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A lot of Chinese learners aim for passing some level of the HSK tests. Judging from what I've read online, many people become demotivated regarding these tests around the late-HSK4 level (e.g. me), after discovering that there's a whole lot more to learning Chinese than what's on these tests.

Here's four random HSK6 words I don't know:

否决 = veto
偏僻 = remote, desolate
请帖 = written invitation
宪法 = constitution

I can express both 否决 and 偏僻 using other words; 请帖 seems obsolete; 宪法 might be worthwhile.

Nowadays, I read and discuss the news, so I learn words like 疫情 = epidemic, 病毒 = virus, 抹黑 = smear, 甩锅 = pass the buck, 针对 = target, 疫苗 = vaccine, 症状 = symptom, etc. This seems more targeted and purposeful (although some of these are HSK words).

However, maybe there's aspects of the HSKs I'm unaware of since I'm approx. mid- to late-HSK5 level, and nowadays mostly focus on more enjoyable topics with my teacher.

Question: Is there much point in aiming for the HSK5 or HSK6 Chinese tests (assuming it's not required)?

3 Answers 3

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If you would like to do professional translation in China, companies will often ask that you have an HSK level 6 or higher. I've also seen this requested from companies in Europe (the US tends to ask for its own tests instead of the Chinese HSK), but I also haven't seen it as a "hard requirement" anywhere. If you can advocate for yourself in Chinese proficiently without the tests I've found people don't tend to care what you scored on any tests.

I have an HSK 8 that I passed years ago and I don't think I could pass today. I found studying for 8 useful to guide my studies and hone in on tricky grammar and it's nice to put on my resume, but no one's ever asked me about it and I really don't use most of what I learned for that- usually for translations they'll just ask for samples of your work. If you prefer focusing on vocabulary that is more pertinent to your life, I think that makes just as much (if not more) sense.

One note, though: sometimes even if the specific word of vocabulary isn't the most useful, the composition is. So 否决 might not super common or useful to you know specifically, but I still think it's very useful to know that "否" means negating something and that "决" means a decision. 请帖 might also not be as useful for you now, but knowing that "请" means invitation or request and "帖" is like a piece of paper or post is still pretty useful. That way, if you later see something like 请假帖 you can immediately understand that this means "a request for a work vacation"- again, this word is super useful if you're working in China but it might not be vocab you need to know if you are studying there or just have friends you're trying to chat with.

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There is no point if you're not required and you have no further motivation to do so. That said, if you want to get to the point where you can get the gist of Chinese tv dramas and novels without having to pause every few seconds to look up key words that are critical to understanding the context, HSK 5 is the bare minimum. You'll still come across many unfamiliar words at this point, but your vocabulary will be strong enough that you can usually infer their meaning by the context.

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(Answering my own question now that I've done it.)

I found there are four concrete advantages to studying the HSK (even if you don't need the credential):

  1. The HSK vocabulary is well-rounded. You've got a starting point, basically no matter where you want to go next.

  2. It's fantastic for improving your reading skills. People often say around 3000 characters is sufficient for reading, and the HSK6 vocabulary (HSK 2.0, pre-reform) has around 2600 characters.

  3. Preparing for these tests gives you a concrete goal to aim for.

  4. There are many resources available for HSK content, and teachers are more familiar with this content.

The HSK5 (1250 words) and HSK6 (2500 words) vocabulary looks daunting. However, around mid-HSK5, you get much better at efficiently learning vocabulary: (a) batch learning vocabulary, (b) learn Chinese words from Chinese definitions, (c) utilize character components. (I also note, that the HSK5 and HSK6 exams also contain many 超纲词: words not in the syllabus.)

However, I found preparing for the HSK6 to be an extremely stressful process. And practically speaking, only a few places (jobs and universities) require HSK5, and very few require HSK6 (you might need it if you do a PhD in linguistics).

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