New HSK Test (from March 2022): Changes and Updates You’ve Got to Know about HSK 3.0

new HSK

So you were in the middle of preparing for the HSK test, all of a sudden someone informed you that the HSK is about to get a complete revamp…thus you went from pillar to post searching for news on the new HSK, yet the discrepant information out there left you even more confused…well, congratulations on finding ImproveMandarin – we’ve taken a good hard look at the proposed new HSK (officially to be launched in 2022) and we’ve got you covered! In this guide, you’ll learn all the important changes and updates revolving around the HSK in 2021, 2022, and beyond

By the end of this post, you’ll have a clear idea of:

  • when the new HSK is coming out exactly
  • what changes will be made to the current HSK
  • whether the new HSK will be harder or not
  • what the HSK test will be like in 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024, and 2025
  • whether you should take the HSK now or wait for the new HSK  
  • how to study and prepare for the new HSK

New HSK in a Nutshell

Before we reveal all the secrets, here’s what you should know about the new HSK in a nutshell:

1. A single advanced HSK test for levels 7-9 will be added to the current 6-level HSK structure based on the new Chinese Proficiency Standards, forming a “Three Stages and Nine Levels” test grading system. However, the current HSK system will NOT change immediately from July 01, 2021 (as some sources mistakenly claimed)!

2. On April 20, 2021, Chinese Testing International held a press conference in Beijing in which they announced the official release date for the HSK level 7-9 test to be set for March 2022. The Hanban-funded organization which designs and administers the HSK tests also announced that the current HSK level 1-6 will NOT be adjusted in the near future.

3. The test format, test content, required vocabulary, score validity time will remain unchanged for HSK Level 1-6. There is NO such thing as “new HSK word list”.

In this guide, we go in-depth into the fine differences between the new and current HSK tests.

First, some background information about the HSK itself.

What is the HSK?

HSK stands for “Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi”, the Pinyin romanization for “汉语水平考试”, 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 Ministry of Education of China that’s also in charge of the Confucius Institutes worldwide.

HSK is primarily used by Chinese universities as part of the admissions process for international students, but anyone who wants to assess their Chinese proficiency or needs to certify their mastery of Chinese can take the test.

Old HSK and Current HSK: A Brief History

The HSK test was initially created in 1990 as a way to measure the ability of China’s 55 minority ethnic groups (e.g. Tibetan, Uyghur) in using Chinese in their academic and day-to-day lives (yes, they too learn Chinese as a second language).

China ethnic groups

In 1995, HSK became an international test for students hoping to attend universities in China. Looking at a student’s HSK reports helped admission officers decide if that student had a high enough level of Chinese to handle the course load at their school.

The HSK has gone through two periods since its creation: old and current.

Old HSK (HSK 1.0)

The original HSK, used from 1990 to 2009, consisted of three sub-tests: HSK Basic, HSK Elementary-Intermediate, and HSK Advanced.

The old HSK tests mainly aimed towards Asian students. A scoring system from level 1 to level 11 was used, with level 11 being nearly impossible to pass without an Asian language background. The test was often criticized by western learners for being impractical and using too many obscure historical and cultural references.

Current HSK (HSK 2.0)

In late 2009, the HSK underwent huge revisions to conform to the Chinese Proficiency Standards released in 2007: new test patterns were introduced, vocabulary requirement was substantially lowered, grading system was re-designed, and writing started to have a much heavier weighting. The test was released as the “HSK 2.0” in 2010, which is the version of the exam still being used today.

In the current HSK system, the test taker’s mastery of Chinese is measured through six levels (six independent tests), from HSK 1 (basic) to HSK 6 (advanced).

HSK 2.0 gained great success for its lowered requirements and gentle learning curve. According to the test organizer, in 2019 alone, over 800,000 people took the HSK test from 1229 testing centers across the globe.

What Is the Chinese Proficiency Standards?

Unlike HSK, Chinese Proficiency Standards is not a language test or certification itself, but rather an assessment frame within which all Chinese language curriculums and tests function when pinpointing the courses or test scores to corresponding proficiency levels.  

The Chinese Proficiency Standards used before July 2021 were established by Hanban back in 2007. It comprised 5 proficiency levels from level 1 (basic ) to level 5 (advanced). The standards were further outlined in the book ‘Chinese Language Proficiency Scales for Speakers of Other Languages’ (国际汉语能力标准).

Chinese Language Proficiency Scales for Speakers of Other Languages

“Why is the Chinese Proficiency Standards important?”, you ask.

Well, knowing Chinese Proficiency Standards gives you a baseline for understanding the HSK. The below chart shows the correspondence between the Chinese Proficiency Standards (before July 2021) and HSK levels.

Chinese Proficiency StandardsHSK Levels
Level 5HSK 6
HSK 5
Level 4HSK 4
Level 3HSK 3
Level 2HSK 2
Level 1HSK 1

Since the Chinese Proficiency Standards were not created solely for the HSK test (it’s the basis for all Chinese language education and testing), its proficiency scales do not have a one-to-one equivalency to HSK levels.

New HSK 3.0: What’s Happening?

Is there is a new HSK test coming out?

Yes, in March 2022 – it’s official. Here’s what’s been happening to HSK:

In May 2020, Chinese Testing International – the HSK test administer – announced via Twitter that the Chinese Proficiency Standards will usher in a new change and the HSK test is about to be reformed

Furthermore, they posted a chart showing this change (named “a hybrid paradigm of “Three Stages and Nine Levels”) they’ll bring to the Chinese Proficiency Standards. (We paste the chart below)

new HSK anouncement

 

Here’s the English translation in case you can’t read it in Chinese.  

Chart 1: New Paradigm of Three Stages and Nine Levels
Advanced LevelsLevel 9Note: Within levels 7-9, there will be no specific quantitative indicators for each level, and they will be integrated.
Level 8
Level 7
Intermediate LevelsLevel 6Note: Within levels 1-6, a set of quantitative indicators including the number of syllables, characters, words, grammar points, etc, will be applied to each level. The standards for each level are relatively independent.
Level 5
Level 4
Elementary LevelsLevel 3
Level 2
Level 1

And almost a year later in April 2021, Chinese Testing International revealed on Wechat – China’s most popular social media service that the new Chinese Proficiency Standards are ready to be implemented from July 01, 2021, and accordingly, the HSK will adopt the “Three Stages and Nine Levels” test grading system from 2022.

To sum up: the Chinese Proficiency Standards are changing, and the HSK will need to follow suit.

What’s “Three Stages and Nine Levels” Exactly?

As you can see from the chart above, the new Chinese Proficiency Standards has ditched the former 5-level scale and incorporated a brand new 3-stage-9-level scale, aiming to describe learners’ Chinese abilities more accurately.

In this new system, levels 1-3 are categorized into the elementary stage, levels 4-6 are categorized into the intermediate stage and levels 7-9 are categorized into the advanced stage.

But here comes the question. What do you need to know to reach each of the stages and levels in the new proficiency standards?

Through the link given in the tweet, we found the exact information on the “quantitative indicators for each level” mentioned in the first chart.

Three Stages and Nine Levels

Here’s the English interpretation.

Chart 2: Overview of Quantitative Indicators (Set) for Three Stages and Nine Levels
SyllablesCharactersWordsGrammar
AdvancedLeve 7-9+202/11001200/3000+5636/11092+148/572
IntermediateLevel 6+86/908+300/1800+1140/5456+67/424
Level 5+98/822+300/1500+1071/4316+71/357
Level 4+116/724+300/1200+1000/3245+76/286
ElementaryLevel 3+140/608+300/900+973/2245+81/210
Level 2+199/468+300/600+772/1272+81/129
Level 126930050048
Total1100300011092572

As you can see, a set of four quantitative indicators are applied to each level. The bar raises as your level progresses.

For instance, if you want to get to Level 6 of the Intermediate Stage, you’ll need to learn 908 syllables, 1,800 characters, 5,456 words, and 424 grammar points. If you want to reach Level 9 of the Advanced Stage, then you’ll have to master all 1,100 syllables, 3,000 characters, 11092 words, and 572 grammar points.

Why is HSK Changing?

I know what you’re thinking: the current HSK seems to be working pretty well, so why does it have to change all over again?

Well, part of the reason is that the HSK needs to line up with the newly-implemented Chinese Proficiency Standards, but the fundamental reason is that the current HSK levels don’t conform to any of the international standards, and they do not accurately reflect the levels of fluency that they were purported to correspond with.

HSK vs CEFR

Hanban has long been claiming that the current HSK levels have a one to one equivalency to the CEFR levels (established by the Council of Europe, CEFR is the world’s most influential standard for describing language ability): HSK’s level 1-6 to CEFR’s A1 (beginner)-C2 (proficient), but this proved to be a huge overestimate, and the statement was refused by CEFR on multiple occasions.

Basically, if you’re at level 5 on the CEFR scale, you should be already proficient in the language and will have few issues using it. But the content tested in HSK Level 5 is intermediate at most – for starters, it only contained a vocabulary of 2,500 words.

Take HSK Level 6 for another example, the vocabulary requirement for HSK 6 is 5000 words. But we can all agree that this is an extremely low estimate of the vocabulary needed to be considered at a “near-native” level.

We’ve written a specific article comparing the current HSK levels with CEFR (you can read here). Here’s a quick glimpse of what we’ve come to.

Chinese Proficiency StandardsHSK LevelsEstimated CEFR Level
Level 5HSK 6C1- (upper-intermediate)
HSK 5B2- (intermediate)
Level 4HSK 4B1 (low-intermediate)
Level 3HSK 3A2 (elementary)
Level 2HSK 2A1+ (basic)
Level 1HSK 1A1- (newbie)

You can be certain that in the new HSK system, the levels will be rebalanced to better match the CEFR scale and reflect a student’s proficiency, giving the HSK improved weighting and caliber on the international stage.

New HSK Levels: Latest Updates (April 22, 2021)

So, we’ve established the fact that the Chinese Proficiency Standards – the basis for the HSK test – has changed, but what does it mean for the HSK reform? Will the new HSK adopt the same “Three Stages and Nine Levels” paradigm? If so, will it use the same quantitative indicators for each level? More importantly, what will be the new HSK test like in 2022 and beyond?

On April 21, 2021, Chinese Testing International released some additional information via Wechat following the press conference held a day earlier. Here are the latest updates on the new HSK and its levels.

(The following is translated into English from Chinese by Google Translate)

1. The Relationship between “Chinese Proficiency Standards” and HSK Test

The “Chinese Proficiency Standards” is a norm that guides all aspects of international Chinese learning, teaching, testing, and evaluation, rather than an HSK test syllabus.

The “Standards” is instructive and non-mandatory, while the HSK test is instrumental and practical. The “Standards” provides overall guidance for the HSK test, which is mainly reflected in the theories and concepts of the international Chinese education test: 1 – the learner-centered concept; 2 – highlighting Chinese characteristics, emphasizing the four dimensions of Chinese syllables, Chinese characters, vocabulary, and grammar “benchmarks” to fully consolidate the Chinese foundation; 3 – improving the quality of international Chinese education and learners’ Chinese in an all-round way through the use of verbal communication skills, topic task content, language quantitative indicators, and the basic skills of listening, speaking, reading, writing, and translation.

From this point of view, the HSK test will be steadily adjusted under the theories and ideas of the “Standards”, such as increasing the examination of syllables, Chinese characters and grammar, and strengthening the examination of writing proficiency. These are the directions for the adjustment of the HSK test.

2. The Overall Change of HSK Tests

Everyone is very concerned about whether the vocabulary in the “Chinese Proficiency Standards” is within the scope of the HSK test. In fact, the syllable list, Chinese character list, vocabulary list, and grammar level outline in the “Standards” are the development goals of foreign Chinese learners in the above four dimensions. The scope of the HSK test, however, needs to refer to the specific conditions of Chinese education in various countries.

The existing HSK 1-6 level test basically meets the needs of foreign Chinese learners for the elementary and intermediate level tests, but for foreign Chinese learners who come to China to study in the master and doctoral stage, Chinese majors and overseas sinology studies, there is a lack of advanced Chinese Level evaluation tool.

Therefore, HSK will first increase HSK levels 7-9 based on the “Standards”, while maintaining the stability of the existing six levels of examinations, forming a “Three Stages and Nine Levels” test grading system. No adjustment will be made to the current HSK level 1-6 in the near future.

3. When and How HSK Level 7-9 Will Be Tested

Upon learning the new “Chinese Proficiency Standards” will be officially implemented on July 1, 2021, many people mistakenly thought that this is also the time when HSK starts to adjust, but it takes a process to scientifically develop HSK Levels 7-9 based on the “Standards”.

A trial test is currently planned for December 2021, while the examination will be officially launched in March 2022. The HSK level 7-9 test will adopt the format of “one paper three levels”, that is, the same test paper for three levels, and the test taker’s level will be determined according to the score.

4. How Existing HSK level 1-6 Tests Will Change

The scores of candidates participating in HSK 1-6 levels are still valid, and the validity of the certificates already obtained remains unchanged. The textbooks and courses compiled and developed based on HSK 1-6 levels can still be used. In the next 3-5 years, HSK 1-6 levels will be gradually adjusted according to the “Standards” and the actual conditions of Chinese learners in various countries. In general, we will continue to uphold the “learner-centered” philosophy and adhere to the principle of combining examination and teaching, and gradual progress, making appropriate adjustments within the scope specified in the “Standards”.

We also reached out to Hanban (Confucius Institute Headquarters), the Confucius Institute of Barcelona (run by Hanban), and Beijing Language and Culture University Press – publisher of the ‘HSK Standard Course’ textbook series – a while ago when Chinese Testing International first announced the HSK reform in 2020, to inquire how HSK is going to change, whether they’ve made any actual progress on the new HSK, and when the new tests will be released.

Here’s how they responded.

The New Chinese Proficiency Standards, renamed as 'Chinese Proficiency Standards in International Chinese Education' (汉语国际教育汉语水平等级标准) is currently being reviewed. It needs to be approved by the State Language Commission (国家语言文字工作委员会) before it can be officially published. Once it’s published, the new HSK will then be adjusted on the foundation of the current HSK exams to meet the new standards. We’ll keep you posted!

Hanban

The project “Chinese Proficiency Standards in International Chinese Education” is mostly completed. The “new standards” is scheduled to be released in late 2020. It will be based on the paradigm of three levels and nine stages. To this end, Chinese Testing International will expand the HSK levels by developing the advanced HSK test (levels 7-9), with the premise of guaranteeing the stability of HSK levels 1-6. The advanced HSK test is mainly designed for Sinology researchers, scholars and students that specialize in Chinese language and literature, as well as for advanced students of various majors coming to study in China. A single test will be implemented for levels 7-9, and the test score will determine whether level 7, 8, or 9 is obtained. The advanced HSK test (level 7-9) is scheduled to be released in 2021.

The Confucius Institute of Barcelona

The Chinese Proficiency Standards are currently in review. The HSK will change to 9 levels, but the new 9-level system will be away for at least 2 years.

Beijing Language and Culture University Press

By piecing together all the information, we are now able to have a clearer-than-ever picture of the whole new HSK situation, and where the HSK reform is heading.

First, Let’s circle back to the questions we asked earlier and give you the definitive answers here.

Will the new HSK adopt the same “Three Stages and Nine Levels” paradigm?

Yes, it will adopt the same paradigm to align with the 9-level scale to be used in the new Chinese Proficiency Standards. In other words, the new HSK will have 9 levels.

Will the new HSK levels use the same quantitative indicators as those specified in the new Chinese Proficiency Standards?

No, at least not now. A different set of requirements (e.g. number of characters, vocabulary words students must know for each level) could be applied to the new HSK. They could be set lower than the actual Chinese Proficiency Standards to guarantee the stability of existing HSK levels 1-6.  

Now, let’s take a look at when the new HSK is coming out.

HSK Reform Timeline (Presumably)

Phase 1: Drafting New Chinese Proficiency Standards (completed)

A new 3-stage-9-level scale was proposed by Hanban. Quantitative indicators for each level are detailed. New HSK will be based on these new standards.

Phase 2: Reviewing New Chinese Proficiency Standards (completed)

New standards have been reviewed and approved by the State Language Commission of China. Some revisions were made. New Standards are effective from July 01, 2021.

Phase 3: Releasing Advanced HSK Test for Levels 7-9 (March 2022)

A single advanced HSK test for levels 7-9 will be added to the current HSK system in March 2022. Meanwhile, no substantial change will be made to the existing HSK tests (levels 1-6) in at least 2ish years. 

Phase 4: Rolling Out New HSK Level 1-6 Tests (likely in 2024-2026)

The new versions of the HSK Level 1-6 tests are likely to be released in 2024-2026. It would take 1-2 years to completely roll out worldwide. Current HSK Level 1-6 tests could coexist.

Phase 5: Phasing out Current HSK Tests (likely in 2026-2027)

Current HSK tests will be phased out completely by the new system. Until then, old HSK test scores would still be valid for 2 years for applying to Chinese universities.

A point of reference is that it took Hanban three years to roll out the current HSK after the first edition of the Chinese Proficiency Standards was released in 2007, and that transition was made from the “hard” HSK to the “easy” HSK, without much curriculum overhaul and teacher training involved.

New HSK Levels 7-9: What Will Be the Test Like?

One of the biggest issues with the current HSK system is that its highest level – HSK 6 does not actually correspond to the high proficiency level (or “near-native” fluency level) that the test organizer claims.

We’ve talked to many test-takers and Chinese students (read here, here, and here), and they all agreed that there is a big gap between HSK Level 6 and total proficiency in Chinese. In fact, we found HSK 6 only corresponds to a middle school Chinese exam for 6-7th graders in terms of difficulty level.

local middle school Chinese exam
an extract from a middle school Chinese exam for 9th graders in Ningbo, China

To this end, we believe the upcoming HSK levels 7-9 will be much harder than the current HSK 6.

We expect the advanced exam to test the ability to understand longer, more complicated, and abstract materials, such as articles from Chinese textbooks for college students, Chinese novels and magazines, extracts from Chinese news and media, etc. Besides, knowledge of traditional Chinese expressions (e.g. chengyu) and classical Chinese grammatical structures used in modern formal Chinese (e.g. lectures, speeches) could be included and tested as well in HSK 7-9.

New HSK Levels 1-6: Will They Be More Difficult?

Will the HSK difficulty increase? Not necessarily.

A common misconception is that the new HSK will be more difficult because of the higher requirements (for instance, many believe that one has to learn 500 words, instead of the current 150, for the new Level 1 test. And potentially, knowledge of syllables will also be required), but this is just pure speculation that’s never been confirmed by Hanban.

It’s easy to mistaken the new Chinese Proficiency Standards for the new HSK requirements, especially when they’ll both have nine levels, however, these are two very different concepts.  

The quantitative indicators (the number of syllables, character, words, and grammar points) specified in the new Chinese Proficiency Standards are simply overall guidelines for international Chinese education, that is, Chinese teaching, curriculum design, testing in Chinese schools. A different set of requirements could be applied to the new HSK. Though the requirements haven’t been announced officially, we know one thing for sure: just as the current HSK does not test students specifically on grammar, there certainly won’t be any specific syllable test on the new HSK! It’ll remain a 100% written test.

Bottom Line: HSK Levels don’t have to match Chinese Proficiency Standards exactly.

LevelCurrent HSK Proficiency StandardsNew HSK
CharactersWordsCharactersWordsCharactersWords
9//300011092TBDTBD
8//
7//
62,5005,0001,8005,456TBDTBD
51,5002,5001,5004,316TBDTBD
41,0001,2001,2003,245TBDTBD
36006009002,245TBDTBD
2300(optional)3006001,272TBDTBD
1300(optional)150300500TBDTBD

Even if the future requirements turn out to be an exact match to the proposed Chinese Proficiency Standards, the new HSK tests won’t necessarily be harder than the current ones. Take HSK 6 for example, you might only need to learn 1,800 characters in the future, whereas you have to master 2,500 for the test now!

New HSK Test: Should You Be Concerned?

HSK reform

It all boils down to this question: should you be concerned about the new HSK test?

Well, there is absolutely nothing you need to worry about.

On the contrary, you should be glad that the HSK is undergoing reform. In the current system, you would nearly be done at HSK 5 to 6, which is far too insufficient to be considered a proficient level or for studying degree programs based on Chinese. The upcoming HSK 7-9 levels will render a perfect roadmap for you to reach total proficiency.

And if you’re still at the beginning of your Chinese learning journey, take it easy!  The new HSK tests will be a better tool to measure your progress and will reflect your level of fluency more accurately.

And if your Chinese-learning goal does not align with the new HSK scale, or you don’t need an academic or professional qualification, you can always ignore the test. A language certificate should never be seen as an end goal, but rather a check-in.

FAQs about New HSK

New HSK or HSK 3.0 refers to the proposed third version of the Chinese Proficiency Test that’s currently in review. Once the new HSK has fully rolled out, it would replace the current HSK known as HSK 2.0.

The new HSK will have 9 levels: HSK 1, HSK 2, HSK 3, HSK 4, HSK 5, HSK 6, HSK 7, HSK 8, and HSK 9. HSK 1 will be the lowest level in terms of language ability and HSK 9 will be the highest.

According to the announcement made by Chinese Testing International – the HSK test designer and administrator – in April 2021, the new advanced HSK test (for levels 7-9) will be officially released in March 2022, after a trial test is carried out in December 2021. New HSK Level 1-6 tests are likely to come out in 2024-2026, and it would take 1-2 years for them to completely roll out worldwide.

The HSK levels will be expanded from six to nine. A single advanced HSK test will be implemented for levels 7-9, and the test score will determine whether level 7, 8, or 9 is obtained. The advanced HSK test will aim towards Sinology researchers, scholars, students that specialize in Chinese language and literature, and advanced students of various majors coming to study in China.

Besides, the new HSK system might adopt a new set of requirements for each level (e.g. number of characters, words students must know) to line up with the new Chinese Proficiency Standards. A more gradual progression between each level and a closer correlation to the CEFR scale can be expected.

Let’s set the record straight – there is no such thing as “new HSK vocabulary”. The HSK organizer has made it clear that the reference vocabulary for HSK 1-6 will remain unchanged in the near future among other things. Unfortunately, some websites mistakenly crafted their own “vocabulary list” based on their poor interpretation of the message (big mistake!)

The new HSK will remain a 100% written test. No substantial change will be made to the existing HSK tests (levels 1-6) in at least 2ish years to guarantee its stability.

Given that the new 9-level system will be away for at least 2 years, the HSK requirements for Chinese universities are unlikely to change anytime soon.

Unless you’ve already reached the advanced level in Chinese and looking to challenge yourself in an even harder test than the current HSK 6, it’s not worth waiting for the new HSK. In fact, the new HSK tests for Levels 1-6 won’t be released until 2023-2024. Even then, there might be no drastic changes made to the tests, so you might as well take the HSK now.

New HSK: 1-Minute Summary

  • HSK is based on a language scale named Chinese Proficiency Standards.
  • The Chinese Proficiency Standards are now changing. HSK will also have to change to line up.
  • A single advanced HSK test (levels 7-9) will be added to the existing HSK system in March 2022.
  • There will be no change to the current HSK tests (Levels 1-6) in 2021 and 2022. And they are unlikely to change at all in 2023 either.
  • New versions of HSK Levels 1-6 might be released in 2024-2026 and it would take 1-2 years to completely roll out worldwide.
  • Until then, all current HSK results are still valid for 2 years if you intend to use them to apply to Chinese universities.
  • All requirements you can find online for the new HSK (e.g. number of characters, words you must know) are pure speculation. Nothing is official until the test organizer makes it official.

Future Updates

new HSK updates

We’ve put together all the information you need to know so far about the upcoming new HSK in this post to save you all the research.

And we’ll always continue to update this post with the latest information, including new HSK test timing, formats, and learning resources. Make sure you book this page and stay tuned!