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Language Proficiency Testing for Chinese as a Foreign Language

An Argument-Based Approach for Validating the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK)

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Florian Meyer

How did the (old) Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) assess the Chinese proficiency of non-native speakers of Chinese? What inferences can be derived from HSK test taker scores, especially from Western test takers? How difficult is it to learn Chinese according to the HSK? Thirty years of research have been synthesized into an argument-based approach for validating the most widespread test for Chinese as a foreign language. In addition, the author has analyzed the scores of a sample of over 250 German test takers in order to investigate how many hours German natives needed on average to study for reaching a specific HSK level. This work also extensively discusses validation theory for psychological testing, and it demonstrates how to put an argument-based approach to validation into practice.
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5 German HSK test taker scores and their Chinese study background

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As chapter 4 has shown, studies on the quality of the HSK are numerous. However, there is still one huge gap: quantitative studies investigating Western test takers’ scores. This means that we do not know (a) how well Westerners perform on the HSK, and (b) which major variables influence Western test takers who successfully score on the HSK. Such substantial lack of information on Western test takers exists for two reasons. First, Westerners account for only a very small fraction of test takers in relation to the whole HSK population. Therefore, many studies are mostly dominated by East Asian test takers, e.g., by those from South Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam or Chinese ethnic minorities (e.g., Cuī Shūyàn, 2009; Lǚ Xiá and Lín Kě, 2007; Sū Dé and Táo Gétú, 1999;Zhāng Ruìfāng, 2011).

Figure 26: HSK levels obtained by 255 Mongolian test takers. All test takers took the Elementary-Intermediate HSK at the Normal University of Inner Mongolia (Nèiměnggǔ Shīfàn Dàxué 内蒙古师范大学)between 2006 and 2010. Note: only one test taker obtained HSK level 8. Level “0” represents those test takers who failed (n = 87; 34.1%). Figure drawn on data based on Zhāng Ruìfāng, 2011, p. 27.

Approximately 95 to 97% of all HSK test takers in China come from Asia (Huáng Chūnxiá, 2011b, p. 61; Lǐ Háng, 2010, p. 956).342 Thus, these studies do not...

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