I took the HSK1 exam on the weekend, after starting Mandarin Chinese on Duolingo at the end of February, playing the HSK1 collection (and parts of the other easier collections) here and using the Chinese Grammar Wiki. The HSK exams are standardised tests set by the Chinese government and offered all over the world.
I’d read advice online that HSK1 is not worth doing because it’s so easy, and I agree it would be hard to fail, but I thought it would keep me honest about making sure my listening skills don’t lag way behind my reading skills. I let that happen with French and later had to spend ages addressing it.
The lower levels of the HSK test listening and reading skills only. I didn’t understand every single word of the listening section. I think I probably was able to answer all the questions correctly, but I wouldn’t have been able to transcribe every word of the dialogue if that had been required. That’s made me aware that there’s a big difference between a sentence being played twice under exam conditions, with only a brief pause between them (while you’re still trying to get to grips with what you heard the first time), and playing a sentence a second time here or on DL after a longer pause, when you’ve had a chance to do your best to parse what you heard and hone in on the parts you missed. I’m going to start trying harder to understand new sentences in their entirety the very first time I hear them, instead of pressing the replay button. It’s also reinforced my suspicion that once you’re not a complete beginner, it might be best to play new sentences all the time than to repeat the same ones, since you only get one chance to process a new sentence without some memory of what it was about.
In the higher levels of the HSK the audio is only played once, so that will become a moot point, but I thought it was enough of a revelation for me that it was worth taking the exam to hopefully improve how I study from here on in.
It was also enjoyable to take the test to have the chance to talk with some of the other test-takers. It was held at a university and I thought the others would be mostly university students, but most were studying independently like I am and wanted some official measure of their progress.