Today I took the HSK 3 exam! Unlike the HSK 1 and HSK 2 tests, which I did on paper, this one I opted to do on the computer. Further below, I talk about the pros/cons of each.
After entering the exam room (at 9:10am, 20 mins before the exam was scheduled to start) I was directed to sit down at the computer that had my name on it. It was a computer lab full of computers and I found one that had a sticker with my ‘ticket number’, login code, name, Chinese name (which was blank for me, as I don’t have one yet) and the level of my HSK exam. I was seated next to others who were taking different levels of the exam, probably to reduce the chance of cheating.
Some people were doing a paper test, so they were sitting at a computer with headphones too. Instead of the HSK app, they just had a media player loaded with the listening section of their test. They also had the exam paper and answer sheet.
The computer had headphones and was running Windows 7, and we were shown how to adjust the volume and activate the pinyin input method. I was directed to use the ticket number and code to log in to the HSK app that was already loaded. The input was really laggy and the app actually crashed, but I was able to open it up again (there was a shortcut on the desktop). It wasn’t laggy after that and I had no further problems with it.
I think it went pretty well – similar to how well I was doing in the later sample exams that I was testing myself with in preparation. Once the exam timer had counted down to 0, I was instructed to leave the exam room, and that was the end of it.
Advantages of computer test
Writing characters faster and more accurately
From HSK level 3 onwards, there is a writing section in the exam. As we all know, writing is one of the hardest parts about the Chinese language, and the computer test lets you type using operating system’s pinyin input method. This is far faster and more accurate than writing by hand, even for those who can write quite well. Admittedly the HSK 3’s writing section is quite small, so this benefit is perhaps not as important as it is in higher levels.
Visual cues to answered questions
After you provide an answer to a question, a pencil icon appears next to the question in the contents pane on the left. This provides a clear visual cue that you’ve answered the question and makes it easy to see if you’ve accidentally missed one.
No need to fill out registration details
Since there is no answer sheet, there was no registration details to fill out. I printed out the registration ticket that was sent to me a few days before the exam and took it along with my ID, but aside from leaving it on my desk during the exam, I didn’t have to fill anything out on the day. It was as easy as logging in with some provided details.
Disadvantages of computer test
This was the worst aspect. During a particular section (e.g. the listening section), you may skip around to other questions in the same section, which is very useful for reading potential answer options ahead of time (e.g. while example questions are being read). This is particularly useful to make up for slowness in reading speed (considering there is no pinyin from HSK 3 onwards). However, it’s not possible to skip into a different section (e.g. the reading section) until the allocated time has expired.
There are 35 minutes allocated for the listening section, 30 minutes for reading and 15 minutes for writing. This also meant I couldn’t skip to the writing section even though I finished the reading section a bit early. After checking my work, I was sitting there doing nothing until the timer expired.
There was also a mandatory 5 minute period after the listening section for filling out the registration sheet, which wasn’t necessary at all (it’s already automatically filled out) although, honestly, I didn’t mind the break as the listening section was very exhausting for me. Had I been tight on time, these enforced delays would have been extremely frustrating.
Tips for HSK 3 exam preparation
For anyone interested, here are the tips I have for anyone else preparing for this exam (starting with the most important).
Learn all the vocabulary
It’s easy to use an SRS tool (e.g. Anki) with a pre-made HSK 3 vocabulary list to ensure you can at least read all (or almost all) of the words in the syllabus for that HSK level. Obviously it takes time, but it would be a bad idea to book the exam before you had the vast majority of the vocab learnt. It is the most important thing.
Practice with sample exams
Taking some sample/past exams is a very efficient way to check your readiness for the exam. Personally I try to make sure I am getting around 90% correct in some sample exams before I am satisfied that I’m ready. Higher levels of HSK might be harder to mark because of expanded writing sections, but for HSK 3 it’s definitely possible to self-mark the whole thing with the provided answers.
Sample exams can be purchased or found online. You’re best off finding the newest publications you can due to the word list change that happened in 2012, as older sample exams (between 2010 to 2011) have some minor vocabulary syllabus differences from 2012 exams onwards.
Ensure that you analyse the questions you answered incorrectly and study up until you understand why.
Practice reading speed
Ensure you do the sample exams with a timer to check that you can get through them in the allotted time. Since there is no more pinyin from this level onwards, reading speed relies entirely on character recognition, which will be slow without practice. Reading speed even affects the listening section, as you need to read all the potential answer options and decide which one is most correct before the next question begins. If you can stuck on a particular option, it can screw up your rhythm for the next few questions.
Use the official HSK textbook
This advice may come too late if you’re doing final preparations but I was fortunate enough to be using the official HSK textbooks in my classes, so it was very focused on the syllabus. In addition to the focussed vocabulary, it also has focussed grammar points and has exercises that mimic the style of questions in the exams.
It may not be the best textbook for learning Chinese in general, but it’s the most efficient for tackling the exams. Even if you find it a bit light on content, you can use it as a trunk and research your own additional resources based on the syllabus it gives you. For example, I would often refer to the Chinese Grammar Wiki to get more info on grammar points that were introduced in the HSK 3 textbook, since I knew I might be examined on them.
Opt for the computer test
If you have the option, the computer test is the way to go. Despite the disadvantages mentioned above, I think the advantages outweigh them.
Best of luck with your preparation!
Update: I received a score of 92% for this exam (listening: 93, reading: 100, writing 83 for a total of 276/300).