7 Reasons Why You Need to Take the HSK Test

why take HSK

If you’ve read our previous articles on HSK, you’d know what the HSK is and how to study for it. However, you can’t really dive into this proficiency test if you don’t know whether you should take it in the first place. Maybe you’re still wondering why one would go through all the trouble and pain of HSK drills, practice, and tests. And that’s what this article is all about.

We’re going to look at why you should take the HSK (or not) – the advantages and disadvantages of the HSK and the various levels that are worth taking. By the end of the article, you will have a clear picture of the benefits of the HSK as well as if you’re going to sign up for the next test date!

So let’s get started.

What Is HSK?  

First and foremost, we have to look at what HSK actually is. We have a whole article explaining the meaning of HSK already, but let’s have a quick summary of it here regardless.

HSK is the abbreviation for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (汉语水平考试), which means “Mandarin Proficiency Test” in Chinese. It’s a standardized test that measures a non-native speaker’s mastery of the Chinese language. For the time being, HSK is implemented at 6 levels, from Level 1 (the easiest) through Level 6 (the most difficult), although it is now being redesigned to ultimately reach up to Level 9 over the next couple of years (more on the new HSK).

The HSK tests cover listening, reading, and writing. However, they do not cover speaking. So that means they quiz on your general understanding of the language rather than pronunciation (there is a separate test called HSKK for that).

Who Should Take the HSK Test?

who should take the HSK

HSK scores are primarily used by Chinese universities as part of the admissions process for international students. Typically, those who take the HSK test want to attend university or graduate school in China. 

But people can also take the HSK for other purposes. Anyone who wants to test their Mandarin level or needs to demonstrate a mastery of Mandarin can take the HSK. You can take the HSK if you want to:

  • attend a Mandarin-based university program in China
  • get a Chinese scholarship
  • be licensed or certified in a particular field
  • obtain concrete proof of your Mandarin level for employment purposes
  • apply for a work permit in China
  • simply benchmark your progress in Chinese learning

Any non-native Chinese speaker can take the HSK test. There is no age restriction. But, we recommend that students be at least in the 7th grade (or 14 years of age) before attempting to take a high-level HSK test (Level 5 or 6). These tests require you to read some difficult passages and be familiar with some sophisticated vocabulary and most students are not exposed to this type of language before the 7th grade. Younger Chinese learners are recommended to take the YCT (Youth Chinese Test) instead. 

Why Take the HSK Test?

Now that you know briefly what this test is about, if you’re wondering why you should take the HSK, here are the top 7 reasons for you down below!

Reason #1: Be Universally Certified

The HSK test is the most renowned and acknowledged language test that certifies your Chinese language proficiency across the world. It is recognized by all schools and colleges in China. If you’d like to apply to several universities, the HSK test is a great way to keep all your options open without having to take a different language exam for each university.

If you’re wondering how popular the HSK test is, consider this: the HSK tests are conducted eleven times a year in over 150 countries worldwide with an average of about 800,000 candidates annually.

reasons to take HSK

The HSK will be useful not only if you wish to apply to schools, but also if you seek an internship or a work placement where Chinese is used. Getting a high HSK level means demonstrating your linguistic abilities to various actors. Passing the HSK ensures your Chinese level will be recognized in the corporate world. 

Having an HSK certificate also gives you fresh points in China’s points-based visa system, when the Chinese authorities decide whether or not to grant you a work visa or allow you to stay, for instance. In short, if you want to travel, study, or work in China, your HSK results will be your passport to settling in the country.

If you simply want to certify your Chinese level, it is still worthwhile to prefer the HSK to other, less-recognized tests such as Taiwan’s TOCFL. Indeed, more people, in the Chinese-speaking world or not, will be able to understand and interpret your HSK results to evaluate your Chinese level. 

Reason #2: Available Everywhere

The HSK test is available almost anywhere in the world, with testing available in more than 150 countries and territories. (View the full list of countries where the HSK test is available).

You can choose how you want to take the HSK, in either written or computerized form in designated test centers worldwide. Since the pandemic in 2020, you also have the option of taking the test at home over a video call, as long as you meet certain criteria.   

Whichever way, you can follow these simple steps to conveniently register for the HSK and get your results as soon as two weeks after your test (one month for the paper edition) – handy if you’re using the results to apply for a university or job in China.

Reason #3: Study Abroad in China

If you have your heart set on studying in China, preparing well for the HSK test should be one of your top priorities as its an official requirement by most major Chinese schools.  

More students than ever are dreaming of studying in China, be it for an exchange semester, a year, or the totalities of their studies. Joining a university in China is certainly a very fulfilling experience, both academically as well as on a personal level.

If you’re an international student, before a Chinese university accepts you into an academic program, the admissions board needs to know that you can handle the course load of a Mandarin-based program.

Nearly all schools and universities in China use the HSK as a standardized metric for your Chinese skills, meaning your school of choice will most likely require you to take the HSK as part of your application. 

study in China with HSK

School Requirements

To be able to follow a class instructed primarily in Chinese, a fair understanding of the language is needed. Therefore most universities in China require applicants to pass a high-level HSK test such as HSK 5 or HSK 6 for admission to degree programs.

Some schools may determine a minimum cutoff score you must earn on the HSK to be accepted since they have higher academic standards and require students to have a mastery or near-mastery of Chinese.

If you wish to study abroad in China with the HSK, this post lays down the minimum level and score expected by different universities in China, including top universities like Peking and Tsinghua.

That said, not all colleges or universities in China require HSK scores. Some schools will waive the requirement if you meet other criteria. For example, you may not need to take the test if

  • your program is taught in English instead of Mandarin
  • you take their college admission exam instead (Mandarin is tested along with other subjects)
  • you earned a diploma or degree from another Chinese university

If you enroll in a program taught in English, you don’t initially need an HSK certification. However, some schools require you to pass HSK 4 at the end of your studies in order to graduate. Always, always double-check what your school requires before you apply!

Reason # 4: Obtain a Chinese Scholarship

You can also apply for various Chinese scholarships using your HSK test results.

The Chinese government provides an abundance of scholarships, grants, and fellowships to meriting students from different countries to study in Chinese universities, and HSK scores are necessary for several

Depending on your program, you’ll need to meet or exceed a minimum HSK score at a specific level for acceptance. Achieving excellent scores on your HSK test demonstrates your linguistic aptitude and passion for China, and this increases your chance of getting sponsorship.

And it’s not just universities in China that count. The Chinese Ministry of Education, for instance, also awards scholarships to students interested in studying at Confucius Institutes in foreign countries who pass HSK with good scores.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Confucius Institutes, they are China’s state-funded educational programs looking to promote the Chinese language and culture overseas. The Center for Language and Education Cooperation (CLEC) which runs institutes worldwide also designs, administers, and scores the HSK.

Reason #5: Boost Your Career Chances

For professionals, the HSK opens doors to a wide range of job opportunities around the globe and supports career advancement. 

Granted, many companies can assess your Chinese communication skills directly during the job interview, but some Chinese companies and multinationals might have set rules regarding proof of Chinese proficiency. For example, a job description might ask for foreign applicants with “HSK 5 or better”. As such, the HSK can act as a recruitment tool for the employer.

work in China with HSK

Also, an official score in a renowned Chinese test is much more telling than trying to impress with your Chinese skills during an interview, especially in China: it makes it possible to judge candidates on a common, standardized reference. Employers will be able to pinpoint exactly where your level sits.

And the HSK certificate never expires and will always be a good testament to your Chinese proficiency. Saying it at a job interview or mentioning it on your resume/CV will certainly give you an edge over the many other applicants competing for the same job, particularly if Mandarin is needed for the job.

Even employers that don’t require Mandarin proficiency can get a more complete picture of you, knowing your strengths. When faced with two equal candidates for the same position across borders, employers will naturally prefer the candidate who has attested to his/her Chinese level. All of the best career prospects in China are enhanced if you have Chinese skills.

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.

Reason #6: Earn Points for a Work Permit in China

The HSK is also useful when you apply for a work permit in China.

Unless you already own a Chinese Green Card, you’ll need a work permit to legally work in China. China now uses a work permit scoring system through which every foreigner is graded according to their qualifications and skills.

For example, if you have a bachelor’s degree, you can get 10 points in this system whereas you can get 15 points if you hold a master’s degree. To be granted a work permit and visa in China, You need to reach at least 60 points out of 120 for professional workers or 85 points for high-level experts.

Though there are no particular requirements stated by the Chinese authorities regarding Chinese certification (the question of whether or not you need an HSK certificate depends on your particular employer), an HSK certificate will earn you 1 up to 5 points depending on the level you acquired. Definitely a plus if you score low in other areas!

Chinese LevelChina Work Visa Points
Chinese related major5
Former Chinese citizen5
HSK 5 or above5
HSK 44
HSK 33
HSK 22
HSK 11

(View the official China work visa points table here

Reason #7: Improve Your Chinese Quicker

Outside of the academic and professional realm, the HSK does not seem that important on the surface, but it can still be very useful.

For starters, tests are useful study techniques to help you improve quicker. They give you a focal point, a specific goal, something concrete to structure your learning around. Many people take the test as a psychological boost. The different HSK levels help break down Chinese into bite-size pieces so you don’t feel so overwhelmed. Finishing each level serves as motivation in itself to keep going higher.

And when you take the HSK, you have to recall and apply what you have learned. This process greatly improves your chances of remembering information.

Finally, the HSK test report provides an objective assessment of Chinese abilities in the four main language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking (through HSKK), defining which stage you’re at with your Chinese learning precisely. By showing what you need to work on next, it makes your future study sessions more productive.

When Not to Take the HSK

So now that you know the benefits of taking the HSK test, when do you know not to take it? 

Well, HSK is like the SAT in a sense – it’s designed 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. For instance, the reading section in the HSK uses formal, academic language and high-level vocabulary rather than casual or conversational Chinese. 

Don’t get me wrong. These tests are great for teaching you the correct grammar and sentence structure, but if you’re looking to learn Chinese to communicate in speech, then the HSK might not be a useful test for you – It doesn’t test speaking at all (even HSKK only tests speaking indirectly because of the way the test is structured). Even passing HSK 6 doesn’t make you super fluent. It just means you can read the Chinese local newspaper. 

Preparation and practice are time-consuming. Studying for higher levels of the HSK like HSK 5 and HSK 6 can take up a lot of time. And the curriculums of common HSK courses are geared solely toward helping you pass the exam. We heard a lot of people complain that they don’t even use the knowledge they learned other than for the test.

So basically, if your school or workplace says you don’t need a certificate that says you have a level of Chinese ability, or your Chinese-learning goal does not align with the HSK requirements, then you can safely ignore the HSK.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the HSK required for working in China as a foreigner?

No, you don’t need the HSK to be able to work in China. There are lots of options for you to reach this goal. However, the HSK represents a serious plus if you want to work in China. As Mandarin is naturally the main language of communication in China, many employers like to see proof of a high Chinese level in the form of an HSK certificate. This gives them the confidence that you will be able to fulfill all your job requirements. 

Which HSK level should I obtain?

The Chinese level frequently expected by both companies and schools in China is at least HSK 4, which matches the B1 level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). You will need to adjust your goals per what you’re seeking and where you’re applying.

If you’re applying to companies looking for people fluent in Mandarin, only indicate your HSK level on your resume if you’ve obtained Level 5 or above. These are levels you would need for a job in China that requires you to converse and communicate in Mandarin. HSK 2 and HSK 3 can probably land you jobs with a Chinese company outside of China, though. 

Your Next Step

next step HSK Chinese learning

Maybe you’ve discovered that you’ll have to take the HSK to get into your dream school or company. If that’s the case, then a little planning will help see you through.

If you’ve just started to learn Chinese, all the things you have to do might be seeming a little daunting right now, especially if you need to take the HSK. But don’t worry, thousands of people like you have gone through the same process, and soon you’ll be ready for your China adventure – especially if you use a little help from us!

ImproveMandarin is one of the world’s largest sites dedicated to learning Chinese. We aim to provide you with the most trustworthy advice and practical knowledge and empower you to dramatically improve your Mandarin and test performance.

Here are some essential guides to help you get started:

Pro tip: if you’re seeking a structured study approach that yields guaranteed test results, invest in an HSK course! We’ve reviewed every HSK course out there on the internet. Some are fantastic while others are junk. Here are the best online HSK courses you can enroll in immediately in 2024.

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