The HSK test (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) is a must for most Chinese learners. If you’re considering taking the HSK, you might be wondering which resources to use. These are 5 apps that help you prepare for the Chinese Proficiency Test.
Traditional ways to prepare for the HSK exam
HSK evaluates your language proficiency, BUT writing the HSK exam is a practical skill on its own! The more familiar you are with all the HSK ins and outs, the better your position, the higher your score.Source: Best tips to beat any HSK test
There are a number of ways to prepare for the HSK exam. First of all, you should visit the official HSK Website. It looks (and indeed is) awfully dated, but here you can register for the HSK exams and find a few HSK mock exams. On the Mandarin Bean website you can find even more HSK mock exams. Apart from regular Chinese lessons, special HSK classes and self-study, these mock exams are the key ingredient for most HSK examinees. They simply prepare for HSK by repeatedly taking a shot at the mock exams, until their score is sufficient to take the real HSK exam.
The HSK Standard Course books (affiliate link) are also worth mentioning, since they are specially designed to get you fit for each HSK level and cover all relevant HSK vocabulary and grammar points texts bit by bit, with lots of examples and exercises.
Previous posts about the HSK exam
- All essential (and less essential) questions about the HSK exam in 2021
- Best tips to beat any level HSK test
- How hard is HSK 6?
- How long does it take to get HSK 6?
- What does your HSK level really tell about your Mandarin skills?
5 apps that help you prepare for the HSK exam
But what about apps? Which HSK apps are worth installing and which should be avoided? Here’s my overview.
HSK 1-6 Chinese Flashcards
This HSK Chinese flashcard app is really straightforward. What you see is what you get. Its main purpose is to support you practice HSK vocabulary by randomly throwing words at you. There’s a separate app for each HSK level and you can switch between simplified and traditional characters.
I enjoy the old-school graphics and sound effects of this app. It’s perfect for a quick review of HSK words while you’re on the bus. That being said, the HSK Chinese flashcard app has one big flaw: it doesn’t feature spaced repetition, as a result you have no way of reviewing previously encountered characters. That makes the learning experience similar to opening a Chinese dictionary and randomly picking words to study. This is especially true for the higher levels (HSK 4 – 6) where studying randomly selected flashcards just doesn’t cut it.
In short, the HSK Chinese flashcard app is fun, but not very effective.
Chinese Character Hero – HSK Pro
The HSK Chinese flashcard app has a twin brother called HSK Hero Pro which offers a similar gamified learning experience and also includes both simplified and traditional characters. I prefer HSK Hero Pro to the flashcard version, because you have to actively combine the characters. By doing so, you’ll improve your recognition of the characters. It’s also less random, since each group of words contains a fixed set of vocabulary. Once you finish a group, it is marked by a star. HSK Hero Pro consists of three difficulty levels: the higher the level, the higher the number of characters to choose from. A problem I see is that the higher level groups cover 100 up to 400 words, making it almost impossible to finish one session. You guessed it: to unlock all levels you need to pay or watch a 30-sec advertisement.
HSK Hero Pro is both helpful and entertaining, not in the least for those who want to learn traditional characters, but could be more accommodating towards higher level learners.
HSK Exam – 汉语水平考试
When I prepared for HSK exams, I mainly wrote mock exams to prepare for the real thing. These were either provided on paper or found somewhere on the web. The HSK Exam app is all about just these lovely mock exams.
The app covers all six levels (not 7-9) and exam sections, starting with listening, reading and ending with writing. In case you can imagine doing an entire HSK (mock) exam on your phone or tablet, the HSK Exam app facilitates precisely that. You’ll find at least 5 mock exams for each HSK level. Some handy features include:
- Pausing your session and resume later
- Adjusting font size for better readability
- A timer to make it feel almost like a real exam
- Dark mode in case you want to practice before sleep
- Pausing, rewinding and fast-forwarding the track during the listening section.
As soon as you finish the exam questions, the HSK Exam app shows your test results, including the incorrect answers and the time you needed for each question. This makes it very convenient to review those items you got wrong. Beyond the HSK exam itself, the app lines up all the HSK vocabulary for each level (translation, pinyin, writing diagram) and allows you to take a multiple choice vocabulary quiz. That’s pretty much it.
On the slightly negative side: Ads can be distracting, but I’ve seen worse. There’s no dictionary included, so you can’t look up words (neither can you in the real exam though). When it comes to the writing part, where in some cases you have to write sentences or compose your own text, I couldn’t figure out how to submit my answers. This probably means you can’t do this part of the exam which does affect your score. The “construct correct sentences part” worked perfectly though.
In a nutshell: I do recommend the HSK Exam app. It is straightforward and offers everything you need to prepare for the HSK exam all in one app.
HSK Online — HSK Study and Exams
The HSK Online app seems to be the commercialized version of the previous app. It’s more fancy and comprehensive, but shares the same mission: prepare you for the HSK exam. It does so with – surprise – mock exams, AND training units with introduce vocabulary and grammar points. These lessons break the HSK down into controllable bits. Now that’s a lot ground to cover for just one app.
Although the HSK Online app seems to have thought about everything and is much more in depth, the free user soon feels “caged”. You might consider the 5-minute study limit per day a joke for a serious HSK app, but it isn’t. Quoting the developers here: “Free users can access the Vocabulary Training and 3 sets of Past tests for free, and 5 minutes experience the content of the Companion course.” If you want full access, you can buy the 84,99 € lifetime VIP, monthly or 12 months subscription. And what about this sinister in-app warning: “If you do not continue studying within 24 hours, you’ll have to redo this section of the lesson.”
Asides from this pushy tone, the HSK Online app is not particularly privacy-friendly, requesting access to your calendar, files and media, camera, micro- and telephone. Although they might have their reasons, they fail to communicate them clearly.
The HSK Online app does have its merits, but its complexity gets in the way of its effectiveness. I’m not sure why I’d pay for this if other apps and websites offer it for free.
Grammar is an essential part in every HSK exam. The Chinese Grammar app by Nincha Languages covers most of the grammar points you need for HSK levels 1 to 5. It features about 130 grammar lessons, sorted from HSK1 to HSK5. The lessons are both compact and manageable, the detailed explanations are helpful and the example sentences are plenty and clear, since they include pinyin and English translations.
From the Chinese grammar apps I installed and tested, this one is the best by far. I can review the grammar points I want for the particular HSK level I’m interested in and “upgrade” my grammar skills quickly. It’s somewhat like Chinese Grammar Wiki for your phone.
To move on to the exercises you’ll need a Nincha account (you can sign in with Google or Facebook). To get full access to all grammar lessons including exercises, you’ll need to subscribe (starting from 10 bucks a month). I guess that’s why I couldn’t open all of them.
Downside for some learners will be that traditional characters and HSK 6 grammar points aren’t included (yet). The same goes for audio to read example sentences more smoothly.
Chinese Grammar is a good choice if you want to study, review or train HSK grammar points for your relevant level.
You can’t rely solely on apps to beat the HSK exam, but they can be a big support. From these five apps that I tested – and actually I tested a lot more, but most didn’t make it into this post – , HSK Exam and Chinese Character Hero – HSK Pro are my favorites. Chinese grammar is a useful third. Also, let’s not forget more mainstream Chinese learning apps like Pleco flashcards, Anki and the vocabulary trainer Daily Chinese that allow you to study, review and retain HSK vocabulary with the help of spaced repetition.
That’s it. I hope you found this post useful. Please let me know if you have any apps for HSK you’d like to recommend!
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