Taking the Test

I took another sip of coffee—I’m not sure it was coffee because it tasted like brewed rubber tire—to fight the lingering sleepiness. Yawning, I glanced at the giant wall clock. Two minutes before 9. I shifted nervously in my seat, shuffling my ID, pencils, and admission tickets. I took a deep breath, hoping more oxygen would give me some much-needed vitality. “Okay,” I said to myself. “You’ve prepared for this. Maybe not as much as we’d have liked, but you’re ready. Relax.”

The proctor stepped up to the front and addressed the class. “Hello everyone. Welcome to the HSK Level 3 examination. The first part will be the listening test….”


Taking a language certification test takes a lot of studying, makes you nervous, may cost money, and gives you added headache on top of your daily problems.

Despite these problems, you should take one, even if it isn’t required.

Last sunday, I took the HSK Level 3, which is mainland China’s language proficiency examination for standardized Mandarin Chinese. I didn’t really need to take it, but since it was there, I figured that I would take it so I can gauge myself and accelerate my learning. It involved studying on top of my already hectic schedule because I hadn’t taken the test before and the level was a little higher than what I was comfortable in.

To prepare for the test, I created custom flash cards that fit my study needs using Anki flashcard software and loaded the flashcards onto my Android phone using AnkiDroid. I reviewed the flashcards when traveling to and from work, after waking up, before sleeping, and whenever I had any idle time. I also downloaded some mock tests from the HSK’s official site, which helped me understand the instructions and structure of the test ahead of time.

Because of the pressure to pass the test so as to not waste the resources I’ve spent preparing for it, my vocabulary really increased. In fact, I’m already planning to take the upper levels of the exam next year. When I start studying Japanese or Korean, the next two languages I plan to learn, I will definitely take the JLPT or KLPT/TOPIK, respectively.

It will take a month before I find out about the results of last Sunday’s exam, so I still don’t know exactly how I fared. Nevertheless, I benefited from preparing and taking the test. Whatever language you’re learning, taking proficiency tests that are a little higher than your current comfortable level can help you move towards your learning goals.