Why the HSK exams are Critical

Published by


Note that this article contains affiliate links which help out the website with no additional costs to you.

Why Should I take the HSK Exam?

The Chinese Mandarin HSK exams provide a solid framework to guide you to learn Chinese. They also provide you with widely recognised qualifications to demonstrate your Chinese as a foreign language competence to organisations world-wide and in China.

What is the HSK Exam

The Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, commonly known as the HSK, is a standardized Chinese language proficiency test that assesses non-native speakers’ ability to use and understand Mandarin Chinese. The HSK, an updated version of this exam, builds upon the success of its predecessor to provide a more comprehensive evaluation of language skills. In this article, we will take a closer look at the HSK exams, including their structure, significance, and preparation tips as well as where the HSK came from and how it has developed. We will also explore the potential flaws and drawbacks of the current testing method.

Chinese Mandarin

For an overview of the Chinese language, check this out: The Language of China: Chinese Mandarin

Understanding HSK

The HSK exams are part of the HSK series administered by the Hanban, the Office of Chinese Language Council International. These exams have gained worldwide recognition and serve various purposes, including:

  1. Education: Many educational institutions and language programs require HSK certification for admission, scholarship eligibility, or course completion.
  2. Employment: Employers in Chinese-speaking countries and multinational companies often use HSK scores as a criterion for hiring or promoting individuals who need Chinese language skills.
  3. Immigration: Some countries may accept HSK results as evidence of Chinese language proficiency for immigration purposes.

HSK Levels

If you would like to check out your HSK journey today, check out this article on how to get started: How To Speak Chinese – 8 Critical Starting Points

You can grab a copy of the HSK text books here

Study HSK exam
HSK 1150Can understand and use simple words and sentences to fulfil specific communication needs and have a foundation for the further study of Chinese
HSK 2300Can communicate simply and directly on daily topics; can reach the advanced stage of beginner level
HSK 3600Can complete basic communication tasks in daily life, study and work; can handle most communication tasks if traveling in China
HSK 41200Can discuss a relatively wide range of topics in Chinese and be able to communicate with native speakers
HSK 52500Can read Chinese newspapers and magazines, appreciate Chinese films and television, and be able to write and deliver a full speech
HSK 65000Can easily understand what they read and listen and express themselves fluently in written and oral Chinese
HSK Exams

Head over to our resource page to check out the vocabulary list for each of the levels: Resources

The HSK consists of six levels, from HSK Level 1 to HSK Level 6. Each level evaluates different aspects of language proficiency, including listening, reading, writing, and speaking. Here is an overview of the HSK structure:

  1. Listening Comprehension (LC): This section assesses your ability to understand spoken Chinese, including everyday conversations, announcements, and interviews. It consists of multiple-choice questions, and candidates listen to audio recordings to answer.
  2. Reading Comprehension (RC): In this section, you’ll be tested on your reading skills. You’ll encounter sentences, short passages, and longer articles, depending on the level. Questions may include matching, true/false, and multiple-choice.
  3. Writing (W): Candidates at higher levels will need to demonstrate their ability to write coherent essays, while those at lower levels might be required to complete sentence structures or fill in the blanks with appropriate characters.

You can get started with reading and writing Chinese characters here: Study Chinese Characters: 6 Easy Points to Start Today

Preparing for the HSK Exam

  1. Understand the Exam Format: Familiarize yourself with the format and requirements of the specific HSK level you intend to take. Knowing what to expect can help you tailor your preparation.
  2. Practice Regularly: Regular practice is crucial for improving language skills. Work on your listening, reading, writing, and speaking abilities consistently.
  3. Use Study Materials: There are plenty of study materials available, including textbooks, online courses, and apps designed for HSK preparation. Utilize these resources to enhance your knowledge.
  4. Seek Professional Guidance: Consider enrolling in a language course or working with a tutor who specializes in HSK preparation. They can provide valuable guidance and feedback.
  5. Simulate Exam Conditions: Prior to the exam, take practice tests under timed conditions to get a feel for the actual test environment.
HSK Exams

Flaws with HSK

Below are my thoughts of everything wrong with HSK.

No HSK Speaking Exam

HSK does not cover speaking. This is a major flaw in the testing process as HSK is used as the baseline for Chinese businesses, immigration and universities as a baseline check for entry. Speaking is one of the most important skills in communication and should be included in the future, in my opinion.


CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) and ACTFL (American Council on Teaching of Foreign Languages are the two most common and widely recognised frameworks for language learning in the world. This applies not only for English and European languages, but for non-alphabetic languages such as Chinese.

Moreover, CEFR has been the benchmark for quality for the teaching and qualification of modern language courses in higher education.

Here lies one of the major issues with the HSK exams. Whilst the exams themselves were actually also benchmarked against the CEFR rankings, the wider community has openly questioned and disagreed with the alignment on levels.

The Confucius Institute (the authority behind the HSK exams) lays out the HSK to CEFR levels as such:

HSK ExamsCEFR Levels
HSK Intended CEFR Relationship

Lu Yang and Song Lianyi in their research paper: Exploring the criterion-validity of HSK 3 and HSK 4 stated:

“There is no correlation between the HSK exams and the institutional assessments (CEFR)”

From their table below you can see that the other ministries for foreign languages (FaCh being the Association of Chinese Teachers in German Speaking Countries) also follow this train of thought, though the different associations differ slightly in their proposed rankings. Note that it doesn’t match the above HSK to CEFR.

Yang, Lu & Song Lianyi; 2017

History of HSK Standards

The original HSK levels at conception (in 1988) bore a simplified structure, featuring 3 exams testing Chinese learners:

  1. HSK Basic
  2. HSK Elementary-Intermediate
  3. HSK Advanced and Superior

Closing Words

The HSK exams play a significant role in assessing and promoting Chinese language proficiency. Whether you are pursuing academic, professional, or personal goals, achieving a good score on the HSK can open up a world of opportunities in Chinese-speaking regions and beyond. Prepare diligently, understand the exam structure, and stay motivated, and you’ll be well on your way to success in the HSK exams.

You can check out my Chinese learning journey here: Chinese Learning Blog #1 – Why You Should Start Now

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: