The HSK is the Chinese version of TOEFL (or if you don’t know TOEFL, it’s a test of English for non native speakers), and it basically tests how good you are at Chinese at six levels from one (the easiest) through six (the most difficult). At each level, you either pass or don’t pass – it’s that simple.
If you’re wondering how popular the test is, whether it’s a huge deal or just some hidden proficiency test under the rock (yes, I do love rock analogies), consider this – this test has been going on for 30 years now (as of 2014), and it’s been taken over 100 million times around the world over 120 countries.
Talk about a popularity contest.
Reason #1: If you’re thinking about expanding to the Chinese market for persona, professional or business reasons, the HSK is definitely something for you.
Who is the HSK Test for?
Okay, now we’ve gotten a basic idea of the test, I want to detail a little more about who the HSK Test is designed for.
Generally, there are two main groups of people taking the HSK (though the first group represents the majority of these groups by an overwhelming margin): students, and professionals.
We can further divide these into finer categories too.
For students, there are usually Chinese ethnic minorities students (like from XinJiang), and because their mother tongues might be a Chinese dialect, and not Putonghua (the official Chinese language), they have to demonstrate that their Chinese is actually up to standard.
The other category of students, of course, is foreign students. These are students who, either by real admission (they really grew up overseas and don’t have Chinese as their native language), or by circumstantial admission (they might’ve grown up overseas, but are 华侨, which means overseas citizens of Chinese ethnicity) need to take the test to demonstrate their Chinese proficiency.
Students taking the HSK do so most commonly for one reason: to get into a Chinese university. Most Chinese universities usually provide a “foreigner’s exam” (留学生高考, as it’s coined by local Chinese students) as a college admission test, and part of the requirement is that foreign students are required to either have a HSK Level 5 or 6.
For professionals, these are usually people who’re really driven to prove their Chinese proficiency. As you can probably guess, they only have one objective: to use the certificate as certification for potential employers. And for that to work, it’s pretty common to aim only for the highest levels: Level 5 or 6.