The HSK test (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) is the standardized proficiency test for Mandarin Chinese. It is administered by Hanban and consists of a total of 9 (originally 6) levels. The purpose and use-cases of HSK are very similar to what TOEFL or IELTS are used for in English speaking countries and range from university admission over proof of language skills for job applications to fulfilling requirements for certain visa categories.
The most commonly known HSK Test is the 6 level HSK 2.0 introduced in 2012. It’s still used currently for levels 1-6, but is said to be replaced by what is commonly referred to as HSK 3.0. That new test is harder and contains of a total of 9 levels with more vocabulary and much harder levels 1-3.
Below we first have links to vocabularies and overviews for the various levels, followed by some frequently asked questions (HSK FAQs) and a quick history of HSK:
In HSK 2.0, HSK 1 requires a vocabulary of 150 words and is designed for students who just started learning Chinese. It only has listening and reading parts (no writing) and also shows Pinyin along with the characters. This HSK 1 guide provides all the information you need to get started preparing for HSK 1 including all HSK 1 vocabularies with Pinyin and English translations. For HSK 1 we have furthermore put together a page with HSK 1 example sentences for each of the 150 HSK 1 vocabularies. This allows you to learn how to use each of the vocabularies within a sentence.
For HSK 3.0, there isn’t too much information out on what the format will be exactly. Once that’s out, we’ll add information here. For now, you can have a look at the 500 HSK 1 vocabularies for HSK 3.0 and start learning.
In HSK 2.0, HSK 2 requires a total vocabulary of 300 words and still mainly targets beginners. Like HSK 1, HSK level 2 also only has listening and reading parts (no writing) and shows Pinyin along with the characters. This HSK 2 guide provides all the information you need to get started preparing for HSK 2 including all HSK 2 vocabularies with Pinyin and English translations. For HSK 2 we have furthermore put together a page with HSK 2 example sentences for each of the 150 HSK 2 vocabularies. This allows you to learn how to use each of the vocabularies within a sentence.
For HSK 3.0, there isn’t too much information out on what the format will be exactly. Once that’s out, we’ll add information here. For now, you can have a look at the 772 HSK 2 vocabularies for HSK 3.0 and start learning.
In HSK 2.0, HSK 3 consists of a total of 600 vocabularies and introduces a writing component for the first time. For the most part, Pinyin is not provided anymore for this test, so make sure you know your characters. This HSK 3 guide provides all the information you need to get started preparing for HSK 3 including all HSK 3 vocabularies with Pinyin and English translations. For HSK 3 we have furthermore put together a page with HSK 3 example sentences for each of the 300 HSK 3 vocabularies. This allows you to learn how to use each of the vocabularies within a sentence.
For HSK 3.0, there isn’t too much information out on what the format will be exactly. Once that’s out, we’ll add information here. For now, you can have a look at the 973 HSK 3 vocabularies for HSK 3.0 and start learning.
With 1200 vocabularies in HSK 2.0, HSK 4 requires intermediate level Chinese to pass. It again consists of reading, listening and writing parts. This HSK 4 guide provides all the information you need to get started preparing for HSK 4 including all HSK 4 vocabularies with Pinyin and English translations. For HSK 4 we have furthermore put together a page with HSK 4 example sentences for each of the 600 HSK 4 vocabularies. This allows you to learn how to use each of the vocabularies within a sentence.
For HSK 3.0, there isn’t too much information out on what the format will be exactly. Once that’s out, we’ll add information here. For now, you can have a look at the 1000 HSK 4 vocabularies for HSK 3.0 and start learning.
With 2500 vocabularies in HSK 2.0, HSK 5 requires a level of Chinese that allows students to read newspapers and watch movies without too much problems. This HSK 5 guide provides all the information you need to get started preparing for HSK 5 including all HSK 5 vocabularies with Pinyin and English translations.
For HSK 3.0, there isn’t too much information out on what the format will be exactly. Once that’s out, we’ll add information here. For now, you can have a look at the 1071 HSK 5 vocabularies for HSK 3.0 and start learning.
For passing the highest HSK level in HSK 2.0, you have to know all 5000 HSK vocabularies and be able to use Chinese not just in everyday live but also to write articles, handle basic academic work and make sense of some Chinese literature. This HSK 6 guide provides all the information you need to get started preparing for HSK 6 including all HSK 6 vocabularies with Pinyin and English translations.
For HSK 3.0, there isn’t too much information out on what the format will be exactly. Once that’s out, we’ll add information here. For now, you can have a look at the 1140 HSK 6 vocabularies for HSK 3.0 and start learning.
HSK Frequently Asked Questions
What does HSK stand for?
HSK stands for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, which literally means Chinese Level Test but is usually translated with Chinese Proficiency Test.
What is HSK 3.0
HSK 3.0 referrs to a new version of the HSK test introduced in 2021. It contains a total of 11092 vocabularies, more than double that of HSK 2.0, and has three more levels. Levels 7-9 are already in use, the other 6 levels will be introduced into the actual testing process over the upcoming years.
What are HSK levels?
HSK 2.0 levels 1 to 6 represent various levels of competency with 1 being very basic to 6 being basically fluent. What’s interesting about HSK 2.0 is that the level difficulty in terms of vocabulary isn’t increasing at a steady pace for each level but grows almost exponentially. HSK 1 only requires you to know 150 vocabularies, HSK 2 follows with 300, HSK 3 with 600, HSK 4 1200, HSK 5 2500 and HSK 6 with 5000 words and phrases.
This changes now with HSK 3.0. With the new version of the HSK Test, level 1 has 500 words, level 2 1272 (cumulative), level 3 2245, level 4 3245, level 5 4316, level 6 5456 and you’ll finish level 7-9 with knowing a total of 11092 words.
Old HSK vs. New HSK (now HSK 2.0) vs. HSK 3.0
Until 2010, the “Old HSK” (or HSK 1.0 if you want) provided 3 different test formats (Basic, Elementary/Intermediate, and Advanced) with the Advanced one covering 8840 vocabularies and 2865 characters and also having an oral component in addition to the 3 parts the current one covers.
The “New HSK”, now more commonly referred to as HSK 2.0, was introduced in its current form in 2010 with a minor update to the vocabulary for each of the levels in 2012. Its format is somewhat similar to CEFR levels used in many Western countries for their respective language proficiency tests and also makes it easier for beginners to have the feeling of success early on with a very basic first level in HSK 1.
In 2021, Hanban introduced the latest HSK 3.0 version of the test which it is now slowly rolling out. The goal with the new version was to make the various levels more similar in difficulty compared to other language tests (A1, A2, B1, B2, etc.). Therefore, HSK 1 is a lot harder and almost compareable to HSK 3 in the HSK 2.0 version.
Why should I take HSK test?
HSK is the standard test for anything that involves foreigners and requires some level of Mandarin in Mainland China (and beyond). The main use case used to be to get into university requiring HSK 5 or 6 (of HSK 2.0) depending on the course a non-native speaker of Mandarin wanted to take. However, the use cases today have spread to other areas with particular importance in business (job application) and visa related issues whereby, depending on the role and job, applicants have to proof a certain proficiency in Mandarin to be able to get a working visa (not unlike English speaking countries handle similar issues using TOEFL and IELTS).
Is HSK useful?
It depends. If you learn Chinese solely for fun and to be able to communicate with people, the HSK certificate you receive probably isn’t worth much for you, especially given that it usually expires within 2 years.
Having said that, the structure and content of HSK is fairly well thought through, so you can use HSK as a tool and system to work on your Mandarin which will very likely be beneficial to the speed with which you learn Chinese.
Where to buy HSK books?
This depends on where you are. If you are in Mainland China, any decent book shop near you will do. In Asia, most bigger books shops should have some small amount of HSK books. Outside Asia, Amazon and other online books stores are the place to go, especially when it comes to HSK mock exam books.
Having said that, you can ask at any HSK test centre close to you if they provide any books, but be warned that those books might be sold at a premium in some cases.
How to take HSK test?
Can I take HSK online?
Yes and no. There is now a 网络考试 available, however, to take that test, you would still have to go to a test centre that supports computer based HSK tests and take the test there. So strictly speaking, you would take the test online (as in on a website or web application), but not from the comfort of your home. For details on that it’s best to talk to your closest test centre.
How much does HSK test cost?
Fees for HSK tests vary depending on country and test centre. When writing this article (March 27, 2019), the fee for HSK 1 at the Confucius Institute in Nebraska was USD 20, the fee for HSK 6 was USD 70, the other levels were in between. At Hong Kong University the fee for HSK 1 was HKD 260, for HSK 6 it was HKD 860 with the cost for other levels again being in between the two. So costs do vary and will probably change over time, simply contact your test centre or teacher for more information.
Which HSK level should I take?
This mainly depends on the amount of vocabularies you know. We would suggest you take a look at our level specific pages (links below) or purchase our HSK 1-6 Full Vocabulary Guide to check the vocabularies of each level to make an educated decision on which level is realistic.
For the first 3 levels, listening is probably the hardest part if you did your homework and internalized all vocabularies for that level. The higher up you get, the more important reading speed and writing characters do get.
After doing your due diligence on the above, the final test is to actually do a mock exam to see how you’re doing at a certain level. If you perform well, do some more and you should be ready to take the test.
How to prepare for HSK?
This is probably very boring advice, but learn vocabulary, write characters, read books and do mock exams. If you get to a point where all vocabularies of a certain level are easy for you and you regularly pass mock exams with at least 30-40 points more then required, you should be ready to have a go at the test.
Can you skip HSK levels?
Yes, there is no requirement to take any level before being allowed to take another, in fact, you could directly start with HSK 6 if you want.
How to check HSK results?
Once the results are available, you can either check you results online, or go to your test centre and ask there.
How many points do I need to pass HSK?
The HSK 2.0 passing score depends on the level and is 120 for HSK 1 and 2 and 180 for HKS 3, 4, 5 and 6.
When do HSK results come out?
The results for IBT test (online/computer-based test) should be available 2 weeks after taking the exam, paper based ones take 1 month to become available.
How is HSK graded?
This depends on the HSK 2.0 level and the amount of questions a certain part has. For any level, listening, reading and writing each account for 100 points (no writing for HSK 1 and 2). Within each part, those 100 points get split among the questions asked. For clarity on this issue, it’s best to take a mock exam either online (see links below) or in a book. Those exams usually provide instructions on how to mark your own exam, this way you’ll experience first-hand how marking is done.
Free HSK mock exams online:
- Confucius Institute of Manchester University
- Hanban / Chinesetest.cn
- Confucius Institute of Emory University
- China Education Center
Does HSK expire?
The HSK certificate is valid for 2 years and expires thereafter.
What are the requirements to take an HSK test?
There are no real requirements as such to be allowed to take an HSK test. However, you’ll have to provide certain things at registration and pay the registration fee. More information on that can be found here.
History of HSK
To understand what the fuzz about HSK 1.0, HSK 2.0, HSK 3.0, Old HSK, New HSK, etc. is all about, here’s a quick history on how the HSK Test developed over the years.
Origins of the HSK Test
The development of the HSK Test, also known as Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, began in 1984 at Beijing Language and Culture University. The university recognized the need for a standardized Chinese language proficiency test for non-native speakers. Initially, a “Chinese Proficiency Test Design Group” was established by the then Beijing Language Institute (now Beijing Language and Culture University) to develop the test.
With continuous efforts from Chinese language experts, linguists, psychologists, and professionals in educational measurement, the HSK Test was officially made a national standardized test in 1992. The primary objective of the test was to accurately assess the Chinese language proficiency levels of non-native speakers, such as foreign students and overseas Chinese.
Over time, the HSK Test gained popularity and recognition worldwide. By 2005, more than 120 countries had participated as regular host sites, and the tests had been taken around 100 million times by foreigners as well as domestic ethnic minority candidates.
In an effort to better serve Chinese language learners, a new version of the HSK test was launched by Hanban in 2012 at the Confucius Institute Headquarters. This new exam combined the advantages of the original HSK Test and included changes to the test format and content to better assess language proficiency levels.
Evolution of HSK Test Levels
The HSK test has gone through several changes since its inception to better assess the Mandarin Chinese proficiency of non-native Chinese speakers.
The original HSK 1.0 had 11 ranks and 3 test formats, and it was used from 1990 to 2012. However, it was criticized for being impractical and using too many obscure historical and cultural references. As a result, the HSK 2.0 version was introduced in 2010, featuring a reformed ranking system that consisted of 6 levels instead of the original 11 levels.
HSK 2.0 was aimed at making the test more accessible to students with non-Asian backgrounds, and it has become a widely recognized measure of Mandarin Chinese proficiency across the globe.
The HSK test continues to evolve as new HSK changes were announced in 2021 leading to what is now known as HSK 3.0.
Online Testing and Technology Integration
As technology advanced, the HSK test adapted to better serve the needs of learners around the world. Online testing emerged as a significant change in the administration of the HSK exams. The online HSK test is a full official test that offers a more streamlined, efficient method of assessing Chinese proficiency for non-native speakers.
In order to take an online HSK exam, candidates still need to go to an official test center where they can access a computer with the necessary software and resources for the evaluation. Although the test is conducted online, it maintains the same level of accuracy and authority as the traditional paper-based version.
During the global pandemic, Chinese Testing International Co., Ltd. released online “Home Editions” of the test in April 2020. This initiative was aimed at enabling learners to continue their study abroad plans, graduate, and apply for jobs despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. While this was a temporary solution, it highlighted the adaptability of the HSK test and its commitment to serving learners’ needs in different situations.
Future Developments and Challenges
The new HSK 3.0 test announced in 2021 introduces more specific classification systems, including both levels and bands, offering improved granularity in assessing students’ language proficiency.
With the new version, HSK tests will have three stages: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced, with each stage further being divided into three levels, making for a total of nine levels. This change is made to provide a more inclusive and accurate test, catering to a wider range of learners.