Chinese Proficiency Test

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The Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì (HSK), (Chinese: 汉语水平考试), translated as Chinese Proficiency Test,[1] is China's only standardized test of Standard Chinese language proficiency for non-native speakers, such as for example foreign students, overseas Chinese, and members of ethnic minority groups in China.

The test is administered by Hanban, a non-government organization affiliated with the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China.

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).[2] The general count outside of China is stated as being around 1.9 million.[3] In 2011 Beijing International Chinese College became the first HSK testing center to conduct online HSK test.

The HSK test approximates the English TOEFL, and an HSK certificate is valid without any limitation in China. The test aims to be a certificate of language proficiency for higher educational and professional purposes.

Each year HSK certificates are issued to those who meet required scores. Unlike the Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language offered in Taiwan and administered in traditional Chinese characters, the HSK is administered in Simplified Chinese. In addition test takers with outstanding results can win a scholarship for short-term language study in China.

Current structure (since 2010)

The current format was introduced in November 2009,[4] with a philosophy of testing "comprehensive language and communication ability".[1] 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 HSK consists of a written test and an oral test, which are taken separately:

Level Vocabulary Written test Oral test Description[4][5]
(cumulative / new)
Listening Reading Writing
1 150 178 178 20 questions, 15 min 20 questions, 17 min Not tested 17 min Designed for learners who can understand and use some simple Chinese characters and sentences to communicate, and prepares them for continuing their Chinese studies. In HSK 1 all characters are provided along with Pinyin.
2 300 349 171 35 questions, 25 min 25 questions, 22 min Designed for learners who can use Chinese in a simple and direct manner, applying it in a basic fashion to their daily lives. In HSK 2 all characters are provided along with Pinyin as well.
3 600 623 274 40 questions 30 questions 10 items 21 min 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.
4 1200 1075 452 45 questions 40 questions 15 items 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.
5 2500 1711 636 45 questions 45 questions 10 items 24 min 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.
6 5000 2633 922 50 questions 50 questions 1 composition Designed for learners who can easily understand any information communicated in Chinese and are capable of smoothly expressing themselves in written or oral form.

Listening, Reading and Writing each have a maximum score of 100. HSK 1 and 2 therefore have a maximum score of 200 with 120 points required to pass.[9][10] The higher levels have a maximum of 300 points with 180 points required to pass.[11][12][13][14] There is no minimum amount of points required for each of the sections as long as the sum is over 120 or 180 points respectively.

Hanban claims that the HSK's six levels correspond on a one-to-one basis with the six levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).[5][15] However, an assessment by the Association of Chinese Teachers in German Speaking Countries concluded that this was a significant overestimation of the competences acquired for these HSK levels, and that the sixth and highest HSK level was in fact equivalent to the fourth CEFR level (B2).[15]

Hanban provides examples of the exam for the different levels together with a list of words that need to be known for each level.[6] These examples are also available (together with the audio for the Listening Test) on the website of the Confucius Institute at QUT.[16]

Former structure (before 2010)

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


Characters: 2865
Words: 8840
11 Advanced A
10 Advanced B
9 Advanced C*
- none



Characters: 2194
Words: 5257
8 Intermediate A
7 Intermediate B
6 Intermediate C
Characters: 1603
Words: 3052
5 Elementary A
4 Elementary B
3 Elementary C**
- none


Characters: 800
Words: 1033
3 Basic A
2 Basic B
1 Basic C
- none
*Generally signifies a professional level.
**Generally required for non-language academic programs.


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

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 centers in China and abroad.[17] A list of test centers can be found at the HSK website.[18] Test dates are published annually and written tests are more frequently held than spoken ones, generally around once a month, depending on the test center. Test registration is usually open until 30 days prior to the actual test date for the paper-based test or around 10 days prior the actual test date for the computer-based test. Results are generally available around 30 days after completion (but no definite date is given for results).[19]

See also

Template:Language tests


External links

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  • Official site for Chinese Language Tests
  • Official HSK Website at Hanban
  • Map with Contact Details of HSK Test Centers outside of China
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