Everything About the HSK from A to Z

HSK in brief:

The HSK (Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì), is a standardized Chinese language proficiency test for non-native speakers established by China. The HSK is divided into different levels, each of which represents a certain level of fluency in Chinese Mandarin. The HSK is administered by Hanban, which is an agency within the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China.

An HSK certificate is valid throughout China, and is often used to prove language proficiency in higher education and professional areas. The test is only administered in Chinese Mandarin with simplified Chinese Mandarin characters. That said, if paper-based, an HSK test taker may use traditional characters as well. However, the computer-based test does not offer that option.


What the HSK can do for you:

The HSK is not necessary for everyone, however, it is a considered a good way to prove proficiency in Mandarin Chinese, especially as a student or professional. Not everyone in China knows about the HSK or requires it for job applications, however, some do.

Generally speaking, having HSK credentials opens up a wider range of opportunities for work in various fields. In some instances, a high HSK certification can be considered more important than other education, such as a bachelor’s degree. This sometimes occurs when a job specifically requires strong Chinese Mandarin language skills above all else. Many universities use it as a prerequisite for foreign student admission, and certain scholarships can also be applied to with HSK test results, such as the Confucius Institute Scholarship.


Current HSK test structure and format:

The most recent HSK test version aims to test comprehensive language and communication ability. The test consists of both a written and an oral part, which are taken separately. The HSK test is divided into 6 levels, level 6 representing the highest Chinese Mandarin proficiency.


Level Vocabulary Characters Listening Reading Writing
All New All New
1 150 150 174 174 20 questions in 15 min 20 questions in 17 min
2 300 150 347 173 35 questions, 25 min 25 questions, 22 min
3 600 300 617 270 40 questions 30 questions 10 items
4 1200 600 1064 447 45 questions 40 questions 15 items
5 2500 1300 1685 621 45 questions 45 questions 10 items
6 5000 2500 2663 978 50 questions 50 questions 1 composition


HSK 1:

The first level is designed for learners who can understand and use simple Chinese Mandarin characters and Chinese Mandarin sentences to communicate. In the HSK 1 test, all characters are provided with their Pinyin.

HSK 2:

The second level is made for learners who can use Chinese Mandarin in a simple and direct manner, applying it in a basic fashion to their daily lives. Characters in the HSK 2 test are also provided with Pinyin.

HSK 3:

The third level is for learners who can use Chinese to serve the demands of their personal lives, studies, and work.

HSK 4:

The fourth level is for learners who can discuss a relatively wide range of topics in Chinese and are capable of communicating well with other Chinese Mandarin speakers.

HSK 5:

The fifth level is for learners who can read Chinese Mandarin newspapers and magazines, watch Chinese Mandarin films, and are capable of writing and delivering speeches in Chinese Mandarin.

HSK 6:

The sixth level is for Chinese Mandarin learners who can easily understand any information communicated in Chinese Mandarin and are capable of smoothly expressing themselves in written and oral form. This level represents the most capable fluency in the language.

A level is considered successfully passed if a test taker can score 60% or above cumulatively. Each section (listening, reading, and writing) is scored on a 100 point scale. Therefore, in an HSK 5 test, if a test taker were to score a 0 on the listening section, but a 90 on both the reading and writing sections, they would acquire HSK 5 certification.


The HSK oral exam, also called the HSKK:

In addition to the listening, reading, and writing sections, the oral section is also required. This section is given separately and can be thought of as a separate test. The oral test, often referred to as the HSKK test, is an extension of the HSK with 6 levels, each corresponding to an HSK level. These tests are also out a 100 points, and testers must earn 60% or greater to pass and gain certification.


HSK level HSKK level ECR Words Questions Minutes
1 Beginner A 200 27 17
3 Intermediate B 900 14 21
5 Advanced C 3000 6 24


Where to take the HSK:

To sign up and register for the HSK and HSKK tests, go to chinesetest.cn. There, you can go to “Test Registration” at the top of the page and can select a test center and date. Different test centers may be available depending on whether or not you prefer to take the test online or in written form. Regardless of whether you take the test online or not, it still needs to be taking at a test center.


Timeline for the HSK:

Dates for when test results are delivered are also listed on the website on the same page as the exam dates. Usually, results are announced about a month after the tests are taken. If you want a physical HSK certificate, you must contact the test center to make the enquiry.

All tests are graded at the HSK headquarters in Beijing, and therefore, it can sometimes take a while for results to come in depending on the location where the test was taken.


Retaking the HSK test:

You can retake the HSK tests as many times as you wish, therefore, failure does not impede you from attempting again in the future.


HSK costs:

Test takers taking the HSK are required to pay a fee. This fee may change depending on the time you are reading this article and potentially depending on the test center you plan to take the test at. Best practices are to verify costs with the test center ahead of time. A rule of thumb, however, is that higher levels cost more. In the US, one test center had costs ranging from $20 (HSK 1) to $70 (HSK 6).


HSK Validity over time:

HSK certificates are valid indefinitely, however, certain institutions may not except certifications that were acquired before a certain date. Therefore, it is best to make sure that your current HSK certificate is valid for the specific purpose you wish to use it for if you already have a HSK certificate. Chinese universities sometimes have a two year expiration policy for example.


Preparing for the tests:

Specifically preparing for the HSK can help boost a test takers ability to perform well on the test. The following are a few tips and insights given by school teachers who help people prepare for the test:

1 – Know the words list

Each level has a standard list of words that the test taker is expected to know. Therefore, if you know what words you need to know and study them properly, you give yourself a good opportunity to perform well. Words on the list will appear throughout the listening and reading parts of the exam while using such words in the writing section can help improve your score. Questions are likely to target the list of words that the tester is expected to know, therefore, understanding those words can makeup for when other words or nuances are not understood during the test.

2 – Speed

As you reach the higher HSK levels (4 and higher), reading the whole text in the reading part can cost you too much time. Due to the time limits and the text length, there is not enough time to catch every little detail in the text. However, you do not need to catch all those details to successfully complete the test. For some test takers, they even perform better when they read the questions before they read the text. To see if that strategy works for you, try it first on a practice test. While you are practicing, it is recommended that you keep a timer so you can get a feel for how much time it takes you to get through the section. Instead of simply going through and answering the questions, it is best to be strategic about how you approach the questions depending on how much time is remaining to the section.

3 – Practice.

HSK tests follow a very rigid structure with minimal variations on covered topics. Therefore, practice tests are usually good representations of the actual tests. With that in mind, practicing can have a very positive impact on performance. If you take enough practice tests, you are likely to encounter all the vocabulary, characters, and grammar that will come around when you take a real test. In some ways, although HSK test scores reflect a certain level of proficiency, it also can reflect a test taker’s test preparation.

4 – Try to get ahead

Don’t be passive. Look through any questions in the listening part before the recording starts if possible. Briefly looking through the questions helps you look for what you need to know during the recording and therefore can help boost a test taker’s performance. For example, if a question targets price, you will know you need to be looking out for pricing when the recording starts.

5 – Improve your overall proficiency in Chinese Mandarin

Although test preparation can go a long way, the greatest way to improve your ability to perform on the HSK is to improve your overall proficiency. If you understand and can read Chinese Mandarin better in general, that ability will translate to the HSK.

The HSK is not a particularly difficult test to pass if a test taker has the necessary language proficiency and has prepared ahead of time. That said, jumping in over your head and taking the test without preparation and inadequate fluency will result in the test becoming rather difficult.


Old Vs. new test HSK tests:

Prior to 2010, the HSK followed a different structure and format. This article is focused on the current test.


This article is courtesy of Pandanese, an online learning website that teaches Chinese using SRS and neuroscience techniques to speed up the learning process and render it more manageable.

You can visit Pandanese at www.pandanese.com

Getting Help Learning Mandarin – What To Do When There Is No Teacher To Ask!!

Internet Forums – The way we ask and answer the most challenging questions while learning Chinese online!

“HELP! I’ve got a language question and there’s no teacher to ask!”

Think back to studying, well, anything in a classroom….There’s always a teacher or an expert we can go to for answers to our silly questions, right?

BUT…when we learn a language online, it can be a lot harder to get help! Luckily for us, we’re not the first ones to have this problem (unless you’re trying to learn Sanskrit online, I suppose!!).

Welcome to the world of internet forums. Ever wonder what happens when you type a question into Google? The people that usually have the answers for all of the questions we ask, most of them post their replies in online forums!

How will these forums help us to learn Mandarin? Well


  • We can use them to find a tutor! – Often, these forums are the perfect place to go and find a ‘real life’ person, either a study buddy or a tutor, to help us learn Mandarin.
  • When you have a question, someone has probably asked it before! – Online forums are the place to go if you’ve got a question! The odds are, someone has asked (and answered) your question already!
  • Do you miss the experience of studying alongside classmates? – Well, online forums are a great place to share your learning experiences, as well as connecting with other people who are going through the same journey as us!


And the best thing about online forums – They’re free! While some forums may want us to subscribe, you’ll discover that they will almost never ask you to pay any money. Why? Because usually they’re started by others who enjoy sharing their passion for languages with other people, including us!

So, what are some of the forums which we can access to get help with our study of Mandarin? Here’s a short list to get us started!



Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.36.00 AM

Reddit is known as the ‘Front Page of the Internet’. It has forums (or subreddits) on almost everything we can think of, including studying Chinese! It even has a dedicated thread where users can ask other community member to translate difficult words or phrases for them! Because reddit is so popular, there are almost always people active of the r/ChineseLanguage subreddit. One of the great things about the subreddit is that all users are encouraged to contribute to discussions, just remember that this means you as well!



Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.36.44 AMWhile Forumosa may not be as easy to navigate as Reddit, it certainly makes up for it with the variety of topics to choose from! Where other forums are sometimes only related to studying the language, Forumosa has forums on everything from tutor-advice, employment, restaurants, you name it!



Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.37.57 AMLinguaholic is another language-specific forum which appeals to the whole range of students, from beginners through to the most advanced students. It is no longer as active as some of the other forums, however there is still a whole range of useful information here for us! Linguaholic has a whole range of sub-forums covering everything from general discussion, Hanzi, literature and conversation practice.



Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.39.25 AMDigMandarin has two forum categories – Language and Culture. Similar to Forumosa, DigMandarin has sub-forums on a range of interesting topics, such as employment and tutor recommendation. It is still quite active, although not quite as ‘busy’ as some of the more popular forums. Still, your questions should still get an answer here!



Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.40.36 AMChinese-forums has been around for over 15 years and is still one of the most active internet language forums around! There are so many users on this site both day and night, that if you’re lucky, you can get answers to your question or request for translation almost instantaneously! Similar to the other sites, it also has a variety of sub-forums where we can go to get specific advice for studying, exams, listening etc.



Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.41.44 AMScabbin is a great place to go to find a study buddy in any language! It can be very confusing for new users, simply because it is so busy, but the language-buddy option is great! This allows us to search for other people looking to chat over Skype or Whatsapp, both native Chinese speakers and others like us who are learning!



Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.42.22 AMInterPals is very similar to Scrabbin, in that it is less of a forum and more of a meeting place to link up with other people who share similar interests. It has a dedicated learning languages sub-forum and is the best place to go to find a Chinese pen pal! It is not quite as active as some of the other forums, however is still a great place to start.


Remember, we’ll never master Mandarin by ourselves, we will always need to ask a question at some point! There’s never any shame in reaching out for help! Eventually, once you have reached a certain level, you are going to need a conversation partner to practice with!


Forums are the place to go! Have fun!

This article is courtesy of Pandanese, an online learning website that teaches Chinese using SRS and neuroscience techniques to speed up the learning process and render it more manageable.

You can visit Pandanese at www.pandanese.com


Stickers For the Win! :)

I am super excited to announce that we have new Pandanese Stickers out! We wanted to give our users new insights and new ways to master Chinese Hanzi, while also maintaining a manageable learning pace and learning load!

Spaced repetition is key. It allows you to hack your brain’s natural learning processes and use them to your advantage. However, that is not all you can do. Memory tricks like mnemonics are great in helping along with the process for example. That said, today we are here to talk about something material (physical) based!

Pandanese focuses on reading and building vocabulary from the ground up with a Hanzi first approach. Adding stickers with content from your learning curriculum to your daily routine is a great way to enhance your Pandanese learning experience while having some extra fun too.

People are busy throughout the day, and that can make learning all the more challenging. Stickers give users the opportunity to have a visual example they can refer to when doing regular daily activities. This means giving users the opportunity to see Chinese characters and vocabulary around house, office, or anywhere else they go.

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The dividends are threefold. First, you get that visual review and visual imaging of vocabulary. Second, sticking stickers around the house demonstrates commitment by taking the time to visually display your intention to learn. By doing this, you are telling yourself and other people around you that you are committed to succeeding, which in turn helps enhance your motivation and actual commitment to learning Chinese. Third, stickers work as a visual reminder that there is learning to do: this helps people who really want to learn remain on track by reminding them of their goals and ensuring that they don’t forget to keep up with that goal on a daily basis.

Nowadays, portability and timing are incredibly important to the the learning process. By keeping our learning processes on the computer via software, we give ourselves a chance to learn anywhere we go and at any time. That said, it is important to not forget that we are still human and that humans are physical creatures. Bringing stickers to the mix enables users to maintain the essential advantages of learning online, while still bringing a physical element to their learning experience.

When creating these stickers, we went about selecting places around the house or office that could use them. However, we also included blank stickers that users can fill out. That way, users can fill in stickers with words they struggle with the most or are the most interested in.

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Drop by Pandanese.com and let us know if you want some stickers or if you just want to learn some awesome Chinese! Everyone is welcome 😛


The Long, Mind Boggling, Arduous Task of Bringing Chinese Fonts to Life ;)

While learning Mandarin, have you ever wondered about where Hanzi began? What about the fonts it comes in? If you think the writing system is complex, just wait until you learn the quantity of work that goes into creating various fonts for it!

While learning Mandarin, have you ever wondered about where Hanzi began? What about the fonts it comes in? If you think the writing system is complex, just wait until you learn the quantity of work that goes into creating various fonts for it! Hanzi’s exact origins remain unknown and are believed to date back to the 2nd millennium BC. That said, the earliest known inscriptions originated during the Shang Dynasty, an ancient Dynasty that ruled over China during the 18th to 12th centuries BC. Characters would be inscribed onto pieces of bone and turtle under-shells and used for ocular deviation. Many of these etchings, known as “oracle bones,” have survived to this day and are estimated to date back to at least the 13th century BC if not earlier, which is around the same time the Greeks sailed for Troy in the onset of the Trojan war.

Over time, these etchings evolved and changed to eventually become the Chinese characters we know today. The most significant historical shift happened during the Qin Dynasty in the second century BC: this dynasty unified the many writing systems of the area into a single system. The next major shift came much more recently in the 1950s when communist China simplified the writing system to make it more accessible. The conventional reader is said to need to know around 2,000 characters to understand a newspaper, and about a thousand more for the average novel today.


Font Article Simplified vs. Traditional (4)

Guān: mountain pass, to close, to shut, to turn off, to concern, to involve


With the evolution of scripts and technology, computers brought a new aspect to the writing arena: fonts. We read all the time, however, have you ever paused to wonder how the fonts we read and write in are produced, especially in a language with thousands of characters? Believe it or not, producing a font for the Chinese script is incredibly difficult and a multi-year long process. Although font diversity is considerably more difficult in a language with a writing system of such scale, better technologies for the design, display, and transmission of fonts mean more and better Chinese fonts are on the way.

Consider the symbol “a”. This “a” design for a font is known as a “glyph”. In Chinese, each character is a “glyph”—for instance, 水 (spoken “shui” for “water”). English-language fonts are usually comprised of around 230 glyphs. A font that covers all of the Latin scripts—meaning over 100 languages—typically only requires as little as 840 glyphs. That said, the simplified version of Chinese already requires nearly 7,000 glyphs. Traditional Chinese goes all the way up to 13,053 glyphs. It takes six months to create a new font that covers dozens of Western languages for a single designer, yet, Chinese fonts require teams of workers and can still require two or more years.

The first phase in creating a new font is a research phase. In most cases, the research phase takes a full year in and of itself. This process begins developing a hypothetical idea for a new font and then builds on it until a set of a few hundred characters has been created. This set then creates a precedent moving forward. Latin typefaces are designed in a similar way, but the scale is much smaller. However, another aspect that is important to remember with latin typefaces is singularity. A latin font can be developed by one person and therefore more easily stick to one person’s vision. Chinese fonts, however, must maintain uniformity even though they are developed by teams of people.

As with Latin fonts, a crucial initial decision is to determine which font “style” to use. Chinese has two main styles, called Mingti and Heiti, akin to the serif and sans-serif of Latin. Heiti is a bit like sans-serif: clean, straight lines without extra ornamentation at the ends. Mingti is similar to serif, with extra embellishment at the end of strokes that gives it a more bookish feel.

Underlying all of this is the goal of identifying an opportunity in the market. In other words, you don’t want to design a font unless you are sure users will want to use it. Although characters can be broken down into strokes and radicals, these radicals and strokes are not supposed to be identical in all characters. For instance, just have a look at the various uses of the radical 言 (spoken “yan” for “speech”). Even in cases where it is in the same position, such as the left half of the character, the stroke weights and shapes can be slightly different.

However, despite all these difficulties, there are hundreds of millions of Chinese-speaking internet users, many of whom want font alternatives. Furthermore, a big change in technology was the ability to distribute fonts through the web. Users no longer need to have the font registered on their computer to be able to see it when online. Most importantly, however, is that customers are willing to pay to have access to these fonts.


What do you have to say about Chinese Fonts? Inspired yet? Ping us at Pandanese.com with your thoughts 🙂


If you want to learn more about fonts and Chinese character writing, you can also check out these resources: