I recently got a classic set of ‘good news/bad news’ from the staff at the Edmonton Confucius Institute. The good news was that I passed the Advanced Spoken HSK test (yay!); the bad news was that I didn’t quite make the grade for HSK 6 (ohhhhh). As I look at regrouping and looking at trying again, it’s worth asking the question–what happened??
Advanced HSK Spoken vs. Intermediate HSK Spoken
There was quite a jump between the Intermediate and Advanced levels on the spoken test. A couple of things to note:
- Both tests consist of listening and reacting to questions from a pre-recorded test on a CD; a digital audio recording of your responses is made by the proctor, and I understand the actual grading is done by Hanban officials back in China. The pre-recorded CD contains timed pauses during which you give your responses, so the test really is exactly the same, no matter where you take it in the world.
- Whereas the Intermediate HSK Spoken Test starts with a series of short sentences that you simply need to ‘repeat’ back into the microphone, I was initially surprised by how long the passages were for the Advanced HSK Spoken Test– I suppose some kind of genius could parrot the passage back word-for-word, but I think the goal of the initial section is to see if you can hold the relevant facts in your short-term memory (you can make short notes), and then reproduce a bit of a summary.
- There is a section that asks you to read a passage aloud– as I recall, you have a few minutes to read it over before speaking.
- In the final section, the voice on the tape asks you to respond to a few questions– in this part, it wasn’t so much of a question of “what is the correct answer?”, as it was an opportunity for you to give your personal opinion on the topic.
Overall, just as you’d imagine, the Advanced Spoken HSK Test offers more opportunities to talk about more complex things, show off some more challenging vocabulary, etc. I still have plenty of room to improve, but I’m very happy that I passed this test!
Why I didn’t pass HSK 6
Put simply, I didn’t pass HSK 6 because, up until this point, I have concentrated almost exclusively on my listening and speaking skills, and largely ignored reading and writing. The result is that I was easily able to pass the listening section of the HSK 6, but I still have a ways to go on the reading and writing sections. This wasn’t really a surprise, but it’s a good reminder that I really do need to shake things up if I’m ever going to get beyond HSK and communicate like a reasonably literate person.
- I try to listen to full-length interviews and watch movies, but I don’t read short stories or books.
- During my commute to work every day, at least 2-3 Chinese podcasts and/or songs make their way into my ipod playlist, but I don’t read the news in Chinese very often.
- I do type some Chinese, but I rarely pick up a pencil and write by hand—- (Even in English, consider the difference between writing a passage on a computer, and writing it by hand without the help of a spell-checker)
As long as the above remains true, I can’t really expect to progress much farther than my current level.
This isn’t of course, to say that I can’t read and write in Chinese at all; after all, I did manage to pass HSK 5. If I’m composing an e-mail in Chinese, I can type in pinyin and choose the correct hanzi from the options presented in order to create text that is reasonably understandable. If I’m unsure of a particular phrase, I can even ‘test’ a phrase that I’ve written in Google to see if anyone else has created a similar sentence.
All of my preferred ‘tools’ are useless, however, when presented with a pencil and a blank sheet of paper. Here is the description of the written section of the HSK 6 written section from the Hanban chinese testing website:
The test taker will be required to read a narrative article of about 1,000 characters within 10 minutes, and then rewrite it into a shorter article of about 400 characters within 35 minutes. The test taker should also create a title for the article. The test taker should recount the article and is not required to express personal opinions.
So, to make a long story short, I need to read more and I need to practice writing more. I have talked about writing practice before, so it’s now basically time to practice what I’ve preached.