Hi Mom! Looking to learn more about the Youth Chinese Test 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 Youth Chinese Test (YCT) is China’s official language fluency test for children and adolescents and passing the YCT 4 indicates an intermediate level of fluency roughly equivalent to the HSK 3. Upon passing the YCT 3, the graduate receives a certificate from the Confucius Institute certifying their fluency.
Should your kid take the YCT 4?
No, your kid should take the HSK 3 instead.
If your kid can pass the YCT 4, they can pass the HSK 3. There’s a clear value and prestige to passing the HSK 3: this is the mandatory level of Chinese proficiency the Chinese government requires to study in a Chinese university. If your kid wants to study in Beida or another mainland university, they would require your kid to pass this test before attending. This is obviously important if your kid wants to study in China but it’s also important if they want to study in the US. After all, the admissions committee for a US college is interested in Chinese speakers; it’s a very difficult and valuable language. However, they don’t really understand what the HSK or YCT is but they will understand “fluent enough to attend a Chinese university”. Basically, if your kid passes the HSK 3, the Chinese government will give him a certificate with real privileges, which is not only valuable in it’s own right but also sends a clear signal to everyone else about your child’s proficiency.
By comparison, the YCT 4 is more difficult and has less rewards. Unlike the HSK 3, which only has a listening, reading, and writing section, the YCT 4 also has a spoken test which is significantly harder, especially if your child hasn’t been working with a tutor and doesn’t have his/hers pronunciation and tones down. For that extra effort, the YCT 4 gives no special privleges whatsoever and neither universities nor companies will take the YCT as seriously as they take the HSK. Unless there’s a special situation, say a specific scholarship wants your kid to pass the YCT 4, I can’t imagine any reason to take the YCT 4 instead of the HSK 3.
If you want to learn more about the HSK 3, you can read more about it or check out my HSK 3 practice test.
For comparison to the HSK, here’s a YCT 4 practice test:
PDF test file
Audio test file:
What’s in the YCT 4?
The YCT 4 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.
How do I sign up my kid for the YCT?
Whether you’re signing up for the YCT 4 or the HSK 3, the process is the same. 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. Alternatively, the HSK is held roughly once a month, so it’s usually much easier to sign up for. 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 and you’ll be signing them up for the YCT II at that point. 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 encountered 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 repetition 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 3 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 4’s 600 official words might seem intimidating, in reality your child needs to know about 1,000 Chinese words. The writers of the YCT 4 feel free to include any words on the test they feel are appropriate, regardless of whether they’re “official” vocabulary. 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. They’ll be able to 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.