What to Expect on HSK 1-4

May 29, 2019

Studying Chinese? Everything You Need to Know About Preparing for HSK 1-4

Part III in our series "Everything You Need to Know About the HSK".


So you want to take the HSK, hm? Wondering what is on the exam? We’ve been there, too.

Here is a brief introduction of what you will encounter when you take the HSK in Beijing and beyond.

Please bear in mind that the Hanban revises the HSK periodically. At the time of writing, this blog reflects the format of the current HSK.

Chapter 1 General Info
Chapter 2 Take HSK 1
Chapter 3 Take HSK 2
Chapter 4 Take HSK 3
Chapter 5 Take HSK 4
Chapter 6 Take HSK 5
Chapter 7 Take HSK 6
Chapter 8 Testing Tips


Check out our other blogs “What is the HSK “, “How to Sign Up for the HSK“, and “What to Expect on HSK 5 and 6“.



  1. General Info

    The HSK consists of three sections: listening, reading, and writing. (The writing section is only included on levels 3 and above.)

    Don’t Panic

    The first 5 minutes of the exam are for filling in your personal information.

    Maybe take the time to do some deep breathing—you've got this!


  2. Take HSK 1

    LISTENING is subdivided into four sections:                                       READING is subdivided into four sections:

                Part 1: True or False                                                                                 Part 1: True or False

                Part 2: Multiple Choice                                                                           Part 2 + 3: Matching

                Part 3: Matching                                                                                        Part 4: Fill in the Blank

                Part 4: Multiple Choice

  3. Take HSK 2

    LISTENING is subdivided into four sections:                                       READING is subdivided into four sections:

                Part 1: True or False                                                                                 Part 1: Matching

                Part 2: Matching                                                                                      Part 2: Fill in the Blank

                Part 3 + 4: Multiple Choice                                                                   Part 3: True or False

                                                                                                                                       Part 4: Matching

  4. Take HSK 3

    LISTENING is subdivided into four sections:                                       READING is subdivided into three sections:

                Part 1: Matching                                                                                        Part 1: Matching

                Part 2: True or False                                                                                  Part 2: Fill in the Blank

                Part 3 + 4: Multiple Choice                                                                    Part 3: Multiple Choice

    WRITING is subdivided into two sections:

                Part 1: Sentence Ordering

             Part 2: Fill in the Blank


  5. Take HSK 4

    LISTENING is subdivided into three sections:                                      READING is subdivided into three sections:

                Part 1: True or False                                                                                    Part 1: Fill in the Blank

                Part 2 + 3: Multiple Choice                                                                      Part 2: Sentence Ordering

                                                                                                                                          Part 3: Multiple Choice

    WRITING is subdivided into two sections:

                Part 1: Sentence Ordering

           Part 2: Picture Prompt

    Now that we are getting into the advanced HSK levels, the test gets a bit heavier. To make the exam less intimidating, we offer some in-depth testing tips for both HSK 5 and 6.

  6. Take HSK 5

    LISTENING is subdivided into two sections:                                         READING is subdivided into three sections:

                Parts 1 + 2: Multiple Choice                                                                    Part 1: Multiple Choice/Fill in the Blank

                                                                                                                                          Parts 2 + 3: Multiple Choice

    WRITING is subdivided into two sections:

                     Part 1: Sentence Ordering

    Part 2: Prompts

    For Writing Part 2, you’ll need to write about 80 characters, but you may consider between 75-90 a safe zone.


    In this section, the prompt is a set of (seemingly) unrelated characters.

    A good strategy is to write one sentence with each of the characters required by the prompt.

    Try to connect these sentences using conjunctions. Make them longer by including adverbs and adjectives.

    Another tactic is to describe the obvious. Answer the 5 W’s (who, what, where, when, why), adding in your own imagination along the way.


    Don’t feel overwhelmed—if you write 4 sentences of 20 characters each, you’re already done!


  7. Take HSK 6

    LISTENING is subdivided into three sections:

                Part 1 + 2 + 3: Multiple Choice


    Here the passages often take the form of an interview—and current events is a popular topic! (It is not necessary, but you may find it useful to read the news ahead of your exam.)

    taking the hsk_listening

    Each passage usually corresponds to multiple questions. Try to find a connection—the questions don’t always follow the order of the interview, so finding a connection ahead of time might help you when listening for the answers. 

    Questions asked by the interviewer may show up as the exam questions. Listen carefully.



    Listen and answer the questions at the same time. The passages are usually very long, so this will save you from having to remember everything. 


    READING is subdivided into four sections:

                Part 1: Multiple Choice

                Part 2: Multiple Choice/Fill in the Blank

                Part 3: Fill in the Blank

                Part 4: Multiple Choice


    A common format for this section is selecting the incorrect sentence. 


    Mistakes to watch for include:

    -Sentence order (eg. 我想去一起喝茶和我的朋友.)

    -Incorrect word pairings (eg. 打扫整齐 should be 打扫干净)

    -Incorrect conjunctions (eg. 只有+就 should be 只有+才)

    -Incomplete sentences

    -Redundant sentences

    -Incorrect register 

    (word choice is too formal/informal for the situation)

    WRITING is just ONE section:



    In the allotted 10 minutes, read the whole passage. The passage will then be collected (by hand or digitally, depending on if you are taking the computer-based exam).

    In the remaining 35 minutes, summarize the passage. Your summary should be approximately 400 characters. Watch the time!


    Here, the digital test has both pros and cons. Typing your response means you are less likely to use an incorrect character.

    However, you are not allowed to take notes on the passage you have just read—you will need to rely on memory for the summary.

    You can decide which would be more helpful and sign up for the HSK accordingly.

    Be sure to check your work after you are finished. Points will be deducted for incorrect characters.


    -Include details like time, place, people, what happened and why, and the result.

    -Omit unnecessary details and use pronouns instead of names.

    -Use conjunctions to save characters—plus they make you sound smarter 😉

    -Do NOT add your own opinion—points will be deducted! 


  8. Testing Tips


Expand your vocabulary! 

Read, read, read. Students often find the hardest part of the exams is not recognizing the vocab. (Learning some common idioms and sayings would also be a good idea!)

For the LISTENING section: 

Use your time wisely.  ⏰

The recording for each level begins with three different narrators introducing the exam. Familiarize yourself with their tones and accents—you will hear them a lot over the next few minutes. 

While the narrators are introducing the test or repeating the dialogue, read over the answers for the next question. This will prepare you for the topic and save you a bit of brainpower later.

take the hsk listening
After the recording for the listening part is over, you will have 5 minutes to fill in the answer sheet and review your answers. (You cannot go back and hear the questions again.)


Questions are often related to the speakers. Generally, topics revolve around daily life. What is their relationship? Where are they? What are they doing or feeling?

If you take HSK 1-3, the answer may be in the dialogue word-for-word. If you take HSK 4-6, the answer is more usually implied or context-based.

Key words. Take note of verbs, numbers, and conjunctions.

For the READING section: 

Keep calm and HSK. Keep an eye out for details, context clues, and be ready to draw conclusions!


Word pairings. Think about what words are commonly found together. For example, 虽然 + 但是 or 提高+水平


Read carefully. Sometimes the questions can be tricky, or the answers differ by a single character.


Pre-read the questions and answers. Go back and read the text. Answer the questions as soon as you find the answers in the text.

For the WRITING section: 

Memorize some sentence structures.

Language geeks, let your grammar flag fly! You get points for fancy-pants grammar here, so learn some structures ahead of time.


Tricky grammar. Some things to watch out for:

         -verb aspect (like “verb tenses”)                 -passive structures like 被 and 把

         -comparatives (比)                                        -emphatic sentences (是…的)

         -adverbs                                                           -directional verb complements (上去, 进来, etc.)

         -negatives                                                        -double-object sentences (我给你一个手机)                   



If there is 是 but no 的,then look for a noun!

Formality. For upper levels, use grammar structures to write your responses. Be as formal as possible, but ONLY if you are confident that your grammar is on point.

Sentence order and correct characters. Both are extremely important!



So there you have it—a brief introduction of fantastic exams and what you'll find on them. 😉

Remember, if you prepare in advance and stay calm on testing day, you're already well on the way to a great HSK score.

You can also sign up for some HSK prep classes with Culture Yard here.

Now go get your HSK on. 加油!



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