It will only take 9 minutes to read this post!
So some of you may know that I recently took my first HSK test. The whole experience wasn’t nearly as stressful as I’d imagined, which is surprising considering nerve-wracked nausea I would feel when taking exams at school. I’m sort of pleased with myself for just doing it because honestly there were times when I considered doing a bunk (British slang for not turning up), but my conscious got the better of me…
I actually only applied for the Chinese test as research for our previous HSK post. I’ve never been a fan of exams, even when the result is a shiny certificate and resume content, but I applied anyway and informed Chamcen, my colleague, that yes, I could pay with my Chinese bank card. I didn’t actually pay though, and Chinese New Year came around and I swanned off to Colombia for mojitos and sunburn, and only glanced at my Chinese book in the airport to make myself feel better. Yes, I had fallen off the wagon and it was only when I realized that the beginning of March was around the corner that I had to grit my teeth and lasso my way back on board.
Here are just some of the things you (and I) can do to prepare for your HSK exam!
Preparation For Your Chinese Test Begins…
Know the HSK Vocabulary
I have been studying regularly with a teacher for a few years, but it’s really been since I became part of the Written Chinese Team that I realized I was capable of taking an HSK exam too. So each week my teacher started to take time out of our lesson to go over HSK vocabulary and give me a metaphorical poke in the direction of the examination hall.
HSK vocabulary differs for each level, although for levels 1 and 2 you only need to know the meaning by reading pinyin and/or characters. By level 3 you need to say 拜拜 (bài bài) to pinyin and learn to read all of those beautiful characters.
HSK 一 150 words
HSK 二 300 words
HSK 三 600 words
HSK 四 1200 words
HSK 五 2500 words
HSK 六 5000+ words
You can find downloadable vocabulary lists for HSK 1 – 5 here.
There are many online resources for HSK vocabulary and books for testing your level. You can turn off the pinyin for level 3+ and shuffle the cards to test yourself. I was doing this whilst commuting to work, or taking 5 at my desk and having a quick review. Once you’ve reached level 3 and you no longer have pinyin to lean against, needing to recognize characters is a pretty crucial part of the HSK exam. One thing that still throws me off is similar-looking characters. It’s fine when you can grasp the meaning from the context, but taking the time to create mnemonics for characters you struggle with will definitely help to remember them. Lots of people have started to add their own mnemonics or character stories to the ‘living’ Online Dictionary. If you have any fun or clever stories to help you remember characters, we’d love it if you could leave them on the specific character page. Equally, if you’re having problems trying to remember a character, there might already be a story for that…
Struggling? Find a Teacher
I know many of you are living in countries where, although learning Chinese is on the uprise, it may not be the easiest place to find a school to study, or even a teacher to teach you. However, there are many schools and social networks such as italki that help you connect with qualified tutors online. Although lots of people do extremely well studying without a teacher, I would suggest a few pre-HSK exam classes as they will undoubtedly have worthwhile advice to offer.
Create a Routine For Learning
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’ve become a little bit obsessed with routines and schedules here at Written Chinese (I’ve never been so organized in my whole life!), but they’ve helped me in so many areas, not just work and my Chinese learning. Most people don’t really have the time to sit down for an hour or even half an hour every day and have a focused study session, but even being able to spare 10 minutes a day is better than nothing. My own learning schedule is pretty flexible, but it’s helping me do a little bit of studying every day. Each weekday morning when I arrive at work I add 4 new HSK vocabulary (actually more than often they are old words I should know already!) words to my notepad and keep it next to me on my desk. At the end of each day when I get home, I test myself and highlight the words I can recognize and speak correctly. For more advice and tips on how a routine can help you learn Chinese check out Mike’s article ‘How I Learn Chinese Characters’.
HSK Test Papers Ahoy
URGGHHHHH, practice papers! Yup, they made me feel like I was 15 again but test papers are a great way to build confidence. That’s one of the main reasons I felt comfortable taking the exam since my Chinese teacher had me take 3 or 4 practice papers and explained the format to me. You can find plenty of tests online along with MP3s for the listening section. There are also books that include practice tests, mp3s, and advice for each section of the exam. Don’t start the papers too late either, the sooner you realize you’re making a recurring mistake the quicker you can nip it in the bud before the exam! One of the most important things is to make sure you can complete the test in the allotted time. You can find out the time length of each (reading, writing, and listening) part of the exam here. I chose not to take a paper the week before the exam (although I was itching to) because I didn’t want to panic myself, but I’m aware that this is not the best method for everyone!
Find Ways to Test Your Knowledge Daily
Learning a language really needs to be fun and engaging for the majority of people to succeed in it. Its probably necessary to use traditional, and kind of repetitive methods of learning, but it’s important to enjoy learning with other resources such as games, tv, and music. I also think it’s good to practice your reading skills to improve your speed. You can get short graded stories for each HSK level, including some you can download for your kindle!
The HSK Test
As I mentioned at the beginning, the test itself wasn’t too scary.
I arrived at the test center 30 minutes before it began with my form and passport. They won’t let you take the exam without your ID so make sure you don’t forget it! There were young Chinese people taking another exam, only three of us taking the HSK. They took away our bags and phones and it began to feel more like a sixteen-year-old taking my GCSEs all over again: dry mouth, too hot then too cold and the desperate urge to raise my hand to ask if I could use the toilet. After filling out some details on the computer, testing the headphones, and getting in the ‘zone’ for another 15 minutes, the exam started. Although the introduction to the exam explains how long you have for the exam, it’s still best to do some of those practice tests beforehand. I took my time and used my spare minutes in the end to review all of my questions (you’re given paper so take a pen to make comments or query problem questions). It might be common sense but it’s so easy to become complacent about your answers; I changed one or two answers just by looking for a few minutes.
Before you take an HSK exam, test yourself with these simulated papers.
Prepare yourself for the HSK Level 1 test with these simulated tests!
Test your readiness before taking the HSK level 4 exam. Also prepares you for the different exam areas and tips on how to complete them.
HSK Graded Reader Storybooks
Good luck to all of you who are preparing to take an HSK exam!
If you have any useful advice for people embarking on an HSK exam please leave a comment below!
To Learn More about how and why to take an HSK exam check out the post 9 Tips to Taking the HSK Exam!