Are you wondering how on earth you will pass HSK 4? Perhaps you need an HSK 4 score to demonstrate your Chinese level to prospective employers, add points to your Chinese work visa application, or gain entry into an academic program. Maybe you’re just hoping to score some bragging rights. Whatever your reasons, deciding to take the exam is only the first step. Next comes the hard part: test prep.

Even students with strong language skills can have trouble passing unfamiliar exams. No matter how confident you feel about your Chinese abilities, you should still spend time familiarizing yourself with the exam’s structure and content through efficient, targeted practice. Read on to discover the steps you should take in order to pass HSK 4.

STEP 1: Select your HSK 4 test prep study materials

Before diving into the details of how to set up a strategic HSK 4 study routine, you’ll need to arrange effective study materials. Simulated Tests of the New Chinese Proficiency Test HSK (HSK Level 4) is a great resource. It comes with CDs for listening practice and includes a collection of practice tests and corresponding answer keys. Systematically working your way through the practice tests in this book is the best way to prepare yourself to pass the real exam.

STEP 2: Understand what you’ll be tested on

Once you’ve arranged your study guide, review it to familiarize yourself with the basic content and structure of the HSK 4. You’ll see that there are 3 sections: listening (30 minutes), reading (40 minutes) and writing (25 minutes). Although the highest possible score is 300, only 180 is required to pass HSK 4. Note that there is no minimum required score for each section. The exam lasts 105 minutes and covers 1,200 vocabulary words.

The writing section of the traditional paper-based HSK 4 includes five questions that involve handwriting a sentence in Chinese based on a given picture and word. Consider using an app like Skritter to practice writing characters. If your Chinese handwriting still needs work, consider taking the exam online since the online version of the HSK 4 doesn’t require you to handwrite Chinese characters (you’ll need to type them instead). If you choose to take the online version, make sure to do some online HSK practice tests first.

STEP 3: Set a clear, consistent study schedule and stick to it

Next, you’ll need to set (and stick to) a study schedule that allows you to work through a large number of practice tests in a systematic and consistent way. Most students will need at least one month of daily practice, although the total time needed can vary based on level. Set aside one full hour for daily study and help yourself stay committed by practicing at the same time each day. To systematically build speed and endurance, you’ll need to create a practice routine that increases in difficulty and intensity as you get closer to test day. Here’s how:

Week One

During your first week, familiarize yourself with the HSK exam by completing one untimed practice test section per day (it’s best to start with reading or listening since these sections are the longest and contain the most new words). Once you’ve finished, check your answers and clearly mark the ones you got wrong. Then, carefully review each incorrect answer, making sure you thoroughly understand not only the questions and answers but also why you got them wrong. While reviewing your incorrect answers, you should also look up and make flashcards for any unknown words (see STEP 4).

Week Two and After

Starting from your second week, improve your test-taking speed by completing one timed listening, reading or writing section every other day. You probably won’t be able to finish within the allotted time at first, but your speed will increase with practice. On days when you aren’t doing timed practice, check the previous day’s answers and make and review vocabulary flashcards. Continue doing this until one week before your test date.

The Week Before Test Day

In the week before the test, set aside several long blocks of uninterrupted time to complete 2-3 full-length, timed exams, each within a single sitting. Make sure to check and review your answers after each practice test! Doing full-length tests will help you build stamina and endurance in preparation for the real exam.

STEP 4: Make flashcards targeting your personal weaknesses

After learning that the HSK 4 covers a fixed set of 1,200 words, you may be tempted to start memorizing HSK 4 vocabulary lists. Don’t do it! Memorizing long, unfocused lists is demoralizing and inefficient. Instead, make a personalized list. This will help you pass HSK 4.

Resist the urge to look up every new word you see while working through practice tests. Instead, guess word meanings from context (after all, you won’t be able to look words up on test day). Once you’ve finished a section, you should focus on looking up unknown words that appear in questions you got wrong using a dictionary app like Pleco. Then, create electronic or paper flashcards to help remember these words.

You should also make flashcards for unknown words you notice appearing frequently during practice tests. In the end, you’ll have a stack of flashcards targeting the words most likely to trip you up on test day. Make sure to quiz yourself using these flashcards during your daily study sessions.

STEP 5: Improve your overall Chinese level

While there’s absolutely no substitute for consistent, test-focused preparation, if your test date is still a few months away, consider spending some time improving your overall Chinese level. Try watching ChinesePod videos, which provide an entertaining way to improve your listening while expanding your vocabulary. You can also listen to Chinese radio broadcasts using an app like 蜻蜓 or watch Chinese TV shows (without subtitles) such as the Friends-inspired sitcom 爱情公寓 or 神雕侠侣, a martial arts period drama based on a popular series of wuxia novels.

Have fun using these resources in your free time, but don’t let them encroach on your daily hour of efficient, targeted and exam-focused practice. With a little persistence and dedication, you’ll pass HSK 4 without blinking an eye!

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Vocabulary Related to Test-Taking

1de(possessive particle), of / really and truly / aim, clear
2yī / yì /yíone / single / a(n)
3shìis, are, am, yes to be
4(negative prefix) no, not
5le/liǎo(modal particle intensifying preceding clause), (past tense marker) / to know, to understand, to know
6rénman, person, people
7I, me, myself
8zài(located) at, in, exist
9yǒuto have, there is, there are, to exist, to be
10he, him
11zhèthis/ these
12wéi / wèiact as, take…to be, to be, to do, to serve as, to become / because of, for, to
13zhīhim, her, it
14big, huge, large, major, great, wide, deep, oldest, eldest / doctor
15láito come
16to use, take, according to, because of, in order to
17(a measure word), individual
18zhōngwithin, among, in, middle, center, while (doing something), during
19shàngabove, on, over, top, (go) up, last, previous
20men(plural marker for pronouns and a few animate nouns)
21dàoto (a place), until (a time), up to, to go, to arrive
22shuōto speak, to say
23guócountry, state, nation
24hé / huòand, together, with, peace / harmony
25de / dì-ly / earth, ground, field, place, land
26too, also, as well
27child, son
28shítime, when, hour, period, season
29dàodirection, way, method, road, path, principle, truth, reason, skill, method, Tao (of Taoism), a measure word, to say, to speak, to talk
30chūto go out, to come out, to occur, to produce, to go beyond, to rise, to put forth, to occur, to happen
31érand, as well as, but (not), yet (not), (shows causal relation), (shows change of state), (shows contrast)
32yào / yāovital, to want, to be going to, must / demand, ask, request
33於 and sometimes also 于at, in, in regard to
34jiùat once, then, right away, only, just
35xiàbelow, under, (go) down, next (as opposed to previous/last)
36dé / de / děiobtain, get, gain, to have to, must, ought to, to need to
37can, may, able to, certain(ly), (particle used for emphasis)
40shēngto be born, to give birth, life, to grow
41from, self, oneself, since
42huìcan, able, meet, meeting, society, union, party
44hòuback, behind, rear, afterwards, after, later
45néngcan, may, capable, energy, able
46duìcouple, pair, to be opposite, to oppose, to face, for, to, correct (answer), to answer, to reply, to direct (towards something), right
47zhe/zhuó/zhāo/zháoverb particle marking a continuing progress/state
48shìmatter, thing, item, work, affair
49his, her, its, theirs, that, such, it (refers to something preceding it)
50裏 or 裡within, inside
52to go, to leave, to depart
53háng / xínga row, profession, professional / all right, capable, competent, okay, to go, to do, to travel, temporary, to walk, to go, will do / behavior, conduct
54guò(past tense marker), to cross, to go over, to pass (time), to live, to get along, (surname)
55jiāhome, family, a person engaged in a certain art or profession
57yòngto use
58發 (to send); 髮 (hair)fā/fàto send out, to show (one‘s feeling), to issue, to develop / hair
59tiānday, sky, heaven
60as (if), such as
61ráncorrect, right, so, thus, like this, -ly
62zuòto regard as, to take (somebody) for, to do, to make
63fāngsquare, quadrilateral, direction, just
64chéngfinish, complete, accomplish, become, turn into, win, succeed
65zhě-ist, -er (person), person (who does something)
66duōmany, much, a lot of, numerous, multi-
67day, sun, date, day of the month
68dōuall, both (if two things are involved), entirely (due to)each, even, already
70xiǎosmall, tiny, few, young
71jūnarmy, military, arms
73-less, not to have, no, none, not, to lack, un-
74tónglike, same, similar, together, alike, with
75me(interrog. suff.)
76jīngclassics, sacred book, pass through, to undergo, scripture
77law, method, way, Buddhist teaching
78dāng / dàngto be, to act as, manage, withstand, when, during, ought, should, match equally, equal, same, obstruct, just at (a time or place), on the spot, right, just at / at or in the very same…, to pawn, suitable, adequate, fitting, proper, replace, represent
79qǐ:to rise, to raise, to get up
80yú / yǔ / yù(interrog. part.) / and, to give, together with / take part in
81hǎo / hàogood, well / be fond of
82kān / kànto look after, to take care of, to watch, to guard / it depends, think, to see, to look at
83xuélearn, study, science, -ology
84jìnadvance, enter, to come in
85zhǒng / zhòngkind, type, race (of people), seed, type / to grow, to plant
86jiāng / jiàng(will, shall, future tense), ready, prepared, to get, to use / a general
87hái / huánalso, in addition, more, still, else, still, yet, (not) yet / (surname), pay back, return
88fēn / fènto divide, minute, (a measure word), (a unit of length = 0.33centimeter) / part
89this, these
90xīnheart, mind
91qiánbefore, in front, ago, former, previous, earlier, front
92miànface, side, surface, aspect, top, face, flour, noodles
93yòu(once) again, also, both… and…, again
94dìngto set, to fix, to determine, to decide, to order
95jiàn / xiànto see, to meet, to appear (to be something), to interview / appear
96zhī/zhǐonly, just, but, measure word for one of a pair
97zhǔto own, to host, master, lord, primary
98méi/mò(negative prefix for verbs), have not, not / sink, disappear
99gōngjust, honorable (designation), public, common
100cóngfrom, since,obey, observe, follow