HSK stands for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (汉语水平考试). It’s a standard Chinese language test with 6 levels. HSK 1 is the lowest and HSK 6 the highest. HSK 3 comes somewhere in the middle.

In the post I explain what I did to achieve a score of 96% in the HSK 3 test.

How I achieved 96% in my HSK 3 Exam Cover Image

What is and why HSK 3?

This year China are introducing a new entry system for expats. This will award foreigners points for every HSK level. If you don’t get enough points, it will be hard to get a job in China.

HSK 3 is much easier than HSK 4 and is attainable in six months. HSK 3 might give you the boost you need.

To me, it also helps to see each of these exams as milestones. They can help you measure your progress. Although HSK 4 is the big exam that you need to enter universities, HSK 3 can help give you confidence on your way.

To pass HSK 3 you need to have learnt 600 words plus a certain amount of grammar points. the exam consists of three parts: Listening, Reading and Writing. Each part is worth 100 points and you need 180 in total to pass the test. HSK test don’t have a Speaking Part, there are separate exam for speaking: HSKK. I blogged about HSKK Intermediate here.

Learning Chinese characters

Orange book for HSK 3
HSK 3 Textbook

You don’t need to know Chinese characters to pass HSK 1 or 2 as everything is written in both Chinese characters and pinyin instead. HSK 3 removes pinyin, so you need to be able to read Chinese characters (and write them on the computer). You can find a list of all the characters you need to know for each level on the HSK Academy site as well as in the HSK 3 Standard Course Textbook textbook.

Personally, I think that the best way to learn Chinese characters is using the Skritter app. If you follow this link, you can sign up for a three week trial subscription (usually you’d get one). It uses Space Repetition System (in this post I explain how it works)) technology that teaches you to write and recognise the characters. For each character or word, the program teaches and tests writing, pinyin, word meaning, and tones.

Skritter showing green Chinese character for 'to ski'
Skritter on Android Phone

Skritter can also teach you Japanese characters.

Once you start learning Chinese characters using Skritter, you’ll realise they’re not as difficult as they seem. In fact, Chinese has quite an intuitive writing system once you know the basics.

Improving reading skills

Obviously, knowing vocabulary is not enough to understand Chinese writing.

The HSK 3 Standard Course Textbook textbook introduces you to all the structures you’ll find on the exam. Each unit consists of four dialogues, grammar explanations, and exercises. To be honest, the grammar explanations aren’t always totally clear, but it’s not difficult to work them out from the examples.

My method is to take all sentences with new words and new structures from each unit and put them into an flashcard app such as Anki or Flashcards Deluxe. I find that I remember words much better if I learn them within sentences. This way, I also learn the structures and collocations.

Excel spreadsheet showing Chinese sentences in first column and Polish sentence translations in second column.
List of sentences made by me with Polish translations. I upload these sentences into flashcard software.

This generally should be enough to get your reading skills to HSK 3 level, but I’m also a big fan of reading books and I believe that reading is very good for fluency.

Mandarin Companion Graded Readers are great to work on your reading skills. Level 1 books are written using around 300 characters, and level 2 450, and so they are perfect for HSK 3 level.

I found them enjoyable to read and suitable for my level just before my HSK 3 exam. They’re especially great on a kindle or iPad, because you can check all words you don’t know in a dictionary. The only improvement I think they could make would be to add some audio files, so they can also help to improve listening.

Mandarin Companion Level 1 books

Mandarin Companion Level 2 books

Improving listening skills

I’ve always found listening one of the most difficult parts of learning a language, especially with Asian languages. But I manged to get my listening good enough to do well in my HSK 3.

I used the audio files from the HSK 3 Standard Course Textbook. I always had them on my phone, and I would listen to them anytime I was washing the dishes, walking, running, or any other form of repetitive, mindless activity. This helped me familiarise myself with all the dialogues in the textbook.

There’s also a really good podcast called Chinese Pod (if you want to check it out, click on the banner below). It has hundreds of podcasts for each level. I wouldn’t recommend it strictly for HSK preparation, but it’s a great extra tool to improve your listening skills.

Chinese Pod Affiliate 2

Thanks to a good friend, I also discovered Happy Chinese. This is a series of more than 100 episodes, each 15 minutes each. Although their webpage recommends the program for advanced learners, because it has Chinese and English subtitles, it is also good for intermediate learners. Each episode has additional grammar points with examples, which are also useful.

Link to Happy Chinese episode on YouTube
A Happy Chinese Episodebanner

Improving speaking skills

Why speaking? HSK 3 doesn’t have a speaking component. However, speaking does improve listening skills and it’s really good for memorising vocabulary. So how do you practice speaking?

Obviously, if you live in a country where Chinese is spoken, then you can practice Chinese every day. However, most everyday exchanges are rather shallow, and if you want to really improve your speaking you need to do more than just chat small talk.

Language exchanges are a good idea. But we tend to revert to the language we know better whenever we have a chance. Setting a rule like, “For the next 15 minutes we will only speak Chinese” should help. But you must be determined to speak Chinese (and your language partner need to be patient).

Taking private lessons is also helpful and not too expensive in China. But if you want somebody to explain something well, I really recommend a professional Chinese teacher. They can explain all your doubts about certain words and grammatical structures.

Then you can get out there and practice your newfound knowledge through talking to any Chinese person on the street.

Talking to people, who don’t speak any other language than Chinese would certainly make you practice, but they are often surprised if foreigners speak their language. This can also help you to make new friends.

If you don’t live in a Chinese speaking country, you can use the language learning sites: italki or HelloTalk, to find lots of people to practice Chinese with. On italki you can also find many affordable teacher as well (if you use this link, you will get $10 once you book your first lesson).

What really helped me to finally start speaking Chinese was Add1Challenge.  I wrote about it in more detail here.

How to practice for HSK 3

Asides from the coursebook, I also used a workbook, that has a mini-exam for each unit. There are also many mock exams available online (for example, at the Confucius Institute Manchester branch), as well as books with mock exams, such as Success with the New HSK (Level 3).

How to sign up for the exam

To sign up for HSK 3, you need to visit the HSK Chinese Test site. After signing up, you can choose the exam you want to take, the place, and the time. You can also choose whether to take a paper-based or an electronic-based exam. I really recommend the latter as you don’t have to worry about writing Chinese characters by hand.

Thank you for reading. If you need any help with the Chinese language, particularly if you’re taking HSK 3, then leave a comment below and I’ll respond asap. Next week at Being a Nomad, Chris will continue his account of our quest to find the true South Shaolin temple.

You can read about my preparation for HSK 4 here, although the method remained the same.

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It's possible to get a high score in your HSK 3 exam and there's many good reasons for doing so. Here's what I did to pass with flying colours and some tips for getting top results. #learnchinese #chinesetest #chineseexam #hsk3 #hsk #hskexam #hsktest


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About Ola Jagielska

Ola Jagielska is an ESL teacher, language enthusiast and co-author of this blog. She speaks seven languages and is striving for more. She loves travelling, reading and drinking good coffee.

23 thoughts on “How I achieved 96% in my HSK 3 Chinese Exam

    1. Hi, first you should get a course book. I heard a good opinion about “Practical Chinese Reader” series. Also, the HSK series I mentioned is good, they have it for every level. Make sure to work on your listening skills with some podcasts, and if you want to take HSK start learning Chinese characters as soon as possible. I know people who just wanted to learn to speak, so they never learned characters, but I, personally, found that learning characters helped me with remembering words. And also there’s a great blog about learning Chinese: Hacking Chinese (http://www.hackingchinese.com/). And last but not least start speaking as soon as possible. Good luck!

  1. Hi Ola, thanks for all the resources you gave in your blog. Just finished my HSK2 and was wondering how to prepare HSK3. I’ll try your tips right now ?! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi, I actually never took HSK2, so I’m not sure. But I think that three months is enough if you study hard. Of course, it also depends on how much time you’ve got. I was doing two units from HSK3 course book a week, and this way I finished the book in 10 weeks. But as I mentioned in the post, I think that it’s better to use more resources. And it took me 5 months to get from HSK 3 to 4, although it was probably a bit more because I think I was a bit over HSK3 level when I took the test. Good luck!

  2. If it helps… I took 6 months between HSK 2 (2 December) and HSK 3 (14 July), with a couple of weeks off at one point. It’s quite a big jump — the vocabulary required doubles for a start. I was having 2-3 lessons a week, 1:1 on Zoom via italki.com, and doing homework 2-3 times a week as well, plus drilling vocabulary using memrise and StickyStudy. I also have a full-time job.

    We finished the the 20th and final chapter of the HSK 3 standard text book in the first week of June and then worked on revision and test preparation, particularly doing HSKK mock tests in class because I was sitting HSKK beginner at the same time.

    On reflection, I wish I had spent more time preparing for the reading section of HSK 3, because you have to be able to read FAST, and it’s useful to have some tactics for answering certain kinds of questions, such as skimming the ones that are asking you “in general, what is this text about?”. For example I could have done more mock test but just the reading section against a timer. This was also my first experience of doing the HSK on computer rather than the paper test, and I found it harder/slower to read the hanzi as they were low-resolution in a poor quality font.

    In the end my score was Listening: 88, Reading: 74, Writing: 92, total 254. Talking to my teacher we’re going to wait 9-12 months before I attempt HSK 4. Like I said, I have a full-time job, so my studying is limited to evenings and weekends.

    There is lots of discussion on HSK, study techniques etc on https://www.chinese-forums.com/ btw — a very friendly forum. Recommended.

    1. Hi Mungbean, I love your post. This is really interesting. CONGRATULATIONS on your result.

      I’ve skipped taking an HSK 1 or 2 exam because I feel that to be really motivated I need to be challenged. I actually started studying Chinese 9 months ago, however my level of commitment has gone up and down depending on my other commitments (management training, making teaching materials etc….)

      Can I ask you some quick questions?

      (1) Where did you learn for the HSK 3 test? Which school did you go to?

      (2) What would you recommend about reading strategies for hanzi?

      (3) What is your regular daily and weekly learning routine?

      Also if your in Shanghai be sure to hit me up!

  3. I passed HSK 6. Just my two cents.. Passing HSK 3 is like kindergarten. You can learn all the vocabulary in 1 month at a comfortable pace of 25 characters a day. No point writing a post about it lol.
    HSK 4 is barely an achievement either and to study at a chinese university (in mandarin) you practically need a high level 6 minimum which would be a B2 equivalent.
    If you are serious about Mandarin, give yourself no more than 2 years to pass HSK 6

  4. Thank you for your comment.
    I appreciate the value of HSK 6. However, I do personally believe that HSK 3 and HSK 4 (or any other exams for that matter) make great milestones in the language learning journey. In any endeavour, it’s always valuable to see your progress and these exams help you do that. Everything depends on what your priorities are. It’s all very subjective.

  5. Thank you Ola! It’s so informative! I studied Chinese for 4 years before, but i haven’t review it for long time. Do you think it’s possible to take enough score preparing for only 6 weeks? I gave mock test before and i took half score. I will really appreciate your reply :)

    1. Hello,
      Thank you for your comment. I think if you’re already getting 50%, the extra 10% won’t be that difficult to achieve. I would try. Just make sure that you listen as much as possible and revise all the necessary Chinese characters. Also, there are some apps that have mock tests, it’s good to use them too. Good luck!

  6. Hey Ola, this is some awesome content. Thank you!. I just want to ask quickly. What was you regular routine like for learning Chinese at HSK 3 and HSK 4. My teaching hours are longer tha most jobs so I am trying to figure out how to be more efficient and effective in my learning.

  7. Witam Pani Olu:) Świetny artykuł, gratuluję! Ja póki co skończyłem HSK2 i celem jest “trójka”. Widziałem bardzo ciekawe zestawienie zdań, które przygotowała Pani w tabeli Excel – myślę, że tego właśnie szukam, żeby przyspieszyć naukę ( nie tylko słówka bo to w przypadku “dwójki” było wystarczające ). Czy jest Pani w stanie udostępnić ten plik, ew. fiszki, w których się znajdują się owe zdania? Z góry dziękuję za wiadomość i wszystkiego dobrego:)

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