For Chinese learners, scary things always come in threes.

And no, I’m not talking about “的”, “得” and “地”. Today we are talking about H-S-K.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

For those unfamiliar with the HSK test, here are the basics:

Beginning in 1992, the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) exam is China’s official test of Chinese language ability for non-native speakers.

As well as being a measure of your Chinese reading, writing, and speaking. Some employers of Chinese speaking roles will even require your HSK level.

The test is available to take in centres across the world. From 2020 students can also take an online version.

But they are also making changes to the HSK exams and how the grading system works.

The HSK Logo

Making changes to HSK

In the spring of last year, the Chinese Ministry of Education and Chinese Test International (CTI) announced that they would be making changes to the HSK format.

Since 2009, the test has consisted of levels one to six. While HSK 1 currently requires knowledge of just 150 characters, HSK 6 demands knowledge of up to 5000

0 to 5000, real quick. 

The Ministry of Education thinks so too. They said in 2020 that plans were being made for the HSK level system to be updated. 

This would mean that the number of characters needed for each level would rise more evenly, making the test more accurately reflect students’ Chinese level.

Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

For several years, there were also complaints from education authorities worldwide that the HSK exams do not match the difficulty of the CEFR (Common European Framework).

Despite the CEFR also containing six levels, the highest level of the HSK is only equal to around four (B2) or five (C1) on the CEFR scale.

 These changes to the exam system and vocab lists would be made to address these issues.

What's happening now?

Although the overhaul of the HSK system was revealed last year, no concrete changes had been released until last month.

According to the announcement, the HSK levels one to six will include updated vocabulary lists. This will also ensure that the number of characters you need to memorize does not increase too steeply with each level. 

Graph by Isobel Haskell on Chinosity

Furthermore, the structure of the test is also transforming. The HSK system will use a new "Three Stages, Nine Levels" approach. HSK 1-3 is classed as Elementary and HSK 4-6 will be Intermediate.

But don’t throw away your textbooks just yet. These changes could take up to five years to implement. According to CTI, the new exams need to be created and tested first so that they meet international standards.

However, the third stage and most advanced levels will be added sooner. This will include HSK 7 - 9 which require knowledge of just over 11,000 characters. 

Depending on your score in HSK 6, will you be assigned a new level (HSK 7, 8 or 9).

These new advanced levels will be trialled in December 2021. If successful, they will launch in March of 2022

Photo by on UnsplashSo for any learners stressing about the changes, there is still time to brush up on your vocabulary

Check out these language tips to help you prepare for HSK, set language goals and take a practice exam

And for those new to HSK, well, good luck!

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Isobel Haskell
Isobel Haskell is studying for a Master’s Degree in Chinese Studies at SOAS in London. As a language learner and noodle enthusiast, she hopes to write stories that inspire curiosity.
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