This weekend I took both the HSK level 2 exam and the HSKK junior (初级) exam, sometimes also referred to as ‘beginner’ or ‘basic’. The HSK 2 exam was very similar in format to the HSK 1, so have a look at this post to see what an HSK exam is like. Here I will only talk about the HSKK (汉语水平口语考试).
What is the HSKK and how is it different from the HSK?
Unlike the HSK (the listening/reading/writing test), the HSKK (the listening/speaking test) only has three levels: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Typically a student will take the HSKK test around the same time they do the HSK 2 (for beginners), HSK 4 (for intermediates) or HSK 6 (for advanced students), although there are no restrictions on this. As with the HSK, certain employers or universities in China may require a certain HSKK level qualification in order for foreigners to apply for a job or scholarship there.
The first thing to point out is that this listening/oral test is all done on a computer without human interaction. Basically a recording plays and they record everything you say, then send your recording back to HSKK headquarters where it’s marked. It pays to be familiar with what the recording is like, so read on! In terms of how many words you need to know for each level, check out the Wikipedia page on it.
The test has three parts:
- Listen and repeat (15 questions, 4 mins): A short phrase is said (only once) and you have ~10 seconds to repeat it.
- Listen and answer (10 questions, 3 mins): A short question is asked (only once) and you have ~10 seconds to answer it.
- Long answer (2 questions, 7 mins preparation & 3 mins speaking): Two open-ended questions are written on your exam paper. You have 7 minutes to prepare an answer for both and then 90 seconds to answer each of them.
Part 1 tests your listening ability and pronunciation skills. Part 2 also tests your vocabulary and grammar. Part 3 doesn’t test listening (as the questions are written down for you, including pinyin) but really tests your ability to talk about a particular topic at length.
I found this test much harder to prepare for than the HSK. The first thing I did was download the official sample exam. This was a bit hard to find but you can search the official downloads page for ‘HSKK’ to get to the right section. Make sure you download both the PDF and and RAR file (which contains the audio) for the correct level. For “beginner” it’s “HSKK初级真题下载 “.
The PDF also outlines the structure and gives you two sample questions for part 3. The audio will give you an idea about the flow of the exam (e.g. how they introduce each section) as well as sample questions for parts 1 & 2.
I compiled a list of as many HSKK beginner sample questions as I could find and I tried to come up with good answers for them. I would try to come up with a full sentence answer and, if it made sense and there was still time, add a bit of extra info too. I put the short question/answer pairs into my Anki flash card deck to try and memorise them because speed is very important for this. The listening practice from the sample audio was also helpful.
I tried to come up with some answers to some of the long-answer questions too. I then posted my attempt over at lang-8.com where the great community over there would offer up corrections. While I think this was useful, it seems like there’s quite a broad range of things that can be asked here so I probably needed to spend time doing more of these.
Taking the exam
About 30 minutes before my test was scheduled to start, I waited outside my assigned room with my admission ticket (see the HSK 1 post for info about the admission ticket) until they were ready to let us in. I was seated at a specific computer and an admin person came around to check my identity. There were three of us taking the test at the same time, all at the same level.
Just before starting, the person conducting the exam advised us to speak clearly but not too loudly, as this might distract the other examinees. Indeed, we were sitting quite close to each other and it was quite easy to overhear their speech during the silent portions of the audio. This can easily break your focus and cause you to miss part of a question, which happened to me several times.
When it was time to start, we put on our headphones (that had microphones attached) and another person came around to play the CD and start the voice recording software, so there was no need for me to touch the computer at all. Audio from the CD started playing in my headphones almost immediately so it was easy to tell that everything was working. It wasn’t an integrated system, so in this case it was using the Windows default media player to play the CD and the Windows default sound recorder to record my voice.
The audio first announced the start of the exam and then asked for my name, my country of citizenship (na3 guo2 ren2) and my sequence number. I verified with a person beforehand that the number they’re after is the long one at the top of the admission ticket (mine started with an ‘H’ with many digits after). I’m not sure if this was correct though, because I didn’t have enough time to recite the whole number (7 seconds, I think) even though I was prepared for it and spoke very quickly. Hopefully that’s not a problem since the sound file is also saved with my number, I think.
The first section then began: 15 “questions” where I just needed to listen and repeat each sentence. I was surprised how hard this was for me, and being able to hear the other examinees didn’t help either. There were some questions where I didn’t know one or two words, which generally wasn’t a problem, but for some questions I missed most of what was said and couldn’t even give a response. Notably everything in both this and the next section was only said once, not twice like in the HSK 1 & 2 exams.
The second section involved 10 short answer questions like “What’s the weather like today?” or “Who in your family can write Chinese?” I tried to give full sentence answers and if I could think of something else to say that was relevant, I’d add that in too. There was only 10 seconds to reply though. Again, there were some questions here where I didn’t understand and couldn’t give an answer.
The final section had two questions that required longer answers. These were written down on the exam paper (including pinyin). We had 7 minutes to prepare answers for these (so 3.5 minutes per question). The recording then asked for the answer to the first, with 1.5 minutes for me to reply, followed by the same for the second question. There was space on the exam paper to write down notes to help us give these answers, which was a big help. After giving the responses to these last two questions, that was the end of the exam. All up it was about 20 minutes.
How did I go?
I actually thought I’d have little problem with the first two parts and was mainly worried about the last part, but in the end I feel like the last part may have been my best section. That’s not to say I did particularly well in it though. I don’t think my answers for either of these exceeded 30 seconds. It was very challenging for me and highlighted a lot of weakness in my listening and sentence construction speed and ability. For me this is the whole point of taking these tests, so that’s a win!
To address these weaknesses I think I will look into getting a speaking partner. Stay tuned for more on this! I’ll also update this post with my results when I receive them in about a month.
2015-11-20 Update: My results are in! I received full marks for the HSK 2 (i.e. 200/200) and got 69/100 for the HSKK Beginner. The passing mark for the HSKK is 60/100 so I did manage a pass, albeit not a terribly convincing one 😉
Thanks for the detailed write-up, very informative! 👍
Yes thanks indeed for the write-up, and well done with HSK 2. I am also doing the HSKK Beginner tomorrow so I hope I can get through it. It does seem daunting as it’s exactly easy to study for. Tomorrow I am to do the HSK 3 test, and I’ve been getting around 190 to 220 out of 300. The passing grade I believe is 180. I’m finding it quite a leap from HSK 2. Good luck with your studies.
I took the hsk 2 yesterday and am planning on taking the hskk in March so this is really helpful – thank you for sharing your experience of the exam.
thanks for sharing this helpful experience. i will be writing hskk on December by Gods grace.
Thanks alot I am a Liberian.In march I am taking hsk and hskk so this is a great help.
Thanks for all this info Michael! Was a bit of a struggle finding the structure of the speaking test but you’ve covered it all here. I have my HSK 3 and Beginner’s Speaking this Saturday so this post is really useful!
Thanks for sharing your experience. When i was reading i was feeling that i myself is giving this paper.
Thank you so much for this post. I have already given HSK 3 and HSK 4 exams in 2014 and 2015 respectively. I am really grateful to you for this write-up, quite motivating. I’ll be giving my HSKK Beginner in March 2016.
Sampurna do you buy a book? I am searching materials to study but i don’t find. Can you help me with any information? Thank you.
I go to a chinese school here in India. Have been studying here for 2.5 years..we follow New Practical Chinese Reader books1-5..when i was studying half way till book 3 i gave hsk 3..when we were doing book 4.. I gv hsk 4..i got 292/300 in hsk 3 and 245/300 in hsk 4..So i guess those books are good..
Thank you very much for this post I’m taking HSK2, HSK3 and HSKK beginner this sunday, and I’m really worried about tha HSKK but your post gives me hope of passing the exam, you give a relly good advice in what to study and focus, thank you!
How was your hskk exam?
thanks mike… this is really helpfull for real… I was worried on how to do on the exam but am now feeling much better for real!!!
Thanks for your article, it was really helpful, especially the resources you provided us with. I would like to point out though that those of you who plan to go for the HSKK exam should be aware that there exists the possibility only you will be taken to a room and speak in front of two chinese teachers while speaking to a recorder. This is how it was for me and I have to say I was only able to show 35 percent of my potential (I’m not sure though, I am still waiting for the results) since I am a very shy person and I was not prepared to encounter such a situation. When I took Cambridge’s C2 exam I was aware of it months prior to the exam so I could work out on controlling my emotions. To put it simple, people who have a hard time speaking in front of others, be ready for all sorts of situations.
Thanks for sharing this valuable experience! I had no idea the test was sometimes administered this way. Best of luck with your results 🙂
Thanks so much for your advice!
can anyone reccomend any app where you can “listen” without any text and then repeat (and record) phrases in chinese as point 1 of hskk1 exam? my problem right now is that i cannot remember the sentence! i know it´s really short and easy (considering i have hsk4), this is my weak point to so far. Exam is on may 21! thanks and regards from Argentina!
Hi Luciana, I am preparing for HSKK I will be taking it it pretty soon, May 12 2017, did you ever find an app like the one you were looking for? Thank you.
This was very helpful, thank you so much. I plan on taking the HSKK (beginner) on May 21st and you’ve helped me prepare for it. There is literally nothing online to help study for the HSKK.
I have a question regarding the 2 essay questions on the HSKK. When you say complete sentences what do you mean?
I’ll use this sentence as an example: 你喜欢什么运动？为什么？
Do you mean like this: 我最喜欢的运动打篮球是。
Or do mean simple short phrase(sentence) like: 我喜欢玩篮球
When I said ‘full sentence answers’ I meant something that could be understood in a standalone fashion, so not simply “篮球” but “我最喜欢打篮球”. So not necessarily repeating the whole question structure back (although I’m sure this is fine too) but more than just a fragment.
That said, if all you can think of for a particular question is a fragment, it’s better than nothing!
Beware taking advice from someone who just scraped a pass though 😉
Thanks Mike, that’s all I needed to know.
A passing grade is a pass grading regardless of the score 😁
Last question, will you be applying for the Confucius Institute Scholarship? Now that you’ve passed both the HSK 2 and HSKK Beginner you can apply for the 1 semester scholarship? Or are you going to take the HSK 3 later and apply for the 1 year academic scholarship?
Yes! I have actually applied for the 1 semester one. The application process is protracted and quite confusing though, so I’m not sure I’ll be successful even if I’d be considered a quality candidate. I’ll definitely blog about the process at some point though.
Mike, I passed the HSKK with a 61/100. Your guide was very helpful & gave me the advice I needed to pass the test. Thank you so much for the help.
Hi, Mike. Did you ever posted something about the scholarship in china? I intend to apply for the Confucius Institute scholarship for one year, and I’m trying to find some experiences about the process to be sure I’m making the things right. Thanks in advance.
谢谢Mike,that’s very useful for my students to prepare their HSKK.I will share your blog to them.
Great resource, seems it is indeed hard to find much about the HSKK online, so thanks for your efforts Mike!
Thanks for the detailed write up – really helpful!
i plan on taking the exam this October and that write up was just everything i need to know about the HSKK exam.
When for hskk intermediate it says you need to know 900 words, which words are those? I can’t find any list of words required for hskk intermediate. And they’re not the same as the written exams since hsk3 has 600 words and hsk 4 has 1200.
Thanks alot for your sincere and brave sharing.it has taken quite alot of the exam fever l had on Hskk and and increased my confidencel.I am now very.ready for .Hanyu shuiping kaoshi tommorrow sun. Oct.16/ 2016 God willing.Xiexie.. Taihaole..Feichangbang.Zhen hao. zaijian.God bless you Mike
Thanks a lot for sharing ya experience with us.It really really helped me a lot to know what s really happening in the exam hall or room since this is ma first HSKK
Are you taking hskk 2?
From Tanzania, I found this article very helpful, thanks a lot for sharing your experience on this. Kindly, am preparing myself to take HSKK for beginners so, it is something to share with others.
Thank you for your article. I suggested it also to the students from the University of Turin that are preparing the exam.
Thanks for your website! Reading your experiences is certainly helpful!
I am interested in taking HSKK beginner . I just tried to do a practice exam on the chinesetest website where they had a computer exam example that used flash software interface, and it was terrible! The audio quality was poor and all the speaking instructions telling me ‘it will now record and to start speaking’ was very distracting and focus-breaking. Normally, I can repeat complicated sentences with good accuracy in apps, but having the speech telling me something after what I am supposed to repeat was spoken was just too distracting. Has anyone taking a recent HSKK internet-based exam?
Also, I wanted to know about the pinyin system on HSK 3 writing portion for the internet-based exam. I am trying to learn as many characters handwritten as possible, but also wonder what pinyin keyboard they use. Maybe just microsoft standard one?
Background: I will take HSK 3 this May, and have only taken HSK 1,2, & 3 practice exams up to this point, no official exams, but consistently score 90%+ on HSK 1 & 2 and right at 60% on HSK 3 practice (I only know half level 3 vocab/grammar, but am quite proficient with that at levels 1 & 2).
I will be taking HSKK Beginner for the second time. But now I am more prepared I know now what to do and what to avoid during the exam. I really find your article very helpful during my preparations. Thank you so much. By the way, I just noticed on the first part of the sample items in HSKK beginner the 8th item I think it should be 雪 instead of 学。But so far everything is good, I asked my Chinese friends and they found it a bit odd for the 学to be there. Thanks!
You’re right, thank you! I have corrected the page 🙂
This has been very helpful, thanks a lot!
I’m taking the HSKK Beginner test next Sunday and I’m rather nervous about it.
Quick question: During the third part, do they let you keep your notes? I’m not very good at memorizing things, especially under pressure.
Yep, you keep your notes for the whole duration, so you can read straight off them when giving your answers if you want to.
Reading it may make you go through it too quickly. You might want to direct your eyes away so you speak a bit more slowly. My online tutor pointed this out to me as we practiced.
Mike THANK U SO MUCH !!!!for sharing such detailed information.
while learning this language i took it as a new challenge, As a beginner i found it so much difficult. The information u had shared with us,it would be a great help while preparing for exam.
One of the questions is not correct:
One does not “去什么“，”go what”. One “去哪儿“ “go where?”
I ran the sentence on the recording past my Chinese wife who confirmed that the sentence on the sample recording is
“晚上你想吃什么?” “What do you want to eat this evening?”
Hope this helps.
Thanks Dave, I have updated the page!
Indeed this information is so encouraging helpful!
This is help so much.
Hey Mike! Thank you so much, your blog really helped me. I just took HSK2 and HSKK beginner this sunday. I think i did pretty well on the HSK2, but I’m no really sure about the HSKK. I also missed some of the small questions but I think I did good in the third part, I actually didn’t stop talking until the next instruction was given. Now I just have to wait for the results.
Anyway, thank you so much! 😀
Hey! This information is so helping, but little nervous because I want take HSKK middle i would apply Confucius scholarships for 1 years. Do you know standard for passing score for HSKK? I think I can repeat well but I can’t make up pronunciation, you now well Chinese language have 4 note.
What do you think if I can repeat but pronunciation have little problem can I passing HSKK? Thanks
Apparently 60/100 is a passing mark. If you can only parrot things back, it won’t be enough to pass. You’ll also need to be able to answer at least some of the simple questions they ask. Good luck!
please tell me that is it possible that if i give not test of HSK 1 and direct given the test HSK 2 so is this possible??
You can elect to sit the exam at any level. It’s quite common for people who have already done a lot of study to start off with a higher level HSK or HSKK exam.
Thanks .. its write up of great help
Thank You ^_^
Indeed its really helpful
I will take HSkK exam for beginners in December If allah wills
I hope i can pass as You did
thanks much,am preparing for hsk3 and hskk bigginers,i was hardly thinking how to attempt positively hskk,now am almost a bit aware ,let me work on your experience.
god bless you.
Hi, I am considering taking the HSK or HSKK before I attend college. I plan on attending college in the U.S. but might eventually do a study abroad/internship overseas in China (planning on majoring in international business). Would taking the HSK/HSKK be helpful when applying to a U.S. university?
Hi Mike, I just wanted to inform you that this was a great help for me. I did Mai to pass HSKK Beginner with a score of 70. Thanks so much for your help!
Nice one! Glad it helped 🙂
Hi Mike! Thank you for your blog – it helped me a lot in preparation for HSKK (beginner). Eventually, I had the same break as you between my HSKK (71) and my HSK2 (198)… I was really surprised during the exam that for sentence repeat they slot the phrase 1st in Mandarind and 2nd in English “NOW you can repeat” (or something like that)… the English one was really a killer for short memory retention of Mandarin sentence (and I was totally unprepared for that, because it was not in sample exam!!!!). So, for sure, HSKK result is under representing the actual knowledge and abilities.
I used in Ankidroids add-on that put audio for all the phrases and answers, I wanted to rehearse. May be that could be useful for other users.
Kateryna, do you mean they’d say like,
“Happy birthday to you”
“Now you can repeat:”
Or do you mean they said
“Now you can repeat:”
Thank you- taking the HSKK Basic in 12 days…
this is the most helpful description of the hskk exam i have managed to find! thank you for sharing your experience, it’s really useful – I will be taking this exam myself in a few weeks’ time.
Hi, I just did hskk beginner one hour ago and I’m writing to share my experience. I found the first two parts to be more challenging than I expected, the audio wasn’t too clear and being able to overhear other test-takers distracted me a couple of times. Surprisingly, 7 minutes to prepare the third part were enough to come up with good answers. I guess if I failed, I’ll have to work on my ability to focus.
Mike (and all) my teacher read through the extra file, it explains more about the scoring. If we don’t answer at all we get zero for that question, but if you answer even something, they will score it. I’m going to try to say something, even if its just a couple words I heard or 我不知道 or 我不听
Thanks for your tips and information. I did get 197/200 for the HSK2 and this Saturday I’m going to take HSKK basic . I’m quite nervous . btw fingers crossed !
I took the HSKK May 19 but there were a lot of technical problems. A lot. My test began on question 6, another student began on question 2 and one began on question 21! I also had a very strange time lag, so while everyone was answering their questions (in extremely LOUD voices 🙁 ) I was still waiting for the DING and by the time I got a ding I had totally forgotten what they asked if I even heard it. (If this happens to you, try just repeating what you heard the other student say. Its better than nothing.) Also the test was totally Chinese so couldn’t tell what “next” page was or how to adjust the headset, so that was a mess.
The last two questions there are two tabs you just switch from one question to the other, no ding, and then times up and then you have 26 and then 27.
Very frustrating to say the least. I just found out they’re having a make up test tomorrow so I am going a little nuts cramming after goofing off for a month.
Here’s a couple things I found to add to the resources:
There are actual HSKK tests on youtube, posted by momo, you can search for “momo hskk basic”
I had so much time at the end of the test I wrote down the last two questions to add to your list:
Nǐ bù gāoxìng de shíhòu huì zěnme zuò?
Nǐ měitiān shì zěnyàng xuéxí hànyǔ de?
OK just back from the make up test, a couple notes to add…
This time they used a huge device, like the size of a washer and dryer set, with desktop devices the size of an old cassette recorder on the test and corded headphones. This was SO MUCH better than using the PCs, the sound was MUCH MUCH better. The headphones were much better. I made a big point to tell them to tell everyone to speak softly, and although I could probably hear them, it was not distracting since I was speaking myself. On one question I distracted myself, thinking about what was said, and I didn’t hear the next question, that’s my bad. It was something about a 旅游 so I said I’d like to go to China for 旅游。
Another issue was the ding. No ding for name, country and ticket, dings for all the questions except for the last two, when it was time to speak, no ding. Those last two questions were provided on paper, as there was no screen to watch on those small desktop devices. There was also a timer on the device I didn’t notice until the end, it was close to 20 minutes. The HSKK I took in May was without the experienced monitor present, this time she was present and it made a world of difference.
Still all instructions were in Chinese.
I wrote own the last two questions again- I was even allowed to bring them home on the sheet of paper we were given for the test.
The second question is nearly identical to the question they asked in May, adding 为什么 which made it far harder for me. I know they wanted to hear 因为. I was trying to figure out answers last night but my teacher has gone on vacation so I was just on my own.
Nǐ ài kàn shū ma? Wèi shénme?
你 爱 看 书 吗 ？ 为 什么？ (spacing is theirs sic)
Nǐ bù gāoxìng de shíhòu huì zuò shénme? Wèi shén me?
你 不 高兴 的 时候 会 做 什么 ？ 为 什么？ (again, spacing is theirs, sic)
I don’t understand why they only ask the question once, and I don’t understand why they dont give an example, they always do both on the HSKs, and this is not a listening test so why not say it twice?
As I mentioned above in another post my teacher read the test notes and determined its better to say SOMETHING than nothing, and I feel I said something and correctly for all the questions 1-25 except for one, and except for my truly miserable Chinese pronunciation, and I think I did OK for my answers to the last two questions, again with misery pronunciation, so I am looking forward to likely passing this test with the low threshold of 60 🙂
Unlike the others here, I passed the HSK 2 last year with a score of only 96 Listening and 92 Reading, my measly 188 combined score put me in ~75th percentile, and I am still waiting for my HSK 3 scores from April this year, I’m confident I passed but that’s all. I don’t think it helped to know more words and sentence structure, it may have actually set me back.
I’m also not able to apply for a scholarship in any case because I am waaaaaay too old.
Mike please let me know if you’d like me to scan and send the instructions and HSKK test sheets they gave me, as well as the notes I created as a study guide for myself.
Good luck everyone and thank you so much for this prep! The other test takers seem to have just walked in cold, I don’t know how they managed like that but they did.
I got my scores – 78/100 on the HSKK
(HSK3 was listening 80/100, Reading 93/100, Writing 66/100, total 239/300, passing was 180… I had no clue about sentence structure, which was a problem for the HSKK)
Very nice result, Rachel 🙂 Congrats!
Thanks for this useful overview, and the list of questions — very helpful.
When I did my HSKK Beginner test in Shanghai I was relieved that the invigilator told me to read out my SEQUENCE number on the side of the admission ticket, which was “00001” (I was the only one taking the test), rather than the long number starting with H.
I had been practicing saying the long number in advance because, yes, it’s pretty hard to get it all in during the 10-second gap!
The set-up was a headphones with microphone on a windows PC playing back the recording, and after testing the audio level was good the invigilator started some program to record me speaking. I was given the exam paper and left alone to complete the test. I was the only one in the room.
There are small gaps on the test paper to make notes to prepare for the longer answers where you speak for up to 1.5 minutes. During my mock tests I had practiced this with printed copies of mock papers, so I was used to scribbling notes in the small spaces available.
Regarding “dings” in the post above… no, there are no dings when you’re asked for your name, nationality and number. (The mock test audio files are the same at this point.) The dings appeared when the test proper had begun.
At the end of the test the invigilator found the audio file I’d recorded, listened to it a bit to check that it had my responses in it, and then asked me to change the filename to my candidate number (the long one beginning with H) and my name as on the admission ticket. Then I was done.
Unlike what some others have reported, I wasn’t allowed to take away the test paper.
I meant to add: on my test the two last questions were very familiar.
1. Do you exercise every week? Why?
2. Cats or dogs — which do you prefer? Why?
I found the 为什么 questions a little bit harder to answer than those where you can just reel off facts, and many of the mock tests only include one of these type of questions, but they were manageable.
#2 was identical to one on a mock test I’d already done, and #1 was almost the same apart from being “every week” rather than “every day”.
Also @Rachel, re: comments above — in HSKK the question is only said once, that’s the format. This shows the importance of doing mock tests I guess!
Xiao Min from XM Mandarin has some useful introduction videos for HSKK. This is the beginner level one: https://youtu.be/Wmo3WbtjruY
Popping back to mention HSKK Beginner score was 78/100, and HSK 3 was Listening: 88, Reading: 74, Writing: 92, total 254/300.
Thanks again Mike and all commenters for a helpful resource!
Congrats! Thanks for all your informative contributions too 🙂
The speaking time is 1.5 minutes how many sentences do we need to prepare?
Hi Mike and all HSKK takers,
May i ask on the part 3, how long should the sentence be? 3liner or more or less?
I and my students (grade 8) who took hsk 2 will be taking hskk this year. Thank you.
Very helpful and informative… I am pursuing this…
Thank you for posting! This is really useful!
Hi, Mike, thank you very much for this, it was very helpful – today I got the result and have 85 out of 100. 🙂 Thank you again! Katerina
still very helpful in 2022! i am taking my hskk beginner tomorrow and hope I can scrap a pass