The New HSK Examination System

The New HSK Examination System

Written by Juliette Pitt

We have a huge announcement…the HSK System is GOING TO CHANGE!

But don’t panic; this pocket guide will hopefully inform you about the new system and on what you should do.

What Do We Know So Far?

‘Three Stages and Nine Levels’ 

Announced in May 2020 released via the official HSK Twitter Account, the HSK exam will change from six to nine levels. It was further announced last week that the change will take effect on July 1st, 2021.

Officialy referred to as HSK 3.0 (Three Stages and Nine Levels) this new standard divides Chinese proficiency levels into three stages: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced, and expands to nine levels.

The added levels (7-9) are for foreign students who wish to specialize in Chinese language and literature, and other majors such as Sinology. For students wishing to pursue this, they would only need to take one exam, and based on the score a certificate of HSK 7, HSK 8 or HSK 9 will be given.

Simply put, it is getting more difficult and the table below shows a clear indication of the new expected number of words you will need to now know.

Vocabulary and Test Criteria

From the table above we can clearly see a change in the level of difficulty. Previously, HSK 1 only required you to know 150 words, HSK 2, 300 words etc. However, for this new standard, you need to know 500 words for level 1. That is to say, even if you have passed the HSK 3 test, based on this new standard you might only be at level 1.  In the brackets above you can see the difference from the old HSK.

Looking at the official vocabulary lists that can be found in the link below, we find that the new standard is more practical and closer to words used in daily life.

Download: The Ministry of Education in China have released this PDF which is the full word list for each level of the HSK. Please note that it still does not show the breakdown from HSK 7 onwards.

Thus, by increasing the number of words threshold it will not only push the students to work harder but also help them learn more words! Further, besides the regular reading, writing, and listening tests, translation skills and Hanzi handwriting will be tested. For example, you will be required from HSK 1 to write 100 basic characters, and you will be tested on the speed for copying the characters and so on for the other levels. In addition, from HSK 4 you will be required to have basic translation ability for both spoken and written Chinese.

As for the type of questions that will be asked, the details aren’t fully clear yet so we will keep you updated once we know more.

What Was Wrong with the ‘Old’ System? 

There was nothing specifically wrong with the old/current system.  Perhaps a disadvantage was that there are ‘big’ jumps between the levels. With the new system it is hoped that there will be a gradual transition with the learning process as the levels are more ‘broken down’.  Further, by making the exam harder it could make the new system better reflect the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). By adjusting the test better to reflect this, it would help give the HSK improved weighting and calibre on the international stage.

What Does This Change Mean for Your Learning at Hutong School?

At the moment there is no need to panic! If you are currently studying towards a HSK Exam it is probably a good idea to not stop your learning! Keep going and aim to pass that test as you’d probably have to wait a few more months before you would be able to sit this ‘new’ exam.

There has been no word so far on what this means for graduation requirements for international students. As far as we know, a level between HSK 4-5 was sufficient for students who wanted to pursue a graduate or high-level degree in Chinese. We expect this to be announced as the new system is gradually adopted across Chinese Universities.

At first sight of the announcement, it might seem a tad frustrating as your HSK level might have been ‘downgraded’, but it will help you better understand your Chinese language ability and thus set more ‘realistic’ goals. Further, these standards will hopefully enhance your learning experience as the material will be more modern.

Key Takeaway…

  • The ‘new system’ is good and it will help you progress in your learning.
  • We will update as soon as we hear more details, so keep checking this page as we will post the most updated information on here.
  • Please feel free to contact one of our program consultants if you have any more questions or please leave a comment below.

Frequently Asked Questions 

  • Are there any textbooks out and can I buy them?
    • The textbooks are not out as yet and we will keep you updated on this so you can be the first to buy them.
  •  What I can I do if I’m studying towards a HSK test?
    •  Keep going! Although we know when it will change (on July 1st) – it is probably best for your learning to keep studying towards the exam as this will help you further with your learning.
  • When will the new exams be rolled out?
    • We will keep you updated on this.
  • Will my current HSK exam certificate become invalid?
    • Hopefully not; again we will keep you updated on this.
  • How will I be notified once further news will be announced?
    • On this blog! Keep checking this blog for further updates.

Are you waiting to get back to China to start learning Chinese again? Don’t fear! Hutong School has a fun web app for you to book classes with our experienced teachers from anywhere in the world.

Sign up for free here – and get access to lots of free content and nice online features to get you started with your studies as the world heals.

It’s super convenient to find one of our top teachers, view their schedule and book a session. In addition, any one of our students who studies with us online will automatically receive up to 15% discount off of their future China trip with us.


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