Info on the New HSK in Shanghai

I’ve been asked quite a bit lately about the new HSK, so I thought I’d share some of the information I’ve gathered. (You can also refer to, which seems to be an official source of information affiliated with the Hanban.)

The new HSK has been designed to meet the “western need” for assessing students’ practical communication skills in Mandarin Chinese. (Meanwhile the Japanese and Koreans will continue their frenzied test-taking with the old HSK, which has developed into quite a sizable business.)

The new HSK was administered publicly for the first time this year on March 14, 2010. If you want to take the new HSK in Shanghai this year, you can register for the October 17, 2010 or December 5, 2010 HSK examinations through Tongji University’s testing center (phone: 6598-0701). Not sure what the deadline is.

The new test is split into six levels for the written portion, each of which has its own structure and price:

– Level 1: 40-minute test of listening and reading comprehension (150 RMB)
– Level 2: 55-minute test of listening and reading comprehension (250 RMB)
– Level 3: 90-minute test of listening, reading comprehension, and writing (350 RMB)
– Level 4: 105-minute test of listening, reading comprehension, and writing (450 RMB)
– Level 5: 125-minute test of listening, reading comprehension, and writing (550 RMB)
– Level 6: 140-minute test of listening, reading comprehension, and writing (650 RMB)

The spoken segment of the exam will cost you another 300 RMB, and takes 21 minutes. The sections include:

1. Listen and repeat
2. Describe pictures
3. Answer questions

You can choose to take just the written or just the spoken portions of the test.

Oh, and just for reference, the old HSK costs 250 RMB for the intermediate version, 330 RMB for the advanced.

Hmmm, looks like the new HSK might just be a nice little source of profit for the Hanban. It’s also selling new syllabi, one for each level of the written test, and one for the spoken test [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, spoken].

So… does anyone care about the new HSK?


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Looks like I have a bit more studying to do, I found these books at the bookstore here in Tianjin not too long ago. Nankai University is switching over to the new HSK so I have no choice but to be interested in it.

  2. They should follow Taiwan’s suit and have an electronic version of the written test. They just started it this year. You can also use a chosen combination of pinyin or zhuyin fuhao,and simplified or traditional characters.

  3. I’m interested in the new HSK. Studying for it motivates me to put in extra study time. It also fills the language learners “end-goal” void.

    How does the new test and old test relate. Last year, I got a level 7 on the old HSK. An old lvl 7 is a new lvl __???

    I think I would be more motivated to take the new HSK if it wasn’t so damn expensive. Cash cow is right.

  4. great info John

  5. If the new test allowed you to type (with pinyin input) instead of handwrite characters, now THAT would be new! It would also be 10x more realistic.

    • Now this is an idea that I like!
      I lived in China for 4 years, and speak, understand and read Mandarin pretty well. BUT, I can barely write, except on the computer or mobile phone. This has so far prevented me from ever attempting the HSK :((

  6. The new syllabi “Chinese Proficiency Test Syllabus (HSK)” level 1-6 can be downloaded for free (PDF, MP3 for oral test is also available) here:
    (>> New HSK Guidelines)

  7. I’ve never been convinced it’s worth the effort. I’d appreciate it you could shed some light on point of the HSK. In my experience, neither foreign or Chinese companies even ask for HSK results. So, really, why bother?

    • I agree that for many people it’s a meaningless exercise. It’s mostly useful for those people that (1) really need an HSK score for some reason, (2) never “officially” studied Chinese, and want a standard to put on their resumes, (3) just really want an “official” yardstick to measure their progress.

      The sad thing, of course, is that an HSK score does not necessarily correspond well to communication skills. The communication part is what I’m focused on in my new business.

      • It was number three for me all along, the so-called yardstick to measure my progress. And now they have taken it form me, it seems. The new level 6 translates to something like 7 (or 8 at most) of the old HSK (my own guess after seeing the official syllabus for this level), which is not very interesting for me. I always wanted to take a stab at the advanced level, but never had the chance. I wasn’t that advanced when I was studying in China back in the days, so it would be pointless to try (only got a 7 back then). And it was never offered in my country, so it was not possible to take after getting back there. It seems that the good ol’ HSK is going to be stopped for good this year, so I have exactly one try during my stay in China for the next semester (something like the end of October IIRC). Well, it’s this time or never…

      • maybe that’s my answer. you stated communication is what you’re focused on. However, I’d like a yardstick for myself.

  8. Cool! Very helpful information. The new HSK has been rolled out so slowly and tentatively that it’s been hard to tell fact from fiction.

    I wonder what the relevance of the HSK is nowadays. Does anybody anywhere require it for anything? Admissions to Chinese colleges, or China government scholarships? It seems like so far the only reason I hear for people taking the HSK is as a motivator for personal study.

    Finally, congrats John on 10 years in China! Just noticed that your Javascript counter rolled over since the last time I visited.

    • Still required for Chinese university study (at least it was last year when I looked into doing graduate work in Shanghai) — though only an HSK 6, I think, even for liberal art-ish, language heavy fields.

      • For masters work at Beida you need a 6 for sciences and 8 for humanities. Am going to call tomorrow to find out their position on the new test.

      • I think Beida is the exception, John B is right about most schools just requiring a 6 (old HSK).

  9. In our experience, a lot of people who feel comfortable with mandarin do poorly on the HSK because they don’t prepare and just go into the test assuming they’ll do fine. I like to recommend our Popup Chinese ( iPhone app to people who are curious how they’ll do on the test because it is free and quite useful:

    That said, the newer version is significantly easier than the older one at the upper end, and the first level of the new exam is basically a joke. Also a bit of a misnomer since different organizations are running the two tests, so which one you end up taking depends largely on who is paying whom. The growth in the new exam outside China is strongly connected to the Confucius Institute rollout and efforts to provide an easier test for the American and European markets.

    And congrats on the ten year anniversary John.

    • “…the newer version is significantly easier than the older one at the upper end…”

      I assume you mean the reading/writing sections of the new test are much easier. I suspect that, for the (mostly) Japanese and Korean students that make it to the highest levels of the old HSK, the higher level speaking tests would be quite difficult.

    • Your HSK app looks pretty cool! Nice and simple. I’m between iPhones right now, but hope to be able to try it out soon.

      You must be close to 10 years in China too, right? Or is it more?

  10. I would be interested to know how the test relates to University enterance requirements to study a subject in Chinese. From what i’ve seen the general requirement for entry is a 6-7 on the HSK… wondering how that relates to this new test, like which of this tests would you need to take in order to have a chance of getting a 7…

  11. I’m never planning to look at another HSK test now that the 汉语本科 is completed, but as Bob rightly puts out how will this affect those that wish to pursue a masters degree in China?

  12. According to who I emailed re the old vs new HSK: ‘The HSK has changed to new HSK, you can’t get any old HSK now(all over the world).’
    Not sure if this is true- e.g. frequency of exams also varies depending on the country you’re in.
    One thing that has definitely changed is that you have to sign up for a specific level, i.e. 4 or 5, not like before, where intermediate meant a much broader scope. I found this very confusing since as a learner it’s hard to say which level is most suitable. Moreover slightly unfair since if you fail the level you signed up for, you are left with nothing. You get a ‘Test Report’ but not a certificate for the level below.

  13. Thanks for the info, Lu. That is indeed annoying. This info may already be out there, but according to this year’s application guidelines this is how Beida is matching up the new and old versions — they still accept both.

    6级 : 5级180分以上
    8级 : 5级210分以上
    9级 : 6级180分以上

    Left is old version, right is new.

  14. I’m studying for #6 right now, my speaking is pretty decent, but I have alot of work to do on reading/writing for the exam. I definitely think of it as something to put on the resume, and something I personally want to do to push myself.

    Living in China, the vast majority of foreigners have little incentive (beyond pride ahem) to master Chinese, etc. They just want to talk to girls and taxi drivers. I want to actually have a strong grasp of the language, and preparing for this test will be fun and engaging for me.

    Of course I couldn’t care less about the cost of the exam itself. ;P Come on, it’s China.

  15. Hey John,

    Just took the Level 6 yesterday. I had taken the old Intermediate HSK last October and gotten a very low 8. I’ve also taken a lot of practice tests for the old Advanced HSK. I thought the questions on the Level 6 HSK were similar in difficulty to the old Advanced HSK practice tests. In the find-the-error section, the new test is much harder, because you are presented with four relatively long sentences and told to find the one with an error (in the old test, there was only one sentence and you had to find which part of the sentence had the error). In other sections, they were about the same level of difficulty, I thought. Maybe the old HSK was a little harder.

    Of course, you only need 60% on the new HSK to pass, so that makes it quite a bit easier. I think passing Level 6 would be the equivalent of a 9 on the old HSK, NOT a 7 as you posted above. Getting a higher score on the Level 6 (in the 260-300 range) might be closer to a 10 or 11.

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