Anyone Taken the HSK Advanced?


I'm considering taking this at the end of the year - not because I particularly want to have an HSK Advanced Certificate, but I generally need something to be working towards to do any kind of systematic study, and this is the next step.

I've done the Elementary / Intermediate Exam twice, last time coming out with a 7 (8's in everything but 综合, and if I had got 3 (THREE!!!) more points there I would have had an 8 overall.


Answer 1:

I've never taken the advanced test. I've only known one person who has. He was Korean and he got an overall band of 10. His written Chinese was pretty good, but his spoken Chinese was not so great. I get the impression that a very high proportion of the people taking it are Korean.

A Chinese teacher of mine told me something interesting about the Advanced HSK. He said that in the past couple of years, he had seen a few students who had scored an overall 7 on the intermediate exam turn right around and get a 9 or 10 on the Advanced just a few months later. That should not happen. There is supposed to be a pretty big gap between 8 and 9. Hanban describes an 8 as someone who has received about 2000 hours of instruction. A 9 would usually have had about 3000 hours of instruction. Sure, quality of instruction matters more than total number of hours, but there is still a big gap. Anyway, this teacher thought he knew why these students were only getting 7's on the intermediate and then getting 9's on the Advanced without a lot of exam preparation for the latter. The elementary-intermediate exam is a norms referenced exam. That means they expect that a certain percentage of people will get each level of the exam every time the exam is offered. The result is that if you got 79 percent for a part of the test (which should be a 7), but hardly anybody else got much better than you on that part, then your score will likely be adjusted up into the 8 bracket. If their curve says that 5% of test takers should get an 8 for each part, but only 3 percent of examinees got a raw score that fell into the 8 bracket, then they will lower the minimum score for that bracket until they get their 5%. To a certain extent, you are testing against other people who are taking the exam in the same sitting and doing the same version. They occasionally use a portion of the exam more than once just to get an idea of whether performance on that part is consistent among different groups of examinees at different sittings. This is not a perfect system, but it is cheap. It can, however, mean that someone who just missed an 8 could quite possibly score a very strong 8 the next month.

The speaking and writing parts of the advanced exam are criterion referenced rather than norm referenced. That means there is no curve. Criterion referenced exams like the HSK, IELTS or Cambridge CAE have detailed marking guidelines with descriptors for each level. It costs more to run this sort of exam since markers require a much higher level of training and there is a need for extensive moderation. Theoretically, a 9 in 1996 should be a 9 today, whereas a student, who got an 8 in May, 1996 might not be any better in real ability than someone who got a 7 in July of the same year.

Back to why students who just scored a 7 can sometimes turn around and get a 9. Unless it has changed just recently, there are 3 or 4 sittings for the elementary-intermediate HSK in the PRC each year. Hong Kong, Macau and foreign testing sites may hold the exam a couple of times a year. However, the advanced exam is only held once a year in the PRC. I believe that it's in May. Foreign testing sites only offer it once a year, if at all. Even for graduate study, unless they are planning to study Chinese lit or history, most people usually don't need an advanced level score. A lot of very proficient users of Chinese choose to just do the elementary-intermediate exam because:
1. They don't need an advanced score
2. With its multiple sittings, the elementary-intermediate exam is more convenient
3. There is a gap between an 8 and a 9 and some people are afraid they aren't quite good enough to jump that gap yet. This combined with the fact that if you don't make the minimum score for a 9, you don't get a certificate with a grade. If someone needs an HSK cert and doesn't have time to take it twice, they may just decide to be safe and take the elementary-intermediate.

The result is that there are more and more advanced students taking the intermediate exam and pushing the curve up. It could very well be harder to get an 8 than a 9. I don't know if the distortion is really that big, but it seems to me that this teacher's reasoning could be correct. In my opinion, the kind of person who is able to quickly jump the gap between a 7 or 8 and a 9 would:
1. Be strong in language skills but not very well honed on exam skills. Perhaps they didn't really do many practice papers before doing the elementary-intermediate. Since the advanced exam has a lot more subjective tasks, the student with good language skills but poor testing skills may be able to do better on it than the multiple choice, fill in the blank intermediate exam.
2. Have taken the intermediate exam in a sitting that happened to have more smart people taking it than usual. Some people have stated before in these forums that it is harder to score a good grade in the July sitting for the HSK because there are a lot of minority examinees doing it then. I don't know whether or not there is one sitting of the HSK that attracts more minorities or if those minorities are even good enough to drive the curve up, but the chance of the curve being driven upward because an unusually large number of smart people took the exam is certainly there.


Answer 2:

I haven't looked at the mock exams recently, but if memory serves, some of the fill in the blank parts of the advanced exam are different from the elem-int. exam. In the elem-int. exam, there is only character gap fill. I remember that for the advanced exam, at least for the reading, the fill in the blank part is a subjective short answer format. The marker will usually have a list of acceptable answers for each blank, and sometimes answers that aren't on the list but display an acceptable level of comprehension will be accepted. At least that's the way it works for exams like IELTS, CAE or CEP. Unlike a multiple choice or single character gap fill question, these short answer questions require more interpretation from the reader and a bit of language production.

You people have got me curious about this exam again. I've done practice papers for it before and found most sections ok. The biggest difficulty for me was the writing. For me, 400 characters in 30 minutes is a lot. Some of the prep books I've looked at didn't provide much context for the writing tasks. For example, a sample paper will say something like "apply to XYZ company for a job" without really telling you anything about XYZ company or what job you should apply for. That leads to the writer being tested on non-linguistic knowledge, which is pretty unfair. At least one of the BLCU books I've got seems to provide good context for the writing task. Does anybody know if the real exam provides good context for the writing part?

I have a prep book for the writing section that I like: HSK考前强化写作 (BLCUP, 2004) (. The ISBN is 7-5619-1330-3/H.04036. It provides good practice for different genres of writing. I haven't been preparing for the HSK Advanced, but I've found this book helpful for improving my writing.


Answer 3:

I took the HSK advanced this May and am thrilled to say I just found out that I passed with C-level.

It was my first time taking any HSK whatsoever, so I'm not qualified to say how it is in comparison to the Intermediate, but I can give some impressions from a first time test taker.

I would strongly suggest taking a couple of timed mock tests before the real test and get familiar with the test format (particularly the listening) before the actual test. I did one timed mock test at home about 4 months before I took the real test, and if I hadn't done that I would probably not have passed the real one. I took my test at 2 Wai, and the test officiating was pretty poor. The test monitor did not tell us that we were to open our testing materials, or that the actual test had started. She messed up the timing on the spoken section so badly that they had to repeat it after all the students had recorded once. This is obviously horribly unfair to all the other students taking the test, who only got to record once. Since I was only taking the test for fun, I only recorded once.

Aside from the officiating, here are a couple of random thoughts about the rest of the test, which I'll sort by section:

1.) Listening: This is the section that I've heard from my former Chinese teachers murders folks who are great students of Chinese, but haven't lived in China for very long. Questions often center around extremely colloquial expressions, and if you haven't been here long enough to understand what "乔迁之喜" means the first time its spoken in a rapid fire conversation, then you're gonna have serious trouble. Additionally, no one told me that the passages are recorded at native-speaker pace, sound as if they were done over the telephone, and are only played once. I 'bout near panicked when I heard the first passage, which was all about Crane migration. I didn't know the word for "crane" or "migration." I'm still puzzled about how I got a middling C score on this section, I thought that the number of questions I left blank almost disqualified me from passing the test altogether.

2.) Reading: As a professional translator with a year of full-time experience under my belt, I thought this was the section that I would beat like the proverbial redheaded stepchild. Instead, it was the only section that I failed to get a C score in (but you're allowed to get a C certificate if you don't go below a certain lower limit on one section.) Unless you're a native reader, you absolutely CANNOT waste time reading the entire passage and then answer the questions. On the mock test I took, I tried this and got a 14%. I managed to raise my score to 51% on the actual test because I didn't bother trying to read through the passages. What it really tests is your ability to scan for information fast. It also tests your ability to answer questions with written sentences, not just to pick at multiple choice questions. The passages are very uneven in terms of difficulty, ranging from language learning textbook level to academic 古汉语 stuff, so it might pay to skim all the passages before you start, single out and do first the ones that you're most likely to be able to read in the first place, and cut your losses by leaving the harder for last if you're struggling for the C, as I was.

3.) Integrated Section: The biggest suggestion I have for this section is to get familiar with the kinds of questions they will be asking. One of the sections asks you to find the area of the sentence with the problem in it, and it can be daunting if you're not sure exactly what kind of problem you're supposed to be looking for. I was in a cold sweat for the first five minutes because I wasn't sure what kinds of grammar mistakes they were trying to throw at me, but I managed to calm down and get through it. This section was actually where my "reading" skills paid off. There was a "fill-in-the-blank" section where you had to know how to write characters that you can only really get right if you've read enough material to have a feel for commonly used written expressions. This was also the only section that I finished completely.

4.) Writing: I wrote the requisite number of characters, didn't quite finish, and I know I spelled several characters wrong. The topic was broad enough to allow you to write about almost anything that you wanted to. I also wrote with extremely simple grammar and almost no 成语 or fixed expressions. I got the minimum passing C score, so if passing is your goal I would say simple and organized is the way to go. I have a friend who claims to have gotten an A score by simply making no grammar mistakes and not trying anything flashy. I tend to think that this is good advice, but I'd love to hear other experiences as well.

5.) Spoken: Two sections - the first is a set paragraph that they ask you to read, the second is 2 short little speeches that you prepare. The topics were extremely broad again, someone you admire and why, and different ways of greeting people. I got lucky because I knew all the tones of the set paragraph cold and got through with hardly any stumbling. For the prepared speech I hit all the basic points I scribbled down quickly and fumbled along pretty incoherently after that until the tape ran out. Good planning of what you're going to say and a clear idea of how long you have would be key here. Probably on the strength of my tones I got a B score in this section.

In conclusion I'd say that the biggest factor in determining whether or not you will pass this test is your actual time on the ground in china, coupled with your reading ability (your ability to read fast, not your ability to understand something when time is no object.) My guess is that you're going to have a seriously difficult time passing this test if you've been in China for less than 3 years, at least one of which was full time language study.

If you've been in China for a long time, read well, and want not just to pass, but to get a high score, then I'd suggest really taking some time and study how to take the HSK itself. Looking back, I think I could probably have improved my score between 25 and 40 points if I was stone-cold familiar with the test format, and had strategies for tackling each section. Also the "creative" portions of the test were phrased so broadly that I don't think its inconceivable to come in with them already prepared in your head if you were psycho enough to do that.

I'm going back to school at Qinghua next year full time to really polish up my language skills and I'll take the advanced HSK once more next year to try and get a measure of my progress. My hope is that I can get an A-level if I push myself really hard. I'm not sure if this is a realistic goal or not, but I am dead sure that if I don't take a structure HSK prep course that I'm going to be seriously unlikely to get anything higher than a B or C.
Hope y'all found this helpful, I'd be really curious to hear other folks’ experiences as well.

For more details about HSK Advanced, please view this post.