HSKK stands for Hanyu Shuiping Kouyu Kaoshi (Chinese Standard Speaking Exam) and it’s the spoken Chinese proficiency test. The exam has three levels: Basic, Intermediate and Advanced.
HSKK Intermediate is similar in level to HSK 4, so I decided to take them together on the same day. I didn’t have many problems with HSK 4, but my HSKK Intermediate didn’t go so well. To be honest, I was surprised that I managed 57%, just 3% below the pass mark. I thought I’d done much worse.
But we learn from our own mistakes. So here‘s why I feel I failed this test and what I could have done better.
Mistake 1: not doing proper research about HSKK Intermediate
You can register for any HSK or HSKK exam here.
HSKK Intermediate consists of three parts. In the first part, you need to repeat 10 sentences after a speaker. In the second part, you’re given two pictures. You have five minutes to prepare and then two minutes to describe each picture. In the third part, you need to answer two questions, that are written down in both Chinese characters and pinyin. Again, you have five minutes to prepare and two minutes to answer each question.
What I didn’t realise was that everyone taking the speaking test would be in the same room answering at the same time. We recorded the exam on our phones and we sent the audio file to a dedicated email address. The exam was put on speakers, so we were told when to do what. Admittedly, there were only 3 of us, and the classroom was quite big, but I still found it offputting how I could hear other people talking. I tried putting my fingers in my ears so I could focus. But I couldn’t do this all the time as I needed to listen to the instructions.
So, my advice is to try to take a computer-based exam, because then you’ll sit in front of a computer and you’ll hear the exam through your headphones, which will block part of the noise. You can also bring your own headphones, so it’s a good idea to use noise-cancelling ones.
Mistake 2: taking HSK4 and HSKK Intermediate on the same day in different centres
Normally, this wouldn’t be a mistake because all exams start at a different time. Theoretically, if I wanted to, I could take multiple exams such as HSK 3, HSK 4, and HSKK on the same day. But the centre where I took my HSKK Intermediate speaking test moved it to an earlier time. Then my HSK 4 got delayed due to technical difficulties and I started to get a bit nervous. Fortunately, this was delayed only one hour, so I still had plenty of time to make it to the other centre for my speaking test.
Also, as I mentioned in my HSK 4 blog post, I should have used more time to prepare for this exam. I focused most of my time on HSK 4 and too little on HSKK Intermediate.
Mistake no 3 – not working enough on speaking skills
I had 2 x 2-hour lessons per week. This got me speaking a lot, as my teacher agreed with me that lessons are better for speaking since I could study in my free time. However, because we had to go through a lot of material, we spent 90% of the time talking about texts from the book. This was great for HSK4 as it really helped me to remember everything. But having more free conversations would have better prepared me for HSKK Intermediate.
Obviously, it was my mistake. I also could have spent more time talking to other people in Chinese, since I was living in China at the time. I also really should have made more non-English speaking friends. I’ve vouched to do this next time I live in a foreign country.
Mistake 4: not working enough on my listening skills
At the time, I thought I was working on my listening skills a lot, as this had always been the most difficult skill for me in Chinese. But, I prepared mostly for the listening part of HSK4.
I should have listened to more podcasts and watched more TV in Chinese.
Mistake 5: relying too much on the coursebook
I studied mostly from my HSK 4 book, which was great for HSK4, but I didn’t understand one question on the HSKK exam. So other materials would have been useful.
Mistake 6: not doing enough mock tests
My teacher gave me good tips about speaking. She suggested inventing a story about each picture because it makes it much easier to talk about. We also went through some linking words and how to structure answers to the questions.
I’m sure I did badly when repeating sentences. I didn’t practice it enough. True, there aren’t that many tests available, but I could have found more and I could have taken sample practice sentences from other sources.
What I will do before taking HSKK a second time
I don’t know when I’ll be able to do HSKK Intermediate again. To be honest, I probably should have done it as soon as possible after taking my last test, but our move to Spain got in the way.
When I start preparing for HSKK Intermediate, I’ll need to start with some revision, as I barely used any Chinese in the last year. I will also spend a few months listening to podcasts and watching Chinese TV series and films.
I also might consider taking Add1Challenge for intermediate learners, as I it really helped me with motivation. But as we’re moving to Vietnam soon I want to focus on Vietnamese now, so I’m not sure when I’ll start working on my Chinese again.
I think my experience with HSKK taught me something. This time I won’t neglect speaking. Isn’t that the whole point of learning a language?
Thank you for reading my post about HSKK at Being a Nomad. Have you tried taking any HSKK exams? If yes, what was your experience? Or maybe you’ve had an experience with failing a different language exam? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
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