This community is for professionals and enthusiasts of our products and services.
Share and discuss the best content and new marketing ideas, build your professional profile and become a better marketer together.


Today I took the HSK5 exam! Here's my postmortem.

Chinese Lover

Today I took the (handwritten) HSK5 exam. This is my postmortem.

The most important point I'd like to mention is that mock/past exam questions are of inconsistent difficulty: some are harder than the exam, and some are easier.

I also encourage others to consider taking the handwritten exam. There are tangible benefits for the listening and reading sections. For the writing section, it's best to keep it very simple, so you're almost always writing simple characters. Personally, I feel the handwritten exam is substantially easier.

My background

About a month and a half ago, I decided to take the HSK5. I enrolled in the next available test, and I've been studying like crazy in the meantime: 8+ hours per day, virtually every day, and three one-on-one classes per week at Mandarin Zone.

When I enrolled, I thought I was a mid/late-HSK6 student, but I'd never taken a HSK test before. Now I'm not so sure about my HSK6 level: preparing for the HSK5 made it clear that, while I "know" maybe 70% of the HSK6 vocabulary, I only barely know these words.

In preparation, I found I commonly made mistakes due to incomplete vocabulary knowledge, e.g.:

  • I thought I "knew" a word, but it had another meaning I was unaware of (like using 确定 or 要求 as verbs), and sometimes this meaning is rare, like 顶着 for balancing something on your head;

  • a word might not have a certain meaning, but its English translation does, e.g. when you want to say "repeated", sometimes its 反复 and sometimes its 不断, or how 反正 means "anyway" but only in specific circumstances;

  • the characters make me think it means something, but it actually means something else, like 光明 does not mean "bright" (in the "ow my eyes" sense), and 梦想 does not mean the "dream" you do at night;

  • I have incomplete knowledge of the distinctions between similar words, like 表达 and 表示;

  • I'm unaware of the appropriate collocations, like 热烈欢迎 (not 热情欢迎) and 热情接待 (not 热烈接待);

  • I had never actually heard the word used verbally in a sentence (despite being able to read it), or the word is used in an unfamiliar way (e.g. 王秘书 is a secretary with the surname Wang).

(Also, sometimes the words on the exam are outside of the HSK, and I've never studied them.)

By the time the exam came around, I had studied so much that I was only getting questions wrong when they were truly hard questions... or if I wrote the wrong letter (A,B,C,D) by accident (which happened more often than I'd care to admit). Actually, I was a bit flustered on today's exam because I hadn't practiced using an exam card previously.

Finding practice questions actually became a significant problem: I just ran out!

My HSK5 preparation materials

These are the main resources I used for preparation:

(1) 汉语水平考试真题集HSK五级2018版, Official Examination Papers of HSK (Level 5). Importantly, I feel like this book accurately reflects the real exam difficulty.

I took all 5 exams under exam conditions. These were my marks (listening; reading; 8 grammar questions); you can compare these marks to my marks from other books:

1: 87% 93% 8/8

2: 89% 78% 6/8

3: 91% 82% 6/8

4: 78% 93% 6/8

5: 89% 91% 8/8

(The remainder of the writing section requires human marking, so I just got my teacher's opinion; it varied considerably.)

(2) Textbook: 新HSK5级应试指南. I read the whole book and did all the exercises. I took one full mock exam from this book, and one listening section (because I bought a dodgy second-hand copy):

1: 71% 64% 7/8

2: 64% x x

Importantly, the questions in this book are much harder than the actual exam:

  • some listening questions require you to perform mental arithmetic (e.g. 女的 will say how she bought something for 4 kuai at an 80% discount, and the question is what is the 原来的 original price);

  • they discuss four people, and ask you for the relationship between two of them (noting you don't get the question until the end);

  • trappy questions, like discussing the airport while at a train station, then asking "where is this taking place?";

  • questions where all four possible answers are mentioned in the recording;

  • many 不正确 questions (which answer is not correct), which didn't even come up on my exam;

  • questions where you need to infer meaning.

(3) Textbook: 标准教程HSK5上 (partial). I only had time to go through a few chapters of this book. I took some of the workbook exercises (note this is a separate book). The questions are also harder than the actual exam. In particular, I found the grammar explanations in the Chinese\ Zero\ to\ Hero\ HSK5\ course\ incredibly\ helpful,\ but\ I\ didn't\ have\ time\ to\ complete\ the\ course\.

The\ workbook\ doesn't\ follow\ the\ exam\ format,\ but\ these\ were\ my\ marks\ from\ the\ first\ 5\ chapters\ \(14\ listening\ Qs;\ 14\ reading\ Qs;\ 3\ grammar\ Qs\):

1:\ 86%\ 93%\ 3/3

2:\ 86%\ 76%\ 1/3

3:\ 86%\ 76%\ 2/3

4:\ 57%\ 71%\ 3/3

5:\ 50%\ 64%\ 3/3

\(4\)\ Hancai\ Chinese\.\ They're\ HSK5\ listening\ sections,\ but\ I\ don't\ know\ where\ they're\ from\.\ Be\ warned:\ these\ are\ significantly\ easier\ than\ the\ actual\ exam\.\ I\ took\ many\ of\ the\ listening\ sections;\ some\ example\ marks:

91%\ \(H51220\),\ 87%\ \(H51221\),\ 87%\ \(H51222\),\ 100%\ \(H51223\),\ 93%\ \(H51224\),\ 96%\ \(H51225\)\.

\(5\)\ HSK5\ vocabulary\.\ I\ printed\ out\ the\ list,\ and\ went\ through\ it\ over\ and\ over\ again\.

For\ each\ word,\ I\ tried\ to\ remember\ how\ to\ construct\ a\ simple\ sentence\ which\ include\ a\ collocation\ \(for\ the\ writing\ part\)\.\ I\ also\ tried\ to\ familiarize\ myself\ with\ the\ less\-common\ meanings\ of\ words,\ which\ often\ arise\ in\ the\ reading\ and\ grammar\ section\.\ \(It\ is\ important\ to\ be\ able\ to\ definitively\ say\ "no,\ this\ word\ does\ not\ have\ this\ meaning"\.\)

\(6\)\ Book:\ HSK汉语水平考试\ \-\ 精选词汇辨析与练习\.\ This\ book\ is\ a\ great\ reference\ for\ distinguishing\ between\ HSK\ synonyms\ \("what's\ the\ difference\ between\ 把握\ and\ 掌握\?"\),\ but\ it's\ hard\ to\ get\.\ I\ think\ it's\ old\ and\ no\ longer\ in\ print\ \(I\ think\ its\ HSK1\.0\)\.

\(7\)\ I\ used\ Skritter\ for\ some\ handwriting\ practice\.

\(8\)\ I\ used\ the\ HSK\ Online\ app\ which\ has\ some\ helpful\ bits,\ but\ I\ didn't\ find\ it\ especially\ useful\.

\(9\)\ I\ took\ the\ 4\ exams\ on\ the\ HSK\-5Online\ Test\ iPhone\ app\.\ It\ only\ marks\ the\ listening\ and\ reading\ sections\.\ My\ marks\ \(listening,\ reading\)\ were:

1:\ 84%\ 89%

2:\ 98%\ 80%

3:\ 91%\ 80%

4:\ 93%\ 64%\ \(I\ forgot\ to\ answer\ 10\ questions\ in\ the\ reading\ section\-\-\-oops\)

I\ felt\ like\ the\ exam\ questions\ on\ this\ app\ were\ somewhat\ easier\ than\ today's\ exam\.

Edit:\ Oh,\ I\ forgot\ I've\ studied\ the\ textbook\ 发展汉语\ 中级听力(I\)\ for\ listening,\ and\ I\ sometimes\ use\ Dong\ Chinese\ which\ can\ now\ be\ restricted\ to\ HSK5\ questions\.

Listening\ section

The\ 45\ questions\ are\ grouped\ as\ follows:\ \(a\)\ 20\ single\ questions;\ \(b\)\ 10\ "select\ the\ correct\ statement"\ questions;\ \(c\)\ 15\ multi\-part\ questions\.

Reading\ ahead\ is\ essential;\ I\ understand\ this\ is\ a\ benefit\ of\ the\ handwritten\ exam\ \(you\ can\ read\ ahead\ at\ will\)\.

The\ multi\-part\ questions\ in\ today's\ exam\ were\ grouped\ as\ \{31,32\}\ \{33,34,35\}\ \{36,37,38\}\ \{39,40,41\}\ \{42,43\}\ \{44,45\},\ matching\ the\ official\ practice\ exams\.\ It\ saves\ time\ to\ know\ this\ in\ advance,\ which\ is\ essential\ when\ you\ need\ to\ read\ ahead\.\ \(The\ first\ group\ has\ 2\ questions\ seemingly\ because\ of\ a\ page\ break\ on\ the\ written\ exam\-\-\-questions\ 21\ through\ 32\ fit\ on\ one\ page\.\)

My\ impression\ is\ that\ there\ were\ practically\ no\ "trick"\ questions\ on\ today's\ exam\.\ I\ don't\ recall\ any\ 不正确\ questions\.

The\ multi\-part\ questions\ are\ hard\ to\ keep\ up\ with:\ they\ speak\ quickly,\ they\ use\ non\-HSK\ vocabulary,\ and\ you\ have\ to\ remember\ a\ lot\ of\ information\.\ Moreover,\ multiple\ questions\ in\ today's\ exam\ were\ uniquely\ phrased,\ and\ specific\ to\ the\ question,\ so\ I\ had\ never\ heard\ those\ specific\ questions\ before\.

I\ recall\ one\ listening\ question\ on\ today's\ exam\ about\ how\ colors\ affect\ emotions,\ and\ I\ had\ encountered\ a\ similar\ question\ previously\ \(I\ forget\ where\)\.\ It\ seems\ like\ they\ re\-use\ topics\.

Reading\ section

Before\ starting\ the\ reading\ section,\ I\ skipped\ ahead\ to\ the\ writing\ section\ and\ completed\ that\ first\.\ Afterwards,\ I\ spent\ a\ full\ hour\ on\ this\ section\ \(not\ 45\ minutes\)\.\ Thus,\ at\ my\ reading\ speed,\ I\ had\ time\ to\ carefully\ read\ everything\.

This\ section\ closely\ matches\ the\ Official\ Examination\ Papers\.\ The\ questions\ seem\ to\ be\ grouped\ as\ \{46,47,48\}\ \{49,50,51,52\}\ \{53,54,55,56\}\ \{57,58,59,60\};\ 61\ through\ 70\ are\ individual\ questions;\ \{71,72,73,74\}\ \{75,76,77,78\}\ \{79,80,81,82\}\ \{83,84,85,86\}\ \{87,88,89,90\}\.\ I\ recall\ seeing\ 5\-part\ questions\ in\ textbooks,\ but\ I\ don't\ recall\ encountering\ them\ in\ official\ materials\.

Here,\ reading\ speed\ is\ key\.\ If\ your\ reading\ speed\ is\ insufficient\ to\ read\ the\ whole\ lot,\ then\ you\ need\ to\ use\ the\ "search\ for\ the\ answer"\ method\.\ On\ some\ of\ my\ practice\ exams,\ I\ recall\ a\ bunch\ of\ questions\ that\ required\ you\ to\ understand\ the\ underlying\ meaning\ \(i\.e\.,\ you\ can't\ search\ for\ the\ answer\),\ but\ I\ feel\ like\ this\ wasn't\ really\ necessary\ on\ today's\ exam\-\-\-it\ seemed\ fairly\ searchable\.\ Maybe\ this\ method\ works\ too,\ but\ I\ trained\ for\ the\ "read\ everything"\ approach\ because\ I\ feel\ like\ it\ will\ be\ useful\ outside\ of\ the\ exam\.

Another\ advantage\ to\ the\ handwritten\ exam\ is\ being\ able\ to\ underline\ words\ you\ think\ might\ be\ important\ in\ answering\ the\ questions\.

Writing\ section

After\ the\ listening\ section,\ I\ skipped\ to\ this\ section\ and\ completed\ it\ first\.\ I\ can\ do\ this\ section\ quickly:\ it\ takes\ me\ around\ 25\ to\ 30\ minutes\.\ Afterwards,\ I\ know\ how\ much\ time\ I\ have\ for\ the\ reading\ section,\ and\ can\ pace\ my\ reading\ accordingly\.\ \(I'm\ not\ sure\ if\ this\ is\ possible\ on\ the\ computer\ exam\.\)

I\ don't\ find\ the\ "arrange\ these\ sentence\ fragment"\ questions\ \(91\ through\ 98\)\ particularly\ challenging\.\ I'd\ guess\ today\ I\ got\ them\ all\ correct\.\ When\ I've\ make\ a\ mistake\ on\ past\ exams,\ it's\ usually\ because\ of\ unfamiliar\ word\ use\ \(like\ this\ question\ about\ 挑战\),\ or\ because\ I\ used\ a\ less\-common\ grammar\ structure\.\ I\ remember\ on\ one\ question,\ I\ chose\ 临时被取消了\ and\ the\ answer\ was\ 被临时取消了\.

On\ today's\ exam,\ the\ five\ words\ from\ question\ 99\ were\ all\ related\ to\ each\ other\ \(one\ was\ 除夕\),\ which\ made\ it\ substantially\ easier\ to\ write\ the\ 80\-character\ article\.\ For\ some\ practice\ exercises,\ I\ found\ the\ 5\ words\ were\ not\ very\ closely\ related,\ which\ resulted\ in\ an\ awkwardly\ written\ article,\ and\ it\ took\ time\ away\ from\ the\ reading\ section\.\ For\ question\ 100,\ the\ image\ was\ something\ that's\ readily\ discussable\ \(someone\ taking\ an\ online\ class\)\.

The\ general\ advice\ with\ questions\ 99\ and\ 100\ is\ to\ keep\ it\ simple\ and\ avoid\ concrete\ mistakes\.\ I\ followed\ this\ advice,\ and\ almost\ everything\ I\ wrote\ was\ no\ higher\ than\ perhaps\ HSK3\ level\.\ I've\ seen\ examples\ which\ were\ extremely\ simple,\ e\.g\.,\ this\ one\ by\ the\ Confucius\ Institute\ \[see\ around\ 18m40s\]:


Lili\ gives\ her\ new\ boyfriend\ a\ phone\ call;\ they\ met\ last\ month\ in\ the\ library\.\ Lili\ and\ her\ boyfriend\ like\ to\ climb\ mountains,\ so\ they\ plan\ to\ climb\ a\ mountain\ together\ on\ the\ weekend\.\ Lili\ is\ extremely\ happy;\ this\ is\ their\ second\ date;\ she\ is\ very\ excited\.

\(In\ this\ example,\ I\ think\ only\ the\ last\ word\ 期待\ is\ HSK5\+\.\)

It's\ certainly\ possible\ to\ avoid\ grammar\ mistakes\ by\ only\ writing\ extremely\ simple\ sentences,\ but\ I\ don't\ know\ what\ the\ examiners\ would\ actually\ think\ of\ this\ extreme\ level\ of\ simplicity\.

On\ the\ exam\ sheet,\ the\ boxes\ are\ in\ rows\ of\ 15\ \(and\ not\ 20\)\.\ This\ tripped\ me\ up\-\-\-20\-box\ rows\ is\ the\ standard\ in\ notebooks,\ so\ I'm\ a\ bit\ worried\ that\ my\ snippets\ might\ be\ a\ bit\ short\.

I'm\ guessing\ many\ people\ choose\ the\ computer\ exam\ because\ of\ this\ section\.\ However,\ questions\ 91\-98\ just\ require\ copying\ characters\ from\ the\ exam\ paper,\ and\ likewise\ the\ 5\ words\ in\ section\ 99\ that\ you\ need\ to\ handwrite\ are\ written\ on\ the\ exam\ paper\.\ For\ the\ rest,\ we're\ encouraged\ to\ write\ in\ simple,\ grammatical\ language,\ so\ the\ characters\ are\ relatively\ simple\.\ But\ yes,\ you\ lose\ marks\ for\ incorrect\ or\ illegible\ handwriting\.

Anyway,\ I\ hope\ this\ is\ useful\ to\ anyone\ who\ is\ taking\ the\ HSK5\ down\ the\ line\.\ I'll\ have\ to\ wait\ a\ month\ to\ get\ my\ marks\.\ I'm\ not\ sure\ what\ marks\ I'll\ get;\ I'd\ love\ to\ get\ 80%,\ but\ I\ don't\ feel\ my\ listening\ section\ was\ that\ strong\.\ We'll\ see,\ I\ guess\.

Source:\ Reddit