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New HSK Levels 2021: No need to panic! What to expect (April 28th Update)

It’s everywhere suddenly in your Chinese learning sphere online. The Chinese Proficiency tests are changing? There’s going to be a new HSK exam instead? And it’s going to become massive and impossible to do? Feeling on the verge of a panic attack like never before? Take a deep breath. The Nincha Team behind Ninchanese is here to help and set a few things straight. It turns out there’s no reason to panic… yet (and possibly, ever).


Fact or rumor? There’s going to be a new HSK test.

Fact: Yes, it’s official. The current HSK system is on its way out. The Chinese language test WILL be changing in the future. BUT: it’s not on its way out quite yet. Not will it be out in 2021. 

The International Chinese language test HSK stands for HSK (汉语水平考试 Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì). It’s the official Chinese language proficiency test. It focuses on checking non-native Chinese learners’ ability to use Chinese to communicate in life, study, and work.

However, before you get all worried: We’re talking about something happening in the future. There’s no new HSK test yet. There’s even very little clear (= official) information available yet on how the HSK will change nor when. The official Centre for Language Education and Cooperation (previously called the Hanban) that organizes HSK testing, ChineseTest.cn, has barely just begun releasing information on this matter. So no need to freak out.

Is this making you feel even more confused? Keep reading to understand why everyone is suddenly talking about a new HSK test and new HSK levels coming out!

Fact or rumor? The new HSK is officially going live on July 1st.

Rumor: July 1st, 2021 is an important date, but not quite for the reason you think.

See, on March 31st, the Chinese MOE (Ministry of Education) announced that it would implement a new Standard for Chinese Proficiency and guidelines for foreigners learning Chinese officially on July 1st, 2021. Here’s the announcement in English on Twitter. That’s what’s going live on July 1st, 2021.

On July 1st, the MOE will implement a new standard for Chinese learning as a foreign language.

Huh? What’s that got to do with the HSK? Hold your horses. We’re getting to it.

263 pages to determine Chinese proficiency

Along with the announcement, they released an extensive pdf called “The Standard for Chinese Proficiency in International Chinese Language Education” (国际中文教育中文水平等级标准 in Chinese – guó jì Zhōng wén jiào yù Zhōng wén shuǐ píng děng jí biāo zhǔn).

This pdf details the new proficiency standards for all those learning Chinese as a foreign language in Chinese. You can read the 263-page long pdf in Chinese here.  From here on out, we’ll refer to this document as “the Standard,” alright?

As you can imagine, once it’s officially implemented on the 1st of July 2021, the document will serve as an important basis for measuring Chinese learners’ language proficiency! The new Standard’s goal, after all, is to guide all Chinese (as a foreign language) learning, teaching, testing, and evaluating. Will this include the HSK tests? You bet.

As a result, it’s confirmed a new HSK test, or at the very least, a revised Chinese Proficiency Test will follow. Just not on July 1st.

Fact or rumor? The new HSK tests will start soon.

Rumor. We’ve established the new HSK (some call HSK 3.0) won’t be released on July 1st. We are also sure the new HSK tests won’t be starting any time soon. Why? for starters, the official HSK site has not announced anything yet. A massive change of this sort is not exactly something you spring on people.

Some say the first new HSK exams will start in November 2021, but that’s been proven to have definitely only been a rumor so far! There’s no ETA yet on a possible release of the new – or revised – HSK 3.0 and no indication of how long this will take. Think about it. New tests and textbooks need to be written; students need to be aware of the tests’ new content, and exam centers need to get ready. Surely they’ll give everyone some headstart!

The Official Twitter Account for the HSK says there won’t be any changes to the HSK this year.Will the new HSK tests really start in 2021? Or will it be in 2022? in 2023? Only time will tell, but our guess is not for 2021.
So, on this matter, stay tuned!

April 28th Update: New HSK tests will definitely not be released before March 2022! Plus, as expected, it’s been confirmed levels HSK 1 – 6 won’t be adjusted any time soon. Certainly not this year.
March 2022 is the official release date for the higher HSK levels.
How do we know? There was an academic symposium on April 20th, 2021 in Beijing to discuss the new standards and timelines.

Also: the Official Twitter Account for the HSK tweeted this:

The HSK Official Twitter accounts confirms many things, including the fact testing on the new HSK won’t start until March 2022

Translation: “A lot of candidates saw the formal implementation fo the new Standards on July 1st, 2021 and think that this is the time for HSK to start to adjust. However, the scientific development of hsk7-9 level based on the standard needs a process. At present, it is planned to take the test in December 2021 and officially launch the test in March 2022. Hsk7-9 will adopt the form of “one paper with three levels”, that is, one test paper, and the level will be determined according to the results.”

What are the take-aways, in a nutshell?

  • The current HSK 1 – 6 tests will not be adjusted in 2021 at all.
  • There’ll a test run of the new Advanced HSK levels ( HSK 7-9)  in December 2021
  • Testing for the higher levels (HSK 7-9) will officially start in March 2022. 

Fact or rumor? There’s going to be an increase in the number of levels. There’ll be HSK levels 1-9 now.

Part fact, part rumor.
Fact: This new Standard establishes nine new levels, divided into 3 tiers (Elementary, Intermediate, and Advanced).  As you know, the existing HSK tests have 6 levels, with level 1 being the most beginner and HSK 6 the most advanced.

The new system proposed in the Chinese Proficiency guidelines follows a different organization than that of the current HSK:
– it is split into 3 levels (tiers): Elementary, Intermediate, and Advanced,
– each level (tier) is again sub-divided into 3 levels, for a total of 9 levels. These 9 levels are sometimes referred to as bands.

Organization of the new 9 levels – will they be used for the HSK?

Tiers
Levels
Characters (汉字)
Words (词汇)
Grammar points (语法)
Elementary Level (初等) Level 1  300  500  48
Level 2  300 (600)  772 (1,272)  81 (129)
Level 3  300 (900)  973 (2,245)  81 (210)
Intermediate Level (中等) Level 4  300 (1,200)  1,000 (3,245)  76 (286)
Level 5  300 (1,500)  1,071 (4,316)  71 (357)
Level 6  300 (1,800)  1,140 (5,446)  67 (424)
Advanced Level (高等) Level 7 – 9 1,200 (3,000) 5,636 (11,092)  148 (572)

 

At each of these levels, learners acquire 300 new characters. That makes, in theory, 2,700 new characters to know in total if you were starting from scratch.  There are also specific vocabulary requirements to know (11092 at the highest level) and grammar points (527 total).

The Standard’s 200+ pdf highlights all the syllables, characters, words, and grammar points required to know. These are detailed by level. If you want to get ahead and consider these the New HSK vocabulary lists in PDF, you definitely can! The complete new HSK vocabulary lists are here. All 263 pages of them!

Fact or rumor? As the official Chinese proficiency test, the new HSK will follow the same level and quantitative requirements as the Standard.

At this stage, still a rumor. Or if you prefer, part fact, part rumor.
A new HSK exam has been expected for a while now. Pretty normal; this new Standard has been in the works for quite some time.

See, the “Standard for Chinese Proficiency in International Chinese Language Education”‘s goal is to offer a better way to evaluate a Chinese learner’s ability to communicate and their Chinese knowledge and skills. They call this the “four-dimensional benchmark.”
In other words, the goal is to be able to pinpoint more accurately a learner’s level.

It’s also what has happened in the past. If you look back, in 2007, the MOE defined new Chinese proficiency standards. These were much like these in 2021. Following that, a new HSK system, with 6 levels – the current Chinese Proficiency Tests (HSK) we all know now – was implemented.
So it’s only logical to expect the same to happen here. In academic minds, the 2007 version of the HSK exam was (already) the new HSK test, called HSK 2.0. Now, 13 years later, we’re moving onto the “new” new HSK exam (2021), which some like to call HSK 3.0.

But does that mean it’ll conform exactly to what is said in the guidelines? It’s too early to tell to what extent its organizers will modify the HSK test.

All The head of the Chinese – International Language Exchange and Cooperation Center of the Ministry of Education has announced that the HSK exam will be optimized and upgraded using the Standard, and its “3 tier, 9 levels” system as reference.

Based on this, there’s a high likelihood that new HSK levels may appear and that these new levels could replace existing HSK levels. However, It’s too early to tell how the HSK tests and levels will change. Nor do we know how closely it’ll follow the Standard. We should know more soon about that, as 2021 continues. So stay tuned 🙂

Fact or rumor? There’s going to be a HSK level 7, a level 8, and a level 9.

Mostly fact (and a little bit rumor).
One of the Standard’s biggest differences is introducing higher levels above the existing advanced HSK 6 level, which was previously considered the highest. The intention is to help advanced learners get even further in their learning, to reach a near-native level.

With the new Standard, there’s also a desire to have a system that reflects the European Language classification better: the Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFR). This may sound barbaric, and perhaps CEFR levels like A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2 will speak more to you.

The HSK was split into 6 different levels, modeled in part to correspond to the 6 levels of the CEFR classification. However, academics argued that the higher HSK levels didn’t quite correspond to the C1 and C2 expectations of the CEFR. In comes the new Standard for Chinese language proficiency.

Based on this, it’s pretty safe to expect there’ll be more levels added to the HSK, yes. Will it go up to HSK level 9 though? There’s reason to doubt that, as we’ll see below.

Fact or Rumor. There’s going to be a hardcore HSK 9 level for super fluent Chinese learners.

Curious about this new rumored level HSK 9? We agree: the new advanced tier in the Standard, with levels 7 through 9, is the most mysterious.

What’s also interesting is that in the Standard, levels 7 to 9 are grouped. They have a shared Chinese Character and word requirement. In this advanced tier, learners will be expected to know an additional 1200 characters and a whopping extra 5636 words.

But that doesn’t mean you need to start getting ready for a level 9 of HSK immediately. For all we know, it won’t even exist as such. A single “advanced” HSK exam might exist instead. Then based on your results, you’d be awarded level 7, 8, or 9.

So, based on information available at the moment, we say rumor. A likely rumor, but still a rumor.

April 28th Update: Our hunch was right! It’s been confirmed that a new single “advanced” HSK exam will be introduced, for the new HSK levels 7-9. The format is called “one paper, three tests” – or as we like to put it – one test, three levels. Advanced HSK learners looking to reach HSK levels 7, 8 or 9 will take the same test. Then depending on their results, they’ll know where they place: Hardcore 7, 8 or 9. All quite impressive!

Also, judging from the Standard document, these new levels will be really quite advanced. They seem reserved for those that plan on needing Chinese professionally, such as:

  • Chinese translators and interpreters.
  • Jobs in International Politics and trade
  • Chinese language educators and linguists,
  • and more!

The expectations in terms of skills and knowledge associated with these levels seem to indicate that. So not for everyone.

But if you already had an HSK 6 level, and were looking for more content to learn, then that’s good news for you, no?

Fact or rumor? I’m going to have to learn over 10 000 words to pass the test now.

Part fact, part rumor. That number does come from somewhere. Where? You guessed it, the Standard.

The document indicates the number of characters, words, and grammar items Chinese learners will be expected to know at the different levels. To give you an idea, Chinese learners will be expected to know 1110 syllables,  3000 Chinese characters, 11092 Chinese words, and 572 grammar items at the highest level (which is near-native).

That being said, that’s at the highest level.
The requirement for the Elementary level (levels 1 – 3) is much lower, understandably. When you finish the Elementary level, the Standard expects you to know 900 Chinese characters (with which you’ll know how to make 2,245 words). At the end of the Intermediate level (level 4-6), you’ll be expected to know 5,446 words and 1800 characters.
Compare that with the number of words a native Chinese person knows. That’s not too bad, is it?

Fact or rumor? There are a zillion new words in the new HSK

If the new HSK tests follow the Standard, then yes, it does seem the list of words has been changed quite a bit. Some words were moved to higher or lower levels, and others were introduced or removed.  We think that’s a good thing, though, as the HSK lists for the current HSK could be a little… puzzling at times.

If you want to get a headstart and see the vocabulary lists in PDF, you definitely can!
The complete new HSK vocabulary lists are here. All 263 pages of them! For a more usable version – if you’re comfortable with Github -, check out this ongoing project by Mike Lowe (the creator of Pleco, a great Chinese dictionary to have on your phone) and others.
Lastly, at this point, it’s still speculation, but this infographic compares the current HSK content with the lists in the Standard.

Fact or rumor? With all these exam changes, the new HSK is going to become super difficult.

Rumor: That’s definitely not the goal of the new Standard, and there’s no reason the HSK tests to become suddenly super hard!
The new Standard was developed primarily to modernize and reflect the rise of Chinese learning worldwide.

More and more learners are learning Chinese, and thanks to that, there are lots of different types of Chinese learners now, from newbies to learners with a more advanced level. So if anything, with the new Standard, you’re shown there’s even more to learn than you previously thought!

New potential types of HSK exercises

New types of exercises may be introduced in the HSK exams since the Standard details the five language skills it considers a Chinese learner should have in Chinese. These are:

  • Chinese listening,
  • Speaking,
  • Reading (the Standard includes requirements in terms of reading speed at each level),
  • Writing (that includes the ability to handwrite some characters – or at least to know how to copy them quickly -),
  • And translation. The translation bit is new, so you can expect this to crop up in future HSK exams.

So, if these are translated into the HSK exams, there are certainly new elements you’ll have to prepare for. Will all this make the HSK tests more difficult? We doubt that. They’ll stay hard. It’s a test one needs to study and prepare for, after all, but it won’t become super difficult to the point of being impossible.

Fact or rumor? My “official” HSK level is going to go down?

Uncertain at this point. What may change is your “official” HSK level in the future. At this point, however, this is only a guess and by no means a fact.
The new HSK system could have 9 levels, where the existing one had 6.  If the revised HSK 3.0 follows that 9 level system, then indeed, your “official” level could go down a bit.

Let’s look at an example by comparing the new level 3 and the current HSK level 3.
According to the document, by the time you finish the new level 3, you’re expected to know a total of 2245 words.
In the current HSK, you need to know a total of 600 words, roughly at the HSK level 3.
If the same system is applied to the HSK exam, yes, that would be quite an increase in the number of words to know at level 3. In fact, in the new system (HSK 3), that would correspond to a new HSK level 2. Quite a change! This is only a theory at this point; we’ll know more soon.

If we follow that logic, one’s “official” proficiency might indeed go down a few levels! But that won’t make you any less good at Chinese, nor the HSK tests more difficult. If anything, it’ll just give learners more content to learn and new goals to work towards.

Fact or rumor? We’re going to have to learn more words at every level? Even at the beginner level, level 1 is going to go from 150 words to 500.

Yes and no. If the new HSK levels follow the Standard’s organization, then yes, it’s a fact that there’ll be more words and more content to learn. Requirements in terms of the number of characters to know overall could increase for HSK takers.

The content distribution could also change, with elementary levels gaining more words. The beginner levels are quite short in the current HSK. However, if you follow the new “Standard” levels, it looks like they won’t be as succinct in the new system. They won’t become tough overnight either, don’t worry!

The learning curve will be more balanced. For instance, you had to know only about 150 words at the current levels HSK 1 & HSK 2. This number then jumped to 2000+ for HSK level 6! In the new system, an equal number of characters is learned at every level. You’ll be required to learn 300 new Chinese characters per level.  The number of Chinese words to know also increases gradually at each level.

So yes, Level 1 might have a steeper threshold from before. The Standard lists the requirements for Level 1 at 300 Chinese Characters and 500 new words. Perhaps this will mean that the new HSK 1 will be a combination of the “old”  HSK 1 + HSK 2. It might take more time to prepare, but that’s all.

Fact or rumor? I might as well cancel my plan to take the HSK 3 test in 2 months.

Rumor. On the contrary, go for it! Whatever level you were going to take, don’t hold off.
It’s too early to tell when and how the Centre for Language Education and Cooperation (previously called the Hanban) will implement new HSK tests. We guess that it’s unlikely it’s any time soon!

Changing the test to turn it into the HSK 3.0 is going to take a while. Several months, and possibly years. First of all, they are still offering test dates for the existing HSK until 2022, if not later. Besides, universities and other structures that require passing a certain level of HSK to enter or apply have not changed their requirements yet. So, all in all, there’s no rush.

So: If you were planning on taking the current HSK test, go for it. You can still follow the existing HSK syllabus and prepare for your test. If that changes, we’ll be sure to let you know. UPDATE: It’s been confirmed nothing will change before, at the earliest, March 2022. So go for it!

Be sure to check out the course content on Ninchanese! There’s everything you need to prepare to take the HSK test on the app:
– content to prepare HSK level 1
a course to prepare HSK level 2
Preparation material for HSK Level 3 preparation material
Content preparation for HSK Level 4 content preparation
Material for HSK Level 5, in two parts
Learning content for HSK Level 6, in two parts (part 2 ongoing)
And detailed Grammar Lessons for each level.

When the new HSK 3.0 comes out, you can decide if you want to take it as well! And who knows, by that time, you might be ready to try a higher level!

What does that mean for Ninchanese? Will you be updating your Chinese learning content?

Ninchanese uses its own in-house curriculum for all your Chinese learning needs. Its 6 main Story worlds are roughly based on HSK levels. This allows you to prepare for the existing HSK tests, and additionally, the HSK levels provide a good conversational basis. However, the 6 main story worlds include many other words more useful to know in daily life. There are also many other worlds on Ninchanese full of themed content to learn, such as the Chinese food world or the Chinese Component course. Add to that the massive Chinese Character Universe, and there’s already plenty to do! You can currently learn over 15,000 words and characters on Ninchanese,

We will, of course, carefully keep checking what the new Standard is all about when it comes to the HSK. Whatever new additional content there is to learn, we will be happy to bring it to you! Our goal is always to bring you useful and relevant content in Mandarin Chinese, and that won’t change!

So there you have it. Everything we know, so far. In conclusion, there’s no need to panic! Yet, maybe, and we’re pretty sure, ever.
In the coming months and probably weeks, we’ll know more. This page will be regularly updated with the latest information to come out on the new HSK (HSK 3.0). So come back to this post regularly to learn more about the new HSK exam (2021 edition)!