HSK 3 Test Preparation: The Definitive, Must-Read Guide for 2020

HSK level 3 guide

If you are thinking about taking the HSK level 3 test, this post is going to become your new Bible.

Not only are we going to show you the basic information such as test dates, centers, fees, but we’ll also give you the most valuable tips and resources to help you nail the HSK 3 test, without any nonsense.

We’ll cover the HSK 3 test structure, content, timing, section by section, and give you the complete character list, vocabulary list, grammar points required for HSK 3 (all with explanations!), and a series of highly realistic mock tests. We’ll also give you a step-by-step guide to the whole registration process, so you’ll be ready for the HSK 3 test in no time.

Let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

What is HSK 3?  

HSK stands for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (汉语水平考试), meaning “Chinese Proficiency Test”. It’s the world’s most well-known and acknowledged test for Chinese proficiency, with six competence levels (six independent tests). The organizer of HSK is Hanban (汉办), an affiliation of the Chinese Ministry of Education that’s also in charge of the Confucius Institutes worldwide.

In the HSK system, HSK 1 and HSK 2 correspond to very basic Chinese skills. HSK 3 and HSK 4 introduce more sophisticated knowledge of Chinese. HSK 5 and HSK 6 serve as indicators of high proficiency and fluency in Chinese.

Since language proficiency is something highly subjective, Hanban offers short descriptors for the six HSK levels and explains what you can do at each level.

Here’s what you can do at HSK 3:
You can conduct basic communication in daily life, study and work. You can manage most communication when traveling in China.

How Difficult is HSK 3?

difficulty level

HSK 3 is a relatively easy test. It roughly corresponds to CEFR A2 (Elementary).

(The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, aka CEFR, is the world’s most influential standard to validate foreign language ability. Though Hanban claims on its website that the HSK levels have a one to one correspondence to the CEFR levels: HSK Level 3 = CEFR B1 “Intermediate”, the statement is known as an overestimate and was refused by CEFR. Read why here.)

To pass the HSK 3 test, you need to be able to read and understand simple Chinese from daily life. To be more precise, you should know about 600 characters, 600 vocabulary words, and 80 grammar patterns. The more you know, the easier it becomes to nail the test.

Good Reasons to Take HSK 3  

HSK 3 benefits

In the present era, you can barely get anything at all without pointing someone at the corresponding paper with a stamp on it (especially in China). So an HSK certificate can be a real asset.

For example, when filling up your resume/CV, you cannot simply claim to speak elementary or intermediate Chinese according to your own estimations. Especially, if the knowledge of Chinese is not just a bonus point but a job requirement. In this case, you want to prove it by demonstrating an HSK certificate that is widely recognized.

Besides, the HSK certificate never expires and will always be a good testament to your Chinese proficiency. Even if you’re currently undecided about your career plans, you might still want to think about taking the test, regardless. This will give you some flexibility for your future, whether or not you think you need an HSK certificate right now.

And if you wish to work in China, the HSK will be very handy when you apply for a work permit. China now uses a work permit scoring system through which every foreigner is graded according to their background, qualifications, and skills. You need to reach at least 60 points overall in that system to be granted the work permit/visa. An HSK 3 certificate can bring you 3 points. (View the official work permit points table)

If you are learning Chinese simply because you enjoy it, the HSK might not seem that important on the surface, but it can still be very useful. It provides an objective assessment of your skills, defining which stage you’re at with your Chinese learning. 

Plus, tests are useful study techniques to help you improve quicker. When you take the HSK 3 test, you have to recall and apply what you have learned. This process greatly improves your chances of remembering information. The HSK 3 test report also makes your future study sessions more productive by showing what you need to work on at the next stage.

HSK 3 Test Formats

Before you decide to take the HSK 3 test, you should know that there are two formats of the test: paper-based, and internet-based (also known as computer-based).

The two formats are identical in difficulty level, test content, and scoring criteria. Here’s what’s different:

Paper-based HSK 3 Test
You will be required to sit at a desk with the question papers and answer sheets for the listening, reading, writing sections in an official HSK test center. You will need to write your answers in either 2B-pencil or pen.

Internet-based HSK 3 Test 
You will be required to sit the listening, reading, writing tests in front of a computer with the questions presented on the screen in an official HSK test center. The computer is connected to Hanban servers that administer the test. You will need to submit your answers through the use of a keyboard and a mouse.

When you sign up for an HSK 3 test, you have to choose whether to take it on paper or a computer.

We generally recommend taking the HSK 3 test on the computer over paper if you have the option (not all HSK test centers have adequate facilities to conduct HSK 3 in the digital format). This is because you don’t have to physically write every character in the writing section, which can be hard for many learners.

That said, the paper-based HSK 3 has its own advantages such as note-taking and section-skipping (read here for a full comparison of the two formats). If you feel more comfortable taking a test with paper and pencil, then we encourage you to do it.

Note that for both formats, you need to go to an official HSK test center. Though the name “internet-based” may suggest it, there is no way you can take the HSK 3 test on your own computer at home.

HSK 3 Test Structure, Content & Timing  

HSK 3 test structure

The HSK 3 test consists of 3 sections: Listening, Reading, and Writing. Each section has its own designated time limit. In total, you need to finish 80 questions.

The internet-based HSK 3 test is 85 minutes in length, while the paper-based HSK 3 test time is 90 minutes. The paper version is slightly longer because you need to transfer your answers from the test paper to the answer sheet in the Listening section.

The following table gives you an overview of HSK 3 timing and the number of questions you’ll have on each section:

Section Internet-based HSK 3 Paper-based HSK 3 Number of Questions
Added Time / 5 min (fill in personal info) /
Listening 35 mins 35 min 40
Added Time 5 mins (break) 5 mins (fill out answer sheet) /
Reading 30 mins 30 mins 30
Writing 15 mins 15 mins 10 (tasks)
Total 85 mins 90 mins 80

(For internet-based HSK 3, there is a mandatory 5-minute break in the middle of the test, between the Listening and Reading sections for you to fill out registration sheet, which is in fact not necessary since it’s filled out automatically on computer.)

Bear in mind that in the internet-based HSK 3 test, each section is time-locked, and you won’t be able to skip to the next section until the designated time has expired.

Now, let’s look at the HSK 3 test content and timing in detail, section by section.

1. Listening Section 

HSK 3 Listening is 35 minutes in length, making it the longest section on HSK 3. This section is made up of four parts: the first one is Choose Matching Picture, the second one is True or False, and the latter two are Multiple Choice. In total, there are 40 questions.  

Part 1. Choose Matching Picture

In the first part, you’ll listen to 10 audio clips, which take the form of dialogues. Each dialogue consists of 2 sentences. You will be presented several pictures on the screen/test paper, and need to select the picture that best matches the content of the dialogue.

Each dialogue is 10-15 seconds long and will be played twice. You have 6 seconds to make your choice before proceeding to the next clip.

Part 2. True or False

In the second part, you’ll listen to 10 monologues. At the end of each monologue, a statement will be read (it’ll also appear on the screen/test paper), and you need to determine whether that statement is true or false based on your understanding of the monologue.  

Each audio clip (monologue + statement) is 15-25 seconds in length and will be played twice. You have 8 seconds to make your judgment before the next clip starts. 

Part 3. Multiple Choice

In the next part, you’ll listen to 10 short dialogues. Each dialogue consists of 2 sentences. At the end of each dialogue, a third person will raise a question (the question won’t appear on the screen/test paper), and you need to select the best answer from the three answer options presented on the screen/test paper.

The length of each audio clip (dialogue + question) is 15-20 seconds and it will be played twice. You will have 12 seconds to make your choice.

Part 4. Multiple Choice

The last part of the HSK 3 Listening Section still takes the form of multiple choice. You’ll listen to 10 longer dialogues, each consisting of 4-5 sentences. Again, a question will be raised at the end of the dialogue (it won’t appear on the screen/test paper).

Each audio clip (dialogue + question) is 20-30 seconds long and will be played twice. You’ll have 12 seconds to make your choice among the three answer options given for each question.

Here’s a chart that summarizes the content and timing info of the HSK 3 Listening section.

Part Audio Clip Type Number of Clips Time/Clip Questions/Clip
Choose Matching Picture Dialogue 10 10-15 secs 1
True or False Monologue 10 15-25 secs 1
Multiple Choice Dialogue 10 15-20 secs 1
Multiple Choice Longer Dialogue 10 20-30 secs 1

2. Reading Section

HSK 3 Reading lasts 30 minutes and contains 30 questions. This section consists of three parts: Pair up Sentences, Fill in the Blanks, and Multiple Choice. Let’s take a look at what each part stands for.

Part 1. Pair up Sentences

In part 1, you’ll encounter 10 dialogues, each consisting of 2 sentences in jumbled order. You need to find the correlation among the sentences, pair them up, and reconstruct the dialogues.

Part 2. Fill in the Blanks

There are 10 items in Part 2. Each item consists of one or two sentences with one word missing. You’ll be given a list of word options and need to select the best word to fill in the blank.

Part 3. Multiple Choice

In this part, you’ll get 10 very short passages, each accompanied by 1 question that asks you a specific question about the content. You need to select the best answer out of the three answer options provided.

Although you are not timed on specific parts of Reading, you should aim to spend around 10 minutes on each part. This gives you 30 minutes to answer all the 30 questions in this section (essentially, a pace of about one minute per question).

Here’s a chart that summarizes the content and timing info of the HSK 3 Reading section.

Part Number of Questions Suggested Pace
Pair up Sentences 10 10 mins
Fill in the Blanks 10 10 mins
Multiple Choice 10 10 mins

3. Writing Section

HSK 3 Writing is just 15 minutes long, making it the shortest section on the HSK 3. This section consists of two parts: Arrange Word Order and Fill in the Blanks. Altogether there are 10 tasks. We’ll explain what they mean below.

Part 1. Arrange Word Order

There are 5 tasks in this part. In each task, there are a few words in jumbled order, and you are required to put the words in the correct order to construct a complete sentence.

Part 2. Fill in the Blanks

The second part also contains 5 tasks. Each task comes with one sentence with a character missing. You’ll need to write the appropriate character based on the Pinyin provided to fill in the blank.

Just as Reading, there is no time limit for each part of the Writing section and you are free to divide your time between the two parts. We suggest you spend around 10 minutes on the first part (5 tasks) and 5 minutes on the second part.

Here’s a quick summary of the content and timing info of the HSK 3 Writing section.

Part Number of Tasks Suggested Pace
Arrange Word Order 5 10 mins
Fill in the Blanks 5 5 mins

Unlike the internet-based HSK 3 where each section is time-locked (you cannot skip sections), you are free to divide your time among the three sections in the paper-based HSK 3 test. (Technically, you are not supposed to do so, as the time limit for each section is still mentioned on the test paper, however, the rule is rarely enforced in reality, and no one will stop you if you feel the need to skip around.)

HSK 3 Scoring & Passing Grade

After you take the test, the test papers are then submitted (or mailed back, if paper-based) to Hanban headquarters in Beijing. The test centers that administer the tests do not grade the test papers.

You’ll get three section scores and one total score on your HSK 3 score report. Depending on the total score, you either pass or fail.

Your total score is the overall score you get on the test and is equivalent to the sum of your three section scores for Listening, Reading, and Writing. The maximum score you can get on the HSK 3 test is 300 (100 for each of the three sections). To pass HSK 3, you just need to reach the total passing score (180 out of 300) – that’s all that matters.

How (and When) to Register for the HSK3 Test?

First thing first, to take the HSK 3 test, you need to pick a test date and a test center.

HSK 3 Test Dates (2020)

test dates

The HSK 3 tests 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 3 tests are offered exclusively in the digital format (internet-based). If you are a die-hard paper and pencil fan, plan to take the test on other dates.

The HSK 3 tests are all administered 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, but those based in a country/region that doesn’t offer the computer version must instead take the paper test.

Test Dates Internet-based HSK 3 Paper-based HSK 3
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
Jul 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

HSK 3 Test Centers

Finding an HSK test center might be easier than you thought, given the popularity of the test. There are over 300 test centers in China alone, and nearly 1,000 outside of China. We’ve pulled a list of worldwide HSK test centers on our website. 

Now, choosing an HSK test center is actually not as simple as picking the one closest to you. You can be more strategic in your choice. We’ve come up with a few tips here to help you decide which center you should go to ace the test.

Also, take note that not all test centers administer the HSK 3 test on every test date throughout the year. How often your test center gives the HSK 3 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 3 test in November, make sure your test center will be administering it in that month.

HSK 3 Test Fee

In 2020, the test fee for taking the HSK 3 test in China is 350 CNY (≈ 50 USD). The price is the same for the internet-based HSK and the paper-based HSK.

Tests Price in CNY
HSK 1 150
HSK 2 250
HSK 3 350
HSK 4 450
HSK 5 550
HSK 6 650

The price for HSK 3 outside of China is converted into local currency and will vary depending on your location. Some test centers may charge an additional administration fee or postage fee on top of the test fee. Check out your test center’s website and you’ll know exactly how much the HSK 3 test costs in your region.

How to Register for HSK 3 Online

HSK 3 registration

Once you’ve made up your mind when and where to take the HSK 3 test, you can get registered online.

Here’s a quick tutorial.

1. Open HSK website

Go to the official HSK test website www.chinesetest.cn. Select the language option on the top right bar.

Make sure you use Internet Explorer or Firefox browsers to access this website (not Google Chrome), otherwise it won’t function well.

2. Create a User Account

Click on the “New User” button to create an account. Fill in your personal information such as email address, nationality, native language, date of birth, etc. Keep a note of your user name (email) and password before you submit.

3. Register HSK 3

On the next page, select HSK Level 3, a test format (paper-based or internet-based), and pick a date and a center for your test. Bear in mind that some test centers only offer HSK 3 in one of two test formats, so check with them beforehand to make sure they’ll have this option for you. After submitting, you’ll be directed to the next page for confirmation.

4. Upload Your Photo

Press “Next Step” and you’ll see a page requesting you to upload your photo. The photo has to be a recent, standard, 2-inch ID photo in white background and JPG format (maximum size 100KB). This is important because if you fail to upload a photo that meets the criteria, you won’t be allowed to enter the examination room to take the test.

5. Confirm Again

Verify the information you filled in once again, and click on “Confirm and Submit”.

6. Pay Test Fee

You’ll be taken to the payment page. If the test center offers online payment options, simply select a payment method (e.g. Visa, Mastercard, Union Pay), and pay the test fee directly on this page. (All HSK test centers in China offers this option)

If you are located outside of China and your chosen test center does not offer online payment options, you will then need to pay the test fee at that center. In either case, make sure the payment is completed before the registration deadline, otherwise, the registration will be canceled automatically. (Once you’ve paid the test fee, the test cannot be canceled and there won’t be any refund)

7. Check Confirmation Email

You will receive a confirmation email from Hanban 10 days before the test date, if you have successfully registered the test and paid the test fee. If you don’t receive the confirmation, contact Hanban immediately.

Hanban Contact Info
Phone: + 86 (10) 59307668/59307634
Email: kaoshi@chinesetest.cn

8. Print Test Admission Card

You may either log into the HSK website and print your test admission card on the “Personal Center” page or collect it at the test center. On the test date, you must bring and present your test admission card along with a valid ID.

How to Register for HSK 3 Offline

Some test centers do not offer the online registration option, so you must go to the test center to complete registration and payment on-site.

Make sure you have your identification document (e.g. ID card, passport, driving license, residence permit, etc) and two recent, standard, 2-inch ID photos (in white background) with you when heading over to the test center. Fill in the registration form and pay the test fee on-site. (The requirement and test fee might vary from center to center, it’s a good idea to check with them in advance)

If there’s no HSK test center near you, you can register by courier. You will need to send a copy of your ID to the center, your resume including your Chinese and English names, nationality, sex, postal address, and two 2-inch ID photos. You also need to remit the necessary expenses to the center by cash order. Shortly after the center processes your application for registration, it’ll issue you the HSK test admission card.

Registration Dates and Deadlines

The registration deadlines for the internet-based HSK 3 tests are 10 days before their respective test dates, while for the paper-based HSK 3, you must register 4 weeks or more in advance.  

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

Once you decide on your test date, it’s always better to register early than late, because test centers all have limited seating. Registration will always be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis until capacity is reached. Besides, if you experience technical glitch registering online at the last minute, Hanban will not be able to make accommodations for you.

HSK 3 Certificate & Score Validity

HSK certificate score validity

When you pass HSK 3, you’ll get an HSK 3 certificate. The HSK 3 certificate has permanent validity. It’s like a diploma. Once you receive it, it becomes your property and is valid forever.

However, the period of validity of the HSK 3 score report, as certification for foreign students to enter a college or university in China, is two years beginning from the date you take the test (though it does not have a point of reference in the real world, as the majority of universities in China require applicants to pass a high-level HSK test such as HSK 5 or HSK 6 for admission to degree programs).

Your HSK 3 test score will be available online at the HSK website two weeks after the test date (or one month if you take the paper-based test). Simply enter your test registration number (as shown on your Test Admission Card), and you can access your score online.

Once it has been over two years since you took HSK 3, your expired scores won’t disappear from the website, and you will still be able to view them online.

That said, the HSK website does not seem very well maintained and could encounter technical hitches at times. It’s always a good idea to keep an offline record of your scores within your reach. (The physical HSK test report 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.)

How to Get Certified for Speaking Skills?

Chinese proficiency spoken test

So far, you should’ve noticed that HSK 3 is a 100% written test. It’s only concerned with your listening, reading and writing skills, and has no speaking section.

Passing the HSK 3 test is one thing, speaking Chinese is another. So, is there a way to assess your Chinese speaking skills and get certified for that?

Luckily, HSK is not the only Chinese proficiency test for you. To certify your proficiency in spoken Chinese, you can take another test called HSKK (Hanyu Shuiping Kouyu Kaoshi, or “Chinese Proficiency Spoken Test”). HSKK is a relatively new test organized by Hanban that specifically assesses learners’ pronunciations, tones, clarity, continuity, variety, and fluency in speech. It’s an objective way to measure your overall speaking ability in real life.

Just as HSK, HSKK is divided into different levels (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced). We recommend that you take HSKK Intermediate as it corresponds to HSK 3 and HSK 4.

You can take HSK 3 and HSKK Intermediate tests together on selected test dates. The HSKK Intermediate is offered 7 times a year and all the test dates overlap with the HSK 3 test dates. The two tests start at a different time of the day (usually HSKK Intermediate in the morning and HSK 3 in the afternoon, or vice versa). Just make sure you register for them at the same test center. (Read here to receive more information on HSKK)

A common misconception is that HSKK is just a part of an HSK test, as the “speaking section”, but that’s not correct. HSK and HSKK are two independent tests that can be taken separately, at any level.

Top Tips for Passing the HSK 3 Test

HSK 3 test tips

HSK 3 is a relatively easy test, but you still need to have some strategies to nail the test. Here are our top 7 tips for passing HSK 3 along with some other key HSK info you need to know.

Tip 1: Memorize HSK 3 Characters

越… 楚… 绩… 附… 

Do you know these characters yet? They’re some of the Chinese characters required for HSK 3.

Right, from HSK 3 onwards, Pinyin will no longer accompany the characters on the test paper. If you’re going to take the HSK 3 test, it’s time to memorize them!

At HSK 3, Hanban expects you to know 600 characters in total to pass the test. Here’s the complete list.

爱 八 爸 杯 本 不 菜 茶 车 吃 打 大 的 点 电 店 都 读 对 多 儿 二 饭 飞 分 高 个 工 国 果 汉 好 号 喝 和 很 后 话 回 会 机 几 家 见 叫 她 姐 今 九 觉 开 看 客 块 来 老 冷 里 了 六 妈 吗 买 么 没 们 米 面 名 明 哪 那 呢 能 你 年 女 朋 七 气 前 钱 请 去 热 人 认 三 商 上 少 生 师 十 什 时 识 视 是 书 谁 水 睡 说 四 岁 他 太 天 听 同 我 五 午 下 先 现 想 小 校 些 写 谢 学 样 一 衣 医 椅 影 友 有 雨 语 院 月 再 在 怎 这 中 钟 住 桌 子 字 昨 作 坐 做 吧 白 百 班 帮 报 比 笔 边 便 表 别 病 步 长 常 场 唱 出 穿 床 次 从 错 但 到 道 得 等 弟 第 懂 动 房 非 告 哥 歌 给 公 共 狗 瓜 贵 过 孩 黑 红 欢 还 火 鸡 间 件 教 近 进 经 就 考 可 课 快 乐 累 离 两 路 卖 慢 忙 猫 每 妹 门 奶 男 您 牛 旁 跑 票 起 汽 千 情 晴 球 然 让 日 肉 色 身 事 试 室 手 司 思 送 诉 虽 所 它 题 体 跳 外 完 玩 晚 往 为 问 洗 笑 新 姓 休 雪 眼 羊 药 要 也 已 以 意 因 阴 泳 游 右 鱼 员 远 运 早 站 找 真 正 知 纸 助 着 走 最 左 阿 啊 安 把 般 搬 板 办 半 包 饱 北 备 被 必 变 宾 冰 才 参 草 层 查 差 超 衬 成 城 迟 除 楚 船 春 词 聪 答 带 单 担 蛋 当 灯 地 典 调 定 东 冬 短 段 朵 饿 而 耳 发 法 方 放 风 夫 服 附 复 该 干 感 刚 根 跟 更 故 顾 刮 怪 关 馆 惯 害 河 候 乎 护 花 化 画 坏 环 换 黄 婚 或 绩 级 极 急 己 记 季 加 检 简 健 讲 角 脚 较 接 街 节 结 解 介 界 借 斤 京 睛 净 境 静 久 酒 旧 居 句 据 决 卡 康 渴 刻 空 口 哭 裤 筷 蓝 篮 礼 李 理 力 历 脸 练 亮 辆 聊 料 邻 留 楼 旅 绿 马 满 冒 帽 末 目 拿 南 难 脑 鸟 努 爬 怕 盘 胖 皮 片 漂 平 妻 期 其 奇 骑 且 轻 清 秋 求 趣 容 如 赛 伞 扫 山 衫 烧 绍 声 实 史 始 世 市 瘦 叔 舒 束 树 数 刷 双 算 特 疼 梯 踢 提 甜 条 铁 头 突 图 腿 万 网 忘 望 位 喂 文 闻 舞 务 物 西 希 息 习 喜 戏 系 夏 鲜 相 香 箱 响 向 像 鞋 心 信 兴 星 行 熊 须 需 选 牙 颜 阳 爷 业 宜 议 易 音 银 饮 应 迎 用 邮 又 于 育 遇 元 园 愿 越 澡 择 张 丈 照 者 直 只 终 种 重 周 主 注 准 自 总 租 足 嘴

It’s a good idea to knock out the 600 Chinese characters at an early stage, even though it’s not a requisite for reaching conversational fluency in Chinese. Characters help you memorize vocabulary better, read with ease (making learning through native resources easier), and have a deeper understanding of how the Chinese language works. 

Tip 2: Study HSK 3 vocabulary

Vocabulary is essential to any language test. It is arguably the most important thing to study and understand.

According to Hanban, to pass HSK 3, you need to know 600 vocabulary words (see the vocabulary list here). These words can change slightly between tests, but you can generally expect to see the words from this vocabulary list on any given HSK 3 test.

Just note that the HSK 3 vocabulary list is not meant to be “the most common 600 Chinese words” by frequency, instead, it’s a list crafted specifically for passing the HSK 3 test. 

For example, the most common word for “restaurant” in Chinese – 餐厅 (cāntīng) did not make it to the HSK 3 vocabulary list. Oddly, you will be quizzed on 饭馆 (fànguǎn), a less commonly used word that refers to small, traditional Chinese restaurants (where rice is served) on the HSK 3 test, so you still have to learn it.

How to Memorize Chinese Characters and Words?

how to memorize Chinese characters words

Okay, so now you’ve seen the HSK 3 character list and vocabulary list and know what you should study. But what’s the best way to memorize them?

The best way to remember HSK 3 characters and words is to use flashcards and create a maximum number of “exposures” to the new vocabulary in real life. Essentially, you’ll want to surround yourself with the new vocabulary, allowing them to naturally move from short-term memory into long-term memory.

Flashcards are a powerful way to review Chinese characters and words. You could do it old school and make actual, physical flashcards. Simply browse the lists and write down the unfamiliar characters and words on one side, and the English definition on the other. The objective is to force yourself to see and write the words for yourself, giving you more exposure.

If you are constrained by time, then make use of flashcards apps such as Anki or Memrise. You can use them on desktop as well as on a cell phone, so you can review the new words while commuting to school or work. These apps also make use of spaced repetition – a clever algorithm that only shows you the flashcards that you’re about to forget.

Now, to pass HSK 3, you need to do more than flipping flashcards, you have to get more exposure to accurately and convincingly be able to use these words.

The best strategy is to get out there and speak! Force yourself to use these new words with native Chinese speakers near where you live or online. The way native speakers respond to your shaky, early uses of new vocabulary will reinforce the meaning and usage of these words like nothing else.

If you can’t find anyone to practice with you, look up the words in a dictionary app such as Pleco and read the example sentences. These sentences will provide numerous more exposures to the words in context. You can even use Google or Baidu to identify how these Chinese words are actually used, a method that’s surprisingly effective. 

Bottom line: it’s important to not simply memorize Chinese characters and words from a list. Learn how they are used in context, and they will more easily stick in your long-term memory.

And practice every day! Rinse and repeat until the test!

Tip 3: Master HSK 3 Grammar

Grammar is the glue that holds the pieces of language together. In the HSK 3 test, you will be quizzed extensively on your knowledge of Chinese grammar.

To pass HSK 3, you should know about 80 basic grammar structures and sentence patterns. For example,

The best resource for studying HSK 3 grammar is ImproveMandarin Grammar Channel. It’s a great reference resource you can go to for a quick recap/overview of grammatical structures required for the HSK 3 test.

Tip 4: Take FullLength Mock Tests

To get a better idea of your current level and know how much you’ll need to study for the HSK 3 test, it’ll be smart to take some mock tests. That way, you can see where your current areas of strength and weakness are and see how the test works before you take the official HSK 3 test.

And when you take the mock tests, make sure you take them in full length. This allows you to get used to the HSK 3 test time and steadily build up stamina for test day. (The HSK 3 test takes nearly two hours with 20-30 minute check-in. It’s certainly not a long test, however, if you haven’t taken an intense Chinese test before, you might still find it challenging on the test day) 

You can find HSK 3 mock tests online and offline. There are four ways to get them:

  • Official Website of Hanban: You can download the official HSK 3 mock test in PDF format for free from the website of Hanban, the HSK tests organizer.  
  • ImproveMandarin HSK Channel: We’ve created a few highly helpful HSK 3 mock tests with extremely realistic HSK 3 questions on our website.
  • Official Examination Papers of HSK (Level 3): This book published by People’s Education Press consists of five retired HSK 3 tests and costs 66.00 CNY. You can find it on Amazon, Taobao, and in many foreign language bookstores in China. The name of the book in Chinese is 汉语水平考试真题集HSK三级(2018版).
  • New HSK Mock Tests for Level 3: This book is published by Beijing Language and Culture University Press. It contains 10 HSK 3 mock tests with realistic questions and costs 52.00 CNY. The name of the book in Chinese is 新汉语水平考试模拟试题集HSK三级.

Once you’ve got a mock test and are ready to take it, try to recreate a real testing environment as closely as possible: find a slightly noisy place to take your test in (this is important since the keyboard hit sound can get quite loud in the internet-based test, and in some test centers, paper-based tests and internet-based tests take place in the same testing room), and time yourself using official time limits.

Tip 5: Make a Weekly HSK 3 Study Plan

Look at your daily and weekly schedules and see how many hours a week you can spend studying for HSK 3. Even if your test date isn’t for months, you’ll still want to try to budget at least 3-5 hours of studying Chinese each week

Studying Chinese doesn’t always have to mean textbooks and grammar drills. If you don’t use much Chinese in your daily life, then start incorporating the language into your daily routine bit by bit. 

Watch movies, TV shows, YouTube videos in Chinese, or read Chinese news articles, magazines, blogs, even comic books in Chinese. The character and words required for HSK 3 are used so often you’ll seem them over and over again in the texts you read.

See if you can find someone with whom you can practice speaking Chinese. They are just as important as sitting down and studying grammar and vocabulary.

Learning and retaining a language happens over time, and you can’t really cram for it or just study for one or two hours a week. It’s a good rule of thumb to set aside 40-60 minutes each day for studying Chinese, five days a week – and I highly recommend that you do, because it will help you immensely down the road.

Tip 6: Attend an HSK 3 Preparation Course

HSK 3 preparation course

If you find it challenging to study for the HSK 3 on your own, why not take an HSK 3 preparation course? A good teacher familiar with the HSK 3 test content can save you considerable time and effort. You will learn the exact vocabulary, grammar structures, and sentence patterns you need to put you in great shape going into your HSK 3 test.

Simply visit the website of your local Mandarin school or google “[your city name] + HSK 3 preparation course”. If the school doesn’t have a readily available course, ask them if they can customize a program for you. After all, you’re the customer!

Some HSK 3 preparation programs are noticeably better than others. If you reside in China, here are our top picks.

1. MandarinRocks
Location: Shanghai, Beijing, and online
Cost: 170-210CNY/hour for 1-1 tutoring depending on how many hours you sign up
Link: www.mandarinrocks.com/Shanghai-HSK-preparation-course.asp

One of the oldest, best established Chinese language schools in China. Their HSK Preparation Course has a solid, successful history (95% of the students have passed the HSK exam after the course).

2. LTL School
Location: Shanghai, Beijing, Chengde, Xi’an, Beihai, and online
Cost: 185-260CNY/hour for 1-1 tutoring depending on how many hours you sign up
Link: ltl-school.com/hsk-exam

A well-established Mandarin school with multiple branches. Their HSK classes are taught by experienced teachers who know exactly the tools you need to pass your HSK test.

3. That’s Mandarin
Location: Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, and online
Cost: 168-350CNY/hour for 1-1 tutoring depending on how many hours you sign up
Link: 
www.thatsmandarin.com/hsk-preparation-course/

That’s Mandarin has established a strong reputation in the field of teaching Chinese as a second language. They offer quality face-face HSK preparation courses at their schools and on their online learning platform Mandarin Café.

4. ShanghaiTutors
Location: Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and online
Cost: average 120-180CNY/hour for 1-1 tutoring depending on the tutor, plus a 400CNY one-time service fee.
Link: www.shanghaitutors.com/HSK-lessons-and-HSK-prepartion-lessons

A reliable education platform providing tutor matching service. Some of their tutors are very experienced and skilled in HSK preparation and are happy to work out a personalized solution to help you prepare for the HSK 3 test.

Tip 7: Relax on the Test Day

The HSK 3 is a test but it’s not the be-all and end-all. If you’re relaxed, you will be far more likely to do well, and if you fail, you can always retake the test after more study.

One of the best ways to help yourself relax is to make sure you get plenty of sleep the night before, eat a good breakfast, arrive at the test center at least half an hour before the test and make sure you study enough past papers to let you know what to expect. Being familiar with the structure, content, and timing of the test will help to put you at ease.

Also, drink enough water before and during your test to stay hydrated, so you won’t feel weary and lose your concentration.

Avoid studying long hours the day before the test. Your brain needs a break, so don’t try to cram more information into it when it’s already exhausted. This is not the time to pull an all-nighter!

Instead, take it easy, lay out your clothes for the next day, eat your dinner, pack your bag, take a shower, set a couple of alarms, and head to bed early. A good night’s sleep will give you higher scores on the HSK 3 test!

Frequently Asked Questions

It’s always good to have a certificate with you to demonstrate your Chinese proficiency. HSK 3 is certainly useful, but if you need an academic or professional qualification, then you should aim for a higher HSK level. For example, most of the Chinese universities would require you to pass HSK 5 or HSK 6 before they can accept you into an academic program based on Chinese. You won’t get your application approved if you only reach HSK 3 or HSK 4. That’s how the system works.

Essentially, HSK is useful if you want to define which stage you’re at with Chinese. In a more casual learning environment, or if you’re just learning Chinese because you enjoy it, then HSK levels are just another tool to help with your Chinese learning. 

Sitting an exam requires a lot of study. In preparation for an HSK test, you have to set aside time to study specific materials that might be unrelated to your goal. If your Chinese-learning goal does not align with the HSK scale, then you can skip the test.

HSK Levels don’t fully correspond to CEFR. Though Hanban claims on its website that the HSK levels have a one to one correspondence to the CEFR levels: HSK Level 3 = CEFR B1 (Intermediate), the statement is an overestimate and was refused by CEFR. Based on our research, HSK 3 roughly corresponds to CEFR A2 (Elementary). Read here for our full report on HSK levels.

Any non-native Chinese speakers can take the HSK 3 test. There is no age restriction.

No, you don’t have to pass HSK 2 first to take HSK 3. It’s not required to take the HSK tests in level sequence. You can register for any level that you like.

Hanban only offers HSK tests in simplified Chinese, but you can answer in traditional Chinese in the writing section, if you like.

You can register for the HSK 3 easily on the official HSK test website www.chinesetest.cn (read our guide here). All test centers in China offer online payment options for the test fee. If your selected test center does not offer the online registration option, then you must go to the test center to complete registration and payment on-site, or use a courier service.

Test date change is permitted (one time only) if you make the request 10 days before your registered test. However, you will be charged an extra fee equalling 30% of the test fee, if your request is made between 10 days to 27 days before the test (otherwise, it’s free). Once the deadline (10 days before the test) has passed, test date change will no longer be possible.

No. Once you have registered the HSK 3 test, you won’t be able to request to take the test somewhere else for whatever reasons, and the test fee is non-refundable.

Your HSK 3 test score will be available online at the HSK website two weeks after the test date (or one month if you take the paper-based test). Simply enter your test registration number (as shown on your Test Admission Card), 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)

Yes. You can take the HSK 3 test as many times as you like to, until you are happy with your score. There is no waiting period. The test fee is due each time you register for a retake.

The Bottom Line on HSK 3 Study & Test Preparation

HSK 3 study test preps

Don’t wait days, weeks, or months before you get started on studying for HSK 3. You’re going to start today – right now.

Take the steps we’ve outlined above and knock them out one by one. You’re going to nail the test in no time!

Remember, our website ImproveMandarin.Com is a great reference resource for you to sharpen your HSK and Chinese skills. If you have any questions or hiccups, we’re right here to help you.

Are you ready?