Depending on what your purpose is for learning Mandarin, you may eventually want to get some type of certification to prove how good you really are. As English has TOEFL and IELTS, there are several tests that can help you to have your Chinese language skills recognized.
HSK test (Mainland China)
The most widely recognized test is the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) which is organized by an official Chinese body (website). HSK works with a network of international test centers, of which it offers a list on its website, which includes a Singapore-based test institution as well as institutions pretty much all around the world. Simply contact the test centre to find out about the next test date.
If you obtain a sufficiently high score on the HSK, you can use the certificate issued to you to enter a Chinese-language college or university in Mainland China. It is also a recognized way to certify your Chinese language proficiency to employers, although this may have more value in non-Chinese speaking countries. You can imagine that it will be pretty easy for a Chinese to assess your level by just having a chat.
Quite simply, HSK is the ‘Chinese TOEFL’. If you want your language ability recognized worldwide, do not go for anything else but HSK.
TOP Test (Taiwan)
The TOP test is organized by the Taiwan authorities and is really not as wellknown as the HSK. According to its website, it can be taken in Taiwan, New Zealand and Peru (at the time of writing). This test is definitely not as widely recognized as the HSK, but can be useful if you wish to pursue study or a career in Taiwan. It uses traditional script. A number of mock tests can be downloaded from the main website.
BCT (China / Singapore)
BCT stands for Business Chinese Test. It is a test format that has been jointly developed by Hanban, the executive body of the Chinese Language Council international, which is affiliated with the Chinese ministry of education, and WDA, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency.
The BCT is fully computer based. There is the possibility to have text read to you, and the possibility to use input in Hanyu Pinyin, which means that the test can probably give you a higher score if you are not a ‘star’ in writing characters stroke by stroke. In a way, this is only fair, because business communication happens through e-mail and spoken means, so handwriting is not as much a requirement for companies when they hire Chinese speaking staff.
At this point, Singapore is the only country outside of China to use this test. That said, with government subsidies (for Singapore permanent residents and citizens) to take the test and the test being a pre-requisite to enter subsidized language classes, it will likely be a reference standard within Singapore very soon.
I’m personally planning to take this test next month. I’ll keep you updated!