Studying Chinese

How To Pass The HSK Test


HSK test is the official Chinese Proficiency Test that you often need to take if you want to study in a Chinese university. Taking the HSK test is also useful when you want to test your Chinese level or set your self a goal to pursue. In general there are two ways to take the HSK test 1) taking the test without special study, just to check your Chinese level and 2) cram for the test because you need to pass it.

Spring 2013 I passed HSK test level 6 and in this post I want to share some tips that will help you to pass your HSK test, no matter which level you take.

1. Learn the vocabulary

There are certain vocabulary lists for every level.

  • HSK 1 150 words
  • HSK 2 300 words
  • HSK 3 600 words
  • HSK 4 1200 words
  • HSK 5 2500 words
  • HSK 6 5000 words

Even though HSK test will have some words outside the list, you don’t have to memorize the list 100% either. But those lists are a great foundation for your studies and cramming for the HSK. You can find all the HSK vocabulary lists in different formats here.


In order to learn the words, you can use different study tools that also help you to review. Skritter has all the HSK vocabulary lists on their system, you don’t have to download or type anything your self. Easy, fast and efficient!

For levels 1-2 it’s enough that you understand the meaning of the word in listening and reading questions, but on levels 3-6 you have to be able to write too (or type if you take the computer test).


  • Level 3 you have to be able to write one characters that is missing in the sentence, in total thee are five sentences. Pinyin is given for the missing character too.
  • Level 4 you have five pictures with one word each, you have to write a sentence that describes the picture and includes the given word.
  • Level 5 you have to first write a text of 80 characters based on the words you are given. Then you have to write another 80 character text based on a picture.
  • Level 6 you are given a text of 1000 characters to read in 10 minutes, after time is up the text is taken away and you have to rewrite it in 400 characters.

In my opinion Skritter is the best online website and app to learn how to write characters.

2. Do as many mock tests as possible

It’s very important to be as familiar with the HSK test as possible. Do as many exercises as you can, check your answers and find out why you made mistakes. Keep a chart of your improvement so you can see your progress, which will motivate you more.

First check out the free mock tests for each level to decide which HSK test to take. But doing one mock test isn’t enough if you really want to or need to pass the exam! Also remember to do your mock exams inside the official time limit, reading speed can make or break your chances to pass.

I recommend HSK practise books by Liu Yun and I have the HSK 6 books on my bookshelf. Here are levels for all the HSK levels I could find on Amazon:

3. Read extra material for fun and for reading speed

Cramming HSK vocabulary and mock exams might turn out quite boring, so mix it up with other material that will also help with your reading skills. In HSK test, especially the higher levels, reading speed is the key to passing your exam.


4. Train your listening skills

WebBannerListening comprehension is a big part of learning a language and it’s a big part of HSK exam as well. Doing mock tests is good, but you should find other materials to listen as well in order to improve and not get bored.

For example ChinesePod (affiliate link) offers Chinese podcasts on numerous topics from total newbie to an advanced learner. I would recommend you to first listen to the Dialogue mp3 as that’s the pure dialogue all in Chinese. If you can understand 100% or close, change to a harder level. If you understand about 60-70%, listen to the Dialogue mp3 a few times and then listen to the whole show where  they explain the vocabulary and grammar to you.


So what is the secret to passing your HSK test? Learn your vocabulary, do mock exams and get your reading speed to the required level. On the higher level you also need to be able to write characters by hand or type with a computer. No matter which level you take, remember to pay attention to the time!

Good luck for your HSK test! If you have any questions, just let me know and I’ll do my best to help you.

Other resources

In order to make this blog post even more useful, share you HSK experience with us! If you have taken the HSK test before, how did it go? Or if your test is still in the future, how are you going to prepare for it?


  • Linda Dunsmore

    SO SUPER USEFUL! Thank you so much! I am currently preparing for HSK 4 and the Graded Chinese Reader seems to be PERFECT! Thank you so much for recommending! When I took HSK 3 I did it on a computer and found that there are pros and cons. Cons is that you only have one questions in front of you and for listening the screen changes to the next questions very fast! HOWEVER, a big plus for me was the writing character part since you just had to type pinyin and select the correct character. MUCH EASIER!!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you Linda and good luck for your HSK 4! The great thing about graded readers is that you know which level to pick and the familiar vocabulary will be seen many times through out the book.

    When I did HSK 6, that was the first time I tried the computer test. I noticed many test takers having problems with the time! You really have to check the time in order to finish it all.

    In reading and writing I would do the easier questions first, quickly out of the way and then see how much time I have for the remining questions. But have to be really careful not to miss anything!

  • Gemma

    Thanks for this post, it’s great! I took HSK 4级 last May and plan to take 5级 next May 2014. I have ten months to get ready for it, so I hope I can not only pass but also get good marks!

    In order to prepare for the exam, I’m going to practice different skills. Firstly, I bought two textbooks (NPCR 5 and 新视角高级汉语教程(上) ). I should be attending an “Advanced level” (sic) course, but I was the only student who reached that level, and they don’t want to organise a whole course for a single person, so I bought these two text books for self-study. I’ll work with them one hour and a half per day, five months each.

    Besides, I’ll continue using Skritter (it’s a must). I’ve already studied HSK 5 word list, I’m about to finish HSK 6 5000 words. In HSK 4 it was a great help to know twice as many words as you were required, so I decided to use the same strategy for level 5.

    On the reading section, I’m reading Graded Chinese Reader 2 (previously read 3 and 1), and afterwards I’ll read the Abridged Chinese Classic Series (围城,and 巴金’s 家、春、秋), all of them abridged and aimed at people who know around 2000 words. After that I’m going to start with books for native speakers. I recently made an order to 当当, I followed your advice and bought some translated novels (Hunger Games, His Dark Materials), a couple of books which are also a movie or tv series (山楂树之恋、那些年我们一起追的女孩), a love story (交响情人梦), a pack of four novels by 余华 and two trilogies (圈子圈套 & 平凡的世界), both recommended by Imron in Chinese Forums as being a good first novel. I don’t know how many of these I’ll read, if any, but my goal is to read one hour a day, listen to Chinese another hour, maybe practice writing another hour, plus the hour and a half for the two textbooks and skrittering (I’ll have to reduce to only half an hour per day, otherwise I’ll focus too much on Skritter and less on the other aspects).

    All in all, I plan to study Chinese five hours per day. The only problem is that it might be too overwhelming, and also there’s no room for speaking. Speaking is by far my weakest skill in Chinese (well, in any language I speak, even my mother tongues!) and I don’t mind not practising it, but it will be bad in the long term, I know…

    Any opinions on my schedule are welcome!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Wow, Gemma! I’m so impressed by your drive to reach your goal! I think with your textbook+skritter+books combo you really can’t go wrong, just remember to relax too with Chinese songs and movies.

    For speaking you could perhaps try something like an audio diary, to record yourself daily/weekly talking about what you have studied, what you have learned, if you encountered any problems or find any new interesting books/movies. Of course, if you can find a native speaker to discuss these with you, that’s even better :)

    But really, I’m so amazed, I wish I was even half as hard working as you Gemma!

  • Olle Linge (凌雲龍)

    Just a thought: I haven’t taken the official HSK, but I have passed the most advanced test for foreigners in Taiwan, which should be roughly equivalent to HSK6. In my opinion, the number of words they estimate you need is grossly underestimated. I guesstimate that I know somewhere between 20000 and 30000 words in Chinese (passively), yet I see many words on the exam I’ve never seen. And they claim I need roughly one fourth of the words I actually do know. I claim that 5000 words for an advanced language test is bullshit, the true number is at least twice as large, probably even larger. Obviously, you don’t need to know all the words on the exam to pass, but 5000 won’t take you very far.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Nice to have you over Olle!

    I actually didn’t cram for HSK 6 so I can’t say for sure how many words there were in the exam that weren’t included in the vocab list (or how many words from that list I know). That would be an interesting thing to find out tough, one day when I have time I could go over a mock exam and compare it to the vocab list.

    Then there is also discussion if HSK 6 is really an advanced exam or not, but it’s really hard to put a line between high intermediate and advanced. It’s like trying to define fluency I guess, everyone seem to have their own opinion.

    What I think is that I would love to have higher level HSK test that 6. It used to feel like a huge goal to reach old HSK advanced (levels 9-11), only few had managed to get to 11. But now they don’t offer that anymore, so we are stuck with the new HSK.

  • R Zhao

    I just took the computer based HSK 5 on Sunday. I guess it was as I expected, though the reading was rather challenging. You really need to have a good vocabulary; I’m not sure that 2500 words is really enough. The biggest challenge on the reading, however, was the time. I didn’t have much left at the end to look over my answers. I definitely felt rushed. I found the listening quite easy, and have to agree with your thoughts on the post you did on it a while back. It’s almost too easy for this level. The writing was also pretty easy, as there was ample time and the questions in which I had to use the given words/phrases to form a sentence were much easier than what I found on the mock tests.

    As for prepping, I used a combination of studying a textbook, Skritter, and mock tests (plus some Chinese novel reading and TV watching from time to time). I think this was a good way to prep and similar to my approach for HSK 4, which I took back in February and did quite well on. I’m very curious to get my results back on the 5.

    I’m ready to step up my game and start preparing for the HSK 6, which I’d like to take next year. I think, in addition to working on my vocab and reading a novel every day, I want to study Chinese grammar more in depth. I have a book called 21天征服新HSK高级语法which looks somewhat helpful. I also took Ollie’s advice on Hacking Chinese and got a book that explains common synonyms, as well as a book on chengyu.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you for sharing your HSK experience Ms. Zhao!

    Your plans for level six look really good! Grammar and synonyms are something I should learn more about too. Which book you bought for the latter?

    R Zhao Reply:

    The book I got on synonyms is汉语近义词学习手册-牟淑媛/dp/B00112YD5Y/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

    It doesn’t include everything, but it’s a good jumping off point, at least for me. And I like that it provides examples and examples. Explanations are in both Chinese and English.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thanks for the link! I ended up buying a book written by my teacher Li Ying. But this book has explanations only in Chinese.

  • Carly O'Connell

    I am studying for the HSk 6 right now (I passed HSK 5 several months ago) and my biggest problem so far is in the grammar section, specifically the “pick which sentence has a mistake” section. How do you study for that? So far I’ve been able to get about half right by going by a feeling of “this doesnt sound quite right” but without being able to pinpoint the problem in most cases. Do each of the answer choices of a question focus on the same type of grammar pattern? or are all the sentences just completely random.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I think you don’t have to worry too much about that section, if you can get half right that’s already very good! For most students I recommend to do that section last and just guess as it’s very hard.

    But as your level seems to be very good already, then you can get some HSK prep books that will help you to get ready for this section as well. Good books will give you tactics on how to master those tricky sentences.

  • Sarah Aberman

    Great resource on preparing the HSK tests! Mock tests are a definitely a great way to prepare for the exam and check whether you’re ready or not. Have you tried the online ones? I like the fact they are timed, that you can’t pause them and they tell your score at the end… Certainly helped me figure it if I was ready for the HSK 4 or not :) Wrote a article a while back on how to access and do these mock tests (which are official and free, btw) here:

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Your post about the mock tests is excellent! Thank you for letting us know :)

  • Marco

    Hi! I just tried the HSK 5 this morning. I had studied by heart all the 2500 words but still found the reading part very hard… still a lot of unknown words and of course time clock is not helping. The listening was more or less OK, but the equipement of the room made the sound not so 清楚。。。 I found the writing part quite easy. My strategy was to use only the words and grammar that I was 100% sure of. However, I used quite easy words and structure patterns. I’m wondering if anyone has a clue how they evaluate the writing part? Is it better to play safe by using simple words or is it better to still take some risks in order to show that you can use complicated words and structure patterns. any clue?

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Marco,

    Besides learning vocab, try to read in Chinese as much as possible in a level that is a tiny bit higher than your current level. It might feel hard at first, but when you keep at it, you will surely improve.

    I unfortunately don’t know how they grade the writing section, but I personally did like you did, use the sentences, words and grammar I knew I can handle.

  • luke

    Very useful, great website. I have to say I looked at this page when I was preparing for HSK 6 and found it really useful. I just picked up my certificate yesterday and have written a blog about some of my study methods. If you don’t want to go to my (not very good) blog I will summarize my main methods here.
    Firstly I immersed myself in Chinese, reading books, graded chinese readers, news, TV, radio, podcasts. Cut out all stuff in English and made sure that all I was getting was Chinese. Seconly I studied old exam and mock exam papers very hard, and made flashcards on my computer as a way of learning new vocab, characters, chengyu, sayings and learning to write new characters. I used my phone all the time to check new characters and store new vocab until I could get home and study them. Basically I tried to keep a balanced study of HSK test, flashcards of vocab, characters, chengyu and writing, as well as constanlty hearing and communicating in Chinese. Good luck to any test takers and learners of Chinese, it is an awesome language.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you so much for sharing your study method for the HSK! This is very valuable information for all Chinese learners wanting to take the test. Everyone should also go over to your blog, to read an even more in depth information, thank you!

  • M. Roland

    I have studied Chinese on a very moderate pace for 2 years now, but haven’t done any studying this past year. I have to do HSK3 this summer for uni credits, however I wonder how to start. My skills in writing and reading characters are really low (read nonexistent) Do you guys have some recommendations on how to study and the amount of time to allocate? As I understand for each HSK the vocab lists are cumulative so the words will amount up to 1050.

  • Suzzz

    Hi, please could you help me – for the HSK 4 exam, in the listening section, does the recording play automatically or do you start the recording yourself?
    Just wondering if there is time to read the answers first before you listen.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    The recording starts automatically so you can’t start or stop it your self. If you finish a question quickly, you can read the answers in the next question first.

  • Nate

    Pro tip for the HSK 6 Reading section. SKIP the first 10 questions (选出有语病的那一项的部分) of the reading section and finish the rest of the reading section first. Go back to it if you have time, and if not, just put the same answer for all of them. Those first 10 questions are absolutely ridiculous and most educated native speakers make mistakes in that section. Only 1 out of the 7 Chinese university students I tested got 10/10 on that section, with the rest getting at least 2 wrong each. The worst of them got 5 wrong. Use the time you save by skipping this section to read the rest of the reading section carefully, and get 2-3 points by marking the first 10 questions as C. Unless you are WAY WAY beyond the level required to pass the HSK 6, the first part of the reading section is too hard for you. Admit defeat, say goodbye to 8 points, and move on.

    If anyone has found this section easy, I’d be curious to know why you’re taking the HSK since you’re obviously a highly educated native speaker. But seriously, if you guys have any tips for this section let me know!! :D

  • Gorka

    HI! My name’s Gorka and I’m from Spain. Today, I’m taking HSK4 and in the mock tests I’ve done so far my mark was always above 9 (so I’m not nervous at all today, luckily). But the problem is that this year I’m 17 and next year will by my last at high school. So I don’t know if I’ll be able to take HSK5 next june and if my chinese studies will be 耽误 when I go to college. I wouldn’t want that to happen because I’m scared of not having time to learn chinese and forget about what I already knew.
    And thanks for your post, I found it really useful and interesting, and when I study for HSK5 I’ll follow your advice. I’d add a tip: go to chinese shops and restaurants and meet them, I do that, and the more time you spend talkin to native people the better accent you get. My teacher says that I’ve already got chinese accent, and it’s because of that. Hugs from Bilbao!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    So nice to hear about your Chinese and HSK experience :) Good luck with your studies! You can continue studying a little bit every day even though later your life gets busier in collage.

  • Gorka

    Hi Sara! I’ve been awarded a scolarship to go to China for two weeks (so short :( ). Originally, I was going to go to Beijing but after some changes it turns out that I’m going to Harbin (and a few days to Beijing), and I’d really like to know about your opinion. And plus, do you now if I can get HSK practice books in bookstores in Harbin? thanks:)

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Gorka, congrats on the scholarship, two weeks is better than nothing :)

    Unfortunately I have never been to Harbin, so can’t say what kind of bookstores they have there. Beijing has a good book store on Wangfujing, that has Chinese learning material, perhaps you could visit there?