Mar 042012

Train mode in CS Xiezi

The black bit is a hint for the next stroke in the "Train" mode of CS Xiezi

CS Xiezi – Chinese Character Trainer from Clavis Sinica is an app that helps you learn to 写字 (write characters).

CS Xiezi tests you on writing characters with the proper stroke order (note that it does not teach you the basic rules of stroke order). The characters are drawn from the first three lessons in Clavis Sinica’s “Stepping Stones” series.

Upon launching the app, you first choose one of the three lessons and then one of three modes. In all modes you receive a prompt in pinyin (with or without English definition) and then you try to write the character (with or without a background grid). Strokes you make with your finger (or stylus) that are deemed corrected are converted to standardized ones. Otherwise, the modes differ as follows.

In this mode, you can choose whether or not to have a grey outline of the character displayed, so you can practice your knowledge of the stroke order (by tracing) separately from your recall of the character itself.

You can pick any character from the lesson and/or proceed forward and backward through the list.

Various forms of help are available in this mode: tapping draws the entire character at once. Tapping draws the next single stroke. Tapping ? gives  you a hint how to start the next stroke.

There is no help and no mercy in this mode. As soon as you make a wrong stroke, it shows you the rest and then automatically moves on to the next character. Missed characters recur at random points until you get them all right.

When you do get them all correct, the app shows how many characters were in the set, how many  you did (the total of the number in the set and the number of times you had to do over missed characters), and your final score as percentage. The app does not tell you the specific characters that you missed. Nor does it keep scores from previous sessions for tracking progress.

Writing without an outline (but with a grid) in CS Xiezi

Writing without an outline (but with a grid) in CS Xiezi

The Test mode seems to be the same as the Drill mode except that missed characters are not repeated.

Educational value
Most of the learning to be had from this app is in the Train mode. Drill and Test are both essentially tests and neither does much to help you learn the characters that you miss.

I would like to see more of a distinction between Drill and Test that would make Drill more useful as a bridge between Train and Test. For example, when you miss a stroke in Drill, it could let you try once more. Missed characters could still be repeated later, but you could be given more of a chance to learn them before they get shuffled back in. Instead of showing just the remaining strokes and then moving on to the next character, you could instead get a display more like the Train mode, so that you could see the whole character animated at once or stroke-by-stroke (and be able to replay it more than once).

Both Drill and Test could be improved by including a list of missed characters in the feedback at the end.

An introduction to the rules of stroke order would also be a valuable addition.


  • Visual and aural feedback (although I do find the sounds rather unpleasant) is provided for each stroke.
  • There is a choice of animation speed.


  • The outline option should be greyed out or unavailable in Drill and Test, since the outline does not display even if “on” is selected.
  • No detailed feedback is provided.
  • Animations are sometimes very jagged.

There are not too many apps that test stroke order without a tracing outline, so beginners should find CS Xiezi useful, but it will be most helpful to people following the Clavis Sinica Stepping Stones lessonsCS Xiezi is available on the CS Xiezi - Chinese Character Trainer - Clavis Sinica.

  2 Responses to “iOS app: CS Xiezi”

  1. [...] Zika is another iOS app from Clavis Sinica (see also the review of CS Xiezi). This one is a multiple-choice-format vocabulary tester that supports simplified or traditional [...]

  2. [...] Xiezi – Chinese Character Trainer from Clavis Sinica (originally reviewed in this post) has been updated with more characters. Version 1.5 now helps you learn to write the [...]

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