The Basics: Three Levels and Nine Levels

One of the biggest changes to the New HSK is in the concept of “three levels and nine levels”. The three levels are elementary, intermediate, and advanced. Where do the nine levels come in? Each of these three is further divided into three levels: elementary 1-3, intermediate 4-6, and advanced 7-9. With each of these levels come new levels of language mastery. 

The most noticeable change to the levels is the required vocabulary. Previously level 1 required about 150 words, in the new standards that are bumped up to 500. This trend continues (See the chart below) meaning a student who is looking to pass level 9 should have an understanding of about 11,000 words. This means that students mastering the new levels will have much more comprehensive lists of vocabulary. 

Are they trying to make it more difficult? The short answer is yes and no. Critics of the previous standards often cited that a student passing HSK 6 the previous apex of the test was no better prepared than a grade 6 student in China. Also, many students will know the struggles of trying to communicate with limited vocabulary at lower levels, when teachers base lessons off of the HSK standardized materials. The new system seeks to remedy this by trying to present a broader base of vocabulary tied to modern experience and real-life situations.

New Requirements: Get out your calligraphy set!

Don’t worry you won’t actually have to write beautiful calligraphy, but the new requirements do state that students starting in level must be able to not only recognize but be able to write 100 Chinese Characters, hanzi, so no more typing in pinyin only. Students will need to be able to copy characters correctly in under a minute, the different levels require different amounts of characters. So, it is time to put pen to paper and practice those hanzi, you have been putting off. 

Along with writing abilities, students from level 4 up, will need to practice their translation skills. As a required part of the test will be correctly translating spoken and written Chinese accurately. This is meant to aid in fully understanding the target material. Therefore, intermediate-level students will want to consciously train their translation skills in general.

What Level am I now?

As most students, and teachers, have supplemented the standard HSK curriculum, there is no easy answer to this question. Looking at the chart above, a student should more or less estimate their vocabulary count to potentially compare their vocabulary to the new levels, and choose a level. Keep in mind if you are someone who has put off learning to physically write hanzi, or your translation skills need some brushing up, you may need more time to prepare those skills before taking the new exams. 

Talk to your teacher, they are there to help you and should understand the new levels and the requirements. Also, listen to them and don’t get discouraged. There may be a certain amount of regression as you prepare and develop new skills, or learn grammar and vocabulary from “lower” levels, that you may have missed if you are currently at a higher level in the old standards.

The new HSK standards are designed to reflect the understanding that someone who passes the highest levels of the tests should be fully functional in Chinese and communicate freely. These Changes are meant to both help and challenge students of this language and make their achievements even more meaningful. We wish you all the best in your studies, Jiayou!