The Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) is an internationally recognized standard Chinese language test. Non-natives who want to study and work in China or get a job that requires proficiency in Chinese generally need to pass on the highest level of the HSK.
Based on my experience, passing the HSK test can be extremely difficult, especially at the higher levels. This is because you need to remember up to 11000 words and understand how to use them in a real-world context (speaking, writing, etc.) by heart.
Although many passed the HSK tests by self-studying through books, I find the path tedious and time-consuming. It would be more effective to learn live online from professional HSK instructors who are native Chinese speakers.
This is because your instructor can help you identify your weaknesses, clarify several points that you are confused about, and provide you with tips and techniques that will help you pass the exam in a single attempt.
You can enroll in online training through various online Chinese schools. Unfortunately, not all schools are trustworthy or offer decent training. Hence, you have to choose carefully; otherwise, you can become a victim of scammers.
I decided to do the heavy lifting for you. This article will provide you with a list of top-notch online HSK courses or training that you can reliably take to prepare for the HSK exam. You can then select the school that suits your preferences and start learning right away.
Affiliate Disclosure: This blog post from Victory Tale contains affiliate links. We will receive a small commission from our partners if you enroll in the training through those links.
Nonetheless, we always value integrity and prioritize our audience’s interests. Hence, you can rest assured that we will present each course truthfully.
Things You Should Know
New Format for HSK Exam
As of 2022, the HSK curriculum has a new format (introduced in 2021). It currently comprises 9 levels in 7 tests.
The new one will be much more in-depth compared to the previous format. To pass the final level (HSK7-9), you will need to understand complicated and abstract materials, including classical Chinese expressions popularly used in the modern context.
Hence, it is more necessary than before to learn HSK from a professional Chinese instructor who can clarify this complicated stuff in detail.
Below are the criteria for the best HSK courses/training:
- Taught by certified teachers from Mainland China
- Trustworthy organization/learning platform
- Offer comprehensive training for all HSK levels
- Provide excellent value for money
- Receive mostly positive reviews from actual learners
- My personal experience with the organization or training (if any) must be positive.
eChineseLearning is unarguably one of the finest options for HSK training. Throughout the past 16 years, the school has trained numerous students to succeed in the HSK test.
All eChineseLearning instructors are native Chinese speakers who are certified teachers with years of teaching experience. Hence, you can be confident that the quality of instruction will be top-notch.
Curriculum and Format
According to the website, eChineseLearning’s curriculum is still based on the former test format. There are six courses in total designed exclusively for HSK 1-6.
I think the curriculum will be updated soon to reflect the new test format. eChineseLearning is the online Chinese language school that offers the most diverse and advanced Chinese language courses (they even have a standalone course on Chinese culture).
Therefore, they are more ready than other competitors to provide high-level training for HSK 7-9.
Those who have taken the HSK test before can select the level at will. However, others can take a free Chinese proficiency test to determine the HSK level they belong to.
Unlike many others that strictly follow the standard HSK curriculum, eChineseLearning adjusts the training according to each student’s preferences, learning style, pace, or even cultural background.
Hence, you will get a personalized learning experience, which can be extremely helpful in identifying your weaknesses so that you can score better on the test.
All lessons are 1-to-1 and conducted through eChineseLearning’s online classroom platform. Hence, you will gain access to specific features that assist your language learning (schools that offer HSK online courses via regular video conference tools (Zoom/Skype) cannot provide those).
Each session lasts 50 minutes, which I believe is an optimal length for students to “digest” the knowledge they have learned. However, you have complete flexibility in scheduling. Thus, you can book multiple continual sessions a day (if your preferred instructor is available).
The best part is that eChineseLearning is one of the few online schools that allows you to schedule your online classes at any time (24/7). Therefore, timezones and irregular study/work timetables will not cause an issue.
If you are still unsure whether eChineseLearning is the right choice for you, I suggest taking the free lesson to assess the quality of instruction.
Note: In addition to a regular HSK course, eChineseLearning also offers a prep course for the HSKK test. HSKK is the HSK equivalent for verbal skills. International students or non-native Chinese speakers usually take it to demonstrate their Chinese fluency.
Currently, there are very few online schools that offer such programs. Thus, if you plan to take the HSKK, eChineseLearning is 100% worth your consideration.
You will need to buy a subscription package consisting of multiple lessons per month. The price per lesson will depend on package duration and the number of lessons you need each month.
Generally speaking, you should expect to pay $25-$40 per hour (adjusted).
Pros & Cons
- Offer personalized learning experiences for all students
- Optimal lesson length of 50 minutes
- Informative progress report to grasp how your Chinese language abilities develop over time
- Provide students with complete flexibility in scheduling (24/7)
- HSKK prep courses are also available.
- Free trial + 30-day money-back guarantee
- Costlier than other alternatives
- Students have to buy a subscription package. Thus they cannot pay only for the lessons they need.
- The website is not very user-friendly.
2. Instant Mandarin
Instant Mandarin is another excellent school to consider for live online HSK training, especially if you have a hectic or unpredictable study/work schedule.
Instant Mandarin instructors have gone through a rigorous vetting process. They must meet the following qualifications:
- Have an academic research background at Chinese universities
- Professionally trained and certified in Mandarin Chinese teaching
- Possess years of experience teaching in Chinese language schools
Since you will be trained by elite teachers with solid teaching skills, you can be confident that the knowledge you will learn is accurate.
Curriculum and Format
Instant Mandarin’s HSK curriculum (known as Easy HSK) is based on the former 6-level test format. You can select your target level or start a free lesson for the instructor to determine your level manually.
However, like eChineseLearning, your instructor will consider your goals and preferences when building the curriculum. Thus, you can inform your instructor to modify it if you want to focus on specific topics or go over HSK test papers or practice tests.
All lessons will be conducted online via Instant Mandarin’s online classroom web app (accessible from Chrome. Hence, installation is not required). You will learn live online with an instructor who will use the app’s unique features to enrich your learning experience.
Each session is 25 minutes long, which is shorter than all other alternatives. This will offer flexibility to take a class at any time, as it can fit into any busy schedule.
Those who want a longer session (like me) can schedule unlimited back-to-back sessions (if your package and your instructor’s availability permit.)
Instant Mandarin offers four packages as follows:
- Taster – $120 for 12 lessons ($10 per lesson, or $24 per hour)
- Appetizer – $570 for 60 lessons ($9.50 per lesson or $22.8 per hour)
- Main Course – $810 for 90 lessons ($9 per lesson or $21.6 per hour)
- Full Course – $1530 for 180 lessons ($8.50 per lesson or $20.4 per hour)
The Full Course package provides the highest value for money. However, if you plan to take HSK 1-3, you probably do not need that many lessons for the exam preparation.
Based on my experience, I think 90 lessons (or 37.5 hours of instruction) will be adequate for average students to pass each level of HSK 1-3, especially if you already have some prior knowledge of the language.
On the other hand, if your goal is to pass HSK 4-6 or even 7-9, I recommend opting for the Full Course package.
This is because these HSK levels are far tougher to pass. You need to memorize several thousand Chinese characters along with many more complicated grammar points and use cases.
Undoubtedly, 37.5 hours of instruction will be insufficient. Therefore, buying the Full Course package would prove a wise decision.
Pros & Cons
- Taught by certified native Chinese teachers with strong academic credentials and teaching experience
- Offer personalized HSK training
- Compact class time, which is super easy to fit into any busy schedule
- Students can schedule live online classes at any time (24/7) through Instant Mandarin’s modern and intuitive platform.
- Helpful customer support
- Flexible course packages
- 7-day money-back guarantee
- Students cannot ask for the instructor’s personal contact details (Email, Whatsapp, etc.) This is not always a con. However, it can be a nuisance if you want to form a long-lasting friendship with your instructor.
- Require students to buy a package
Preply is the best option to choose from if you want complete flexibility. Unlike other alternatives above, Preply is NOT a Chinese language school but a tutoring marketplace that connects students with Chinese teachers.
Choosing Your HSK Instructor & Pricing
Since Preply has more than 5900 Chinese tutors, you need to pick your HSK instructor carefully. Otherwise, the learning experience may not be worth your time and investment.
First, you need to select “HSK” from the specialties menu. This setting will filter out tutors who cannot teach HSK.
The next step is to select “Only Chinese Native Speakers.” This option is not necessary since non-native instructors might also teach HSK well.
However, I think the chance that they will be better than native speakers is slim. Thus, I recommend sticking with instructors who are native Chinese.
The final step is to view their profile. I suggest selecting a certified instructor with the highest academic credentials (Ph.D. or Master’s Degree in Linguistics, Journalism, etc.) possible and years of experience in teaching HSK or high-level Chinese.
Keep in mind that the higher the HSK level, the more complicated the language. Hence, only a few native speakers can teach you this stuff. This is why you should stick to the cream of the crop.
Another vital factor to consider is the price per hour. However, the overall fees are much lower than eChineseLearning and Instant Mandarin. You can take a lesson with an instructor of high caliber by paying approximately $10 per hour.
Once you have completed the selection process, you can schedule a trial lesson with your chosen instructor. This lesson is not free. You will pay all total lesson fees (as determined by your instructor.)
However, if you are unsatisfied with your instructor, you can request a full refund or schedule another trial lesson with another instructor without paying extra fees.
Preply is known for personalized language learning. Thus, this approach applies to HSK as well. The instructor will consider your preferences and goals when creating a curriculum.
Furthermore, if needed, you can request your instructor to focus on specific parts of the test or even use your own training material in the classes. In other words, you will have a flexible curriculum tailored to your needs.
Pros & Cons
- You can pick your own instructor by viewing their profiles, credentials, and reviews.
- Charge far lower rates than other alternatives
- Offer a fully personalized HSK training experience
- Flexible curriculum
- Require extensive screening to find the right HSK instructor
- No free trial lessons
Self-Studying HSK Preparation Courses
Self-studying HSK courses are another excellent method to prepare for the HSK test. They offer top-notch training based on the standard HSK curriculum at a price far less than live training.
I recommend taking self-studying courses along with live training because they explain the vocabulary, grammar points, and other use cases in great detail and provide you with additional crucial learning resources.
You can then review concepts that you may not understand well without bothering your live instructor to explain them again (which will cost you extra fees).
4. HSK Preparation Course by Peking University
This Coursera series consists of step-by-step courses that prepare students for HSK 1-6. You will learn from faculty members of Peking University, one of the most prestigious Chinese universities.
I recommend taking this series before the test date. The reason is that each course delves into test strategies, which I find particularly useful for test takers of all HSK levels.
Students can select the course/program according to their target HSK levels.
1. Learn Chinese: HSK Test Preparation Specialization – This specialization comprises four minor courses, covering all HSK 1-3 content. You will learn the best strategies to tackle each part of the test and gain access to several practice tests and questions.
Pricing: Audit (Free), Full Course ($39 per month)
2. Chinese for HSK 4 – This standalone course introduces you to hundreds of HSK 4 vocabulary and offers detailed tips and techniques to improve your score on reading and listening comprehension.
Pricing: Audit (Free), Full Course ($39 one-time)
3. Chinese for HSK 5 – The curriculum structure is similar to HSK 4. However, you will notice a stark difference between this course and previous counterparts. All instructors will not use English in all of the course content. This can help strengthen your skills for the high-level Chinese language proficiency test.
Pricing: Audit (Free), Full Course ($49 one-time)
4. Chinese for HSK 6 – The final course will drill deep into HSK 6 questions. The instructors will explain them in detail and outline the best strategies to tackle them. Like HSK 5 course, this one is entirely in Chinese.
Pricing: Audit (Free), Full Course ($49 one-time)
In every lesson, you will gain access to excellent reading materials and transcripts that will help you practice and prepare for the test.
Pros & Cons
- Taught by faculty members of the most prestigious Chinese university
- Well-structured curriculum
- Clear explanations of concepts
- Offer numerous test-taking tips and strategies
- Use no English in the last two courses
- Free auditing
- The curriculum is not comprehensive. You still need a book or live training to learn additional vocabulary and grammar.
Super Test– Suppose you run out of HSK practice tests. I suggest you download this HSK prep app (iOS and Android).
You will get ten complete practice tests and thousands of exercises for each HSK level. I found the quality of the tests to be exceptional and match the difficulty of the actual exam.