Best HSK Exam Date of 2020 (Expert Advice)

Best HSK Exam Date

People take the HSK exams for different purposes. While some simply want to assess their Chinese skills in a formal setting, most people take them to attend a college or university degree program in China.

Almost all universities in China require incoming international students to take an HSK exam. If you planning to study in China in 2020 or 2021, it’s time to start planning out your HSK exam date and study schedule. 

To help you decide when to take the HSK, we’ve outlined all of the upcoming HSK dates and some pointers to help you choose which date is right for you. Let’s get started.

HSK Exam Dates for 2020

The HSK exams are offered 14 times a year, which means you have plenty of dates to choose from, so pick the best date for you and your schedule.

Quick note: On March 07 and November 07, the HSK exams are offered exclusively in the digital format (computer-based). If you are a die-hard paper and pencil fan, plan to take the exam on other dates.

The HSK exams are all administered on a Saturday or Sunday, with no exception. The exam dates are the same across the globe, but those based in a country/region that doesn’t offer the computer-based HSK must instead take the paper-based HSK.

Exam Dates Computer-based HSK Paper-based HSK
Jan 11 (Sat) y (yes) y
Feb 09 (Sun) y y
Mar 07 (Sat) y  
Mar 21 (Sat) y y
Apr 11 (Sat) y y
May 09 (Sat) y y
Jun 14 (Sun) y y
July 12 (Sun) y y
Aug 23 (Sun) y y
Sep 19 (Sat) y y
Oct 17 (Sat) y y
Nov 07 (Sat) y  
Nov 21 (Sat) y y
Dec 06 (Sun) y y

When to Take Your HSK Exam?

While HSK certificates have permanent validity, HSK scores are only valid for two years from the day of the exam if you intend to use them to apply to colleges or universities in China. Hence, make sure you have valid HSK scores to submit when you apply. Follow these four steps to plan for your HSK exam date.

1: Check HSK Score Validity Rules for Each School You’re Applying to

know the hsk score validity rules

If you plan on taking the HSK exam early (at least a year before you begin applying), it’s important to know the HSK score validity policies for each school you’re applying to. For most schools, your HSK scores only need to be valid when you apply, but for other schools, the scores need to be valid through the start date of the program. There can be close to a year between these two dates, so it’s important to know each school’s policy.

For example, if you took the HSK exam on July 12, 2020, your scores are valid until July 12, 2022. If you are applying to schools in the fall of 2021, and they all only require HSK scores to be valid when you’re applying, then you’re fine. However, if a school requires your scores to still be valid when you start class, then you’ll need to retake the HSK exam since your scores will have expired by the time you begin class in September 2022.

Most schools will state their requirement on their admissions page, along with other HSK information. If they don’t, you should contact them and ask. It’s much easier to make a quick call or send an email than it is to deal with out-of-date HSK scores.

2: Work out the Time Frame You Can Take the HSK in

Once you know the HSK validity deadlines for each of your schools, you can work out the time frame in which you can the HSK. If you want to take the HSK early, remember that you can’t take it more than two years before the validity deadlines for the schools you’re applying to.

If you plan on taking the HSK later, remember that it takes 1 to 2 months after you’ve taken the exam for exam centers to receive your exam report (most schools require a copy of the physical exam report). Give yourself enough time for schools to receive your scores before application deadlines.

Do take note the application deadline varies from school to school. While some undergrad or grad school applications are due November or December, others allow international applicants to submit applications later (in March or April). If you are planning to multiple schools, make sure they all receive your HSK exam reports on time.

Also, note not all examing centers administer HSK exams at every level. For instance, if you intend to take the HSK 6 exam in November, make sure the exam center you choose will be administering it in that month.

3: Plan Retakes

There is no limit on how many times you can take the HSK exam, of the same level or not. This may be something you want to do, perhaps because you want to practice or you don’t feel confident you’ll meet the passing grade or score highly enough the first time you take the exam. 

If you really don’t think you’re going to use your first HSK score, it’s fine to take it more than two years beforehand, since it won’t matter if those HSK scores are expired. However, you may want to consider taking free practice HSK exams instead to save money. (An HSK 6 exam, for instance, costs 650 Chinese Yuan, that’s nearly 100 USD)

On the other hand, if you’re taking the HSK close to school admission deadlines, make sure to leave yourself time for a retake if that’s something you think you’ll want to do. There is a exam date every month, but you need to register 4 weeks ahead of time for the paper-based HSK exam or 10 days ahead of time for the computer-based one. Also factor in the waiting time for reports.

4: Consider Taking HSKK on the Same Day

You might want to take the HSKK exam on the same day you take the HSK. HSKK is an independent Chinese proficiency exam (also organized by Hanban) which can be taken separately or together with HSK. Usually, schools won’t require HSKK for admission, but given its increasing importance, it might come in handy when you apply for scholarships.

You can take the two exams in a row on selected exam dates. The HSKK exams are offered 7 times a year and all the exam dates overlap with the HSK exam dates. The two exams start at a different time of the day (usually HSK in the morning and HSKK in the afternoon, or vice versa). Just make sure you register for them at the same exam center. (Read this if you are not familiar with HSKK test)

Exam Dates HSK HSKK
Jan 11 (Sat) y y
Feb 09 (Sun) y  
Mar 07 (Sat) y (computer only)  
Mar 21 (Sat) y y
Apr 11 (Sat) y y
May 09 (Sat) y y
Jun 14 (Sun) y  
July 12 (Sun) y y
Aug 23 (Sun) y  
Sep 19 (Sat) y  
Oct 17 (Sat) y y
Nov 07 (Sat) y (computer only)  
Nov 21 (Sat) y  
Dec 06 (Sun) y y

What is the Best HSK Exam Date for You?

With so many HSK exam dates to choose from, you just have to narrow down the best option for you. Consider when you’re planning to apply to schools in China, so you can ensure your HSK scores will be available in time to apply.

If you’re not sure when you want to study in China, you have a little more flexibility. You can take the exam early and leave a cushion for retakes, work obligations, and other outside commitments.

To help you select the best HSK exam date, we’ll walk you through the advantages and disadvantages of each exam date.  

prepare HSK exam

Winter HSK Exams

December

The December HSK is great for eager students applying in the next year- it can take a lot of stress off your mind to know that you have many opportunities to retake the HSK and many more months to study and prepare if needed. Getting the exam done early leaves you time to focus on the other pieces of your application.

January & February

Taking the HSK exam in January or February is another great option if you want to get the HSK out of the way early if you plan to apply in late fall.

However, if your application is due in the coming spring (March or April), then the January and February exam dates would be less than ideal. You won’t have time for a retake if you accidentally fail to reach the passing score or cutoff score since the mailing of the exam report alone will take 1-2 months.

Also note that since the Chinese New Year holidays always fall in January or February, the scores will be announced one week later than usual if you take the HSK exam before the holidays.

Spring HSK Exams

There are four HSK exam dates in spring (March, April, June). While these dates are too late for the same application cycle, they are still good options if you are applying to schools in fall and hope to get the HSK done early in the application process. You will have plenty of time for retakes, if needed.

Summer HSK Exams

The June to August administrations are the most popular exam dates among students. For exam-takers who are currently still in high school, they fall over summer break, so these dates present a rare chance to study and take the exam with fewer class and club responsibilities in the way. It’s also a relief to know you have time for 1-2 retakes, if needed, before your application in fall/winter. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll likely have final exams and course commitments to balance until just a few weeks before the exam date. 

Fall HSK Exams

September

One of the benefits of the September exam date is that it gives you the entire summer to study, which is particularly advantageous for current high schoolers. However, remember that those annoying fall semester classes will have started up again by September, so if you’re still in school, you’ll have more commitments on your plate. If you’re worried about getting rusty on the HSK skills you picked up over the summer, try to keep up with your study schedule as much as you can amid homework and other exams.

The downside to taking your first HSK around this time is that you’ll really want to nail this exam if you plan to apply in the same cycle. If you need to retake, you can only do that once in October, so you might want to schedule the first HSK exam earlier to avoid that last-minute rush.

October

The October HSK will be the last chance you’ll have to take the HSK and still be considered for the current admissions cycle. You’ll be applying on the later end with a score from an October exam if the application is due the end of December, but you’ll still be on time if you make sure other parts of your application are ready to go. 

Bear in mind that October tends to be a very busy time with mid-terms and extracurriculars picking up speed. So, only consider the October date for possible retakes, and try to schedule your first HSK exam well ahead of the application deadline.

November

You’ll get your score back too late to apply for admission that same year with the November HSK, so know that you’ll be applying for admission the next year, in which case you will have plenty of time for retakes if necessary and you can focus on the other parts of your application.

How Long Should You Study before the HSK?

study for HSK exam

Generally, you should give yourself 2-3 months to study for the HSK exam. If you commit that amount of time and study for about two hours a day, three days a week, you’ll have logged enough time to familiarize yourself with the exam structure, sections, and tasks.

A more accurate way to find out how much time you’ll need to study before the HSK is to take a practice exam, ideally 3 months ahead of the exam date, and compare the result with your HSK goal.

As a general rule, it takes approximately 2-3 hours of studying Mandarin to earn one point on the HSK exams (level 4-6). To figure out the time needed, simply subtract your score on your HSK practice exam from your score goal, and multiply it by the improvement rate.

For example, you’ll take the HSK 5 exam and you know your school has a cutoff score of 210 points. Your current score on a practice exam is only 180 points. So there is a 30 points gap, meaning you have to study for 60-90 hours. If you can budget 6 hours of studying Mandarin each week, you’ll need 10 to 15 weeks.

Now, committing equal studying time each week may not be very practical. Maybe you’ve got crazy work projects coming up or know that you’ve got killer classes up on the horizon. In those cases, you may very well need more time to pull together a good HSK score. Nevertheless, don’t go to the other extreme. Students who create year-long study plans often lose sight of the goal ahead and find it difficult to stay motivated. 

The study hours are guidelines for the average student and you may find that it takes you more or less time studying per section. Make your study schedule with these guidelines as a starting point, but be prepared to adjust if you find that you improve at a different rate.

Schedule for Your HSK Exam Date

Essentially, you’ll want to schedule your HSK exam date around your application deadlines. Since most schools require a copy of the physical HSK exam report, you need to make sure there’s enough time for them to receive your scores before application deadlines. Therefore, you should take the HSK exam at least 2.5 months before application deadlines (1-2 months for mailing + 1/2 month cushion).

If you don’t feel confident you’ll meet the passing grade or cutoff grade the first time you take the exam and anticipate retakes, then schedule the first HSK exam even earlier to allow the retake.

Below is a sample of our recommended HSK study & exam timeline, if your application deadline is December 31st.

  • Practice HSK: June
  • Study: 2-3 months
  • Official HSK: September
  • Retake if needed: October

Again, this timeline is a guide only. Your personal timeline should accommodate your class schedules, work, vacations… Of course, you can take the HSK far in advance to get it out of the way. In that case, just make sure your scores are valid when you submit the applications (the validity of HSK scores is two years from the exam date).

A Note on HSK Registration Dates and Deadlines

A Note on HSK Registration Dates and Deadlines

The registration deadlines for the computer-based HSK exams are 10 days before their respective exam dates, while for the paper-based HSK, you must register 4 weeks or more in advance.  

Though the exam dates are already fixed for the entire year, most exam centers won’t allow you to register for the exam far ahead of your exam date (registration usually begins 3-4 months before the exam date). 

Also, take note that not all exam centers administer HSK exams at every level on every exam date. How often your exam center gives the HSK at your level depends on their funding and on how popular the exam is in your region/country, so double-check with your exam center to see your available exam dates.

Once you decide on your exam date, it’s always better to register early than late, because many exam centers have limited seating. Besides, if you experience technical glitch registering at the last minute, Hanban (HSK administer) will not be able to make accommodations for you.

Recap: Best HSK Exam Date

Schedule your HSK exam date around your application deadlines and factor in your own schedule. If you anticipate taking the HSK more than once, schedule the final exam at least 2.5 months before application deadlines.

While there are pros and cons to each of the exam dates on the calendar, no pro or con is outweighed by a good score. To do well on the HSK, you have to set aside considerable time to study, so pick the exam date that allows you sufficient time to study and prepare. Once you have come up with a study timeline, stick to it and study hard, and you’ll crush the HSK. (Make sure you also select the best HSK test center!)