Taking the HSK level 3 exam on computer

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

Section locking

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

HSK 3 textbook coverThis 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).


24 thoughts on “Taking the HSK level 3 exam on computer

  1. ShyC says:

    I can tell from your posts that you studied really hard for the HSK 3.

    When will the results be out? 🙂

    • mike says:

      They’re typically available to check online one month after the exam. I will update this post once I have them!

  2. Dave says:

    The words they want you to write are SOO easy. I feel guilty taking the easy out. You’d have a higher skill set if you could write them by hand.

  3. Lani says:

    I just sat the computer based HSK 3 exam. In the rearrange the sentences of the writing sections I put punctuation marks in the sentence answer even though there wasn’t any pull down boxes for it. Should I be worried that I lost the points because I used punctuation marks?

  4. Jeff L. says:

    Just took the practice HSK 5 test at the Mandarin House in Hongqiao (Honggu Road 321) and was gravely disappointed with the resolution of the computer terminals. The Chinese fonts were very jagged and I found I had to strain my eyes and try to guess what font they were trying to represent with the small number of pixels used for each character. Far worse than reading Chinese on my home or work computers. I’m afraid reading speed will be cut in half with this poor system. Did you have jagged, crude Chinese characters on your system, or did I just pick the wrong place for the computer test?

    • mike says:

      Oh no! I didn’t have any problems with this at my testing centre, from what I can recall. They did have relatively modern computers there.

    • Chris says:

      I had exactly the same issue at Mandarin House near People’s Square. Really difficult to make out characters with many strokes, such as 街 and 鞋. There was no anti-aliasing of the characters at all, so they were very pixellated.

      The reading section was hard enough for me as it is, since you have so little time, but this made it even worse and more stressful. I ended up having to just guess some answers in this section.

      Can’t this be fixed by turning on Font Smoothing in Windows? (I’ve been a mac user for years, so I’m not sure… and Hanzi on my mac look super-smooth.)

  5. Matt Rapkin says:

    From the practice exams, the last five questions on the writing section are changing the pinyin into hanzi. Is this the same on the computer test?

    • mike says:

      In the computer test I did, the writing section only involved changing the order of groups of characters to make a grammatically correct sentence.

      • Matt Rapkin says:

        That makes sense, ok thanks for the help!

        • Chris says:

          On the test I did (including all the mocks I tried) there were 10 questions in the last (“Writing”) section.

          The first 5 questions of this section were re-arranging tiles with Hanzi on them by dragging them onto the line below to make a grammatically correct sentence.

          The last 5 questions were typing a single character in a sentence based on the pinyin that’s given, with the rest of the sentence in Hanzi. This is really easy using a pinyin input method of course. On the written paper you’d have to remember the character and be able to write it convincingly.

  6. frank says:

    Questions about the listening part. Are you locked in per question?
    When you did the listening section did you have to wait for each question( the 4 possible answers) to pop up or could you select the answer quickly and self advance (with a forward button) to the next question? I like to quickly read the 4 possible answers before listening to the passage/conversation. Do you have a chance to do that or does the 4 possible answers pop up on the screen right when they start the passage/conversation?

    • mike says:

      Audio-wise, you are locked-in for the whole listening section; no way to advance faster. As for being able to read ahead, yes, I was able to do that as per the blog post where it says:

      you may skip around to other questions in the same section, which is very useful for reading potential answer options ahead of time

      You just have to be careful not to get lost.

      • frank says:

        Thanks. It’s good to know I can read the next question’s 4 possible answers before they start the conversation.

        • Chris says:

          This isn’t necessarily true for all “internet-based test” formats, as they vary from place to place. I read a report on someone who did HSK 4 in London and you couldn’t read ahead.

          When I did my HSK 3 in Shanghai, you could in fact read ahead within the current section.

  7. Chris says:

    After a lot of searching I finally stumbled upon mock computer-based tests for HSK 1-6:

    (After clicking on the link there’s a login screen that looks like it’s waiting for a password, but hitting the blue “我要考试” button takes you in as an anonymous user.)

    It appears to be official since the test has the Hanban logo on the top.

    When you’ve finished it gives you a downloadable report showing which questions you got right and how many marks they are worth. For some reason they don’t bother to add up your score for for you. It also shows your answer and what the correct answer was.

    Interestingly the report shows how many marks are allocated for each type of question, from 2 for the earlier match-the-picture questions to 10 for the rearranging-the-characters questions in the “writing” section.

  8. Chris says:

    In case it’s of any use, I did an “internet-based test” in July 2018 at Mandarin House in Shanghai. From discussions with others, it does seem that there is some variation between how these work across different test centres. It was similar, but not exactly the same as the mock test I posted above.

    For my write-up and some screen shots see https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56852-hsk-3-internet-based-test-%E2%80%94%C2%A0report/

  9. celia says:

    Hi, Mike,
    Do you think studying the book you listed is enough preparation ? Also, you need to type in the character with pinyin for the writing part right? ( I have a student whose Japanese and he doesn’t know pinyin but he can write a lot characters)

  10. Thor says:

    Hi Mike,

    Interesting story! It will help me to go for my HSK 3 as well.

    I was just wondering, how long did you study the HSK3 book before you gone for it?

    I am really curious how much time I should take to finish the book on average.

    Thanks so much in advance for your reply!

  11. Minda Corto says:

    What happens if you don’t put punctuation(.,?!) in the rearrangement of the writing section of HSK 3?

  12. SOS says:

    Thank you for your information! While typing for the written questions part, does the system provide you alternatives like the MS-word or you need to type the pinyin by yourself?

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