HSK stands for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, which literally means Chinese Level Test but is usually translated with Chinese Proficiency Test.
HSK levels 1 to 6 represent various levels of competency with 1 being very basic to 6 being basically fluent. What’s interesting about HSK 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.
Until 2010, the “Old HSK” 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” 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.
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 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).
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 you Mandarin which will very likely be beneficial to the speed with which you learn Chinese.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once the results are available, you can either check you results online, or go to your test centre and ask there.
The HSK passing score depends on the level and is 120 for HSK 1 and 2 and 180 for HKS 3, 4, 5 and 6.
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.
This depends on the HSK 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:
The HSK certificate is valid for 2 years and expires thereafter.
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.