Studying Chinese

Preparing for the new HSK level 5 test

Tomorrow will be the first time I try the new HSK test. At the moment I have old HSK 5 level certificate and now I’m trying the same level on the new HSK. In this post I want to share how I prepared for the test and hope it to be helpful for other learners of Chinese.

Mock tests

My first step towards the new system was to do an online mock test that included the reading section (阅读) and the first part of writing section (书写, where you have to put words in the right order to form a sentence). You can do the test on I did the test in the beginning of September and got 161 points out of 220.

After that I continued practicing with a book called New HSK Mock Tests for Level 5. I got the book from a friend and unfortunately I don’t have the cd that belongs to the book. So I have only done some reading and writing exercises. From reading section (阅读) I’ve got following scores: 39/45, 31/45 and  31/45. The book contains 8 mock tests and I believe that it gets gradually difficult from the beginning. At Least that usually seems to be the case with these kind of books.

I have only done one listening mock test from which I got 42 points out of 45. Only three wrong! This mock test is also an official one so I guess it should represent the level of the real HSK exam. At Least I hope so based on the listening section! You can find the whole exam with mp3 audio from Confucius Institute’s website.

Writing section

The hardest part for me will be the second part of writing section. There you have to write two short (80 characters) essays first based one a list of words and then based on a picture. Below is a screen capture from the mock test:

80 characters isn’t much, but it gets very difficult if I don’t understand the words given or don’t remember how to write characters related to the picture. For example I know how to use 放松 and 礼物, but don’t know the other three words. I can also type 钓鱼 (to fish), but don’t remember how to write 钓 by hand.

Faster than fast

The tricky part is also to be fast enough. For the reading section there is only 40 minutes to finish all 45 questions. You have to read fast and choose the answer even faster. The third part of reading section includes about five articles and each has three to five questions. First I read the first question and then start reading the article, when I find the answer I read the second questions and continue reading. Seems that in almost every case the answers can be found in order from the article.

In writing section you also have only 40 minutes. I think I’m going to use about 5- 10 minutes with the eight sentences in the first part and then 15-17 minutes with each of the essays.

I still have tomorrow morning to review some little words like 在于,由此,由于 and 至此 which always seem to give a headache for me.

I need 180 points to pass the exam, lets hope I can do it.


  • Anonymous

    Do you have classmates from East Asia such as Korea and Japan? I am wondering if it is easier for them to learn Chinese.

    Sara Reply:

    Yes I have classmates from both Korea and Japan. I think for Japanese students it’s the easiest because they already know characters, but they have to learn new meaning and pronunciation. Of course sometimes it can also be confusing for them. I’m not sure about Koreans, because even though they used to use Chinese hanzi, but they now have their own characters that are actually an alphabet, that just looks like characters.

  • Amy

    Good luck! I am also taking the HSK tomorrow (level 4)!

    Sara Reply:

    How did your exam go? I’m eagerly waiting for the results, but I’m still a little bit worried if I’m going to pass or not. I guess it will be about two weeks after that we get the results.

  • Jono

    I wish you all the very best with test tomorrow Sarah. When will you know the results? Please tell us how you went in a follow up blog post.


    Sara Reply:

    We should have the results in the beginning of January, can’t wait to see how it went!

  • Chris Waugh

    I came to this a day late, I see. I hope the exam went well. I’m curious about how the new HSK compares with the old one. I did the old HSK a few years back and it was a pretty intense experience.

    @anonymous with the East Asian classmates question: Rumour has it that Koreans and Japanese have a much easier time of it learning to read and write Chinese. This makes sense, because Japanese Kanji are based on (but not entirely identical to) Chinese Hanzi, and Korea is one of the countries that at least historically used Hanzi (though I’m not sure to what extent Hanzi are still used in modern Korea). There is, however, a huge difference between learning a script and learning a language. Although both Korean and Japanese have a lot of Chinese loanwords, and modern Chinese has a lot of re-borrowings from Japanese, the Korean and Japanese languages are not related to Chinese at all. So it would seem logical to assume that although Koreans and Japanese have an advantage on the script and a certain amount of vocab, they face the same level of difficulty learning other aspects of the language (grammar, for example).

  • Mike

    thanks for your post.
    I want to prepare for new HSK level 6;i already have the new HSK mock test but I want to improve my level in Grammar.
    can you give me some advice?

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Mike!

    Do you mean that you want to improve your grammar so you can get a better score in the reading section of the test? There is no separate grammar section in the new HSK.

    The first part of the reading sections is the harderst, you have to find the incorrect sentences. I would advice you to do it last, so you don’t spend too much time with it. It’s actually quite hard even for non Chinese major native speakers as well.

  • Samuel

    Hey Sara,
    Thank you for your post.

    I would like to take exam for new HSK 5, it is roughly in 5 weeks. Do you think it’s enough time to prepare it ? I have the old HSK 6 so far but want to have an up-to-date certificate. As private lessons are very expensive, I will go for the self-study

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Samuel,

    I think it should be enough. I haven’t done old HSK6, but I took old HSK5 in April 2011 and then new HSK5 in December and passed it with good score.

    When you do the new HSK5 mock tests what kind of scores do you get?

    Samuel Reply:

    Hi Sara,

    Wow but is there not a big difference of level between old HSK 5 and new HSK 5 since the level scale is totally different ? I guess old HSK 5 would correspond to new HSK 3 probably…so I guess your level improved quite a lot between April and December :)

    So the best way to prepare it would do mock test over mock test and memorize the vocabulary ? Because there are some books that introduce about grammar concepts but I guess it takes quite a long time to go through them and then I may not have enough time left to do mock tests…

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Samuel,

    Old HSK5 is new HSK4 with 210+ points. You can see a table here:

    Just do one full moch exam first with the time limits and see what your score is. That’s a good place to start and you see how much you need to study.

  • Mary

    I lived in China for about two years, but I feel like I didn’t get enough exposure to Chinese because I was attending an international school back then. Now I’m back in Shanghai for a semester abroad in college, and was wondering if there was a method or a book that you used specifically for memorizing Chinese words and characters? I’m preparing for the HSK level 5, and that seems to be the biggest problem ;(

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    For words and characters I would use a SRS flashcard software like Skritter (, Anki or Pleco’s flashcards.