How hard is HSK 6?

Recently I’ve been thinking about taking the HSK 6 Chinese test and started doing some research: how painstakingly difficult is the HSK 6 exam really? And what do native speakers have to say about it?

HSK Standard Course 6a SET - Textbook +Workbook (Chinese and English Edition)

A quick overview

  • Vocabulary: for HSK 6 you need to master 2500 words on top of the 2500 you’re supposed to know by now. That’s sounds like a lot, but many of them are “variations” of words you’re already familiar with like 出路 (a way out),出卖 (to sell), 出身 (to come from) and 出息 (to profit) . Others you’ve probably come across by now like 用户 (user),祖国 (motherland) or 火箭 (rocket). Not all are that easy to remember though.

  • Chengyu or “idioms”: According to this list HSK 6 contains 111 so-called chengyu, usually 4-character combinations. They can be really annoying. From the positive side: if you’ve come this far, you probably already know a bunch of them. Plus, it’s sufficient to know them passively. In some cases their meaning can be guessed from the context.

  • Grammar points: I couldn’t find a complete overview. ChineseGrammarwiki doesn’t include all HSK 6 grammar points, but it’s good for a start. From what I can tell they are numerous and require special attention, especially the conjunctions and sentence patterns are crucial for comprehension and reading speed.

The exam

HSK 6 consists of three parts and lasts about 140 minutes:


35 Minutes: The listening section shouldn’t contain any surprises, since it’s entirely based on the HSK 6 basic vocabulary. If you expected the HSK end boss showing up in the final level, you’ll be disappointed. In fact, it’s more of the same. You listen either to a short text or dialogue, spoken slower and clearer than any native speaker in normal life will ever speak to you – unless it happens to be a CCTV news anchor. If you’ve done your share of mock exams, you know the drill. Insider’s tip: read the answers first.


50 Minutes: The reading comprehension section is more tricky. Not so much because of the difficulty level of the texts and questions: it’s rather the amount of characters you have to plough trough. You need to process the information fast. If you’re not used to that or your reading is still shaky, you run into problems (and out of time). Many test candidates skip the grammar questions completely (meaning answer them randomly) just to win time. It is said even many native speakers have serious trouble answering those.


45 Minutes: The writing section is not that challenging. Again, if you’d expected to write 3000-character piece on the bureaucratic reforms during the Ming-dynasty, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. What you get is an article of about 1000 characters which you more or less have to rewrite. This means you don’t have to write Hanzi purely from memory which makes things a lot easier for most participants. With some basic writing fluency and composition skills you should be fine.

What do native speakers think about the HSK 6 exam?

Reading some threads on Reddit and Quora, I found that most native Chinese speakers don’t think HSK 6 very hard at all, especially compared to the proficiency levels required for IELTS. They only seemed to be taken a little aback by the grammar questions for which you have to point out the grammatically incorrect sentence. This of course has little to do with the reality of spoken Mandarin where sentence patterns are extremely flexible.

HSK 6, reading comprehension, grammar questions
Two examples from the HSK 6 reading section: find the grammatically incorrect sentence (语病). I’ll write the answers in the comments below.

A Mainland Chinese speaker wrote the following about his experience taking the HSK 6 mock exam:

  1. I can pass this test without any effort. (get 180 in 300)
  2. If I want to get a high mark (>290), I must prick up my ears to listen and pay full attention to every question.
  3. Even if I tried my best, I couldn’t get a full mark.
  4. This test requires a relatively high knowledge level (at least high school graduate). I guess it is really hard for those native speakers who haven’t received a good education. (Source: Quora)

Interestingly, not all native Chinese speakers agree. In particular those who grew up overseas, in an non-Chinese language environment:

Well it depends. As an Indonesian Chinese who grew up in a non-Mandarin speaking society, I think HSK 6 is hard. In Indonesia, only few people passed HSK 6.

I passed HSK 5 last year and am currently studying for HSK 6. I realized that the vocabulary in HSK 5 and 6 are almost the same. It just the question model which is different. They make it a bit more difficult.

Actually it is not that hard if you have plenty of time to do it, especially the reading section. However, due to the very limited time given during the real exam, I might say it is almost impossible for an Indonesian Chinese to finish reading all the question before the time end.

On the other hand, maybe other overseas Chinese who speak mandarin in their daily life like Malaysian Chinese would think that HSK 6 is a piece of cake.

Source: Melody from Indonesia on Quora

How hard is HSK 6?

To wrap it up here: it’s hard to give a definite answer to this question. We should also ask for whom and with which level of preparation. If you’re starting from scratch and planning to take the exam in one or even two years, you have some intensive studying ahead of you and you’d most likely have to go to China and take classes to receive all the input you need. Most people need more time though.

On the other hand, considering this is the highest level of the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, it could be a hell of a lot harder. HSK 6 is definitely not the top of the mountain. There’s still a whole world beyond it. A fact many people who took the exam notice as soon they take up a job or do business in China.

Feel free to let me know what you think about HSK 6.

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12 thoughts on “How hard is HSK 6?

  1. Hi WJ. You seem to be well prepared for HSK6. Good for you. Yea I would encourage you to go for it, if you are ready, which I think you are.💪 They have it four times per year ( mar, jun, sept & dec) Take your time. I am not sure where your location is but the test centre in Singapore has prep classes before the actual test dates. You may want to find out if you have it there too. The downside is its kinda pricy.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement!^^ I’m in Berlin, Germany. The (Confucius) test center is located at one of the universities here. HSK seems to get more expensive the higher you get. Don’t know why that is. But they do offer free advice. The prep classes are pricey indeed, Berlin doesn’t offer any regular classes for HSK 6 as far as I can see. I guess there aren’t that many people interested. Individual lessons (90 min. for 60 €) are even more expensive.

  2. The corrects answers are 51D and 52A. There is a problem with the usage of 属于 (51) and in the other sentence the position of 多 (52) is “wrong”. It should stand in front of the verb.

  3. I got 51 Correct. 52 is like walking on thin ice. I ever heard native speakers “say it the wrong way” . Anyway, I thought it is the other one. We don’t usually use “第二天…” , most commonly use will be “隔天一早”…So I am wrong. But I have learnt. 🙂 Thank you for the answer key.

    1. Haha you’re welcome! “第二天…” also sounded somewhat strange to me, but my Chinese wife assured me it’s not incorrect, maybe somewhat like “the other day” in English.

  4. I was wrong in 51 (I thought the wrong one was B, it sounded weird to me) and right in 52.

    Now the funny part is, I asked my husband and he was right in 51 but wrong in 52… he said the incorrect one was C hahaha. So these are not very clear even for native speakers.

    1. Ah nice, that’s really interesting^^ Actually, the thing with 多 and the like is typical grammar item you learn early on in Chinese class with examples like these, right: 多吃点东西,多喝水,多听,多说 etc. Not that hard. I don’t know any better by now. But in spoken Chinese everything is much more flexible and if you ask Chinese people about grammar they usually say their language hasn’t got any grammar (that they’re aware of) – maybe that explains something. I wonder what they teach kids at school though in China? If you know some basics, learning a second language like English becomes much easier, I’d say…

      1. They do say their language has no grammar, haha. But it has! Even though it’s relatively simple when compared with other languages (even when compared with English, but compared to Spanish much more, hahaha).

        I think at school they mainly memorize texts and practise writing characters? I’m not very sure, haha. When I was a child, a big chunk of Spanish class at school was dedicated to doing something called morphosyntactic analysis which consisted of trying to identify all the components in a sentence. It’s harder than it sounds and most children hate it, but for me it has been very useful to do my translation job now hahaha.

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