09/11/29 HSK Elementary-Intermediate Review

I just completed my first sitting of the HSK. Overall, I'm exceptionally discouraged with my performance. I had thought of my general level to be quite good. After completing dozens of mock exams, I thought I'd be a shoe-in for a 6 at the lowest. My impressions below:


I prepared using HSK Exam prep books. I also learned all of the vocabulary flagged as 甲 through 丙 in the HSK dictionary/HSK lists available online. I know that these types of tests purposely throw in obscure vocabulary that is not necessary to understand in order to complete the tasks, but my overall comprehension was way below where it should have been.

There was one reading passage on the convenience of some type of snow sled (I think) that completely went over my head. Another on the usefulness of snow leopards coats (again, I think) wasn't easy either. In the interest of time, I cut my losses on passages I knew I would struggle with and spent my time on the easier passages.

In general, I feel that all of the time I spent learning vocabulary was wasted. It didn't seem that any of the words I'd learned were used at all. Perhaps I used an outdated list?


I also bought the HSK 语法指要与训练 to review the crucial grammar points. I didn't seem to struggle so much with this section that I could tell from, though it's possible that being unfamiliar with some structures not presented in this book (I thought it would be comprehensive) could have contributed to me struggling with other sections.


I knew before taking the test that I would struggle with colloquial language, and I don't mean the long 俗语 phrases, but the short 2 - 4 character phrases that are non-成语 related. The HSK vocab lists didn't provide any help with this, nor did the HSK Exam prep or Grammar book.

I also struggled with the long passages. I had read before how others were discouraged that other test takers took notes during these passages even though their not supposed to. I wish I had done this as it seemed that all of the other test-takers at the center I went to (42 of 44 all Korean/Japanese) were doing just that. The proctors didn't pay any attention to it whatsoever (note for future sittings).

When doing mock tests, I took notes to see if the results would be dramatically different. Obviously, I did much better when I took notes not because I could then reflect on the notes when answering the questions, but because I seemed to pay closer attention to what was being said than simply trying to remember it all, and tended to not zone out. As a result I my overall comprehension was better.

I also found that a lot of the vocabulary used in the longer passages was also vocabulary I had not come across before.

Summary and the Future:

In conclusion, I've realized that I've still got a long, hairy road ahead of me. I had hoped that I'd be able to get into an MA program here next Fall, and though I could probably pull of a 6 in the April sitting if I really busted my butt, I still don't think my level is good enough to keep up with native speakers studying Chinese history.

For the entire afternoon I've been thinking of a way to ask everyone for help. The best analogy I could come up with was this:

When I was young and played a lot of video games, I was a power gamer. For example, when I played Final Fantasy, I'd always spend a ton of extra time getting my characters to a super high level before taking on the bosses. I did this to ensure that I wouldn't just win, but that I'd demolish them. Power gaming in Final Fantasy was easy--I knew exactly how to prepare in order to win.

After months of sifting through all of these books and vocab lists, I feel that I am more lost and ignorant of how to prepare for this exam.

Is there anyway that I can "power game" the HSK? That is, is there any definitive source, or guide, that says, "study all of this and you'll demolish the test"? If so, what is it? I'm not in for a quick fix, and I know that really learning a language is a life-time process. What I do need though is guidance and it seems that at this stage after today's performance, I'm suffering from paralysis by over-analysis.