Here's my two fen, for what's is worth. I just took HSK 5 in May and the writing section was a challange. With technology the way it is today it is so easy to get by without writing Chinese these days (which in my opinion is a shame because the writing is so beautiful).
There is no good substitute for pen and paper. Even today with all the tools available I prefer a good mechanical pencil and a spiral notebook. The problem is that writing the characters is SO time consuming that I find myself making that the last priority and when I was getting ready for HSK 5 I really had to brush up on the writing. As soon as I finished the test I told myself that I would maintain my writing. Well that didn't last long! I got busy and of course that is again the last priority. In a perfect world (and what I used to do) was force myself to write out everything that I was reading. As I do plan on taking HSK 6 next spring, I will have to force myself into that mode again a few months in advance.
The writing part of 5 gives you some of the same things a 4 did, with some new challanges: 2 pictues where you are asked to use the given words (4 or 5) and construct a short essasy (80-100 words). With level 6 you are given a long piece (1000 words or more) and have 10 minutes to read it over and then another time limit to rewrite to piece in a shorter format (300-400 words).
I suppose you could just skip the writing section if you didn't want to take it and you would probably get a 0. I'm not sure if it is possible to register for individual sections of the test.
I am at the point where my time is so limited I'm tempted to just give up on the writing and focus on the other aspects. However, I have already spent a few years working on the writing and while I'm nowhere near the level of fluency of Brendan, I hate to just toss all that time away and give up on writing all together. In some sort of strange way, when have the time, I find writing the characters quite relaxing and enjoyable.
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