Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi

The Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, abbreviated as HSK, is the People's Republic of China's only standardized test of Standard Chinese language proficiency for non-native speakers, namely foreign students, overseas Chinese, and members of ethnic minority groups in China. It translates literally to "Chinese Proficiency Test".

Background, purpose and use
Development began in 1984 at Beijing Language and Culture University and in 1992 the HSK was officially made a national standardized test. By 2005, over 120 countries had participated as regular host sites and the tests had been taken around 100 million times (including by domestic ethnic minority candidates). The general count for outside China is stated as being around 1.9 million. While today one may register online, all testing is still done in person, and all assessment is still handled within China.

The HSK test approximates the English TOEFL, and an HSK certificate is valid without any limitation in The People's Republic of China. The test aims to be a certificate of language proficiency for higher educational and professional purposes. Based on the test's original (pre-2010) format, a rank of between 3 and 8 was needed to enroll in a Chinese university, depending on the subject being studied. A score of 9 or higher was a common business standard.

Test Rank
(等第) Chars/Words
(cumulative) Score
(级别) Certificate HSK






Revised HSK Structure
Characters: 2633
Words: 5000
6 Advanced with Honors
Designed for learners who can easily understand any information communicated in Chinese and are capable of smoothly expressing themselves in written or oral form.
Characters: 1709
Words: 2500
5 Advanced
Designed for learners who can read Chinese newspapers and magazines, watch Chinese films and are capable of writing and delivering a lengthy speech in Chinese.
Characters: 1071
Words: 1200
4 Intermediate with Honors
Designed for learners who can discuss a relatively wide range of topics in Chinese and are capable of communicating with Chinese speakers at a high standard.
Characters: 623
Words: 600
3 Intermediate
Designed for learners who can use Chinese to serve the demands of their personal lives, studies and work, and are capable of completing most of the communicative tasks they experience during their Chinese tour.
Characters: 349
Words: 300
2 Elementary with Honors
Designed for learners who can use Chinese in a simple and direct manner, applying it in a basic fashion to their daily lives.
Characters: 178
Words: 150
1 Elementary
Designed for learners who can understand and use some simple Chinese characters and sentences to communicate, and prepares them for continuing their Chinese studies.

Each year HSK certificates are issued to those who meet required scores. The HSK is primarily administered in Simplified Chinese. In addition test takers with outstanding results can win a scholarship for short-term language study in China.

Current Structure
Hanban; China National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (Hanban)) is currently responsible for the HSK exams and introduced a new format in November 2009.

The new format's emphasis is "comprehensive language and communication ability". Most notable is the inclusion of spoken and written segments at all levels (not just Advanced), reformation of the ranking system, and use of new question structures.

The new ranking system reduces the three test formats to Elementary, Intermediate, and Advanced. Each level has two sub-levels: "acceptable" and "with honors."

Hanban also provides examples of the exam for the different levels together with a list of words that need to be known for each level. Currently this page is only available in Chinese. These examples are also available (together with the audio for the Listening Test) on the website of the Confucius Institute at QUT.

Former Structure

Formerly, there were 11 possible ranks (1-11) and 3 test formats (Basic, Elementary/Intermediate, and Advanced).

A student taking the Basic test (基础HSK) could attain a rank of 1 through 3 (1级-3级), or fail to meet requirements and thus not receive a rank. The Elementary/Intermediate test (初中等HSK) covered ranks 3-8 (3级-8级), with ranks below 3 not considered. Likewise, the Advanced test (高等HSK) covered ranks 9-11 (9级-11级), with scores below 9 not considered.

It is not uncommon to simply refer to a standard or level of proficiency by the HSK level number, or "score." For example, a job description might ask for foreign applicants with "HSK5 or better."

The previous format for both Basic and Elementary/Intermediate HSK included four sections: listening comprehension, grammar structures, reading comprehension, and written expressions. Aside from written expressions portion (which requires writing of chinese characters), these two tests were completely multiple-choice. The Advanced HSK however, added an additional two portions: spoken and written.

Complete vocabulary lists, previous tests, and simulated tests are available as preparation materials.

Test dates and locations
The HSK is held at designated test sites in China and abroad. A list of test sites can be found at the HSK website. Test dates are published annually, and while a test date often includes more than one format, all three rarely overlap. The Advanced HSK occurs only twice per year. It is held by the JNFLS.