What is the HSK?


The HSK, which is an abbreviation for the Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì, is the most important official Mandarin test in China. Its aim is to assess the Chinese language proficiency of non-native speakers.


Why the HSK is so important?


The HSK is like a stepping-stone to living in China. Whether you want to go to a Chinese college or work at a Chinese company, or whether you just want to communicate with Chinese people, the HSK serves as strong proof that you are linguistically qualified. Some Chinese colleges and companies even require that their foreign students and staff pass the HSK 4 (intermediate level) at the very least.


What kinds of exams does the HSK provide?


There are two important exams. These are the HSK itself and the HSKK.


A brief introduction to the HSK


The HSK assesses the Mandarin level of students, and includes listening, reading and writing. The HSKK exam, on the other hand, is short for Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǒuyǔ Kǎoshì and refers to the spoken version of the HSK.


The HSK is divided into six levels. These levels, along with the estimated study time for each, are included in the table below:


HSK Level

What abilities you need to pass the test

Estimated study hours for each stage

How many words you need to know


Knowledge of some words and the ability to engage in very basic conversations




The ability to engage in basic daily conversations




The ability to engage in most types of daily conversations with ease




The ability to talk freely about non-professional topics




The ability to talk freely, as well as read some books and newspapers




The ability to speak almost like a native speaker




Important things you need to know about this chart:


What abilities you need to pass the test


This is just a rough estimate, and thus it differs from student to student. For example, a student who passes the exam with 60 points will definitely have a different level than a student who passes with 90. The test has a maximum score of 100.


Estimated study hours for each stage


First of all, the estimated study hours section is based on my many years of teaching, as well as my extensive experience supervising and writing the HSK. It is also based on personal research of my students who passed this exam. Nevertheless, this is simply an average time, mainly because it depends on the motivation level and learning speed of each individual student. Therefore, you should not get discouraged if it takes you a little longer to reach each level. The important thing is that you are trying and you are enjoying yourself.


How to calculate the time


Times can be calculated as follows: in order to pass the HSK 1, you need a total of 50 hours of study, while for the HSK 2 you need an additional 50 hours. This means that a complete beginner would require a total of 100 hours of study to pass the HSK 2. Similarly, a complete beginner would need to study almost 1900 hours in order to pass the HSK 6.


One more important thing you should know about the HSK


In the HSK 1 and HSK 2 exams, Pinyin is used alongside characters. However, once you get to the HSK 3 level, there is no Pinyin at all. Therefore, if you want to take the HSK 3 exam (or above), you will need to learn Chinese characters.


Fortunately, some schools now provide an online version of the HSK, which means that you can do the entire test on a computer. Of course, you will still need to take the test at an accredited school instead of in your home. Moreover, both the online and offline tests commence at the same time and use all the same materials.


The advantages of taking the online HSK tests are as follows:


  1. You can register up to one week before the exam date. For the offline version, you must register a full three weeks before the exam.
  2. You can get your score within a week, while you’ll have to wait almost a month for the offline test results.
  3. You’ll be able to type the characters on the computer instead of remembering precisely how to write them.


A brief introduction to the HSKK


The HSKK is divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced levels:


HSKK level

What abilities you need to pass the test

Estimated study hours for each stage

How many words you need to know


The ability to understand and participate in daily conversations




The ability to understand intermediate level Chinese and speak fluently with native Chinese people




The ability to understand advanced level spoken Chinese and fluently express your opinions




As you can see, the HSKK requires a lot less study than the HSK. This is due to the fact that you don’t really have to learn that many characters when you prepare for the HSKK. It’s good for those students who don’t have enough time to practice Chinese characters or for those who only want to know how to speak Chinese. However, the HSKK is not as popular as the HSK. This is true in both China and abroad.


When to take the HSK


The timing of the exam differs from region to region. In certain countries, there may only be two HSK tests per year, while some schools in China might offer it once a month. Please check with your local examination center to confirm when you can take the exam and whether they provide the online version of the test.


In any case, the HSK is always held on a Saturday or a Sunday. Specifically, the HSK 2, HSK 4 and HSK 6 are all held in the morning, while the HSK 1, HSK 3 and HSK 5 take place in the afternoon. The reasoning for this seemingly odd schedule is that some students might not be completely sure about their current level, and may wish to attend two HSK tests in one day.


Other HSK tests


There are two other versions of this exam. They are:


  • The BCT: Business Chinese Test (for business people)
  • The YCT: Youth Chinese Test (for elementary and middle school students)


Both the BCT and the YCT are quite new, and neither is as popular as the HSK.


Useful websites


  • Hanban: This is the website for the Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban). They provide some news about the HSK.
  • Chinese Test: This website provides study materials and pre-test practice for the HSK.


Very important notice


All the information provided here is based on current policies and may be subject to change in the future.


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