All about the YCT 3

Hi Mom! Looking to learn more about the Youth Chinese Test (YCT) and whether your child should take it? This is the right place. While the YCT isn’t as well known as it’s older brother, the HSK, it’s still a valuable test and worth considering. So let’s start with what the YCT is.

The YCT is China’s official language fluency test for children and adolescents and passing the YCT 3 indicates a beginner-intermediate level of fluency. Upon passing the YCT 3, the graduate recieves a certificate from the Confucious Institute certifying their fluency.

Should your kid take the YCT 3?

Bottom line: the YCT 3 is kind of important, but there’s no pressing need for your kid to take it.

To start, the YCT doesn’t grant any special permission to study in Chinese universities like the upper levels of the HSK do. Your child will need to memorize about 150 words and while that significant, especially for a kid, it’s far from the full 3000 words he/she will need for full Chinese fluency.

The YCT 3 can still be really important for your kid and you can make a big deal out of it. Especially if your kid is young, it’s exactly as important to them as you make it and your kid is going to need encouragement. Learning Chinese is really difficult and worse, it’s often really boring. Anything that will make your kid feel they accomplished something important should be utilized. Let the kid take the test and when he/she passes make an event out of it. Buy them an ice cream or a pizza. Let them feel good about it. You don’t want them bored and burned out before they start the heavy studying for the YCT 4 and the HSK 4.

One more option: just proctor the YCT for your kid at home. There’s a link the sample test for the YCT 2 below, which you can download to your home computer. There’s nothing saying you can’t just print it out and hold the test at home for your kid. After all, the only people this really matters to is you and your kid and signing up for the YCT is kind of a hassle, so you might just want to print it out and run the test for your kid. If he/she passes, pizza party! If not, you don’t have to go through the whole signup process again.

What’s this HSK thing?

In case you don’t know, the HSK or Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, is the adult version of the YCT and it’s the one that confers real priveleges. As a quick rule of thumb, passing the HSK 3 or the HSK 4 entitles you to study in a Chinese university and passing the HSK 5 will let you work at a Chinese corporation. Fortunately, the YCT and the HSK are pretty comparable, the YCT 2 is equivalent to the HSK 1 and the YCT 4 is a bit tougher than the HSK 3. As your child grows older, you should start transition them towards studying for the HSK and they should be able to start studying the HSK 4 directly after passing the HSK 3. I’ve read through the tests and the YCT has a few more pictures than the HSK but in reality they’re basically the same thing.

What’s in the YCT 3?

The YCT 3 covers 4 different skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. Listening is pretty simple, your child should be comfortable hearing short sentences and answering basic questions about them. Reading requires basic sentence recognition but your child should also be able to “fill in the blanks” or choose the right character to complete an incomplete sentence. Writing is a short part of the test and will involve your child being given a short list of chinese characters and told to assemble them into a complete sentence. The speaking part, which is not required in lower level YCT tests, involves a short conversation with a TA or other Chinese speaker. You can learn more by checking out the sample test Hanban provides.

YCT sample test

PDF file:

Audio file:

How do I sign up my kid for the YCT?

You’ll need to go online to the Hanban website, make an account, and sign your kid up. You’ll need to research this pretty far in advance, as the test is held about every three months, and on the test date you’ll need to drive your kid to the local college, where the local Chinese professor will administer the test with the help of a few TA’s. You’ll probably have to wait around for 30-40 minutes until the test is done. You can read a book or play with your phone but this is also a good opportunity to talk with the professor or some of the TA’s; they should be able to provide some advice on learning Chinese and give you an idea of how colleges look at Chinese fluency.

So, actually 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.

To register, just go to the Hanban registration page. 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’re child has studied so far.

Once you’ve registered an account, you need to find a testing center for your kid to take the YCT 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 or seen, is apparently a pen and paper test. I’d strongly recommend having your kid take the “online” test if possible.

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 Minnesota. The YCT is only held about 3-4 times a year so you need to plan this out well in advance but there’s a trick if your test date is far off. The YCT 3 is basically the HSK 2 and the HSK is held every month. If there’s no YCT test date soon, it’s totally possible to sign your kid up for the HSK 1 and the only difference will be them taking the test around college kids or young professionals rather than other kids in their age group. You can find the HSK test dates at the University of Nottingham.

Now just show up at the testing center with your kid at the right time. 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, I don’t think you need it but some people are picky.

Unfortunately, it takes them about a month to score it. You’ll need to log back in to the Hanban site to look up your kid’s score and you have to do this; I’ve never heard of them sending an email or any kind of reminder. This is kind of a problem for your kid, because they probably won’t remember the test in a month. My advice is to talk with the professor running the test, they might give a unofficial thumbs up/down.

How should my kid study?

Well, by now, your kid has probably started to encounter the two biggest problems with studying Chinese. The first is that there isn’t a lot of great materials out there for kids, especially once you get past the beginner material. More importantly, you’ve learned just how boring the rote memorization of Chinese characters can be. All I can confirm is that there’s no escape. Chinese just requires a certain amount of rote memorization and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a young kid, a professional adult, or even a native-born Chinese.

I’d suggest three different learning tools: Anki, textbooks, and tutors.

So let’s start with addressing the rote memorization. Right now your child is approaching a transition, at some point they’re going to stop using flashcards and start using spaced repetition software. Flashcards are the basis of memorization: they show you a character and then you get a chance to remember what it is and/or means. Spaced repetition software expands on this by recording which characters your kid has an easy time remembering and which ones they have a hard time remembering. The program then makes sure to show them the difficult characters more often, because those are the ones they need to practice, and the easy ones less often. As you start memorizing more and more characters, this becomes more and more necessary. For example, if you can only study 100 characters a day, and you’re trying to memorize 1,200, then it becomes really important to focus on the ones you need to work on. YCT’s 300 characters doesn’t require spaced repetition software but it’s starting to become a good idea and it’ll become harder and harder to use flashcards. Unfortunately, spaced repetition software is really boring. I’ve used it as an adult and I find it super dull, I can’t imagine how boring your child will find it. This is basically a judgement call on your part. If your child is using flashcards and enjoying them, especially if you’re working with him/her, then keep using flashcards. There’s no reason to switch at this moment, but sometime before taking the YCT 4 your kid will need to switch to spaced repletion software.

The best spaced repetition software is Anki. There’s a whole lot of alternatives but Anki is the oldest, the best supported, and the one with the best selection of high level content. The only trick you’ll need is to download the HSK 2 Anki deck because there are no YCT Anki decks.
If you want to use flashcards, I’m not impressed with any I’ve found on the market but the Complete Chinese ones are the best and simplest, so I’d recommend those.

Textbooks are also going to become necessary for two reasons. First, grammar and sentence structure are becoming more important and that requires a textbook. Secondly, while the YCT 3 only has 300 official words, unofficially your child needs to know about 500-600 words because the writers of the YCT 3 feel free to include any words on the test they feel are appropriate. This means your child needs to be familiar with all words around this level and that’s going to require the expanded vocabulary you get in a textbook.
I’ve personally used the Chinese Made Easy textbooks and found them reasonably good. They do everything a textbook should but they won’t blow you away because I’ve never been blown away by a textbook. You can also get a workbook with additional exercises.

Finally, tutors. This is where the money comes in. Private tutors are by far the best learning resource your kid can have and they become necessary for the YCT 3 because of the spoken portion of the test. Unless you’re a native speaker, your kid needs a tutor. They’ll also help explain things in clear terms, help the child study, and most importantly get them speaking with a native Chinese speaker. Unfortunately, most tutors are used to teaching adults, not kids, so make sure you sit in on some of the lessons and make sure they’re teaching well. If the tutor is any good though, don’t be surprised if your kid starts speaking Chinese very quickly.
You should expect to pay $15-$30 for a private tutor, which at two lessons a week but the average cost at $250/month or more.

I know one tutor in Xi’an who worked with kids in the past and was really nice, so drop me an email at Will@rulinmandarin.com and I’ll see if she’s still available.
Otherwise, tutorMing specializes in tutoring kids but I don’t know them by anything more than reputation.

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