All about the HSK 4

What is the HSK 4

The HSK is China’s official fluency test and passing the HSK 4 indicates intermediate fluency in Chinese, equivalent to four or more semesters of study. It’s run by the Confucius institute and is treated by Chinese universities, businesses, and government agencies as the only legitimate test of Chinese fluency for foreigners.

If you take the test yourself, you should expect about 100 (update) questions focused on listening and reading with a short writing section. Listening questions provide a short audio clip, a sentence or two at most, then either ask you to answer a question about the sentence or match it to the most appropriate picture. Reading follows pretty much the same structure except that you’ll be asked to read a sentence or short paragraph. Writing questions involve you putting a series of characters in the correct order to complete a sentence, so for 你好吗?, you would be given the characters “吗”, “你”, and “好”, then told to use them to make a sentence.
In terms of the difficulty, here are some sample reading questions:
Question: 小时候弟弟比我矮,现在却超过我了,看着他一米八二的个子,我真是羡慕极了. 根据这句话,可以知道现在
Answer: 我比弟弟矮

If you want to learn more about the HSK 4, let me share a couple tips about how to take the HSK and how to study for it, including the vocabulary and practice tests.

How to take the HSK 4

Signing up for the test is easy once you get used to the website. It’s actually pretty good but obviously written by government bureaucrats who don’t speak English as a first language, so be ready to read a page 2-3 times before you get it. Once you get the hang of it, all you need to do is register at the website, find a nearby test center, pick the nearest date, and sign up for the test.

So to register, just go to the Hanban website here. They don’t need a whole lot of information, they basically just want an email, a password for your account, your nationality, and a little information about how much Chinese you’ve studied so far.

Once you’ve registered an account, you need to find a testing center to take the HSK at. There’s a lot of testing locations all over the world, so you’ll need to look up some nearby facilities on Hanban’s official site. In all likelihood there’s a testing center at your nearest major university, although technically I think they can be anywhere.

Just a quick note, you might see references to an “online” test in your searches. Don’t get your hopes up. Online doesn’t mean you can take it at home, it just means you can use a computer to take the test at the testing center and the results are captured on the computer and sent electronically to be graded. The alternative, which I’ve never used, is apparently a pen and paper test.

Next you’ll need to choose a date for the test. Hanban writes the dates in Chinese but you can find a dates in English at the University of Nottingham. As a rule of thumb, there’s roughly one test a month and you need to register roughly one month in advance, so plan on signing up six to eight weeks before taking the test.

Once you’re registered, you just show up at the testing center at the right time and take the test. Typically this is held in a university classroom and run by the local professor of Chinese and a TA or two. I recommend showing up early because unfamiliar university campuses can be tough to navigate. Remember to bring ID.

Once you’re done you can log back into the Hanban website and look up your score. It typically takes them about a month to post the score and I never got an email from them so you have to go and check the site to get your score.

Vocabulary

Officially, the HSK 4 has 1,200 different words it expects you to know. Unofficially, expect to learn about 2,000 before you take the test because there will be a lot of words on the test that aren’t in the official vocabulary. The test writers do not treat the 1,200 words as strict rules but more as a base but they’ll include any words, and even cultural references, they feel are appropriate.

So, while you should study the 1,200 “official” characters, make sure you use other resources like podcasts, textbooks, and videos to expose you to the all the vocabulary you need.
The best online vocabulary list I’ve found is over at hsk.academy if you just want to see the official words.

Practice test

If you haven’t taken an HSK test before, or you just want to make sure you can pass the test before you sign up, it’s worth taking a practice test beforehand.

Lucky for you, I’ve posted on on rulinmandarin which you can take online. After you take the test, there’s two mock test pdf/audio files at the bottom of the page if you want to test yourself later. All these tests come directly from Hanban.

Best learning tools for the HSK 4

At this level, there’s five ways to study that I’d recommend: Flashcards, Textbooks, Websites, Podcasts, and Tutors. The best tools for you will change as your Chinese skills increases. For the HSK 4, I think you probably want all five, although there aren’t many good podcasts.

Bottom Line:

Download Anki and the HSK 4 deck
Hire this tutor
Buy the Chinese Made Easy IV textbook and workbook
Read ChineseReadingPractice
Listen to Slow Chinese

Flashcards:

Download Anki here and the HSK 4 flashcards. Make sure to load the English version, not the Spanish one. Spend 20-30 minutes a day memorizing characters.

I can’t imagine you don’t know about flashcards/spaced repetion software by this point. The only reason I’ll mention this is that at this level you might start having problems finding good flashcards for the HSK 4. Anki will solve this, so it’s worth switching if this is a problem for you. It’s also really valuable to be able to add specific characters that aren’t on the HSK list but that you do have problems remembering, which is something Anki can do that most other programs can’t.

Books:

You should have a textbook by now. If not, or if you don’t care for yours, here’s a few I recommend.

Chinese Made Easy 4 is one of the books I used and it’s fine, which is about what you should expect from textbooks. It goes through set material at a nice pace, explains everything, and is pretty dull. I don’t want to turn you off this textbook, just to be clear about what you’re getting, which is about as good as textbooks get.

Podcasts:

Most podcasts are pretty bad for this level of fluency. There’s just too much talking and joking in English; a lot of times I’d feel like a twenty minute podcast only had two or three minutes of actual Chinese. Having said that, there are two I recommend.

If you really want to study Chinese during your workouts or commute, then invest the money in ChinesePod. It’s about ~$100 but ChinesePod is the only “learning” podcast that’s worth it at this point.
I think Slow Chinese is worth a look at this point. Slow Chinese is exactly what you think, 4-5 minute conversations or readings in Chinese with the Chinese spoken very slowly so it’s easy to follow. I think you’ll still get lost on some episodes but it gets you solid exposure to spoken Chinese and that’s really important.

Websites:

ChineseReadingPractice.com is worth an hour or two a week. These are basically free stories in Chinese and are great general reading practice. The biggest problem you’ll have to face is every story will have useless words you’ll need to learn, like “turtle”, words that just aren’t regularly used and you won’t have come across before. If you can get past this, there’s some great reading experiences here. Sadly, the website hasn’t been updated since 2017, so I wouldn’t expect any new content, but there’s still a wealth of old stuff.

Tutoring:

It’s time to invest in a tutor. There’s two big reasons to get a tutor. First, you need someone to practice speaking Chinese with and you absolutely need a tutor for speaking practice. Especially now that you can start to have real conversations, you really want to start working on conversations, because while the HSK will get you in the door, any hiring manager is going to want to hear you speak Chinese. The second reason you want a tutor is to help you with problem areas. There’s going to be some things that you just don’t get and you really want a resource to help you get through these, someone to explain things you just can’t figure out on your own.

A quick warning though: you are responsible for your Chinese education. You still have to do all the planning, all the studying, and decide when to take the test. Your tutor is not qualified to do this and they do not have the time. You cannot just show up and expect the tutor to lead you. This is one of the worst mistakes I’ve made and you can waste months just spinning your wheels. A tutor is a resource, they’re not your professor or your teacher and they’re not responsible for your whole education.

There’s a few tutors I can recommend in China. Just email me at Will@rulinmandarin.com at I’ll connect you. You should expect to pay about $20 a lesson which is standard.

If you want a cheaper option, eChineseLearning has tutors specializing in the HSK 4 and they can charge as little as $11 so they’re a pretty good option.

Or you can look for your own tutor at the Beijinger. The Beijinger is a magazine/website for expats in Beijing and the classifieds section usually has 100 tutors looking for students. I’m sure they’d be willing to teach over Skype and that way you could find exactly the tutor you want.

Good luck on your adventure. If you liked this article, why not learn a little more about us.

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