The HSK Exam 2020 Reform (HSK 3.0) | Complete Guide

The influence of the Chinese language is ever-growing, and in February 2021 Chinese became the sixth official language of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), joining English, Spanish, French, Russian and Arabic. With the increasing presence of Chinese on the international scene, it is only logical that proficiency standards are reorganized.

One such standardized test is the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi), which translates into the Chinese Proficiency Test. The tool offers a way for non-native Chinese speakers to gain accreditation and recognition for their Chinese skills. This is also the tool employers and universities turn to determine a candidate/applicant’s suitability.

In May 2020 the HSK Official Twitter account announced that the present HSK exam will undergo incredible reformation, namely the change from six levels to nine levels. The change will see HSK becoming HSK 3.0.

Organized by Hanban, part of the Chinese education ministry, the current HSK was introduced in 2010 and is divided into 6 levels. These are referred to as HSK1, HSK2, HSK3 etc. All six levels are composite of listening and reading sections, while levels HSK3 and above involve an additional writing element.

Exact changes within the reformation are unclear, but what is clear is that additional three levels will be expected (thus the highest being HSK9). The nine levels will also be divided into three stages – broad categories indicating one’s proficiency. This is demonstrated below.

STAGELEVELNumber of Words Tested in New HSKNumber of Words Tested in Current HSKChanges in Number of Words Tested
For levels 1-6, examinees are expected to be proficient for a number of characters, syllables and words. The higher the level, the greater the number expected.

Examinations for the Advanced Stage are soon-to-be-released in the first half of 2021, and so the number of words being tested is not yet confirmed (though rumors speculate that this would reach 11,000 for HSK9). Despite this, we can clearly see the overall requirements for HSK 3.0 are increasing, particularly within the late-beginner, intermediate levels. Where students are only expected to master 300 words for the current HSK2, this increases by 4 folds to 1272 words under the new system. A similar increase is shown for HSK3, while the most significant increase occurs at HSK4, where students are expected to learn 2045 more words for the new system than the current system.

That said, progression within the new system is much more gradual compared to the current system. The current system requires learners to double their vocabulary between HSK5 and HSK6, but this increase is much lower under the new system as the increase in vocabulary is spread more evenly between the levels.

Further to the addition of the three uppermost levels, the method of testing for these three levels also varies greatly from how the current 6 levels are assessed. Instead of each level being assigned its own exam, levels 7-9 will be assessed by a single exam. There will only be one exam added and the HSK level awarded is determined by the score obtained.

Putting Levels Into Perspectives

Most learners can expect their level to lower due to the reformation but fear not. HSK6 is still a realistic goal for many and is sufficient unless one seeks to specialize in the subject.

Intermediate levels are designed to test one’s ability to understand authentic conversation spoken in a clear manner, or slightly altered authentic conversation (accented). Meanwhile, advanced levels reflect the ability to comprehend lengthier, more complex materials, such as magazine articles, interviews and Chinese literature. Foreign learners who wish to specialize in the Chinese language/literature (for example, Sinology researchers) or individuals who wish to study in China should also aim to attain HSK7 or above.


Reason for Reformation

Within the community, there are various speculated explanations as to why Hanban decided to instate a reformation. The general consensus is that the reformation aims to give more accurate, precise testing and reflects the outcomes of recent studies into language and linguistics, evolving with the times. Further to this, the new reformed test also tackles how HSK aligns with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The CEFR describes guidelines for evaluating language proficiency, and has been widely accepted as the European standard.

As such the HSK strives to organize their levels to align with those set out by the CEFR (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) and stated they had achieved this in 2010. However, multiple other international bodies disagreed with this claim, namely German and French organizations of Chinese language teachers, who argued HSK6 is only comparable to CEFR B2 or C1 when it should be alike to A1 or A2.

The new reformation tackles this issue with the levels being adjusted to better reflect the CEFR levels. For example, we expect a mastery of the highest level, HSK9, would truly reflect C2 proficiency.

In addition, the level of difficulty in HSK3.0 increases significantly, pushing students to cover a wider range of vocabulary and words. It also encourages students to interact with material outside standard courses, such as media and articles. Presently, it is unclear if the HSK Speaking Test (HSKK) will be included in the reformation or not.

Preparing for HSK 3.0

Though information is still incomplete and missing, students can continue to monitor the HSK website to find out more information regarding upcoming test dates and test centers as well as keep updated with news regarding the reformation. Please also take notice of when test registration is open should you wish to take the HSK. Tests are available online at the moment to accommodate coronavirus restrictions.

HSK Official Twitter
HSK Official Website

In the meantime, boost your Chinese with! We can help you achieve your language-learning goals with tailored daily stories as well as useful tips in our blog posts. Grammar techniques currently being taught will still be applicable for the new system, while we expect the majority of current vocabulary lists will be carried over.

Check out our How to Speak Chinese and A General Introduction of Chinese Sentences Structure guides to make the most of learning with maayot!