“Knowledge is having the right answer. Intelligence is asking the right question.” - Unknown
According to a study on Chinese language teaching, there are around 30 million people in the world learning Chinese. When we say Chinese, we mean Mandarin Chinese, one of the many Chinese languages spoken in mainland China and the one most commonly taught to people both inside China and around the world.
You may want to learn to read, write, and speak Chinese for professional reasons which means you'll need to prove your level of fluency with Chinese exams.
If you've just started learning Chinese in a language school or with a tutor, why not work towards taking the HSK test to certify your level in the language?
As a beginner, the first test you can take in your second language is the HSK 1 exam. In this guide, we’ll tell you what the exam is, what you'll need to learn, how to prepare for it, and what to do on the day.
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What Exactly is the HSK 1 Chinese Exam?
The Chinese HSK is a level test similar to the TOEIC or TOEFL for those who learn English. It’s a test that attests the user’s proficiency in the language. The HSK is the official exam of the Confucius Institute (Hanban).
Just like the TOEIC, the HSK is widely recognised around the world. It’s proof of the user's proficiency without having to do any additional tests. This official Mandarin exam is very useful if you want to travel to China or study as an exchange student.
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There are six levels in total The HSK 1 is the first level. The test lines up with the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment) reference levels. The HSK 1 is the lowest level of this test and is equivalent to the A1 level.
The Chinese exam lasts 35 minutes and includes two parts: listening and reading. These two parts are very important. Each part includes 20 questions and four exercises for a total of 100 points. Don’t panic as you have three minutes at the end of the listening test to write down your answers.
To pass the exam, you need a minimum of 120 points. However, the higher your score, the more you can show it off.
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You’ll need to sign up to the Hanban site. Registration costs £20.
What Skills Will You Need to Learn for the HSK 1?
Once you’ve signed up for the Chinese test, it’s time to start practising for the big day.
However, what skills will you need to learn?
One of the most difficult things about Chinese is learning all the Chinese characters. Each level of the HSK test has a number of characters you’ll have to learn. The more characters you know, the easier it’ll be to read and write in Chinese.
You’ll need to learn a lot to reach level 6 and become bilingual. For the time being, and to get the HSK 1 exam, you’ll need to understand some simple and common expressions.
To pass the HSK 1 exam, you’ll need to know 150 characters. To help you, we’ve provided the Pinyin transcription alongside.
Here’s a small list of characters you should know:
- 愛 / ài / love
- 八 / bā / eight
- 爸爸 / bàba / father
- 杯子 / bēizi / cup
- 北京 / Běijīng / Beijing
- 本 / běn / this
- 不客氣 / bù kèqi / you are welcome
- 不 / bù / no, not
- 菜 / cài / dish, vegetables
- 茶 / chá / tea
- 吃 / chī / eat
- 出租車 / chūzūchē / taxi
- 打電話 / dǎ diànhuà / call
- 大 / dà / big
- 的 / de / of
- 點 / diǎn / point
- 電腦 / diànnǎo / computer
Understanding Simple Phrases
Some exercises in the HSK 1 exam require you to complete sentences with a Chinese character. This means that you’ll need to understand the structure and know the character. Practise the different common phrases with the right vocabulary. You can use online resources to help you with this.
Accustom Your Ear to the Chinese Accent
Knowing how Chinese is pronounced is useful for passing the test and you should accustom yourself to the Chinese accent. In fact, in the listening part of the exam, you’ll hear a native Chinese speaker. It would be a shame to mess this part up because you’re not familiar with the accent.
How Do You Prepare for the Mandarin Chinese Test?
There are a number of solutions to help you pass the test and learn all the Chinese characters you need to. With Private Chinese tutorials, group classes, Chinese lessons, and online learning, there’s something for everyone. You’ll need between 2 and 3 hours of Chinese study per week per semester.
Taking Chinese Lessons
In most cities in the UK, you’ll find somewhere offering foreign language lessons or Chinese associations providing Chinese language education. The Confucius Institute members are some of the first places you should consider visiting.
Chinese lessons will teach you what you need to know about Chinese vocabulary. Chinese teachers will also provide you with useful techniques and recommend resources like dictionaries for remembering new words and characters.
Practise Your Chinese Online
You can also find past papers for the HSK on the internet. By familiarising yourself with the exercises on the exam, there won’t be any surprises the day you sit down to take the test.
With websites and apps, there are plenty of different ways to prepare for your exam. With just a quick online search, you’ll find the perfect site or digital resource.
Teaching Yourself Chinese
You can also teach yourself Chinese characters. Learning Chinese on your own is a great option for your very first steps. However, you may eventually hit a roadblock. After all, all resources have their limits.
You could always travel to China in order to practise speaking Chinese with native Mandarin speakers. It’s much easier to learn Mandarin by going abroad. You’ll also have an opportunity to learn experience Chinese culture, Chinese food, and events like the Chinese new year, etc.
Get Help From a Private Chinese Tutor
If you don’t want to commit to the full year of studying or would like to benefit from personalised lessons tailored to you, you can opt for private Chinese lessons with a tutor. These allow you to choose your own Chinese programme.
Unlike other Chinese language courses (like Chinese MOOCs or the Chinese A Level), you're in charge of your own language learning. If you need to focus on the spoken language, your tutor can put together a course with a lot of intensive activities on Chinese pronunciation and having a conversation.
If you're struggling with Chinese grammar, they can make sure you have enough time to study the rules of the language and focus on reading and writing.
For those interested in the country, your tutor can blend language and culture and teach you about Chinese history as well as Chinese Mandarin language skills. After all, you'll be the only student in the class and the language course is just for you.
Advice for Succeeding on the Day
After you’ve done all your preparation, you also need to sit the exam! Here’s some advice for doing your best on the day.
Take Your Time to Understand the Exercise
A lot of people lose points on exams because they haven’t fully understood the activity or haven’t paid enough attention. Make sure you don’t make this mistake. Take the time to read the instructions for each exercise. We obviously don’t mean spend five minutes on each instruction but don’t skim either.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming what the exercise wants you to do without fully reading it as it may be slightly different to what you’ve practised.
Read the instruction and then look at the exercise itself to make sure you’ve understood what’s expected of you. Doing this is never a waste of time.
This is easier said than done. The test only lasts 35 minutes. You don’t have any time to get lost in your thoughts. You’re being tested on whether or not you know the vocabulary and you need to be sure of yourself.
Even if you hesitate on a question, don’t waste time being lost in your thoughts. Move on with the exercise and come back to it later. Your level in Chinese should correspond with the level of the test, so there’s really nothing to worry about.
Learn to Relax
Multiple choice questions can stress some people both before and during the test. During your studies, learn to relax. This will be really useful on the day of the exam.
Do some breathing exercises and relax. Knowing how to relax can help you to get the most out of your brain, especially when you’re going to need it, like during an exam!
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