A Report on the New HSK
Jonathan of The Art of Living has e-mailed me with a link to his report of the new HSK. Although not yet officially in use, the new Chinese proficiency test is apparently already being tested on groups of students.
Some telling passages from Jonathan’s report:
> I have to say, it was a big improvement. The test was neatly organized into four sections that covered all aspects of
communications: listening, speaking, reading, writing. The old test only covered listening and reading (receptive abilities) and ignored speaking and writing (productive abilities), which encouraged the Korean study bugs to lock themselves in their dorm rooms with tapes and books and totally avoid actually talking to Chinese people.
> They also cut out all the one-liner grammar questions, fill-in-the-blank segments, and dissect-a-sentence sections, and focused exclusively on reading comprehension, which was always the most challenging anyway.
> The listening was pretty much the same, and the writing was just a simple composition assignment, but the speaking component was crazy: we were given 15 minutes to prepare a five minute oral presentation that addressed the specific prompt questions of two different scenarios: in one scenario, we were calling a friend to arrange details for a weekend outing; in the second scenario, we were factory workers lodging a complaint with a boss.
And, perhaps most interesting to me:
> The new H.S.K. couldn’t care less about 成语. The content was fully geared towards operating efficiently in modern Chinese society: the listening content included a customer-service hotline dialogue and a television ad for cell phones. The reading comprehension material included a standard business contract and a report on a recent summit on environmental protection. For our writing assignment, we wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper to share our views on recent local government policy (how democratic!).
For the whole thing, go read Jonathan’s account.
Jonathan took both the intermediate HSK (which tests up to level 8) and the advanced HSK in one day. Yikes! He said that “mid-level test was easy and an excruciating waste of [his] time.” So I had to ask him a few questions.
How long have you been studying Chinese? What is your Chinese level like?
> I’ve been studying Chinese for three years in total, with about half of that time dedicated to full-time study and immersion. I’m generally around the top of my class, and the class I’m in now is the highest class at the university, so I guess school is over soon. My Chinese friends say that my 口语 is 100 percent understandable, but carries a significant accent. I’m at the level where I just need to stay in China long term, work and live around Chinese people, and gradually learn all the exceptions to the rules.
When you said the intermediate exam was easy, is that just because you’re an advanced student, or did you mean that the intermediate level exam is actually easier than it used to be? What levels have you taken before?
> Yeah, I meant the intermediate exam was easy for advanced students. At the end of the tests, we were asked to fill out a survey about our reaction (was the test too long? too difficult? did we believe the results would accurately represent our level?) and my response was that the test was actually very well-designed. Last December, I took the old intermediate exam and scored the Level 8 (though I got lucky). I think the new test is on the whole a tad easier than the old, but the breadth of its scope more than compensates, and the new test is definitely more challenging than the old, if not more difficult (if that makes any sense).
Just to clarify: the questions testing vocab, grammar, and word choice are entirely gone?
> Yes, pick-the-word is gone. Fill-in-the-blank is gone. All the old questions where you have an isolated sentence and are expected to interpret its meaning are gone. The ENTIRE [reading comprehension] section is made up of 5-7 one-page-long passages followed by several reading-comp questions. The trick is, it would be impossible if you actually read the whole passages– to score well, you need to play it like the GRE’s or SAT’s and skim skim skim for info relevant to the questions.
Do you really expect me to believe that there are no chengyu on the advanced test? Come on… none??
> Let me put it this way… we were never directly tested on 成语。I’m sure there was some [4 character words] embedded in the reading passages or listening dialogues, but they didn’t stick out at me and I answered most of the questions without paying any attention to them.
So there you have it. According to one man, the HSK is taking giant steps toward more practicality. I am very glad to hear it.