Navigating the HSK Test: Everything You Need to Know to Prepare

Navigating the HSK Test: Everything You Need to Know to Prepare

If you're learning Chinese, you've probably heard of HSK exams.

In this article, you'll find everything you need to know about this international standardized test, its structure, the test registration process, and some tips to prepare for it. 

Let's start!

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What is an HSK test?

The HSK test, which stands for 汉语 水平 考试 (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi), is a certification proficiency exam for people studying Mandarin Chinese. As of today, there are six HSK test levels.

This exam is for non-native speakers and Chinese people to certify their Chinese proficiency.

There are several sections within the exam, each testing different skills. The length of the exam and the type of exercises vary depending on the level. For example, the first couple of levels contain pinyin and characters, so they are much easier, while higher levels include a writing test and do not provide pinyin.

There is no speaking test in the HSK; they are a different exam, which is called HSKK (汉语 水平 口语 考试). This oral test has three levels.

So, the HSK exams include text comprehension, listening, and written production.

The HSK tests are organized by Hanban (汉办), which is the section of the Chinese education ministry in charge of the Confucius Institutes (孔子学院).

The six HSK levels

The HSK test is an internationally recognized Chinese proficiency test, and each HSK level corresponds to a certain level according to the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) standard.


This level corresponds to A1. It is considered a basic level that requires knowing at least 150 characters. To pass, you need at least 120 out of 200 points.

HSK 2 

This test corresponds to A2 for the CEFR and requires knowledge and the ability to use at least 300 characters. To pass, you need at least 120 points out of 200.

HSK 3 

This level corresponds to B1 for CEFR. By obtaining this certification, you demonstrate proper knowledge of the Chinese language and be able to master at least 600 characters. To pass, you need at least 180 points out of 300.

HSK 4 

This test level corresponds to B2 for the CEFR. Passing this level means you have good fluency, spontaneity, and knowledge of at least 1200 characters. To pass, you need at least 180 out of 300 points.

HSK 5 

The HSK 5 corresponds to C1 on the CEFR. Those who pass this level have mastered at least 2500 characters, and their language skills are significant enough to use Chinese in their daily and academic lives. To pass, you need at least 180 points out of 300.

HSK 6 

Finally, this is the highest level for the HSK, corresponding to C2 for CEFR. Passing the HSK 6 means your Chinese proficiency is very close to a native speaker. Anyone who passes should be able to read Chinese newspapers and magazines and is required to know at least 5000 characters. To pass, you need at least 180 points out of 300.

There is a theory where many argue that the correspondence between HSK levels and CEFR is not exact, meaning the last level (HSK6) corresponds to a lower level of proficiency than the standard CEFR's C2 level.

For this reason, Hanban has announced that the HSK exam will soon be reformed, and the new system will provide 9 levels. 

You'll find more on this topic in HSK 3.0.

What is the new HSK 3.0?

The HSK exams are currently undergoing a reform, where new levels will be added, and knowing the number of characters/words for each level will change.

You will find various contrasting news online; however, as of today, HSK 1–6 exams are still taking place as usual, and new official textbooks have not yet been published.

Even though the HSK 7–9 exam has been announced, if you try to register for it online, you'll see that it is still not possible to register on

HSK 7–9 will be a single test, and, depending on your results, you’ll receive a mark stating your proficiency level, which can be HSK7, 8, or 9, a little bit like the English IELTS exam.

According to some Confucius Institutes, as part of the reform, anyone taking the HSK exam will also take the HSKK (oral exam) on the same day. Still, it's best to check with your local Confucius Institute to confirm this information.

So if you plan to take an exam, refer to your local Confucius Institute. Since the exam is being changed and different rules may apply, the Confucius Institute directly contacts the Hanban organization, so they are a reliable source.

How long is the test?

Each level has a different duration. Additionally, the number of words to know is doubled for each level compared to the previous.

Look at the table below, listing the different durations and the number of words you need to know:

Each HSK level and test during-min

Each HSK level and test during

What kind of questions will be asked on the HSK test?

Here is a brief explanation of the structure of each HSK level.

HSK1's questions

In HSK1, pinyin is provided. 

This level has a listening portion with 20 questions. Test takers will listen to short phrases and dialogues, match what they hear with a picture, and answer multiple-choice questions.

Additionally, there is also a reading comprehension portion with 20 questions. This portion has simple exercises like matching words to images or completing blank spaces.

HSK2's questions

In HSK2, pinyin is still provided. This level is similar to the first, but the listening portion has 35 questions.

The reading comprehension portion has 25 questions, with the same simple exercises from HSK1.

HSK3's questions

In the third level, there will not be pinyin.

The third level's listening portion has 40 questions. Test takers will listen to short phrases and dialogues to match what they hear with a picture, answer true or false statements, and fill out multiple-choice questions.

The reading comprehension portion has 30 questions. This portion includes matching words to images, completing blank spaces, and multiple choice questions based on short paragraphs.

A writing portion is added with 10 questions where you must form characters to write a sentence and a character with the given pinyin.

HSK4's questions

This level has a listening, reading comprehension, and writing portion with an increased number of questions. 

The listening portion has 45 questions, increasing its difficulty as the dialogue is longer. Similar to the lower levels, there will be true/false statements and multiple-choice questions.

The reading comprehension portion has 40 questions with filling-in-the-blank and multiple-choice questions based on longer paragraphs.

The writing section has 15 questions where you use the given characters to write sentences. 

HSK5's questions

This level's listening section has 45 questions.

In the reading comprehension portion, with 45 questions, you will have to fill in the blanks with similar options and answer multiple-choice questions based on longer paragraphs and texts.

Then, you will write two 80-character compositions for the writing section.

HSK6's questions

In the last level (for now), the listening part consists of 50 questions.

The reading comprehension portion has 50 questions:

  • Finding sentences with mistakes

  • Filling in the blanks

  • Completing a text by putting phrases in the right place

  • Answering multiple-choice questions

Then, in the writing section, you have 10 minutes to read and summarize a text in 35 minutes, around 400 characters, without seeing the original text. 

To better understand, look at mock tests (more on that below).

Where can I find the word lists?

You can find the word lists here:

The word lists are already available if you want to prepare for the HSK 3.0 exam or see what's in store. 

The word list for HSK 2 only has words that are not in HSK 1. For example, if you want to take the new HSK 3.0 level 4, you need to know words in lists 1, 2, 3, and 4):

Why should I take an HSK test?

1) The HSK test certified your Chinese proficiency

The tests certify your level and include an official language proficiency certification for your purpose. This certification may be useful when looking for a job in China and your home country. For example, many job postings for foreign language teaching in China require at least an HSK level 5. Even if a certain level is not expressly required, an official certification can always place you ahead of other candidates.

2) The HSK test is academically recognized

Since it is academically recognized, the HSK test can give you access to scholarships in China and other countries. Many Chinese colleges and Chinese university courses require a certain HSK level.

3) Personal growth and challenge

These tests allow test your language level and challenge yourself to become better in Chinese.

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How can I prepare for my HSK test?


You can buy many books to prepare for the HSK exams. The most widely used is the HSK Standard course, published by Beijing Language University Press.

In each lesson, new characters and Chinese grammar structures are introduced. They are a good resource because these books are specifically intended for HSK test preparation. Both texts and exercises in these books feature sentences almost identical to those in the actual HSK exams.

HSK standard course book series by Blcup-min

HSK standard course book series by Blcup

Mock exams

Suppose you are thinking of taking an HSK test. In that case, there are various websites you can look at or books to buy to find mock exams to become familiar with the type of questions, the time allowed for each section, and see the difference between the different levels.

Especially with higher levels, the key to passing HSK consists in managing your time efficiently, which will become easier the more familiar you are with the exam format.

Some mock tests are available on the official registration website.

HSK1 detailed explanation by

HSK1 detailed explanation by

After choosing your level, you'll see this page. You'll find a mock test for each exam by clicking on the highlighted link.

No mock test is available for the new HSK 7–9 exam yet.

Apart from the official registration website, there are other websites where you can find past exam papers or mock exams, like the HSK learning resources by Confucius Institute from Manchester, Culture Yard's HSK PDF exam, All Musing's test, and China EduCenter's practice material.

Buying the books now is not recommended since the exam will soon change, and there are plenty of resources online.

Apps and websites


To pass the intermediate and advanced tests, it's very important to know and remember a lot of Chinese characters. HSK6 requires knowledge of 5000 words, and the new HSK exam will require more than double that number.

It can feel overwhelming. Reading and writing characters repeatedly only helps to memorize a few characters. That’s when mnemonic techniques can come in handy.

Pandanese, an online Chinese learning platform, is based on mnemonics, and you can use it to learn Chinese characters faster. Also, using mnemonics will make you more likely to remember the characters over time.

Pandanese homepage-min

Pandanese home page

For example, the character yuè (to surpass/to exceed) consists of 2 components, the radical zǒu (go) and the component. The component itself has another radical (halberd). You can learn by thinking: “If you want to surpass your competitors in a race, just run () with a halberd (), and everyone will back off!” If you use these phrases or stories to learn new characters, they will not fade away so quickly.

Now you can learn on the GO! The Pandanese app that has all the same features that you can find on your laptop, but now on your phone.


Available both on PC and as a mobile app, Quizlet has many different flashcard sets for each level that fellow test takers or Chinese teachers have created. Of course, you can also create your own sets of flashcards.

quizlet HSK 1 results-min

Quizlet’s HSK 1 vocab list search

What are some useful videos to help prepare for HSK?

On YouTube, you can find videos explaining, one by one, all the characters you find in the HSK lists. For each character, you’ll also hear an example sentence. Here you can find playlists of videos for HSK1 and HSK2. Look at the other playlists on the channels, and you will find videos for the other levels.

There are also many YouTube videos and playlists that you can use to practice the listening comprehension part of the HSK exams using mock tests.

If you’re looking for something that looks less like the actual exam but is still very good for training your listening ability, you can try listening to some short stories in Chinese, such as Mandarin Click’s channel. Each video is labeled by a HSK level.

If your level is a bit higher and you’re looking for some real-life Chinese, you can try listening to some interviews in Chinese.

Intermediate Chinese conversation to hepl your Chinese listening, Mandarin Corner

Where and when can I take an HSK test?

Exam questions and dates are the same for every test center worldwide, and there is one date for each month.

In the table below, you can see the next exam dates for the year 2023, as well as the registration deadlines.

Each HSK level and test during-min

Exam dates for the HSK in 2023

As you can see from the table, you need to register for paper-based tests at least a month ahead, while you have more time to register for computer-based tests.

The official dates are listed on under the Chinese Test Dates for the year.

Please check the exam dates of centers near you because some test centers, especially those in smaller cities, do not host the exam every month.

HSK centers are located all over the world, so you should look up your nearest test center.

HSK test registration process

How do I register for an HSK test?

You can register for your HSK exam online. You must sign up, log in, select a test center and date, and upload a picture.

Below you can see a summary of the HSK test registration process:

registration process-min

HSK test registration process by

Additionally, online you can find the official test regulation and a detailed explanation of the registration procedure.

Since the process may appear a bit complicated, especially if it’s your first time, here is a suggestion: look for a Confucius Institute near your area and call or email them to ask for further information and help.

They will gladly help you and provide clear and exact information on the dates available in that specific center. They can also help you find a different exam center where you can take the exam if the date is unavailable in their Confucius Institute.

Which format do you take for the HSK text? Paper-based or computer-based?

You can take the HSK tests on paper or on the computer. Each format has pros and cons: for example, it can be easier and quicker to read on a paper test. However, writing hanzi on the computer is certainly easier. And the exam software may be slow, with a potential input system that differs from using your phone.

For example, when I took my HSK exam online, the program made me write character by character. I couldn’t write a whole word or phrase, so it took me a really long time.

The online test form was introduced in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This possibility is still available in some countries, so be sure to contact your local test center.

As mentioned previously, getting in touch with your nearest Confucius Institute is important: check the available test formats with them because, for example, some smaller institutes only allow you to take a paper-based test.

What is a passing HSK test score?

To pass, you need to get 60% of the answers right. This percentage means 120 points out of 200 for HSK 1–2 and 180 out of 300 for HSK3–6.

However, if you’re considering taking the exam to apply for scholarships, check if a higher percentage is required.

HSK results

You can check your results online on around two weeks after computer-based exams and around four weeks after the exam for paper-based exams. 

You'll need your ticket number to check the results.

The official paper certificate will be sent to the Confucius Institute or your home if you request it.

HSK test’s credibility

The HSK certificates are valid. However, certain institutions may not accept certifications after 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 an HSK certificate. Chinese universities sometimes have a two-year expiration policy, for example.

Frequently asked questions

What is the HSK meaning in Chinese?

The HSK stands for "Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi" (汉语水平考试) in Chinese. It is the standardized test designed to assess the proficiency of non-native speakers in the Chinese language, Mandarin.

In closing

This article covered many aspects regarding the HSK Chinese proficiency test 汉语 水平 考试 (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi). If you plan to take a test for personal reasons or to reach your academic and professional goals, I wish you the best of luck!

Elisa Felici has been studying Chinese since 2014. She started her language-learning journey at Italian universities and lived in Beijing while attending Beijing’s Confucius Institute. Elisa passed HSK 4 and 5 and finally, in 2020, HSK 6. She now has a Master’s degree in translation and interpreting and has experience not only as a language learner but also as a Chinese teacher and translator.

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