How Hard is it to Pass the HSK?

The HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) is the official Chinese fluency test that foreign students can take to prove their Chinese abilities. As of 2022 there are 9 levels to the HSK.

How hard is it to pass the HSK? How much studying is required for each level? Let’s break down each level and how easy it is to pass them!

New 2022 HSK Difficulty Breakdown

In the past, there were only 6 HSK levels. HSK 1-2 was viewed as elementary, HSK 3-4 as intermediate, and HSK 5-6 as advanced.

However, there were many problems with this system. The old HSK 6 was not actually advanced enough for test-takers to be able to read books or study a Masters in Chinese. The system needed to be upgraded to align with the daily realities of the Chinese language. In short, the tests needed to be upgraded and expanded to give students an accurate path to prepare for using Chinese in real life.

The new test levels and character requirements are as follows:

Here’s what you will be able to do at each level of the HSK:

How Long Does it Take to Learn Chinese How Many Chinese Characters Do You Need to Know

How Can You Get to a Higher HSK Level?

In general, the HSK levels exponentially increase in difficulty. The gap between between HSK 1 and 2 is much smaller than the gap between HSK 6 and 7.

Thus, you should first set realistic expectations. It is possible to go from beginner to HSK 2 in a semester. HSK 5 to 6 in a semester is rather unheard of.

Here are some strategies for you to increase your HSK level faster:

  1. Read our article: 8 Ways to Improve Chinese Quickly in A Month!
  2. Study Chinese every day
  3. Take a part-time Chinese class a few hours each week
  4. Take Chinese class full-time
  5. Most Difficult– Total immersion: only speak, read, and write Chinese. This is easiest if you already live in China.

HSK 1 Difficulty

How hard is it to pass the HSK Level 1? This is the easiest level with only 300 words required to be able to pass it. It takes an average of one to two months of consistent study to pass the HSK 1.

Skills you will need:

  • Know 300 characters/500 words/269 Pinyin sounds/48 grammar points
  • Read at a speed of 80 Chinese characters per minute
  • Understand spoken Chinese at a speed of 100 characters per minute
  • Write at 10 characters per minute

Here’s a sample HSK 1 dialogue. If you can read and understand this without difficulty, you are about an HSK 1 level.

妈妈回来开心

妈妈

妈妈什么做饭

可以妈妈妈妈房间一下

HSK 2 Difficulty

The HSK 2 contains 300 additional characters from the HSK 1. It can take anywhere from 4 months to a year depending on how frequently you study.

To pass the HSK 2 within half a year, you should study at least 10 hours a week with consistent practice.

The average time to passing the HSK 2 from a total beginner level is 6 months-1 year.

Skills you will need:

  • Know 468 Pinyin sounds/600 characters/1272 words/129 grammar points (this includes all the information from HSK 1)
  • Read at a speed of 100 characters per minute
  • Understand spoken Chinese at a speed of 140 characters per minute
  • Write at 15 characters per minute

Here is a sample HSK 2 text. If you can read and understand this without difficulty, you are about an HSK 2 level.

微信中国流行软件差不多年轻人微信

大家微信聊天工作外卖等等微信聊天时候年轻人表情特别好玩微信可以朋友”,朋友了解生活可以微信

HSK 3 Difficulty

HSK 3 is the last of the beginner levels. You can pass it in 1 year of full-time language study.

HSK 3 is not advanced enough for you to take classes in Chinese, read newspapers, watch shows, or work at a Chinese-speaking company. You will still need some additional years of study.

Skills you will need:

  • Know 608 Pinyin sounds/900 characters/2245 words/210 grammar points
  • Read at a speed of 120 characters per minute
  • Understand spoken Chinese at a speed of 180 characters per minute
  • Write at 20 characters per minute

Here is a sample HSK 3 text. If you can read and understand this without difficulty, you are about an HSK 3 level.

因为中国天气不同所以生活中国不同地方食物非常不一样

中国北方面条馒头为主因为中国北方粮食小麦中国南方米饭为主因为中国南方粮食水稻

HSK 4 Difficulty

How long will it take you to pass the HSK 4? For most students, it takes 1-2 years of consistent study.

At HSK 4, you will begin to use ‘real world’ Chinese. Listening exercises will be at a native speed, you’ll learn vocabulary related to general topics and society at large, and you will need to learn more about Chinese culture and native-style expressions, sarcasm, humor, et cetera.

You’ll also now be expected to translate from Chinese into English and vice versa. Expect to translate individual sentences or simple paragraphs of vernacular Chinese.

Skills you will need:

  • Know 724 Pinyin sounds/1200 characters/3245 words/286 grammar points
  • Read at a speed of 140 characters per minute
  • Understand spoken Chinese at a speed of 180-200 characters per minute
  • Write an article of 300 characters within the time limit

Here is a sample HSK 4 text. If you can read and understand this without difficulty, you are about an HSK 4 level.

学生期盼已久寒假终于到了结束紧张期末考中国学生将会大约寒假时间时间学生可以自由玩耍他们拥有充沛精力活跃思维

当然寒假当中老师布置一部分作业需要同学认真完成寒假中国学生会度过中国传统节日——春节各地家人回到家里大家团聚

HSK 5 Difficulty

HSK 5 used to be considered the highest practical level you needed. It was typically required for working in a Chinese company or studying a degree all in Chinese, but actually the HSK 5 standard was not high enough for students to actually read and converse at a native level. In the new 2022 reorganization, it is considered Intermediate.

How long will it take to pass the HSK 5? The HSK 5 is a huge jump from from the HSK 4 in terms of the vocabulary and words you’re required to know, as well as the cultural awareness you’re expected to have. It will take a minimum of 2 years to achieve HSK 5 if you are studying Chinese regularly and especially if you live in China. Otherwise, it can take 3-5 years of part-time study.

I went from HSK 3 to HSK 5 after one year of living in China. However, I was in a full immersion program studying 10 hours of Chinese every day. If you are not studying Chinese at this intensity, it is likely to take 3-5 years to pass the HSK 5 from a beginner level.

Skills you will need:

  • Know 822 Pinyin sounds/1500 characters/4316 words/357 grammar points
  • Read at a speed of 160 characters per minute
  • Understand spoken Chinese at a speed of 200-220 characters per minute
  • Write an article of 450 characters within the time limit

Here is a sample HSK 5 text. If you can read and understand this without difficulty, you are about an HSK 5 level.

近日中国影视明星日本逮捕入狱原因暴力殴打自己女朋友日本留学期间认识日本女性展开交往随后减少中国工作量有息打算电视剧电影新闻发布会没有出席

相反高调地带日本女友回国游玩机场恩爱新闻爆出之后许多影视明星请求社会各界原谅事态发展并不如意日常生活不论出于原因家庭暴力不可原谅

HSK 6 Difficulty

It takes students an average of four years of full-time study to reach HSK 6, about 1.5-2 years after being able to pass the HSK 5. The gap between the HSK 5 and 6 is quite large. If you are only studying part time, it could take 6 or 7 years to go from HSK 0–HSK 6

Many students have not taken the HSK 6 because it was considered too advanced for the needs of student life. However, if you want to live in China full-time, read Chinese literature and social media, and fluently communicate with your Chinese friends and coworkers, you definitely will need to consider the HSK 6.

At this level, you are also expected to have a high level of general knowledge about China. In addition to being familiar with Chinese geography and major historical sites, you’re also expected to have a familiarity with its most famous figures (Lu Xun, Li Bai, Deng Xiaoping, etc), holiday traditions, major companies (JD, Kuaishou, Meituan), and news items of social or cultural interest.

Skills you will need:

  • Know 908 Pinyin sounds/1800 characters/5456 words/424 grammar points
  • Read at a speed of 180 characters per minute
  • Understand spoken Chinese at a speed of 220-240 characters per minute
  • Write an article of 600 characters within the time limit

Here is a sample HSK 6 text. If you can read and understand this without difficulty, you are about an HSK 6 level.

中国古典名著西游记  四大皆空紧闭双眼要是睁开眼睛看看相信空空眼看什么四大皆空?”

故事唐僧离开女儿女儿国王美艳不可方物文武百官唐僧背影呼唤御弟哥哥可好”。夕阳远处缓步隐约马背身形没有回头

Saskia from China Admissions passed the HSK 6. Here is her study journey to go from HSK 0-HSK 6:

HSK 7-9 Difficulty

Welcome to the seriously difficult exams. The HSK 7-9 were launched for the first time in 2022 (read more here). These exams are for the truly advanced learners who want to or need to use Chinese at the highest level: Masters and PhD students, professors, researchers, journalists, translators, Chinese language or literature teachers, etc.

It is also a huge increase in difficulty from the HSK 6. You will need to know almost double the number of characters and words.

How long will it take to pass the HSK 7-9? For students who study Chinese full-time while living in China, it will likely take 6+ years of full-time study to achieve an HSK 7 level, and even longer to pass the HSK 8 or 9. After you pass the HSK 6, it will take at least another two years to reach the HSK 7-9 Advanced level. For many, it will take longer. Achieving this high level of Chinese will be a lifelong journey for many learners.

We have a study guide here: How To Prepare for the New HSK 3.0: Resources for HSK 7, 8, and 9

At the HSK 7-9 level, you are expected to be able to read at a native level about a variety of topics. If you can read and understand these sample sections, you may be on track to pass the HSK 7, 8, or 9:

1:2021年11月,南非检测出了奥密克戎。当时,这似乎只是一个遥远国度的不起眼的新闻。但仅仅4个月后,奥密克戎就窜到了我们身边,重度影响我们的生活。你有没有发现,这个全球紧密相连、局面又快速变化的时代,其实已经不容你“不闻窗外事、只读圣贤书”了。

2:广西海上丝绸之路历史文化资源丰富,为了积极响应国家”一带一路”倡议,广西积极推动海上丝绸之路的保护与申遗,让海上丝绸之路文化得以传承和发展。广西北海通过强化遗迹保护、塑造品牌形象、创新旅游产品、发展交通网络、构造良好的产业体系等方式,合理开发、有效利用海上丝绸之路历史遗迹,为历史文化遗迹保护和旅游开发带来新的发展模式和机遇。

3:生产力方面的短缺与瓶颈现象是在苏联实行的僵硬的计划模式的特征之一。布列日涅夫在七十年代用大量进口的政策成功地软化了它们的冲击。这个取代改革的无效的政策,很快地就遇到一连串的问题:没有能力进行足够的出口(因为差劲的竞争能力或者世界危机所引起的市场收缩);美国否决有战略价值的技术输入以及对榖类输出的禁运;更基本的是,保守的经济很难消化西方的技术,再加上逐渐增加的外债问题。

Online HSK Classes to Pass the HSK

The best way to pass the HSK and reach your Chinese language goals is with a class. There are dozens of classes specifically for HSK preparation, both individual and group. Check out these programs to help you on your HSK journey!

Savannah Billman has a master's degree in Chinese Law and Society at the Yenching Academy of Peking University. She holds a B.A. from NYU Shanghai and has also written for The World of Chinese, TechNode, SupChina, and Sixth Tone.
Savannah Billman
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