What to Expect on HSK 1-6

March 07, 2022

If you are preparing to take the HSK, it will be super helpful to know what is on the HSK, how to prepare for the HSK, and generally what to expect. Here is a brief introduction of what you will encounter when you take the HSK exam.

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.

General Info

The HSK can be taken either on a computer (computer-based) or with pencil and paper (paper-based). These format options are available for all HSK levels. However, availability of either format varies by testing center, so make sure you know which format you are signing up for when you register.

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

Part of the HSK exam includes 5 minutes at the start of all HSK exams to fill in your personal information.

HSK 1 Format

The HSK 1 exam has 40 questions and takes 40 minutes.

The HSK 1 LISTENING section has 20 questions and takes 15 minutes.

Questions 1-5 are “True or False” HSK 1 Exam 1

Questions 6-10 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 1 Exam 2

Questions 11-15 are “Matching” HSK 1 Exam 3

Questions 16-20 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 1 Exam 4

You have 3 minutes after the listening section finishes to fill out your answer sheet.

The HSK 1 READING section has 20 questions and takes 17 minutes.

Questions 21-25 are “True or False” HSK 1 Exam 5

Questions 26-30 are “Matching” HSK 1 Exam 6

Questions 31-35 are “Matching” HSK 1 Exam 7

Questions 36-40 are “Fill in the Blank” HSK 1 Exam 8

HSK 2 Format

The HSK 2 exam has 60 questions and takes 55 minutes.

The HSK 2 LISTENING section has 35 questions and takes 25 minutes.

Questions 1-10 are “True or False” HSK 2 exam 1

Questions 11-15 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 2 exam 2

Questions 16-20 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 2 exam 3

Questions 21-35 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 2 exam 4

You have 3 minutes after the listening section finishes to fill out your answer sheet.

The HSK 2 READING section has 25 questions and takes 22 minutes.

Questions 36-40 are “Matching” HSK 2 exam 5

Questions 41-45 are “Fill in the Blank” HSK 2 exam 6

Questions 46-50 are “True or False” HSK 2 exam 7

Questions 51-60 are “Matching” HSK 2 exam 8

HSK 3 Format

The HSK 3 exam has 80 questions and takes 90 minutes.

The HSK 3 LISTENING section has 40 questions and takes 35 minutes.

Questions 1-10 are “Matching” HSK 3 exam 1

Questions 11-20 are “True or False” HSK 3 exam 2

Questions 21-30 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 3 exam 3

Questions 31-40 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 3 exam 4

You have 5 minutes after the listening section finishes to fill out your answer sheet.

The HSK 3 READING section has 30 questions and takes 30 minutes.

Questions 41-50 are “Matching” HSK 3 exam 5

Questions 51-60 are “Fill in the Blank” HSK 3 exam 7

Questions 61-70 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 3 exam 8

The HSK 3 WRITING section has 10 questions and takes 15 minutes.

Questions 71-75 are “Sentence Ordering” HSK 3 exam 9

Questions 76-80 are “Fill in the Blank” HSK 3 exam 10

HSK 4 Format

The HSK 4 exam has 100 questions and takes 105 minutes.

The HSK 4 LISTENING section has 45 questions and takes 30 minutes.

Questions 1-10 are “True or False” HSK 4 exam 1

Questions 11-25 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 4 exam 2

Questions 26-45 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 4 exam 3

You have 5 minutes after the listening section finishes to fill out your answer sheet.

The HSK 4 READING section has 40 questions and takes 40 minutes.

Questions 46-50 are “Fill in the Blank” HSK 4 exam 4

Questions 51-55 are “Fill in the Blank” HSK 4 exam 5

Questions 56-65 are “Sentence Ordering” HSK 4 exam 6

Questions 66-85 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 4 exam 7

The HSK 4 WRITING section has 15 questions and takes 25 minutes.

Questions 86-95 are “Sentence Ordering” HSK 4 exam 8

Questions 96-100 are “Use the Vocab Word to Write a Sentence” HSK 4 exam 9

HSK 5 Format

The HSK 5 exam has 100 questions and takes 125 minutes.

The HSK 5 LISTENING section has 45 questions and takes 30 minutes.

Questions 1-45 are “Multiple Choice”

HSK 5 exam 1

You have 5 minutes after the listening section finishes to fill out your answer sheet.

The HSK 5 READING section has 45 questions and takes 45 minutes.

Questions 46-60 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 5 exam 2

Questions 61-70 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 5 exam 3

Questions 71-90 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 5 exam 4

The HSK 5 WRITING section has 10 questions and takes 40 minutes.

Questions 86-95 are “Sentence Ordering” HSK 5 exam 5

Question 99 is “Use the Vocab Words to Write a Paragraph (80 Characters)** ”

HSK 5 exam 6

    In Question 99, 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.

Question 100 is “Picture Prompt (80 Characters)** ” HSK 5 exam 7

    A good tactic for Question 100 is to describe the obvious. Answer the 5 W’s (who, what, where, when, why), adding in your own imagination along the way.

** The exam instructions recommend writing 80 characters, but you can consider between 75-90 a safe zone. Don’t feel overwhelmed—if you write 4 sentences of 20 characters each, you’re already done!

HSK 6 Format

The HSK 6 exam has 101 questions and takes 140 minutes.

The HSK 6 LISTENING section has 50 questions and takes 35 minutes.

Questions 1-50 are “Multiple Choice”

HSK 6 exam 1

    Tips


  • Here the dialogues 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.

You have 5 minutes after the listening section finishes to fill out your answer sheet.

The HSK 6 READING section has 50 questions and takes 50 minutes.

Questions 51-60 are “Multiple Choice (Select the Incorrect Sentence)”

HSK 6 exam 2

    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)

Questions 61-70 are “Fill in the Blank” HSK 6 exam 3

Questions 71-80 are “Fill in the Blank” HSK 6 exam 4

Questions 81-100 are “Multiple Choice” HSK 6 exam 5

The HSK 6 WRITING section has 1 question and takes 45 minutes.

Questions 101 is “Write a Summary Essay” HSK 6 exam 6

    Tips

  • You will have 10 minutes to 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!
  • 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!

For the HSK 6 writing portion, opting to take the digital test has both pros and cons. On the one hand, typing your response means you are less likely to use an incorrect character. On the other hand, 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.

General HSK Testing Tips

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.

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, such as:

  • What is their relationship?
  • Where are they?
  • What are they doing or feeling?

If you are taking 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. Take note of key words such as verbs, numbers, and conjunctions.

take the hsk listening

For the READING section

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

    Useful Structures


  • verb aspect (like “verb tenses”)
  • passive structures like 被 and 把
  • comparatives (比)
  • double-object sentences (我给你一个手机)
  • emphatic sentences (是…的)
  • directional verb complements (上去, 进来, etc.)
  • adverb
  • negatives

Be Formal

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 correct. Sentence order and correct characters are both extremely important!

How to Prepare for the HSK

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!)

Sign up for Chinese classes

Taking some Chinese classes before your exam is an excellent way to work through the material for your HSK level.

Studying with a teacher is a great way to practice your listening and speaking skills while simultaneously improving your reading and writing--plus your teacher can point out your mistakes and offer suggestions on how to improve!

Sign up for classes now!

Take mock exams

Download some mock exams and time yourself. See how you do on the mock exam and then focus on reviewing the material and preparing for the sections where you had difficulties.

If you are taking Chinese classes, you can also review your mock exam answers with your teacher and ask for feedback on how you can better prepare.

Use apps and flashcards

Apps and flashcards are a great resource for practicing your vocabulary and grammar, as well as your Chinese reading skills. While they cannot measure up to lessons with a native Chinese speaker, apps and flashcards can be an excellent resource for self-study.


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

If you're ready to sign up, you can check the HSK 2022 dates here.

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