Taking The Hsk 6
I copied this post over from the old Primlo blog on 16 July 2019. I don’t know if this information is still up to date since it’s been some time since I wrote it but maybe it’s still useful to some of you.
I took and passed the HSK 6 this January and wrote down some notes afterwards when people who were thinking of taking it asked me about it. There isn’t quite as much information on it online as I was expecting when I was preparing for it so I thought it might be interesting to some if I write down my experience.
First of all, the HSK is a typical language test, more so than the English tests I have taken or seen. Good test taking skills are half the battle and I strongly recommend buying a prep book with mock exams in it so that you know what to expect. Get one with a CD that has actual HSK test questions on it, the listening section is what I struggled with the most!
There are two versions of the test you can take: internet based or written. If you are not Japanese, the internet based test is probably the better choice because you’ll get to type on a keyboard (although that’s not an advantage in all cases, more on this later.) I have heard, however, that some universities only accept the written version of the test so this is something you should check if you are thinking of applying to a specific institution.
The test goes from 0 to 300 with a pass mark of 180 (60%). Depending on what you are applying for, you will have to get a considerably higher score, though (again, check with your prospective uni.) This is because the new HSK 6 is really not that difficult to pass. This pdf talks about this (scroll down for Chinese/English translations) and there is some information on this on Wikipedia as well, suffice to say that if you have taken other tests, the HSK really isn’t anything to be afraid of in comparison.
Before I go into the details of each of the three parts of the test (listening, reading and writing), first a little bit on the whole process: you sign up for it online and choose a test taking site after which they send you a couple of emails before the test. On the day, be punctual! I think their emails tell you to arrive 30 minutes before the test starts and you really should. The software they use for the test seemed very finicky. When I took the test, there was someone who arrived five minutes before the test and his computer didn’t work so they made their computer guy come and fix it. They ended up moving him to a different seat and it was fine but he was really stressed out afterwards.
The listening section has 50 questions and it’s basically one long recording that they play with short pauses for you to answer in between. There is no way to replay or even pause and you get very little time to answer every question. Basically just long enough that you can read all the questions once and choose an answer, but not enough to think about what you read or to go back if you are unsure. The later sections also play longer recordings and make you answer several question at the same time, with these I found it helpful to skim the questions while the recording was playing.
Generally, the test lets you go back and forth between exercises so if you finish early or if you give up on a question and guess, you should immediately go and read the next set of questions. There always seems to be one exercise on history or art that I found extremely difficult and that I skipped right away to read the questions for the next two exercises.
It’s obvious advice but it’s really important in this section to stay focused and not zone out. This is easier said than done, though, because all the material in the tests that I saw was mind-numbingly boring. Just… try to stay awake I guess.
This is the section where I felt test taking skills were the most important. All the standard stuff applies: read the questions before you read the text, scan for key words they ask about in the questions and if all else fails, guess. You get 50 minutes for 50 questions but I think if your reading is decent and you are clever about it, this is perhaps the easiest section.
There are a number of different types of question in this section, increasing in length of things you have to read. They are all easy to prepare for with mock exams but the one thing to look out for are the 语病 sentences towards the beginning where they show you four sentences and you have to find the one that has a mistake in it. These mistakes can include grammatical or logical errors and are very hard to spot! I highly recommend guessing on your first pass and doing them at the very end if you have time left.
This is the strangest of the three sections, the way it works is that they give you a 1,200 character essay for 10 minutes after which you get 35 minutes to summarize it in 400 characters. You are not allowed to take notes of any kind (just like in real situations…) but it’s not that difficult I would say. Just make sure you remember the names of all the characters and places in the story. I got a translation of 弦高’s story of two ancient kingdoms fighting and I just wrote down all the names the second the input box came up on the screen. I didn’t know the pronunciation of 弦, however, so I had to guess “xian” or “xuan” based on 玄 and search the characters it offered me for the right one. The invigilator saw this and later told me in the elevator that there’s a better way to do this with the input methods they had installed on the computer (at least 10) but it’s probably not worth the hassle.
Once you finish, you go back home and start calling them at regular intervals after about a month until they tell you you can come and pick up your certificate. You can probably also have this sent to an address but I was still in Beijing so I just biked over to Beiyu where I had taken the test. You can also check your results online before you get your certificate but I had a friend who took the test on the same day for whom that didn’t work. Perhaps it was because she took the written test but in general, the system is not the most user friendly. Regardless of what it says on the website, it’ll be worth calling before you go to make sure you don’t go for nothing.