HSK Level 1: Your Complete Guide for 2021
So you’ve just begun your Chinese studies and are thinking about taking an exam to assess your knowledge. How do you get started?
We recommend taking the HSK Level 1 test. First off, HSK is the world’s most recognized Chinese proficiency test for non-native speakers. Every year, over 800,000 people take the test to certify their Chinese competence. Second, HSK is easier than you think, particularly at the entry level. Even if you’ve just been learning Chinese for a month, you can pass HSK 1 with some preparation.
In this article, I’ll go over the HSK 1 test format, structure, content, section by section, and give you the complete list of HSK 1 learning resources to help you get started!
You’ll also find the latest information on HSK 1 test dates, centers, price, and a quick guide on how to register for the test. And for those of you who want to get a feel for what can be expected from the actual exam, I’ve included a link to some practice tests that you can take at home for free.
Let’s dive right in.
Table of Contents
HSK 1 Introduction
If you don’t know HSK- the test and its levels yet, here is some quick background information.
HSK stands for “Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi”, which literally means “Chinese Level Test” but is usually translated to “Chinese Proficiency Test”. The test is organized by Hanban (汉办), an affiliation of the Chinese Ministry of Education that’s also in charge of the Confucius Institutes worldwide.
HSK tests how good you are at Chinese with 6 levels (6 independent tests), from level 1 to level 6. HSK level 1 is at the bottom of the HSK levels hierarchy. If you’ve only begun to learn Chinese, then taking HSK 1 is the obvious starting place.
HSK 1 is a rather easy test. It corresponds to the most basic Chinese skills, or A1- in CEFR scale. At this level, you’re not too occupied with grammar and stuff yet. You’ll be tested mostly on isolated words, phrases, and pre-packaged sentences. The HSK 1 test paper includes Pinyin along with Chinese characters for all questions, and there is no writing section, meaning you don’t really need to know any character to pass the test.
That said, Hanban – the test organizer, did give a specific requirement on the minimum vocabulary you have to possess to pass the HSK 1 test: 150 words. Of course, you’re supposed to have the ability to understand simple dialogues constructed with these 150 basic words at this level.
HSK 1 Test Format
There are two different formats of the HSK 1 test: internet-based and paper-based.
The internet-based HSK 1 is a 37-minute computer-adaptive test, whereas the paper-based HSK 1 is a 40-minute paper-and-pencil test. For both formats, you need to go to a physical HSK testing center (though the name “internet-based” may suggest it, you won’t be able to take the test on your own computer at home).
The HSK 1 test only contains two sections: Listening and Reading. The overall test time of the paper-based exam is three minutes longer to allow you to transfer your answers from the test paper to the answer sheet in the Listening section.
Though the formats are different, both versions of the HSK 1 test have the same questions and timing for each section and are graded in the same way. You’ll always have 15 minutes on Listening, and 17 minutes on Reading.
HSK 1 Test Structure
An official HSK 1 test has altogether 40 questions (20 in Listening and 20 in Reading). Here’s a quick summary of the overall HSK 1 test structure.
|Section||Internet-based HSK 1||Paper-based HSK 1||Number of Questions|
|Added Time||/||5 min (fill in personal info)||/|
|Listening||15 mins||15 min||20|
|Added Time||5 mins (break)||3 mins (fill out answer sheet)||/|
|Reading||17 mins||17 mins||20|
|Total||37 mins||40 mins||40|
You’ll have a 5-minute break in the middle of the internet-based test, between the Listening and Reading sections. This break is mandatory, meaning you must take it. You may take other breaks during the test, but you will not be able to pause the timer for these.
Now I’ll walk you through the type of questions and content that you will encounter in each of the two sections to better understand the HSK 1 test structure.
1. Listening Section
In Listening – the first section on the HSK 1, you’ll listen to 20 short audio clips, each complete with 1 question. All audio clips will be played twice. The listening section takes 15 minutes in total to complete.
The listening section involves 3 types of questions: answering true or false questions, choosing the matching picture that fits the statement or dialogue, and multiple choice.
Let me explain how they work below.
- Part 1: True or False
There are 5 questions in the first part, where you’ll listen to 5 audio clips, each comprising one isolated phrase. A picture will be shown on the screen or test paper in the meantime. You need to decide for each question whether the picture presentation is consistent with the phrase you hear.
- Part 2: Choose the Matching Picture
The second part contains 5 questions as well. In this part, you will hear 5 short statements, each consisting of one sentence. For each question, you will see three pictures on the screen or test paper. You need to choose the picture that most fits the statement.
- Part 3: Choose the Matching Picture
The third part of the HSK 1 listening section is quite similar to the second part. There are still 5 questions. Instead of statements, you’ll listen to 5 short dialogues (2 sentences each). Several pictures will be shown on the screen or test paper in random order. You need to pinpoint each dialogue to the corresponding picture based on your understanding.
- Part 4: Multiple Choice
In the last part, you’ll listen to 5 short statements, each containing 1 to 2 sentences. At the end of each statement, a second person will raise a question. For each question, three answer options will be given on the screen or test paper (the question itself will not be presented). You need to choose the best answer based on the content of each statement.
Here’s a chart that summarizes the content info of the HSK 1 Listening section.
|Part||Audio Clip Type||Number of Clips||Questions/Clip|
|True or False||Phrase||5||1|
|Choose the Matching Picture||Statement||5||1|
|Choose the Matching Picture||Dialogue||5||1|
|Multiple Choice||Statement & Question||5||1|
2. Reading Section
Reading – the second section on the HSK 1 mainly tests your knowledge of basic Chinese vocabulary. This section contains 20 questions (test items) and takes 17 minutes to complete.
There are 4 question types: answering true or false questions, choosing the corresponding picture, forming dialogues, and filling in the blanks.
I explain each of the question types below.
- Part 1: True or False
There are 5 test items in the first part. Each item includes a picture and a word that’s supposed to describe the picture. You need to decide whether or not the description is accurate.
- Part 2: Choose the Matching Picture
In the second part, you’ll see five pictures and five sentences in jumbled order on the screen or test paper. You need to find the correlation and link each sentence with the corresponding picture that reflects its content.
- Part 3: Form Dialogues
You’ll be looking at 5 questions and 5 answer options in the third part of the HSK 1 reading section. You need to pair each question with the appropriate answer to form five correct dialogues.
- Part 4: Fill in the Blanks
The last part of the Reading section contains 5 test items. Each item will display one or two sentences with a missing word. There is a list or word options on the top and you need to select the best word to fill in the blank space.
Here’s a chart that summarizes the content info of the HSK 1 Reading section.
|Part||Number of Questions|
|True or False||5|
|Choose the Matching Picture||5|
|Fill in the Blanks||5|
HSK 1 Results & Certificate
After you take the HSK 1 test, the test papers will be mailed to Hanban headquarters in Beijing for grading (or submitted to Hanban servers if you take the internet-based test).
You can view your score report on the HSK website approximately 2 weeks after you take the internet-based test or 1 month after you take the paper-based test. The score report will include two section scores and one total score. Depending on the total score, you either pass or fail the test.
Both of the two sections (Listening and Reading) are scored out of 100 points for a total of 200. To pass HSK level 1, you need to score at least 120 points in total.
If you pass the HSK 1 test, Hanban will issue a certificate to you for certifying your Chinese competence. The HSK 1 certificate has permanent validity. It’s like a diploma. Once you receive it, it becomes your property and is valid forever.
If you wish to use your HSK scores to apply to a college or university in China, your HSK scores are then only valid for two years from the date you take the test. Of course, no school would actually ask you for proof of your HSK 1 proficiency. Something between HSK 5 and HSK 6 is usually required to get admitted. You can learn the HSK requirements for major Chinese Universities here.
Should You take the HSK 1?
“So…should I take the HSK 1 test?”
That’s the big question I got asked all the time.
The short answer is: if your plan is to learn Chinese to a relatively high level (e.g. conversational fluency), you can just skip the HSK 1 and go straight for higher levels such as HSK 3 or HSK 4 – they are attainable within 6 months to 1 year of committed study. (Your Chinese will start to sound sane at HSK 3, and you’ll get to be independent to go about your business in Chinese at HSK 4)
Truth is: not all HSK levels have a point of reference in a real world, especially when you’re still on the entry level. You won’t be able to get into a program at a Chinese university if you only reach HSK level 1. And if you are counting on a Chinese proficiency certificate for getting a job, then HSK 1 won’t provide much value on your resume beyond showing that you have a vague idea about Chinese. So hold it out until you have worked your way up a few levels.
That said, taking the HSK 1 test is not always a waste of time and money. You might even find it beneficial.
Tests are useful study techniques to help you improve quicker. When you take the HSK 1 test, you have to recall and apply what you have learned. This process greatly improves your chances of remembering information.
Plus, many people take the test as a psychological boost. Even though HSK 1 is the lowest level, passing it is still an achievement worth celebrating – considering how hard the Chinese language is. It makes people feel more calm and confident going into the next levels.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours. If you feel like taking the HSK 1 test helps you learn better or progress quicker, then I encourage you to do it!
Attention: HSK is like the SAT in a sense – it is intended mainly for students looking to attend a college or university program in China. Therefore, HSK focuses heavily on the formal, written language used in academic settings.
If your Chinese-learning goal does not align with the HSK requirements, or you’re learning Chinese simply because you enjoy it, then you can safely ignore the HSK tests.
HSK 1 Practice Tests
If you want to get a better idea of what the HSK 1 test is really like or want to find out how much you’ll need to study for the HSK 1, it’ll be a good idea to take a practice test.
So here’s a link to some practice tests we’ve created using authentic questions from past HSK 1 exams.
We’ve included the audio materials as well as the answer keys. You can try them out online or download and print out the paper version. They require no registration and are completely free.
HSK 1 Test Dates (2021)
Did you do well on the practice test? Hope so!
Now, I’ll talk about when you can take the actual HSK 1 test.
Students new to the Chinese language typically only need 1 month or so to get to HSK level 1. So technically, you can plan your test as early as you start learning Chinese.
The HSK 1 test is arranged 14 times a year globally, which means you have plenty of dates to choose from, so pick the test date most convenient to you.
Here are the official HSK 1 test dates for the year 2021.
|Test Dates||Internet-based HSK 1||Paper-based HSK 1|
|Jan 09 (Sat)||√||√|
|Feb 06 (Sat)||√||√|
|Mar 07 (Sun)||√|
|Mar 20 (Sat)||√||√|
|Apr 10 (Sat)||√||√|
|May 15 (Sat)||√||√|
|Jun 19 (Sat)||√||√|
|Jul 18 (Sun)||√||√|
|Aug 22 (Sun)||√||√|
|Sep 11 (Sat)||√||√|
|Oct 17 (Sun)||√||√|
|Nov 06 (Sat)||√|
|Nov 20 (Sat)||√||√|
|Dec 05 (Sun)||√||√|
As you can see, the HSK 1 tests are all arranged on a Saturday or Sunday, with no exception. The test usually starts at 1:30 pm. The test dates are the same across the globe.
The registration deadlines for the internet-based tests are 10 days before their respective test dates, while for the paper-based ones, you must register at least 4 weeks in advance. (Refer to this page for detailed deadline info).
HSK 1 Test Centers
The next question is: where can you take the HSK 1 test?
As I mentioned earlier, both formats of the HSK 1 test must be taken at an official HSK test center. And finding one might be easier than you thought, given the popularity of the test.
As of 2021, more than 1,300 testing centers from over 150 countries administer the HSK test. Simply conduct a Google search by typing in “[country/region name] + HSK test centers”, and you should find one near you. We’ve also pulled a list of worldwide HSK test centers on our website.
Note that not all centers administer the HSK 1 test on every test date throughout the year. How often your test center arranges the HSK 1 test depends on their funding and on how popular the test is in your region, so double-check with your test center to see your available options. For instance, if you intend to take the HSK 1 test in June, make sure your test center will be administering it in that month.
Also, take note that some centers don’t have the facilities to conduct the internet-based test. If you are based in a country or region where this has not been an option, you must take the paper-based version instead.
HSK 1 Test Fees
So how much does it cost to take the HSK 1 test?
The test fees around the world will vary depending on your location. In 2021, it will cost you 150 CNY (≈ 22 USD) to take the HSK 1 test in China (same for both formats). The price for HSK 1 outside of China will be converted into local currency and typically fall into the 20-30 USD range.
|Tests||Price in CNY (China)|
Some test centers may charge an additional administration fee or postage fee on top of the test fee. This is usually mentioned on the test center’s website.
HSK 1 Test Registration
Once you’ve made up your mind when and where to take the HSK 1 test, register for it!
You can do it in person at the test center, or even by mailing. But the easiest way to register for the HSK 1 will be with your HSK account on the test website. It allows you to register 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The HSK website can look a bit overwhelming, but we’ve written an easy-to-follow registration guide to help you.
Follow the nine steps outlined to complete your HSK 1 registration online. We’ve included screenshots to make the process even easier to follow.
Getting Started: HSK 1 Learning Resources
Now that you know all the basic information about taking the HSK 1 test, let’s talk about how to best study for HSK Level 1.
It can be a bit intimidating to know where to begin. Don’t get stressed about it, though. I’ve got you back with this list of best learning resources for HSK 1 to help you get started.
HSK 1 Word List
HSK 1 is a straightforward test. Most of it involves recognizing words and phrases or picking out the keyword from a short sentence. That’s why vocabulary is the most important thing to study at this level.
According to Hanban, the HSK test organizer, in order to reach HSK Level 1, you must learn 150 basic Chinese words and expressions.
We’ve crafted an HSK 1 vocabulary list specifically for you to pass the test. They are complete with characters, Pinyin, English translations, and explanations on how to use them. Once you’ve got these words under your belt, you can start working on other areas of the Chinese language.
出租车 chūzūchē… 睡觉 shuìjiào… 怎么样 zěnmeyàng… Do you know those words yet? They’re some of the HSK 1 vocabulary words. If you’re going to take the test, it’s time to memorize them!
HSK 1 Character List
商, 影, 睡…
Do you know these “Hanzi” yet? They’re some of the HSK Level 1 characters.
“Wait, do I have to know characters to take the HSK 1?”, you asked.
No, you don’t. You’ll find Pinyin all along with the characters on the paper. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to study them.
Characters help you memorize words better, read with ease (making learning through native resources easier), and have a deeper understanding of how the language works. If you want to progress to a decent level in Chinese later on, you would have to have a working knowledge of Chinese characters anyway, so why not knock out the basic ones at an early stage?
Check out this resource to learn the 150 most basic Chinese characters used in everyday life and necessary for HSK 1!
HSK 1 Grammar Points
At HSK Level 1, you’re not too occupied with Chinese grammar, and it won’t be tested specifically on the test.
That said, any time you learn a new language, it’s always important to have a sense of those fundamental grammar rules. Chinese Grammar is like the binding agent that locks the words and phrases together. Whether you’re learning Chinese to take the HSK tests, or for general communication purposes, it’s a good idea to have a grip on basic Chinese grammar to get the ball rolling.
To do that, I strongly recommend you start with the basic Chinese Grammar Guide. It covers 28 grammar points that beginners in Chinese need to know in great depth and is at the same time easy to follow. Once you’ve learned these basic rules (and a basic vocabulary), you’ll be able to get out there and speak Chinese already!
We’ve also written a few more detailed grammar posts for HSK 1 test-takers. Check them out below.
HSK 1 Textbook
Is there a best textbook to study for HSK 1?
The answer is yes. For most people, the Hanban-endorsed HSK Standard Course (Book 1) is the best book to start the HSK journey. In fact, the book is so popular that is used in many Chinese institutes across the globe.
With this book, you can learn Chinese and prepare for the HSK 1 test at the same time. It’ll take you through the basic Chinese vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structures that you’ll need at the entry level. There is also an accompanying workbook for you to do the exercises and check your progress.
HSK 1 Course
Having a good Chinese textbook by your side is important, but don’t expect to learn the language just from a book.
Chinese is quite complex and complicated – the pronunciation, structure, and vocabulary are totally different from European languages. Unless you’ve successfully taught yourself a couple of eastern Asian languages, don’t attempt to learn it all by yourself.
The more effective way of learning Chinese is to follow the progression of an existing course, be it online or on-site, rather than trying to create your own.
So here are the top HSK 1 courses I recommend that will set you on the right path to success.
Chinese Zero to Hero
If your major goal is to speak Chinese rather than obtain a certificate, you might want to skip all the HSK courses – the curriculum of these courses is geared solely towards helping you pass the exam and offers very little else.
Instead, choose a structured Chinese course that actually teaches you how to speak the language from day one. (see our recommendations)
HSK 1 Tutoring
If you need something more engaging or flexible, it’ll be smart to find a Chinese teacher to do some one-to-one tutoring. It allows you to learn at your own pace and choose the materials best suited to your learning style. This is also the best time to drill your pronunciation.
ShanghaiTutors is known for its high-quality Chinese tutoring service (read our review here). They’ve got some great HSK teachers at moderate prices. The lessons can be arranged face-to-face in major cities in China as well as online for those living abroad. Ask them to work out a personalized solution to help you.
HSK 1 Listening Practice
When you start learning Chinese, you need to practice listening as often as possible to get used to the distinct sounds and tones of the language.
There are plenty of listening materials out there for Chinese learners, but unfortunately, very few are suitable for beginners.
Don’t worry though, I did find two helpful resources that you can use to practice HSK 1 listening. Spoiler alert: listening is hard at first (always!), but keep on listening! In just a month, you‘ll be able to recognize and understand a lot of words and set phrases already. And you’ll get very comfortable with the listening section on the test day!
ChineseClass 101 is a great listening resource for HSK 1 students. It features a huge library of lessons with a focus on video and audio content to help your listening comprehension. All of the listening materials come with quite a bit of English explanation which is great if you’re just starting out to learn Chinese.
ChineseClass 101 is a paid resource. The basic plan starts at $8 per month.
Another listening resource I recommend to HSK 1 learners is Popup Chinese. It has produced quite some high-quality, interesting podcast lessons for beginners in Chinese. There is a paid version, but you can access most of its content by creating a free account.
The only downside is that they’ve stopped adding new content since 2015, so the topics discussed in the lessons could be a bit out of date, but I’ll never complain about something that’s free!
HSK 1 Reading Practice
With a vocabulary of only 150 words, it seems there is not much else you can read at this level besides what’s in the textbook.
Luckily for you, I’ve found two reading resources that you can go to even if you’ve just begun your Chinese study. These materials are simple enough to keep you motivated to follow through and give you ample reading practice through repeated exposure within the limits of your vocabulary.
The Chairman's Bao
The Chairman’s Bao is a news-based online graded reader for people learning written Chinese. The news stories are rewritten and simplified. Each article is graded by HSK levels. You’ll find some enjoyable content to read even at level 1.
The Chairman’ Bao is available on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS. The plan starts at $6 per month.
If you find the HSK 1 news articles in the Chairman’s Bao still too difficult, you can start with Mandarin Companion. They’ve published 5 easy-to-read Chinese novels at ‘breakthrough level’ using only 150 unique characters – a great way to help beginners like you get started with reading Chinese.
The books are available in paperback as well as for Kindle.
HSK 1 Tips and Hacks
Now you know the best resources out there to help you study for the HSK 1, I’ll also let you in on a few more tips that will not only make your learning effective but also build up your confidence for the test day.
1. Make Use of Flashcards
Flashcards sound old school, but they are really a powerful way to help you memorize new words needed for HSK 1.
Take a look at the HSK 1 vocabulary list we’ve crafted, write down the words and expressions you don’t know with Pinyin or characters on one side, and the English translations on the other. Forcing yourself to see and write the words for yourself gives you the necessary exposure to the unfamiliar vocabulary. You can also use flashcards apps like Anki or Memrise to review them on your phone.
2. Focus on Basic Sentence Patterns
At HSK level 1, you don’t have to spend heaps of time studying Chinese grammar yet, but understanding a few basic Chinese sentence patterns will help you tremendously down the road.
So take a good, hard look at our basic Chinese grammar guide for beginners. The simple sentence patterns we explained in this article are powerful enough to get you through most daily situations, and they’ll lay a good foundation for your future Chinese studies!
3. Make a Study Plan
You can do whatever works best for you, but make sure you have a structured study plan for HSK 1 and commit to it.
Language acquisition takes time. You can’t really just study for one or two hours every week and expect miracles to fall on you. You have to put in a lot of work in the initial period to get the ball rolling. Take a look at your daily and weekly schedules and see how many hours a week you can spend studying for HSK 1. Ideally, you’ll want to set aside 1 to 2 hours every day for studying Chinese, five days a week.
4. Take Full-length Practice Tests
Practice tests prove to be a great way to prepare for the HSK 1 exam. So get the most out of our free practice tests online!
By doing so, you will get to know the test format, experience the types of tasks you will be asked to undertake and build your confidence on the test day. Review the questions you got wrong or guessed on after the test – they’ll point you in the right direction as to what area you need to focus on improving.
To get the most realistic HSK 1 test experience, take the practice test in one sitting without distractions, and keep strict timing on each section.
5. Practice, Practice, and Practice
An HSK certificate should be seen as a check-in, not an end goal. Eventually, you’ll want to be able to communicate with native speakers. So get out there and practice your Chinese!
Force yourself to use new words and phrases with native Chinese speakers near where you live or online. The way they respond to your shaky, early uses of new vocabulary will reinforce their meaning and usage like nothing else.
If you really can’t hire a tutor or find anyone to practice with you, then listen to the podcasts I’ve recommended and read the transcripts. They will provide more exposure to the words and language points in context. You’ll get to see how they are used in a conversation and feel more comfortable using them next time you talk in Chinese.
FAQs about HSK 1
Wow. I’ve covered a lot of information, haven’t I?
But before I wrap things up, let’s look at a few more common questions I receive regarding HSK 1 (I addressed some of them above already, but I’ll just walk you through them again quickly).
Students learning Chinese from scratch typically need 4-6 weeks of committed study to progress to HSK Level 1. Of course, it’ll also depend on how much time you dedicate to learning Chinese every week. If you study with a teacher, 40 hours of tutoring is usually sufficient to bring you to HSK Level 1.
According to Hanban – the HSK test organizer, you need to know a minimum of 150 basic Chinese words and expressions at this level (see the vocabulary list here). Besides, you should be able to understand simple conversations from daily life constructed with this basic vocabulary, and some basic Chinese grammar to pass the HSK 1 test.
Many people use HSK tests/levels as a tool to help with their Chinese learning. If you feel like you’ll be more motivated to learn Chinese or feel more confident going into higher levels afterwards, then sign up for the HSK 1.
But if you want to use your HSK score to apply for a job or get into a program at a Chinese university, then hold out till you’ve reached higher levels.
Finally, if your Chinese-learning goal does not align with the HSK scale, you can always ignore the test.
The current HSK Levels don’t line up with CEFR. Though Hanban claims on its website that the HSK levels have a one to one correspondence to the CEFR levels: HSK Level 1 = CEFR A1 (Basic), the statement is an overestimate and was refused by CEFR. Based on our research, HSK 1 is about halfway to CEFR A1. Read here for our full report on HSK levels.
Technically, the HSK tests are designed for adult learners, but there is no age limitation for taking the test. All non-native Chinese speakers are eligible to take the HSK 1.
No. The HSK 1 test is only offered in simplified Chinese, along with Pinyin (Mandarin romanization) on the test paper.
The easiest way to register for the HSK 1 test is with your HSK account on the official test website www.chinesetest.cn (read HSK registration guide here). All test centers in China offer online payment options for paying the test fee. If your chosen test center does not offer the online registration option, then you must go to the test center in-person to complete registration and payment on site or use a courier service.
Your HSK 1 test score shall be available on the HSK website two weeks after you take the internet-based test, or one month after you take the paper-based test. Simply enter your test registration number (as shown on your test admission ticket), and you can access your score online.
The physical score report and the certificate (you’ll get one if you pass) will be sent to your test center 1-2 months after the test date, and you should be notified either by email or telephone for a pickup. (They will be kept at the test center for up to 2 years after the test date)
Congratulations! You now know the HSK Level 1 inside out! Now it’s time to pick the tools you need and get to work.
Take our advice. Study. Practice. You’ll get to this level sooner than you thought!
Bear in mind that our website ImproveMandarin.Com is an excellent resource for you to hone your HSK and Chinese skills. If you have any questions or hiccups, we’ll do our best to help you.
Good luck in your HSK 1 endeavors!