Launched in 1991, the HSK and its sister exams the HSKK (for spoken Chinese), the YCT (for young learners) and the Business Chinese Test have been sat by nearly five million candidates worldwide.
“I think this is easier for people”
The new system is expected to be rolled out by the end of the year and will increase the number of levels from six to nine. It is hoped the reforms will bring the HSK closer in line with the CEFR and make it easier for students to explain their qualifications to employers.
“I have been teaching Chinese for more than 14 years. In the first three years I taught Chinese there were 11 levels of HSK, and it was very hard at the time,” said Wan Xin, the principal of the Beijing branch of That’s Mandarin.
“Right now, the level HSK6 is about level nine on the previous one.”
Despite the shock Wan said is being felt by some students, the new system may, in fact, prove less taxing. One of the major changes will be the amount of vocabulary required for each level.
“Currently HSK1 has 150 vocabulary words. Then level two has 300. It doubles for each level,” explained Wan.
“Therefore it becomes much harder for HSK four, five and six. But you can see on the new one each level has about 1,000 new vocabulary words. I think this is easier for people.”
According to the Hanban, between 2016 and 2018 an average of 660,000 candidates took HSK exams annually, with HSK4 being the most popular.
The top countries for test-takers in 2018 were South Korea, Thailand, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan, the US, Russia and Kyrgyzstan.