Placement/Proficiency Exam in Chinese

IMPORTANT: The Chinese Placement/Proficiency Exam is conventionally offered during the New Student Orientation Week in-person. Due to the lack of large classrooms and the uncertainty of student quarantine time, the Fall 2021 Chinese placement exam will be offered online through Canvas and Zoom during the month of August. It is essential to read the exam information below.

The Chinese placement /proficiency exam serves to assess your Chinese proficiency in reading, writing, listening and speaking, and then use the results to place you in a suitable Chinese course or place you out of the FL requirement in Chinese.  Students must take three steps to complete the exam: (1) register for the exam online (2) take the written exam on Canvas (3) take the one-on-one oral exam through Zoom. The time duration of the written section is 90 minutes; the oral exam is about 10-15 minutes.


Q1: Who needs to take the Placement/Proficiency Exam?

All new students who have taken Chinese in middle schools,  US high schools, overseas international schools or Chinese heritage schools and wish to continue studying Chinese at Penn.

All first-year students who wish to be exempt from the foreign language requirement in Chinese must take a placement/proficiency exam.  Neither the Chinese SAT II, AP scores nor the HSK certificates can be used for this purpose.


Q2: Who does NOT need to take the exam?

If you have never studied Chinese before, you may sign up for Chin 011 and you do not need to take the exam.

If you speak Mandarin fluently but cannot read and write in Chinese at all, you may sign up for Chin 031, and you do not need to take the exam.

If you are fluent in Cantonese or other Chinese dialects and want to finish the FL requirement in one year, you may sign up for CHIN 021 and 022 (Intensive Beginning Chinese), and you do not need to take the exam.


Q3: Where and when is the exam? 

You can take the exam anywhere that has reliable Wi-Fi.   

Below is the important timeframe of the exam:

  •    Online Registration: 8/11/Wed 9 AM – 8/13/Fri 11 PM (US Eastern Standard Time)
  •    Online Canvas written exam: 8/14/Sat 9 AM – 8/16/Mon 11 PM (EST)
  •    CLP instructors contacting students and setting up one-on-one oral exam schedule: 8/14/Sat 9 AM – 8/16/Mon 11 PM (EST)
  •    One-on-one Zoom-based oral exam: 8/17/Tue 9 AM – 8/19/Thu 11 PM (EST)
  •    Placement results posted on the Department of EALC and Chinese Language Program websites: 8/20/Fri 5 PM (EST)

Technical Considerations:

Please review the basic computer specifications for Canvas before you begin the exam. It is recommended that you take the exam on a PC or Mac laptop or desktop.


Q4: What is the format of the written exam? Does the exam require handwriting?

The written exam consists of multiple-choice questions, composition, and translation. Students are asked to input by typing for the composition and by handwriting Chinese characters for the translation. You will take a photo and upload your translation answers to Canvas.

Click on the two links below to know more about Canvas quizzes. 

How do I answer each type of question in a quiz?

How do I embed images from Canvas into the Rich Content Editor as a student?


Q5: Is the exam in simplified or traditional characters? How do I register for the exam?

Students who learned the simplified form in school should sign up for the simplified character version of the exam. Students who learned the traditional form should sign up for the traditional character version exam. For students who have attended a Chinese high school in which the instruction language is Chinese, you may register for the shortened version of the exam.

Registration Links: 

Q6: I attended a high school in China and Mandarin Chinese is my native language. Do I need to take the placement exam?

For students who have attended a Chinese high school in which the instruction language is Chinese, there are three means by which you can satisfy the School of Arts and Sciences FL requirement in Chinese.

  •   Satisfactory result on the Chinese placement/proficiency exam
  •   Take and complete an advanced-level Chinese course (see Q10)
  •   Bring your high school transcript to the Chinese language program during the first month of Fall semester or Spring semester

Q7: I have taken Chinese for four years in my high school in the US. Before the placement exam, which Chinese course should I sign up?

Students who have studied Chinese in high school for four years may sign up for CHIN 021 or CHIN 111. We will look at your placement exam results to suggest the most suitable Chinese course for you. If the suggested course is not CHIN 021 or 111, you need to switch to the placement suggested course. Feel free to show the course instructor your high school Chinese portfolio for further evaluation of your proficiency.  

Q8: I have an AP Chinese 5 score. Do I need to take the placement exam?  
Test scores from AP Chinese, IB, and HSK do not correlate with competencies needed for success in specific courses in Penn’s Chinese Language Program. To students who have an AP Chinese 5 score and wish to be exempted from the Foreign Language Requirement in Chinese, taking the Chinese placement exam is the most straightforward way to demonstrate your Chinese proficiency to Penn standards. If both the oral and written exam results indicate proficiency at intermediate-mid (Penn course number at or above the 200-level), a student’s FL requirement is satisfied. The Department of East Asian Languages and Civilization does not grant exemptions for the Foreign Language Requirement based solely on scores from AP Chinese, IB, or HSK.  
Q9: Is there any sample test available? How should I prepare for the exam?

The Chinese Language Program does not offer old exams or sample questions. To prepare for the exam, students may review their Chinese by hand-copying each lesson text in your textbook three times.  This way is helpful to remember the characters and grammar forms in a meaningful context. We do not suggest hand-writing single characters ten times as an effective way to prepare for the exam.

If you are a heritage language learner who is able to speak and read Chinese yet forget or are unable to handwrite Chinese, the same as the learners of Chinese as a foreign language, practice handwriting by copying meaningful paragraphs or dialogues from any Beginning Chinese textbook.


Q10: I am a native speaker and have fulfilled the FL requirement, are there any interesting Chinese courses suitable for me?

As you continue your Penn education, you will be inspired to develop interests in broad liberal education as well as education for a career. If you like to explore modern Chinese literature, to critically understand Chinese cultural perspectives or business development, you can take several advanced-level courses.  In the past, students from Penn Schools of Nursing, Engineering, Wharton, Law, and Communication have tended to take the following Chinese courses to fulfill the SAS general education requirements.

CHIN 380 Advanced Medical Chinese

CHIN 411, 412 Modern Chinese Literature

CHIN 481, 482 Advanced Business Chinese

CHIN 510 Topics in Chinese Culture

CHIN 515 Topics in Chinese Literature


Q11: I missed the placement exam at the beginning of the semester, is there a make-up exam?

Make-up exams or individual placement exams are not offered during the Fall and Spring semesters. If you miss the exam, you must wait until the next Fall semester. Plan accordingly.


Q12: I am a transfer student. Do I need to take the Placement exam? 

Transferring students may contact Dr. Ye Tian ( for an appointment to evaluate previous Chinese course materials for credit and course placement. Transferring students who want to place in a Chinese course or place out of the FL requirement but have not taken any college-level Chinese course need to take the Placement exam at the beginning of the Fall semester.