Taking HSK

I almost never post but I took new HSK level 5 (advanced), so it seemed worthwhile to offer a bit of a write-up, I’m sure it’ll come in handy for some people.

For perspective, I finished level 7 at Chinese Culture University (equivalent of 1 year 9 months of study), then self-studied for a couple of months while my job/visa things were being sorted. I live in Singapore so thats where I took the test. Faced with a choice between level 6 and level 5, I took the level 5 as I work full-time and don’t really have the time to devote to the hardcore study level 6 would entail, but I was extremely confident of passing level 5, but 6 would be touch-and-go. Plus work full-time and your Chinese will suffer in some areas.

The test consists of listening, reading and writing. You can find this info out elsewhere like wikipedia. A sample test can be found here:

confuciusinstitute.qut.edu.a … ciency.jsp

The thing you really need to pay attention to is time. The listening section would be a breeze if you could replay the part you missed, but you can’t. When you do the reading you don’t have time to re-read a passage if you didn’t get it first time, you just have to make your best guess and hope you have time to come back to it later. So if you’re debating which level you think is appropriate, thats something you really have to factor in.

It’s also taking a moment to talk about to the word lists for each level, which can be found here.


I’ve heard people wanting to use textbooks that only have HSK words, or extensively studying the word lists. This is useless. The test is so full of words not in the list that I don’t know why the lists even exist. The words you have to use in your essay are probably found within the word list, but the listening and especially the reading section are full of words not in the list. If you know every word in the level 6 list and thats it, you won’t have a hope in hell of reading a whole newspaper article or any printed material. The best way to prepare is to have good Chinese.


The first 20 questions are listening to a very short dialogue, then answer the question. In theory, it’s not difficult, but more on that later. After you answer, read the answers for the next question so you’ll know what to expect for the next question. This is especially important for questions where they ask “this conversation most likely could have taken place at XXX”, or ask about a number (someone’s age, ect), as they’ll be a few things in the question that might trip you up. Questions 20-30 are longer dialogue, 1 question per dialogue. 30-45 are 2 or 3 questions per dialogue. Some are very tricky, they are often in very formal Chinese. Now he’s the tricky part. When I took the practice tests, I get 85% everytime listening on headphones. In the exam, it’s played on the classroom speakers, so you can never hear as clearly. Makes things much, MUCH harder. I’d always suck in the listening sections of my CCU exams for the same reason. Something to bear in mind. I think I really underperformed here.


As mentioned, you don’t have time to re-read. First 15 questions are fill-in-the-blanks. Some are tricky. You can fly through this section quickly to give yourself more time for the later sections. Next is 10 questions are read a passage, answer the question. You really gotta pay attention to 不 and 沒 in the answers, in the rush it’s very easy to miss them and answer wrongly. I would slow down here and read the passages more closely. They are often written in formal Chinese and quite complex. Lastly is read a long passage, and answer multiple questions. I would advise reading the questions first, so when you read the paragraph so you know what to look for. You can go through these passages a bit more quickly assuming your reading is good. I finished with 5+ minutes to spare so could go back and re-read some of he harder questions.


All writing is done by hand, at least here. You can write traditional, as long as you don’t switch between simplified and traditional. I’ve heard rumors of computerized tests being in the works, but that was years ago and nothing seems to have happened. The first section is rearranging words to form sentences. It is deceptively difficult, and will take practice. Its not difficult to get the sentence 90% correct, but you’ll very often finding yourself second-guessing whether you’ve put a single character in the right place. I’m quite sure I got 100% for this, but I practiced alot and it paid off. For the first essay, you’re given 5 words, and have to write a 80 character essay. Self-explanatory. My words were 方案,有效,能幹. I forget the other 2. Last question you’ve given a picture and write an essay about it. Mine was someone exercising, so I wrote an essay on people getting fatter and fatter because they exercise too little and eat too much. I f**ked up (still pissed off) by writing 象徵 when I meant 現象 and 命壽 instead of 壽命。I dunno how much that’ll cost me.


I used this series of practice books to prepare:

I found it to be an accurate representation of the test difficulty. The voices in the listening section are the same as in the exam, which helps. You can purchase it off amazon and get ripped off or buy it from taobao for next to nothing.

Hopefully someone finds this helpful. Any questions feel free to ask.

I also took the HSK 5 recently, and can confirm that the acoustics in the test room can be pretty terrible. Plus, you don’t even have the choice to sit in front near the speakers, as the places are assigned by your test number - bummer.

The written part was also my weakest part, precisely because it requires hand-writing, but the test graders seem to be very lenient here. I think I nailed the first part (assembling sentences) but the two mini-essays were absolutely terrible. I kept mixing up traditional and simplified characters and generally just didn’t do a very good job. When the score sheet was online I couldn’t believe my eyes - 71%! So, don’t worry too much about that part, you’re gonna do alright.

Actually they started rolling out a so-called “internet test” here in Beijing at the beginning of this year. I haven’t taken it yet, but this will definitely be my first choice for HSK6. I just hope they let me write the essay on a computer, otherwise there is no way I will ever pass.

For what it’s worth, here is my update on the New HSK6 computer-based test I took in Beijing a couple of weeks ago.
As I said in the post above, I took the computer-based test because I suck at writing characters by hand, a skill that is essentially useless nowadays anyway.
And indeed, the test allows you to type out your essay using the standard Sohu input software, yay! And grading also seems to be pretty lenient, as I got 72% for a soso essay.
The listening part was much more enjoyable compared to the paper-based test. You get your own set of headphones and hear everything loud and clear. As expected you chose the multiple choice answer by clicking and you can still go back and forth between different listening parts to reconsider your answers. What is especially neat is that at the end of the listening part, after the last recording, they give you an additional 5 minutes to revisit your previous answers, which helped me at least.
The reading part is basically the same as in the paper-based test, so nothing to add here.
Another difference is, in contrast to the paper-based test where one room only tests one level, the computer-based test puts all 6 levels into the same room. Since the HSK tests get progressively longer with each level, you may be in the middle of your own test and the guy next to you already gets up and leaves because he took the level 1 or 2 test. If you are easily distracted, that might be a bummer.
Another good thing is, you can chose your own seat and are not assigned a place any longer. I find this pretty important, as I can avoid sitting right underneath the AC.
One last comment about the vocabulary lists mentioned in the original post. I did find them useful to some degree as I could “fill in the gaps” in my existing vocab. I spent maybe 10 months going through the level 6 list (at a leisurely pace I must admit), and picked up a couple of hundred useful words and characters. Of course there is also some trash in that list, which I ignored, but overall the list is useful, I think.
I don’t know if one can pass the test ONLY knowing the official vocab, but such an approach is ridiculous anyway. I think the best way is to already have a big vocabulary which you picked up elsewhere, AND THEN take a look at the lists and see where one stands.

In sum, I highly recommend the computer-based test, as both the listening part and especially the writing part are much more manageable.
In case anybody is interested in my scores:
listening: 82
reading: 60
writing: 72

Hope this helps, and good luck to you guys.

Thank you so much for these posts guys. I plan to take the HSK soon and it looks like I’ll go to Beijing to do it. By the way, anyone know the level requirement for graduate studies in China. Thanks again!!!

I’m listening to the sample test for level 6 (highest level(?)) and it is really easy – much easier than the most advanced level of the TOP or whatever it is called these days.