Chinese Language Learning – I just took the HSK6 exam: Here’s my analysis and advice

I recently wrote the HSK6 exam (internet-based version). I’m happy with my results but I think I could have done better had I known a few things beforehand. In this post I want to give my thoughts on the test, as well as some advice for anyone preparing for HSK6, or planning to write it in the future.

My score: 234/300 (78%). Listening: 76; reading: 78; writing: 80.

*I should add that this was still the old HSK2.0 HSK6. AFAIK they haven’t updated any of the existing exams to the new HSK3.0 format yet, and probably won’t for a few years.*

**How I “prepared” for the test:**

Basically, I didn’t. I’ve been following an input-heavy, ‘immersion’ approach. I didn’t read a single HSK text book (or any textbook for that matter), I didn’t take any classes, I didn’t consult any teachers or look up any word lists, and I didn’t use any fancy apps. I’ve never written an HSK exam, this was my first. I signed up for the test about 3 weeks before. During that time, I went through some past papers and looked up some info regarding how the test works online, while continuing to listen and read. In short: immersion learning works!

**Why I took the exam:**

There were two reasons I decided to write HSK6. 1) I wanted to gauge my progress so far, and 2) I wanted to see whether ‘immersion’ alone was enough to pass and do well.

**Internet-based vs handwritten?**

Seen so many debates about this, but I think it’s clear that taking the internet-based test is the way to go. With this version of the test, you’ll be able to use headphones for the listening section (big help), while I believe in the paper-based test the audio is often broadcast to all test takers in the room. Secondly, for the writing section, typing Chinese on a keyboard is way easier. But apart from that, you can easily cut/paste, delete and reorder your text, while you can’t if you’re writing on paper. Finally, any time spent practicing your handwriting is better spent working on your listening comprehension and reading speed.

Some people have said that the paper-based test is better because you can underline stuff and take notes on the paper. IMO, if you’re doing that, you’re just wasting precious time. I think it’s better NOT to have to rely on note-taking or underlining/highlighting.

tldr: don’t try to be a badass. Just take the internet-based test lol.

**Is HSK6 really that difficult?**

I’ve seen a lot of debate online about whether HSK6 is a difficult test or whether it’s actually too easy. In my opinion, it’s not an *easy* test! Having said that, the actual content of the exam is not overly difficult either.

According to HanBan, the global average grade for HSK6 over the past 12 months is 200/300 (66%). Make of that what you will.

The actual level of HSK6 is usually considered somewhere around B2-C1. I think this is correct. I had a look at the reading section of an English C1 sample exam online to see how it compared, and I found the questions in the HSK6 exam to be more direct, whereas the C1 questions were slightly more opaque, requiring more thought.

There are a few things that make HSK6 a challenging test: 1) The strict time limit in each section, 2) the emphasis on reading speed and memory, and 3) the broad topics and (at times) obscure vocabulary. I think you need to have solid Chinese *and* good exam taking skills to do well in HSK6. I’ll explain this more as we go.

**But you only need to know 5,000 words!**

Hate to break it to you, but this just isn’t true. Other HSK6 takers here have confirmed this.

My Anki deck was at around ~8,000 cards at the time I wrote the exam. Each card in the deck represents a sentence containing a new word that I have “mined” during my immersion. This does **not** include simple/easy-to-remember words like 房子,食物,狗, etc, and I still came across quite a few new words when I looked at past papers, as well as in the actual exam.

## Listening section analysis

When I did practice tests, listening was always my strongest (usually 80-95), but in the actual test, it was my weakest section (76)! I put this down to being super nervous and blanking on a few of the questions.

The content in this section is quite broad; it ranges from polar bears in the North Pole to famous artists or lost artifacts of the Qing Dynasty.

**What’s easy about the listening section**:

The content itself is mostly manageable. Some recordings are relatively simple. When it comes to the more difficult dialogs, you don’t need to understand everything 100%, just make sure to remember the key points and you should be fine.

**What’s difficult about the listening section**:

The time limit! You only get 12s to select the correct answer from 4 possible options. That means you have to read each option, think about which is the correct one, and select it, all in 12s. It’s not that easy. Also, you have to really concentrate and have a good memory. I would often listen to a dialog and then forget the beginning part by the time it was over. My tip for this is to close your eyes while the audio is playing, as this helps you to concentrate.

**My advice for the listening section**:

You get 5 mins of extra time at the end of the listening part. You can use this time to go back and adjust your answers if you want to! If you’re confused about a question, leave it blank and move on. You can go back during these 5 mins and re-think it. Also, don’t panic. When the 12s are up, you need to immediately focus on the next audio recording, otherwise you might miss important details. You can’t afford to still be thinking about the previous question while the next audio is already playing. Also, if there’s a question that you really don’t know, select the longest answer: it’s often the right one.

## Reading section analysis

Forget about studying grammar. The infamous 语病 questions are only worth 10 marks (less than 10% of the entire exam!). It’s more beneficial to focus on improving your reading speed and comprehension so that you can ace the other parts of the reading section.

Unless your reading speed is god-like, it’s unlikely that you’ll have extra time left in this section. Just to read all the content within the allotted time requires you to have a reading speed of [130 characters per minute]( This does **not** include the time it takes to think about your answer, select an answer, and re-read certain passages. So, in actual fact, your reading speed needs to be quite a bit higher than 130chars/min.

If you’re not at that level, you need to strategise here. I’ll share my advice below.

**What’s easy about the reading section**:

All the questions besides the grammar questions are fairly straightforward. The “fill in the blank” questions require you to have good language sense, which you will get from lots of input.

**What’s difficult about the reading section**:

The grammar questions are hard and your reading speed and comprehension need to be good to finish everything on time.

**My advice for the reading section**:

Here’s what I would do if I wrote the test again. I would completely guess all of the questions in the grammar section by choosing the same option for each (all “C”). Then I would use my time to make sure I nailed the remaining questions and RETURN to the grammar section at the end, IF I had time. Don’t skip questions (if you run out of time you’re sure to get 0), rather take a guess.

The final part of the reading section consists of 5 long passages, each followed by 4-5 questions. Unless your reading speed is god-like, you’re not going to have time to read the entire passage. Instead, read the first question to see what it’s asking you for, and then read/skim the text as quick as you can (without getting completely lost) to find the answer.

## Writing section analysis

I was really surprised to find that writing was my strongest section. My study approach has been pretty much input only. I’ve done very little output and almost no writing.

However, strangely enough, the writing section is mostly a test of your reading speed/comprehension. You get 10mins to read a text and then 35mins to summarise it. Try to get to the point where you can read the entire 1000字 text in ~5-6 minutes, then you’ll have another ~4-5 minutes to go back, re-read it and take note of the important details. Most important is to memorise the “what”, “who”, “when”, “where” and “how” of the story. Also very important is to include a relevant title.

**What’s easy about the writing section**:

I think if you work on your reading speed, you’ll find that 10 minutes is ample time to read, comprehend and remember the text.

**What’s difficult about the writing section**:

The only thing I found hard about it was remembering (and reproducing) names and places. I don’t use textbooks, so maybe I’m just not familiar with the common “example names” that they usually use. But it’s probably a good idea to memorise some of these along with a couple of famous Chinese historical figures. For example, in my test they used 曹操 and 曹冲.

**My advice for the writing section**:

Read the entire passage as quick as you can to get the gist of the story. Then, go back and re-read the beginning, skim the middle, and read the end. Take a mental note of the “what”, “who”, “when”, “where” and “how”. To get high marks here you need to write a coherent summary that matches the main text and does not contain any grammatical errors. You DON’T need any fancy language or 成语!

I’d suggest that when the 10mins of reading time is up, you quickly make rough notes of everything you can remember about the story in sequential order, just vomit it onto the screen. (This is to ensure you don’t forget anything as you’re writing). After that, begin to tie everything together into a coherent summary. Also, don’t forget to add a title! Don’t overthink this, something simple that relates to the story is fine.

Okay, analysis over. I hope this was helpful?

Good luck to anyone preparing for HSK6!

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  1. reasonableklout May 26, 2023
  2. Moflete May 26, 2023
  3. BeckyLiBei May 26, 2023
  4. Yina13 May 26, 2023
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