarin teachers, it will not take too long time to reach this level - even if you are a beginner. If you are seeking to reach a certain level in a short time, please contact us! We at Chinese Online Courses will help you to schedule your lessons, sit you in exams, and achieve your goal! :)

Do I need to learn writing in HSK courses?

Writing sessions starts to appear from HSK 3 level. Therefore, if you are taking HSK 1 or HSK 2 test, do not worry, you will not face the writing section, Actually, you not only do not need to write any characters, in HSK 1 and 2 level, all characters will have pinyin annotations. Even you do not recognize them, if you know the pronunciation and understand the pinyin, you will pass the HSK 1 and 2 level. However, all pinyin will be removed from HSK 3 level and a writing session will be added to it as well. Nevertheless, there is no need to panic - if you are taking a computer-based exam, you do not need to write characters but only to type them! This greatly reduced the difficulty of the writing session.

What is a good HSK score?

As we have mentioned in the HSK Passing Score section, HSK 1-4 all have a passing score which is 60% of the total points, while HSK 5-6 have no passing scores, only specific grades. However, you may wonder, what kind of scores count a good score in HSK tests?

Chinese HSK Level 5 ranking

Table 1: HSK 5 ranking information

(Reference: Official Hanban website http://www.chinesetest.cn/gonewcontent.do?id=8750536

As you can see from the table above, take HSK 5 as an example, if an examinee gets the score of Listening 89, Reading 76, Writing 71, and a total score of 236. Therefore, this test taker's listening, reading, writing, and total scores have reached 89%, 76%, 71%, and 79% of the HSK 5 competency standard respectively and his/her listening, reading, writing, andtotal scores are higher than 80%, 70%, 70%, and 77% candidates respectively (according to Table 1). Please check HSK 6 ranking information in the following Table 2.

Chinese HSK Level 6 ranking

Table 2: HSK 6 ranking information

How much does the HSK test cost?

If you are going to take HSK exams in China, the fee is fixed, as the following table shows:

Chinese HSK Examination fees in China 2021

Table 3: HSK Examination Fee in China

However, if you are an overseas candidate, the prices vary depending on your location. For example, if you are based in the UK, please check Table 4:

Chinese HSK test fees in UK test centres 2021

Table 4: HSK Examination Fee in the UK

If you are in the US, then the examination fee will be:

Chinese HSK test fees in US test centres 2021

Table 5: HSK Examination Fee in the US

Please remember to check your HSK examination fees if you are not based in the countries listed above.

Can I take the HSK exam online?

This question is a little bit tricky. HSK exams used to not allow candidates to take them online with their own computer. If you read the previous section “Internet-based test” in this article, you may already know that internet-based does not mean that you can take the exam wherever you want using whatever device you have. It requires all candidates to go to HSK test centres, sitting in front of the computer which uses the Hanban internet server to take the test. However, nowadays because of the pandemic, online HSK exams (home edition) are allowed for candidates whose countries did not resume on-site HSK yet. For these candidates, your testing system and environment need to meet some requirements as well. For example, the most important point is that you need to have a computer running Windows 7/10 while Mac OS operating systems and mobile devices are not supported. For more details e.g. screen resolution, network bandwidth, network speed, and testing environment requirements, please check the official HSK test website:


How can I get my certification?

If you are a candidate within China, remember to fill in your address online after the test results are announced, and apply for your certification and certification delivery service. However, if you are an overseas candidate, then your certificate will be sent to your test centre within 1-2 months after the test. You can pick it up in the test centre with your admission ticket and ID.

What’s the difference between HSK and HSKK?

HSK stands for “Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi”, which is Chinese proficiency test, while HSKK stands for “Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi Kouyu”, which is Chinese proficiency test - oral. HSK is a written test, which contains two parts (listening and reading) in Level 1 and 2, three parts (listening, speaking, and writing) in Level 3 to 6. Speaking is not included in HSK. It is because speaking or to say, the oral Chinese test is HSKK - another individual test that you need to register and take separately.

What is HSK 1-9? When will it start?

You may have heard that a new version of HSK which is HSK 1-9 is coming! Actually, the old version of HSK 1-6 is criticized for both not reflecting candidates’ speaking abilities and not fully correspond to CEFR (the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). According to Table 5, even the highest level - HSK 6 can only reflect that the learner has reached the level of B2 (intermediate - 2) or C1 (advanced - 1).

Estimated CEFR level of old HSK

Table 6: Estimated CEFR level of old HSK brands according to different countries

Therefore, the new HSK is created to solve the above two questions. Firstly, speaking will be also included in new HSK tests. Secondly, the new HSK 1-9 is more defined in classification and the difficulty of it will also increased to match with the CEFR level (please see in Table 6).

Estimated CEFR level of new HSK

Table 7: Estimated CEFR level of new HSK brands

However, if you are planning to take HSK tests - do not panic! New HSK 1-9 brands will start from July 1st. Even from July 1, not all old HSK exams will be replaced by new ones. If you are planning to take HSK exams, contact us to know more details of the new HSK 1-9. our professional tutors and teachers will help you to schedule your studying and testing timetable!

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