Back to the HSK (2)

Written by Julen Madariaga on October 13th, 2009

e59bbee78987_1 I am back to Shanghai with some interesting anecdotes and some mildly funny pictures of Japan. Unfortunately, I will not be able to post any of that,  because this week I am busy with work trips in China, and especially because this is the HSK week. It is just as well, I guess, after all this is not Japanyouren, and there are funnier travel bloggers out there if you are looking for a laugh.

Before I disappear for a week into my studying den, let me explain you again this business of the HSK. It is short for 汉语水平考试,or Chinese Level Exam, and it is the official standard to measure your level of mandarin, accepted by all universities in the mainland. It is also a very crazy exam, designed to squeeze out of the examinee’s brains as much linguistic information as possible in 3 hours, and then put it down in measurable statistical terms.

As it happens, the HSK is an exam that does not mainly measure your level of Chinese. It measures your determination, endurance and sangfroid, and your faith in a better life after the bell. The good side of it, apart from hardening your soul, is that it gives you a good taste of the ultracompetitive Chinese education system and their university entrance exam. It is even reminiscent of the 科举考试, the old imperial examination to select the bureaucracy, which famously caused some of the candidates to lose their wits and become heavenly kings. For a foreigner who is serious (deranged) enough to try to understand China, this experience is essential.

But back to the facts: This Saturday 17th is the HSK advanced, and I am going to fight for a level 9, out of 11 possible levels. I need to get this degree desperately, for the sole honourable objective of beating my own record. This is the Olympic spirit.

IMG_2248 My practice essays with thoughts on the Four Books

Here are some details of the exam: the reading section contains text with a total of over 4,000+ characters, the equivalent of some 10 pages in a standard format novel, and on that text you have to answer 15 questions (not choose a,b,c,d, but actually answer with a sentence). There is a total of… 15 minutes for this part. I tested with a native Chinese friend and that is the time she took just to read the text at normal speed.

The essay writing is another scary part, because you get so used to typing with the computer that when it comes to handwriting characters you don’t even know where to start. At least here you do get 30 minutes for an essay of 400-600 characters, so you actually have the time to read what you are writing, and to consider if you really want to express your own point of view in an exam which contains exercises like:

The concept of scientific development leads our people towards a more ——- society”  ( a-harmonious, b-harmonic, c-harmonium d-hormonal)

This example is not exactly literal, I am quoting from memory. The point is the HSK has a strong Beijing flavour, and some of the phrases are taken directly from CPC handbooks and the helmsmen’s theories. In a way, it feels like the Four Books of the imperial examinations all over again: the Thought of Mao Zedong, the Theory of the 3 Represents, the Concept of Scientific Development… As the old saying goes: All things they’ve changed, and nothing has changed.

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Comments so far ↓

  1. Oct

    Hi Youren
    Turning 9 soon! (almost a teenager!).

    Before you disappear into your den, try this, and see if you can do it in 5min, if you can, maybe you don’t need to spend the full week in there ;-) 加油,祝你考试顺利!

    词语搭配(选出最合适的) (建议时间:5分钟)
    ( )1.追求 a.一个民主国家
    ( )2.参加 b.自由和民主
    ( )3.发动 c.温和而亲切
    ( )4.建立 d.学生运动
    ( )5.反抗 e.批评和改造
    ( )6.阳光 f.政府的专制
    ( )7.目光 g.灿烂而温暖
    ( )8.受到 h.文化大革命

    [Reply to this comment]

    Uln Reply:

    Hey, thanks, I took about 8 minutes and got this, but I feel some of the questions can have multiple answers, no?

    Please let me know my grades!


    [Reply to this comment]

    Sheila Reply:

    滿分! The questions are designed to make you doubt your answers, e.g. was it 2 & 3 you thought could be swapped? There is ALWAYS a ‘best fit’, which determines your accuracy in understanding the words, and your fluency with different expressions.

    You need to work on timing (practice with a timer is a good idea)and when in doubt, use rules of elimination and trust your gut feelings and common sense.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Uln Reply:

    Hmm, you are right. My problem is always that: not that I answer wrong, but that I think too much and then I dont have the time to finish. By HSK standards, I should have done your exercise in like 2 minutes maximum.

    Thanks a lot. I would like to study with you if I didn’t have already a super-teacher… :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Oct

    Good luck my friend!!!

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Oct

    By the way Sheila, nice website for learning Chinese. I will try it a bit more when I am done with the exam. Are you a friend of Fu Laoshi or you just know me through the internet?

    I clarify for the curious friend who asked: not all of the exercises in the HSK have political content, actually it is only a tiny part that shows once in a while. I suppose among all the material they have to draw texts there are some official panphlets. In any case, the answers should be correct linguistically, not politically, I have updated the example to make it less 夸张.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Sheila Reply:

    I just came across your website, 屬于偶然的相逢 :-)

    It’s not easy to find super-teachers, so I am very happy you have Fu Laoshi (maybe you could introduce her to Don’t worry, I won’t try to steal you away from her or vice versa ;-)

    Chinese is a language that could only be mastered if you expose yourself to different accents and expressions, as well as regular practices, a relevant study environment and learning context, which is why I think when you have some time, you should give a try. It might not be the most relevant to you while you are in Shanghai, but once you leave China, it could be a good way for you to keep up with the language.

    [Reply to this comment]

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