Why I don’t believe in Chinese character tests

Studying new characters everyday, you have to keep track of your progress somehow. People always like to hear exact numbers. Stating you have mastered over 2000 characters sounds impressive, but how can you be sure? You can find several online tests to check the number of characters you already know. But can they be trusted? I’m skeptical. Have a look at my test results and understand why.

I tried three different tests. All three tests are free – you don’t have to sign up – and take only a few minutes. I answered as honestly as possible. These are the tests:

The results blew me away, because they varied from 1600 to 3434 characters! How can the gap be so wide? Which test should I believe? Feel free to have a closer look:


Hanzitest Chinese characters
Hanzitest gave me the lowest estimation. It says their set of characters is derived “from a mix of contemporary non-fiction, fiction and movies”. I think I can do much better than that.

Wordswing test

Wordswing test Chinese characters
The wordswing test showed me the highest number which I can live with for now, since I passed HSK 5, but still have a long way to go to HSK 6.


Hanzishan Chinese character test
And the results from Hanzishan lay somewhere in between. The good thing: As you can see, this test lets you review the characters you didn’t know.

Which test is the best?

Personally, I can’t say which test is most reliable. The main complication I see with all three tests is that most learners of Chinese as a foreign language would typically use the HSK levels and vocabulary to orientate. Or, alternatively, the Chinese textbooks they use in class. No matter which books and methods, all focus on the most commonly used vocabulary as opposed to less frequent ones like these from the Hanzishan test which I couldn’t even find among the HSK characters (!):

missed character list
Excerpt from my missed character list (Hanzishan)

So that’s a problem. Grabbing a Chinese novel, opening a random page and pointing your finger blindly at some character could lead to the same result. Or so it seems to me, due to the randomness of the list above.

As a HSK-student, you would probably get a higher score testing HSK characters, but then again, Chinese texts don’t necessarily stick to HSK-vocab just to make your life easier.

As a testing method, I can’t recommend any of these tests, unfortunately.

Anyway, I could be wrong. If you want to feel the same frustration, give these Chinese character tests a try and feel free to comment your score down below.

3 thoughts on “Why I don’t believe in Chinese character tests

  1. Hi, glad to find a post about Chinese characters level test. I’m Chinese and just happened to find the Hanzishan test. So I took it and got a result of about 7200. Honestly, for me, this kind of tests are pointless, even the similar tests for English. I can’t say those kind of tests could help me on learning a foreign language. Just for fun, so I would suggest anyone who is learning a foreign language don’t treat those tests seriously, we take them just for fun, right? In Chinese, we call it ‘图一乐‘.
    Anyway, good luck on learning Chinese!

  2. I took all three of these- scores in the 1800 – 2200 range. Pretty tight, huh? If I had to pick a point esimate I’d say 1900…

    I’m an ABC who studies Chinese in my spare time. Moving to a Chinese-dominant area has piqued my interest the last couple of years; when I started 2-3 years ago I probably was more like in the 900-1000 range.

    My Chinese knowledge is bunched into specific areas, so in those special areas I would like score higher. Conversely, in a more science based domain, my score would likely be lower.

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