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Daan

Test of Proficiency (TOP), Taiwan's HSK

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Daan

Took the 中高級 TOP yesterday and figured I'd share some of my thoughts. The exam I sat comprised listening and reading comprehension, with 50 out of the 120 questions devoted to listening, 30 devoted to grammar- and vocabulary-related questions and the final 40 questions being on a number of short texts.

The listening comprehension recordings are not too hard, but there was really too little time for me to read the questions and all the answers beforehand, which makes it hard to know what to listen for. I definitely have to work on my reading speed; however, not allotting any time whatsoever for reading the questions is also perhaps slightly asking too much. Another point of criticism is that the key is almost always in the last sentence, so if you miss that one, you're gone even if you understood all other parts of the dialogue. The Mandarin spoken was 普通話,by the way, as far as I could judge. Definitely no -s/-sh problems.

The next section was a pretty straightforward cloze test: choose the right grammatical structure or the right word for a number of sentences. Nothing special here.

Then as to reading comprehension: some of the texts used here seemed to be authentic, especially advertisements, while others had been written for the test. It was a bit like a game of Where's Waldo (as other posters have also described the HSK), but less so than the last time I took it. The texts were shorter, with 10-15 lines at most. Some questions were too easy, in that the answer was obvious even without reading the text. I mean, come on, which of the following do you think can help students relieve stress? Play tennis, go jogging, sleep or do homework*?

Overall, I think I passed, but I didn't do as well as I did a few weeks ago on the official mock test. Results in early December. Would love to hear from others who've taken the TOP!

* Just to confirm your suspicions: it's doing homework, according to the incredibly interesting text ;)

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chrix

thanks for sharing your experience, Daan!

Now you have to take the HSK in Beijing and tell us how it compares (just kidding) . Well, if they offered it around where I'm at right now... :mrgreen:

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xiaotao

Hello Daan,

Can you share how what texts you used to prepare for the test? Is there a book that has everything you need to know? Is there a list of must know characters? I know there are plenty of books for HSK, but they are all in simplified characters. Currently,

I'm placing more emphasis on traditional characters. Thanks.

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chrix

Xiaotao, what exactly are your objectives in placing more emphasis on traditional more? Because you wouldn't necessarily need to use TOP prep material for it.

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LordTacodip

Hey, the major I plan to go into in the National Taipei University requires me to earn a score of level four on the Test of Proficiency (TOP) Huayu.

I was wondering if I could achieve this from studying all throughout this year and next year? Are there any textbooks which could further prepare me for it?

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Daan

Just got back after a trip, so apologies for the delay in answering. I was unable to find any mock papers except the ones from Furen University Press, which cost approximately 400 NTD each, but seem to be really hard to get. I've never been able to find anything similar to the books available to prepare for the HSK, and certainly not such a wealth of different books. To be honest, I think the TOP simply doesn't get recognised enough to warrant such a flood of publications (yet). I suppose you might want to consider taking the HSK anyway, since unlike the TOP, that one is known internationally. I'm studying traditional characters myself, but will be taking the HSK at some point.

LordTacodip, a score of 4 should be easily doable in two years' time. I fell short of a 4 by just a few points, and I've only studied Chinese for two years myself. But then I didn't really prepare for this test. If I'd done a lot more vocabulary cramming and zonghe exercises, as well as working through a speed-reading course, I would probably have been able to get a 5. But then of course I don't know what your current level is.

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Li Shen

There will be a free TOP test here in a few months (since it's been newly introduced to this country, apparently...), so I'm going to take it. So, as someone who has practically NO experience with Taiwanese Mandarin, is there anything to look out for?

You said that the recordings were normal standard Putonghua, but are there perhaps any grammatical/usage differences to the mainland that I need to keep in mind? I noticed that while it's apparently possible to take the test in Simplified, some characters aren't actually simplified in the mock test (nothing difficult, I noticed it only with 著...).

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Daan

It should be pretty straightforward. For a reading and listening test, it might be important to realise that some vocabulary is different here across the strait. See for example the relevant Wikipedia article. This thread would also be of interest. But I don't think any of those differences would be much of a stumbling block for someone used to pǔtōnghuà. They certainly weren't for me, and I learnt only Pekinese Mandarin before coming to Taiwan.

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o7o

Hi everyone - hope no one minds me resurrecting this thread for my first post, but there doesn't seem to be anything more recent about this test, and as it seems that more and more people (especially from the Americas and Europe) are taking this test, I think it's worth some updating.

I just took (and passed! B) ) the new Master Level (流利級) test here in Taipei. The name of the test has been changed to TOCFL (Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language) and seems to be ungraded (i.e., a pass is a pass), but I think the certificate will show your score. There are two sections, 50 listening and 50 reading. The listening section is standard 國語, what the government has stipulated "should" be the standard Taiwanese Mandarin. Thus it sounds the most like how you'll hear newscasters talk on TV here, although they sometimes use vocabulary that you will rarely hear in Taiwan from anyone younger than 70 - (i.e., 咱們, 玩意兒, 自行車 instead of the typical 腳踏車). I don't think anyone who's only studied Putonghua would have great difficult with it unless you've really never heard anything but actual Beijing speak - it's not *that* far from the HSK pronunciation, and as far as I'm concerned their pronunciation is clearer and their tones are better (but I learned all my Chinese here so I'm biased). One thing is to note that the tones of many words are different here, including some very common characters (期, 息, 熟 etc.), and on a few occasions pronunciation is always totally different (gua1 for 括, though you will still hear kuo4 occasionally). If you are ever in any doubt what the "official" Taiwanese pronunciation of a word is, this site is a handy reference - just be aware that what they say does *not* always match up with how people on the ground here speak.

I've never taken the HSK, but we used (revised) HSK 6 practice material to prepare for this. I would say the range of topics is more narrow in comparison, and much more practical - most of the listening dialogs were business-related, and the readings again touch mostly on business, economics, and science. I'd say you're comparatively less likely to encounter strange 成語 on the reading section, but on the other hands the questions on both sections tend to be subtle compared to the HSK practice material I've seen. But again - I've never taken the HSK and I've never even been to China, so maybe it would seem more difficult to someone who isn't used to Taiwanese Mandarin. In general, the HSK Advanced is definitely more difficult, but the gap is not as big as I expected - in 5 rounds of listening test practice using Beijing University HSK 6 materials, I was getting scores that ranged from 35 to 42 out of 50, and I ended up with a 41 on the TOCFL. Taiwan claims just passing the Master level (62 or 63 out of 100) is equivalent to passing the HSK Advanced with a grade of 5, and that seems about right to me. They don't seem to distinguish between a high score and a low one. Perhaps a 90 and above would be equivalent to HSK 6? I'm not really familiar with how that test is administered.

I think they still offer a simplified test, but I'm not really sure why anyone would want to take this if they've only studied simplified characters. I think it's slowly expanding bit by bit, but it's still just not ever going to carry the same level of authority as an HSK certificate would anywhere outside of Taiwan, and if you have difficult with traditional characters you are going to have difficulty working in Taiwan, at least at first. Most Taiwanese can understand simplified characters as long as the context is clear, but they are not comfortable with it, and I have heard that for foreign language learners it's more difficult to make the jump from simplified to traditional than vice versa - don't know how true this is.

The test is also entirely computerized now - they give you a piece of scratch paper and a pencil, but the problem is that the pencil has a monster-thick tip that's more comparable to a crayon than something you could actually write Chinese with. I ended up just taking notes in pinyin, because I couldn't write Chinese quickly and still have it come out anywhere near legible.

That's about all I can think of now. If anyone has any questions about this test or anything general about studying Chinese in Taiwan, feel free to let me know.

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o7o

I just took a look at some of the practice materials for the HSK 5 - I was actually under the impression that the new HSK still just had four different tests with separate grading based on performance, not an entirely different listening/reading section for each one. The HSK 5 is substantially easier than Taiwan's Master Level TOCFL, not sure why they have them listed as comparable on the website. Odd. Master TOCFL seems more like HSK 5.8, minus the speaking/writing sections. Someone who barely passed HSK 5 has very little chance of passing the Taiwanese test.

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hanxue

So I'm taking 高等 TOCFL next month.. any ideas where I can get some more practice material (apart from their website)? Or should that suffice?

Oh, and there is no essay writing whatsoever?

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OneEye

If you're in Taipei, I think I remember seeing some material for it at the Shida bookstore ("Lucky Bookstore" on Heping Road). I may be mistaken, but it might be worth a look.

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Daan

Yes, I bought some test papers there as well, back in 2009. They were from 輔仁大學出版社, I think. Quite expensive, though.

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Daan

You could probably use some HSK preparation materials, too. I took both the TOCFL (then still the TOP) and the HSK in one month back in 2009, and I found them remarkably similar.

There was no essay-writing in the TOP I took, but I think there have been some changes since then, so you should probably check their website or ask your local test centre.

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hanxue

From what I understand (from their website), the essay-writing is a separate test, so it's not a part of the listening/reading test.

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hanxue

So I took 高等 TOCFL in Europe recently and apparently it was the OLD format because there was a vocabs section as well and 120 points altogether (50 on listening). And the test was pretty damn hard. I thought the mock tests on their websites weren't as difficult (for example: Master) - kind of got an impression that the new format was more user-friendly than the old one I took today.

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JonBI

I did the same thing, same level, got a phenomenal score. Sometimes they use obscure word choices that are clearly Taiwanese words. Also, I feel the woman reader's voice was robotic. Overall, I did very well, and had not had time to prepare, as I did it as part of a course requirement component, and had not seen sample questions.

I would put it at the same level as John Hopkins University's test, which was of similar difficulty for its hardest questions. Somewhere around the HSK 5 I would wager, which is easier than the 6 which is the only actual HSK level that seems to test anything anymore.

An interesting experience, from someone who very rarely bothers with such things as these, unless forced. Only thing it did was tell everyone how much better some people are than others in the class.

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OneEye

I took the new 高階 test a few weeks ago. Even though it was a "real" test, it wasn't official because my school just uses it as a final exam for the intensive courses (the regular courses do something different). I got a 65 (I believe passing is 75), but it was good enough for me to take the class I wanted this term. I also thought the test was a good bit more difficult than the mock test on the website. I believe at the end of this term I'll be taking the same level with a higher requirement for passing. But at the end of the summer term I think I'll be taking the 流利 level, so I'll try to remember to come back and comment on that.

For those interested, they have a conversion chart here, though interestingly they don't compare it to the HSK like they used to for the old test. Anyway, the four levels on the new test supposedly correspond to A2, B1, B2, and C1 respectively in the CEFR framework.

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