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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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7 Conclusion

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This dissertation demonstrated that the old HSK yielded incredibly rich research literature, which mostly aimed to improve the HSK’s quality. Some research supported the use of the HSK, while others criticized weaknesses. Overall, this research provides a substantial source of evidence that has been accumulated over three decades. This dissertation tried to synthesize the research into one validation framework by using a so-called argument-based approach. Based on this approach, a validity argument for the old HSK was built. This argument clearly revealed strengths and weaknesses of the old HSK, and research evidence could be logically ordered yielding a final appraisal.

The old HSK was a highly objective and reliable examination assessing whether non-native speakers’ Chinese language ability was sufficient for studying in Mainland China. Much evidence could be found that backed this claim, indicating that test takers who scored HSK level 3 and level 6 were able to study technical subjects or in the humanities, respectively. However, claims about test takers’ productive language abilities were rather limited on the basis of HSK scores, revealing in this respect construct underrepresentation. In the empirical part of this work, more evidence was brought forward in support of the HSK’s construct. It has been demonstrated that study hours and to a lesser degree study time are among the major factors influencing Chinese language proficiency, and both can be used as predictors for Chinese language proficiency. German learners of Chinese have to study approximately 1,600 study hours to reach HSK...

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