Best Resources for HSK Study and Preparation (Insanely Useful)

HSK resources

So you’re planning on taking the HSK test and you’re on the hunt for resources? Well, this article has got you covered, whether you’re just at the very beginning of your HSK preparation journey or pushing through the end.

Given the sheer amount of information out there on the Internet, it can be hard to find resources or tools that are truly useful to tackle the test right away when you’re preparing for a test like the HSK.

That’s why we’ve compiled this ultimate list of the best resources for HSK study and preparation. From the carefully crafted study guide, free mock tests sorted out by level to the prep materials geared specifically towards the listening, reading, and writing tests, these valuable resources will not only get you well acquainted with the HSK test, but also give a tremendous boost to your Chinese skills for you to get a fantastic score on test day.

To make it as easy as possible to find the best HSK resources for you and your unique situation, we’ve divided our list into the following categories:

  • HSK Guide
  • HSK Character Lists
  • HSK Vocabulary Lists
  • HSK Grammar Points
  • HSK Exam Samples & Mock Tests
  • HSK Textbooks
  • HSK Practice and Preparation Books
  • HSK Courses Online
  • HSK Preparation Courses
  • HSK Tutors
  • HSK Learning Communities
  • HSK Listening Resources
  • HSK Reading Resources
  • HSK Writing Resources

So, what are you waiting for? Jump to the HSK resource that best fits your needs, or dip in and out of a couple of categories to unlock your HSK success now!

HSK Study & Test Guide

The first step preparing for the HSK is to understand how the test actually works. Get started with this free, informative resource to help familiarize yourself with the HSK test format, structure, content, and scoring. 

All-in-One HSK Guide for 2021

This massive, in-depth HSK study and preparation guide provides detailed information on HSK ibt (internet-based HSK) and HSK PBT (paper-based HSK), and covers everything you need to know from registering to preparing for the HSK test.

The guide has been updated to match the latest version of the HSK in 2021.

HSK Character Lists

For each HSK level, you will need to learn a specific number of Chinese characters. From the 150 most basic characters used in daily life and necessary for the HSK 1 to the 2,500 characters required for the HSK 6, your list of Chinese characters to learn will increase steadily.

Here’s a glimpse of the number of characters you need to know for each level of the HSK.

  • HSK 1: 150 (optional)
  • HSK 2: 300 (optional)
  • HSK 3: 600
  • HSK 4: 1000
  • HSK 5: 1500
  • HSK 6: 2500

The following resource explains the HSK characters by level and teaches you the most effective way to memorize these characters.

HSK Characters Explained by Level (Updated)

Do you know that Hanban has recently revised the HSK character requirements, and the old description sitting on Wikipedia for years is already out of date?

Check out our new guide to find the updated HSK character list per level for 2021.  

HSK Vocabulary Lists

Possessing a strong vocabulary is vital to passing any language test. But what type of words do you need to learn to pass the HSK with flying colors?

Luckily, we have this great resource for you – we’ve created a specific vocabulary list for each level of the HSK following HSK’s guidelines. The lists are complete with characters, Pinyin, and explanations. Moreover, You’ll learn the most effective way to memorize the HSK vocabulary.

HSK Grammar Points

“Do I need to study grammar for the HSK?” The answer is a resounding “yes!” Even though there is no grammar section on the HSK – and you won’t be tested specifically on grammar rules – you still need to have a good mastery of Chinese grammar to pass the test.

The HSK emphasizes integrative skills and tests your grammar in usage. If you have poor grammar skills, you will receive low scores on the reading and writing tests.

And if you are looking to boost your Chinese grammar, we’d strongly suggest using ImproveMandarin (IM) HSK Channel, which is by far the best resource for studying HSK grammar points.

For All HSK Learners: IM Grammar Channel

Contributed by Chinese language experts, ImproveMandarin HSK Channel is an awesome and completely free resource you can go to for studying Chinese grammatical patterns and structures required for the HSK tests. Reference it whenever you get confused or feel the need to refine your understanding of Chinese grammar.

HSK Exam Samples & HSK Mock Tests

Prepare for success with these authentic, full-length HSK sample tests and mock tests with previously administered Listening, Reading, and Writing questions.

For each level of the HSK, we’ve provided an official sample test complete with test introduction, and ten mock tests with accompanying audio files for the listening section. All answers are provided at the end of the test papers.

Practice Online

Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, these full-length computer-adaptive HSK mock tests will give you the experience of taking the real HSK exam. You’ll practice by using real questions from past HSK exams.

The online tests require no registration or payment. After the test, your answers will be scored automatically.

Practice on Paper

Prefer to take a pencil-and-paper HSK mock test? You can click the links below to download and print out the test papers saved in PDF format. The answer key is attached at the end of the test papers for you to score your test.

Best HSK Textbooks

HSK Standard Course is the best textbook series for HSK study on the market. With these books, you can learn Chinese and prepare for the exams at the same time. Endorsed by Hanban, the books are popular among Confucius Institutes and Chinese schools around the world.

The set of books is divided by HSK levels with one book for each level from 1 to 3 and 2 books for levels from 4 to 6. Besides, for each textbook, there is a workbook for you to do exercises and check your progress.

HSK books

HSK 1 Books

HSK 1 book

Textbook 1 of the HSK Standard Course series includes 15 lessons and covers 150 words and 45 language points required by the HSK 1 test.

Upon finishing this book, you should be able to understand simple conversations from daily life constructed by basic words and phrases.

HSK 2 Books

HSK 2 book

Textbook 2 of the HSK Standard Course series includes 15 lessons and covers 300 words (of level 1 and level 2) and language points required by the HSK 2 test.

Upon finishing this book, you should be able to communicate simply and directly on those daily topics that you are familiar with.

HSK 3 Books

HSK 3 book

Textbook 3 of the HSK Standard Course series includes 20 lessons and covers 600 words (of level 1-3) and language points required by the HSK 3 test.

Upon finishing this book, you should be able to read and understand simple Chinese in daily life, study, work, and travel with ease in China.

HSK 4 Books

HSK 4 book

Textbook 4A and 4B of the HSK Standard Course series include 20 lessons and covers 600 words (of level 4), 100 language points, and 20 confusable groups of phrases required by the HSK 4 test.

Upon finishing these books, you should be able to discuss a relatively wide range of topics and communicate with native speakers fluently in common situations.

HSK 5 Books

HSK 5 book

Textbook 5A and 5B of the HSK Standard Course series include 36 lessons, covering 2,400 words (of level 1-5), and the detailed explanations of 110 language points and 36 confusable groups of phrases required by the HSK 5 test.

Upon finishing these books, you should be able to read Chinese newspapers, magazines, watch films, TVs, and write and deliver a full speech.

HSK 6 Books

HSK 6 book

Textbook 6A and 6B of the HSK Standard Course series include 40 lessons in 10 units, covering 2,600 words (of level 6), and the detailed explanations of 120 language points and 40 confusable groups of phrases required by the HSK 6 test.

Upon finishing these books, you should be able to understand what you read and hear easily, and express yourself smoothly both orally and in written form. 

Best Books for HSK Practice and Preparation

Taking an HSK sample test or simulation test is a smart way to prepare for the test day. We’ve got loads of HSK practice tests online that you can take for free, but if you’re a die-hard pencil and paper fan, go ahead and get yourself a physical book to help you with your HSK preparation. 

We recommend that you use the following HSK practice books as a question bank for content studying. To simulate the actual HSK test experience, take the tests in full length, and time yourself as you take each test section.

HSK exam papers

The 6-volume book series Official Examination Papers of HSK (2018 Edition), published by People’s Education Press, allows you to experience what’s it like to take the real HSK test.  

Each volume consists of five retired HSK tests of a specific level. The listening sections are provided with audio recordings, which can be acquired by scanning the QR codes in the books. Transcripts of the audio are included.

HSK preparation books

The book series HSK Simulation Tests (2nd Edition), published by Beijing Language and Culture University Press, is based on the 2015 edition of Hanban’s HSK test syllabus, with due consideration to experts’ suggestions and analysis of sample questions and question design principles.

The book of each HSK level comprises ten sets of simulation tests, preceded by an introduction to the test of the specific level and the methods of taking the test, and followed by the listening script and answer keys. 

Best Online HSK Courses

No one can learn a language from textbooks alone, not to mention the fact that Chinese is a complicated language. Unless you’ve successfully taught yourself a couple of languages already, it’s best to follow the progression of an existing Chinese course rather than creating your own. 

There is no shortage of capable Chinese courses online designed with different focuses, but if your primary goal is to pass the HSK exam, then taking one of the two online HSK courses listed below could help you tremendously, as the curriculum of these courses is geared specifically towards helping you pass the HSK tests.

Chinesefor.Us

ChineseFor.Us has put in a lot of effort to make this quality HSK course online. The language points are explained clearly, in a simple manner, and with a lot of depth. Although they don’t offer courses for intermediate and advanced HSK levels yet, the beginner lessons (HSK Level 1-3) are excellent.

Chinese Zero to Hero

The online HSK course created by Chinese Zero to Hero is a great option for those looking to add structure into their independent study routine or are preparing for the HSK tests. The course, based on the HSK Standard Course textbook series, covers all HSK levels from 1 to 6. The native Chinese teachers who produced this course made learning so much more enjoyable than just following the textbooks on your own. 

Best HSK Preparation Courses

If you find it daunting to prepare for the HSK on your own, why not take a preparation course specifically designed to get you comfortable with the structure and content of the HSK test?

If you have the budget for it, the HSK preparation courses from the below Mandarin schools will hone your test-taking skills quickly.

MandarinRocks

MandarinRocks is one of the oldest, best established Chinese language schools in China. Their signature HSK Preparation Course boasts an extremely successful history (95% of the students have passed the corresponding HSK test after completion). You can take the course in Shanghai, Beijing, as well as online. 

LTL School

Ltl HSK class

The renowned LTL School has several campuses in China and Singapore. Their HSK classes are taught by experienced teachers who know exactly the tools you need to pass your HSK test. You can also take lessons online from anywhere in the world.

Finding Certified HSK Tutors

Want to enjoy more flexibility with what you learn and how you learn? Private HSK tutoring allows you to learn at your own pace and choose the materials that are best suited to your learning style. Here is your go-to place to find dedicated, one-to-one HSK tutors.

Our Pick for Most Students

ShanghaiTutors is known for its high-quality Mandarin tutoring service (read our review here). They have some well-priced Chinese tutors that excel at HSK preparation and are happy to work out a personalized solution to help you. The HSK tutoring can be arranged on-site in major cities in China as well as online for those living abroad.

Online Communities for HSK Learning

Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced learner aiming for HSK 6, you’ll always find it useful to join an online community of students and HSK test-takers who are facing the same challenges that you are.

The following communities will surely help you. 

Reddit Chinese Language Community

If you have particular questions regarding HSK that you need answered as soon as possible, then Reddit’s Chinese Language Community with 90.2k+ members can be a great help.

This is a community for people studying Chinese – or just interested in the language. You can find interesting links, language learning advice, or questions about the Chinese language and tests. It can also just be reassuring to hear about other test-takers’ experiences – the more familiar you are with the HSK and how it works, the less scary the experience will be!

Chinese Forums

Chinese Forums has a variety of active users and is quite supportive. Here, you’ll find tens of thousands of posts on Chinese learning, and more than 20 sub-forums. Whether you’re interested in improving your speaking, listening, reading, or writing, you’ll find the forum for you.

Most useful is a sub-forum for the HSK exam where users share their learning resources and discuss their test experiences.  You could benefit from their knowledge of the test to help you get a higher score on the exam. 

HSK Listening Resources

Listening questions constitute one-third to half of the scores on an HSK test. To do well on the HSK, you have to practice Chinese listening. A lot.

You probably know this already, but the unfortunate reality is that good HSK listening materials are hard to find given the mountains of materials out there. 

To save you all the research, below, we’ve put together the list of the best listening resources for each HSK level. Take advantage of these resources produced by native speakers to train your ears, so that you’ll get used to the sounds of Chinese during the HSK test.

For HSK 1 and HSK 2:

ChineseClass101 is our most recommended listening resource for HSK 1 and HSK 2 learners. It has 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 for people just getting started learning Chinese, however, if you’re past the elementary level, you might want to look for other resources.

ChineseClass101 is a paid resource. The basic plan starts at $8 per month.

Popup Chinese is another listening resource we recommend to HSK 1 and HSK 2 students. It has quite many enjoyable and high-quality podcast lessons for beginners to elementary learners. You can use your email to create a free account to get instant access to most of its content.

The only downside is that they’ve stopped producing new content since 2015, so the topics covered in the lessons are a bit out of date, but we won’t complain about something that’s free!

For HSK 3 and HSK 4:

ChinesePod is our favorite listening resource for HSK 3 and HSK 4 learners. It has a huge library of several thousand podcasts with difficulty levels ranging from beginners to advanced, and the amount of English used varies by the level.

Each podcast has a central dialogue, much like a textbook lesson, then the hosts will discuss and explain the language, emphasizing important vocabulary, grammar, and cultural nuances. Around the intermediate level, the whole podcast is mainly conducted in Chinese rather than slipping back into English.

The basic plan of ChinesePod costs $14 per month and includes access to all lessons and PDF transcripts. If you don’t want a paid plan, you can sign up for a free account and get access to 100+ free lessons.

For HSK 5 and HSK 6:

Ximalaya is simply the best Chinese listening resource for HSK 5 and HSK 6 learners. It’s a free website where you can listen to millions of podcasts, radios, and audiobooks read by native speakers from all over the Chinese-speaking world, giving you a better feel of how Chinese is spoken in different regions.   

Ximalaya aims at native Chinese speakers, and you’ll find its programs incredibly helpful if you’ve reached an upper-intermediate or advanced level. For lower-intermediate students, we recommend starting with children’s programs.

Ximalaya also offers a free app that works on both Android and iOS systems.

HSK Reading Resources

One of the challenges that you have to tackle when studying or preparing for HSK is finding appropriate reading materials for your level that doesn’t bore you. While textbooks and test papers have their advantages, it’s important to find resources that are actually enjoyable to use.

Luckily, we’ve found the below reading resources in line with HSK requirements. These engaging materials will keep you motivated to follow through, and reinforce your Chinese reading skills through repeated exposure within the limits of your vocabulary.

The Chairman's Bao

Our top pick for an HSK reading resource is The Chairman’s Bao. Used in 250+ of the world’s most prestigious schools and universities, the Chairman’s Bao is a comprehensive news-based online graded reader for people learning written Chinese.

The Chairman’s Bao publishes news articles daily that have been rewritten and simplified for Chinese learners. Each article is graded and categorized by difficulty level, ranging from HSK 1 to HSK 6 +. Even for HSK 1 and HSK 2 learners, they’ve managed to produce some interesting and high-quality content to make learning the basics fun and engaging.

The Chairman’s Bao is available online, for Android and IOS. The plan starts at $6 per month.

Mandarin Companion (for HSK Level 1-3)

Some beginner students in Chinese might find even those HSK 1 news articles in the Chairman’s Bao too challenging. If this happens to be your case, we’d recommend that you start out with Mandarin Companion. They provide a series of easy-to-read Chinese novels (using 150-450 unique characters only) to help beginners get started with reading Chinese.

The current catalog of Mandarin Companion Grade Readers includes 3 levels and 16 books. The books are available in paperback as well as for Kindle.

Bookstores

If you are old school like me and enjoy immersing yourself in physical books, then visit a bookstore!

We’ve compiled a list of the best bookstores in China for you to get Chinese learning materials. There, you’ll find everything from HSK graded readers with Pinyin to the Chinese Nobel laureate’s award-winning novel. Don’t miss out on them if you reside in China or on your next trip to China.

HSK Writing Resources

Compared with HSK listening and reading, the number of HSK writing resources is quite limited. You’ll likely need to use HSK practice tests to get enough samples and materials during your studying.

It’s worth pointing out that practicing writing Chinese by hand is a good way of preparing for the HSK test. Though you don’t have to physically write down the characters in the writing section if you opt to take the HSK iBT (internet-based HSK), you still need to know which character to apply. Constant practicing on handwriting Chinese helps you memorize characters and vocabulary better, and you’ll become more at ease with spontaneous reading and writing during the test.

You can use Skritter, an easy-to-use app to learn new characters and practice writing characters on your mobile devices. All characters are presented in a spaced repetition system complete with Pinyin, explanation, and a variety of practice activities, making it easy for you to memorize what you learn.

Cost: Monthly Subscription $14.99 with discounts for longer periods.

So Which HSK Resources Are Right for You?

Wherever you are on your HSK journey, you now know the resources and tools needed to take you to the next level.

We’ve done the research and explored all the HSK resources (so you don’t have to go from pillar to post searching for them). Now it’s up to you to pick the tools you need and get to work.

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.