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How to prepare for and
pass the HSK Chinese exam

How to prepare for and
pass the HSK Chinese exam

My favourite resources to help you prepare for and pass the HSK exam.

Are you studying for the HSK exam? Do you want to know the how to prepare for and pass the HSK Chinese exam?

My HSK 4 exam is rolling around very quickly now – in just a few weeks I will sit the written test. I’ve been trialling a bunch of different resources and will outline them for you below. I hope this helps in preparation and 加油!

What is the HSK exam?

HSK is a Chinese proficiency test used around the world to test the non-native learners level of Chinese. HSK stands for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (汉语水平考试)。There are 6 levels, with level 1 for beginners and level 6 for advanced learners.

HSK exams are not for every Chinese learner. There are three parts to the exam – a listening section, a reading section and a writing section. There is no speaking test section. This is where HSK comes into some criticism because it doesn’t examine the most important part of communicating! Anyhow, I still think there is value in studying for and taking the HSK exams.

Why take the HSK 4 exam?

There are a whole bunch of reasons why I have decided to take the HSK exam. Some of these might apply to you too?

Do you need a deadline and the accountability of an exam to keep motivated?

I can be a self-motivated person.. but I find a deadline to be my most effective way to spur me into action!  Knowing that I have a limited time frame to complete something or prepare for something really helps me keep focused!

Do you enjoy having a goal?

Language learning can be a never-ending prospect, so it is important to break down the months and years into goals. Achieving a level or passing an exam is a goal I can reach as part of learning Chinese. Once I am there I can set the next goal!

Measure your progress

Each level of the HSK outlines the number of words each learner is expected to know. For the HSK4 exam, it is 1200 words. This jumps to 2500 for the next level and 5000 words for the final level (HSK6).

HSK 4 level is about the equivalent to the number of words a six -seven year old would know.

Studying for the exam provides me with structure in how I approach my learning

Sometimes I can be a bit all over the place with my studies – learning from one book, watching a tv show one day, having conversation practice another. But having an exam to prepare for, gives me studies a structure. It is definitely not perfect though, as when my focus is on reading and writing my speaking practice drops off…

Achieving a level (such as HSK 4) helps me explain my level of proficiency

When someone finds out you can speak a language, their first question is often “so you are fluent then?” It is always so tricky to explain that no, I am not fluent and probably never will be (what is fluent, anyway? A topic for another post!) Achieving a level in a proficiency exam such as the HSK, does go some way to explaining my current level and abilities.

The HSK website describes the HSK 4 level as” Designed for learners who can discuss a relatively wide range of topics in Chinese and are capable of communicating with Chinese speakers at a high standard.”

How am I preparing for the HSK 4 exam? What is working for me and what do I recommend?

I have a number of resources I am relying on to get me ready for the HSK 4 exam. In fact when I wrote this list I thought whoooaaa I have too many resources! There are so many study materials to choose from it can be a bit overwhelming. But at least this list will help you pick and choose what will work for you.

HSK 4 Vocabulary Book

HSK 4 Vocabulary Book

I bought this little book in China a while back and it is fantastic! It lists all the required vocab and grammar for this HSK level, gives the English translation and a number of examples. And it’s small enough to take with me!
HSK 4 Practice Exams

HSK 4 Practice Exams

Doing HSK practice exams is one of the best ways to prepare for the exam. There are five practice exams in this book and each exam has three sections – listening, reading and writing. Each section has a time limit so I set my alarm when I do the practice exams. The practice exams have all the answers too, so you can track how you are going!

HSK 4 listening texts practice

The HSK exam practice book also comes with a CD with the listening exam questions. Although you can also access these listening exams modules online.

HSK 4 preparation textbook

I am using the HSK 4 preparation textbook. There are lots of texts and reading comprehension exercises and key new words and grammar structures are explained clearly in English. As far as text books go, it isn’t too bad!

There are books available at all levels here.




Language Learning Trip

Language Learning Trip

I spent two weeks doing intensive Chinese Mandarin study in Taipei at the Taiwan Mandarin Insitute.

I used this time to focus on reviewing vocab and structures for the HSK exam, as well as general conversation and learning.

You know I LOVE language learning trips, and these two weeks in Taipei were just great. Apart from all the amazing food we got to eat, I was able to really progress my Mandarin Chinese.

You can read more about my Chinese lesson experiences in Taipei here and read more about studying in Taipei here.

italki practice with my tutor

italki practice with my tutor

I use italki a lot and find it such a good way to keep up my practice, but also to focus on particular areas of improvement.

italki is an online portal with thousands of teachers and tutors in every language imaginable! Kind of like the airbnb of language learning!

My current tutor is great at helping me revise for the HSK exam and we spend our time reviewing my practice exams, going through the mistakes and words I’m not familiar with.

My own flashcards

My own flashcards

I created my own flashcards with all the key HSK 4 vocab. I love technology but sometimes there is no substitute for handwriting new words – especially Chinese characters.
HSK 4 Required Wordlist

HSK 4 Required Wordlist

It’s great to see a whole long list of all the words I should know!

Very motivating!

Anki App

Anki App

I love Anki for revising characters and I use the HSK 4 flashcards. Anki recalls what words you have trouble remembering and pops these words up using a spaced repetition flashcard program.

Yoyo Chinese

Yoyo Chinese is a fantastic online resource for learning Chinese. There are all kinds of conversation and Chinese character courses and some of the lessons are free. Because the course is online and video-based, you can tackle the content at your own pace.

Yoyo Chinese is a great option, particularly for HSK 1-3 learners.

Mandarin Corner – YouTube

If you love video learning, you might like Mandarin Corner on YouTube.

There is a whole HSK section, with video flashcards of all vocab from all levels from 1-5.

Are you also studying for an HSK exam? How are you preparing for the HSK exam? Any awesome tips you can share?

I’ll keep you posted on how I go!


Until next time,

Lingo Mama


Penelope Wilson

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