There are like a hundred thousand places that do HSK preparation courses. Just use google.
There are 6 levels now, each has a seperate exam. You are expected to be able to read and understand a different amount of words for each level and appropriately complicated grammar. Vocab requirements are:
6: 5000 +
You can get the word lists online from various places and print them off, or use a flashcard program like Anki (Anki has a few version of the complete deck with all the way up to level 6 but you can tell it to skip different levels that are too easy or too hard).
ooooooh thanks a lot for the fast and concise answer! :)
I tried googling already, but now I look again I see there are some school that do in fact have 2011 programs. Then I wanna hear: does anyone have any good/bad experiences with certain schools they could recommend/warn about?
what is HSK?
汉语水平考试, like IELTS for Chinese
Here you find HSK test dates for 2011: http://www.chinesetesting.cn/gonewcontent.do?id=1884921
There are quite a few language schools in Wudaokou. The most famous one probably being 地球村. I took a few classes there, and was quite satisfied, if it wouldn't have been for the large class sizes. Later I changed to BC, which turned out to be a great choice. It´s a small language school with very dedicated teachers. I am biased though, since some of them became real good friends afterwards. To complete my shameless advertising, here´s the number of their manager: 13 811 203 986, where you could ask for a Free Trial Lesson.
By the way, there are two different HSKs now. The one administered by BLCU (which many would call the "real one"), and the new one from Hanban (the organisation which manages all those Confucius Institutes worldwide). The BLCU-HSK is definitely more challenging. (Kieran´s explanations above describe the new HSK by Hanban). Recently I read something about the two organisations planning to cooperate from now on, so that in the future there will be held only one HSK.
One more thing, you can find vocabulary lists for each level of the new HSK online.
Ah! I had no idea there were actually two seperate HSK examinations. That's... confusing and weird. Hanban seem to manage to make it sound like theirs is the only one and it replaced the old system.
Perfectly possible, that Hanban feels in charge of the HSK now. For many years BLCU conducted the test, then Hanban felt the need of offering a new HSK – following a long lasting power struggle between both organizations, resulting eventually in that merger.
I don´t know if this year only one HSK is offered, last year you still had the choice. I know from some Korean friends, that BeiDa-Applications used to require an old HSK 8 (and as far as I know, some friends of these friends are preparing right now for level 8 again).
But if from now on only the new one is offered, then they definitely should add one or two more levels, since the new 6 corresponds roughly to the old 9 (out of a total 12).
Yeah, I think requiring only 4 to study in university is a total joke too. Nobody speaking any language who has ever got into university has as small a vocabulary as 1200 words.