I passed HSK 5 !

Testimonial of a student who passed the HSK

I, Melissa, 25 years old and 8 years spent learning Chinese, will tell you about my experience and especially about the 汉语水平考试五级 or HSK 5.

First, you need to know that I am a French girl of Chinese origin. I therefore grew up speaking both French and Shanghainese (Shanghai dialect) at home. But it is only at secondary school that I got interested in Mandarin. When travelling to China, I realised that no one understood my dialect outside Shanghai and that the cityscape was changing year after year, a sign of the Chinese economic boom. For me, learning Mandarin was therefore not only a way to communicate but also a way to guarantee good professional perspectives. After earning a masters degree in Foreign Languages (English and Chinese), a year abroad at the East China Normal University in Shanghai and a master in International Trade in a business school, I decided to take the HSK. This was to justify the “advanced” level on my CV, but also because a company had asked me to take it when I was searching for jobs.

I therefore hastened to register for an HSK 5 testing session on the official website: http://www.chinesetest.cn/gokdinfo.do, where I could choose my exam centre. Fortunately, there was a session in Paris two months later with the AFPC (French Association of Chinese Teachers) at the INALCO. There are 2 sessions per year with the AFPC, one in the autumn (May-June) and one in the winter (November-December), but dates differ from city to city (Paris, Bordeaux, Reims, Rennes, etc.). Note that there are fewer exam centres for HSK 5 and 6 than for levels 1 to 4. All this information is available on the AFPC website. But actually, I think that Confucius Institutes offer sessions all year long. In any case, you have to create an account on chinesetest.cn to pre-register, the actual registration being effective after paying fees to the exam centre by cheque or online (with PayPal). For HSK 5 it’s 40€. You also have to send a stamped envelope with the cheque but it is possible to give it on the exam day.

Once I was registered, I started training. Very motivated, I downloaded the vocabulary list and decided to revise at least 50 words per day by writing them again and again and using flashcards. I also searched for mock exams to familiarise myself with the different sections. I found a website (chinaeducenter.com) offering 5 mock exams for free under the pdf format, with the recordings in .mp3. The inconvenient thing was that there was no explanation on the answer keys. You didn’t know why the right answer was D while you had chosen B… Moreover, at a rate of one or two tests per day, I was quickly out of resources and I started searching for other mock tests. This is how I discovered Global-Exam, which offers one online mock exam for free under real exam conditions, except that the real test is paper-based. The good surprise was that this time, I could see why my answers were wrong. The website is rather well designed and the hundreds of hours of training were absolutely amazing ! I therefore decided to subscribe to the 10 day offer for 29€. I mainly trained for the reading part, my personal weakness, thanks to the several texts and the timer which allowed me to get used to the allotted time. The website also offers to follow your progress with a personal dashboard summarising your number of training exercises, rate of correct answers and training time for each section (listening, reading, writing). With an average rate of 70% at the three different sections, I was feeling ready for the exam day and stopped training after the end of the offer to focus on searching for jobs.

A month a and few refusals later, I wasn’t so excited about taking the test anymore. But the exam day came. I went to the INALCO 30 minutes before the beginning of the test at 11.30. I brought the invitation letter that I had downloaded on the website chinesetest.cn a week before (you are automatically sent an email reminding you of the instructions and documents to bring), the ID that I had used when registering, two 2B pencils and a rubber. While waiting to get in the lecture theatre, I noticed that candidates were of various ages but with a majority of students. The doors then opened and we got in one by one as they were controlling our IDs, before showing us our seats. Amongst the first candidates to get in, I was seated in the first row and put my bag where I was asked to. We were four people by row, sitting one behind the other so as to form four lines. Overall, we were about fifty in the room, with four supervisors. I’m not quite sure anymore but I think that once the tests starts, you can’t get out and back in, so you need to go to the toilet before or hold it in during the exam (2h). Once everyone is sitting, the exam booklets are handed out along with the answer sheets.

A supervisor then reads the instructions in Chinese out loud and starts the audio recording. Here you go for 30 minutes of listening. The volume is quite loud, which causes small interferences, nothing preventing you from understanding though. However, you must stay very focused since the recordings are only played once. At the end of the listening part, you have 5 minutes to write your answers and tick the appropriate box on the answer sheet, but there is enough time to do it while listening. We then started the reading part. I found the texts more difficult than those I had trained on and 45 minutes went by way too quickly. I therefore answered the last questions randomly. Lastly, we went through the writing section. The first part, which consists in putting phrases in the right order to form sentences, went well. I didn’t do so well on the second part. I had practised writing in Chinese on a laptop and had got used to using a keyboard; writing characters had become a distant memory. I therefore had a very hard time writing my short 80-character paragraphs correctly. The test ended and we handed in our exam booklets with the answers to the supervisors.

I thought I had done a pretty bad job at the exam and didn’t really think about it anymore, until the day when I had the pleasure to find my HSK 5 results in the mailbox. They were not that good but still sufficient to obtain the certificate (180/300) :-)

Tips :

– Start preparing for the exam two months before

– Revise regularly & you will get even better results

Good Luck !