In the past couple of weeks I have noticed that search terms along the lines of the title have gained popularity so I figured it would be worth a post.
Of course there is no clear-cut answer to that question, since we’re all to some extent falling victims to our own degree of talent, discipline, and our lives in general, but I will try to address some of the factors that are important.
First let’s look at some numbers
As already mentioned in Studying for TOPIK in the top menu, this is how the Sogang books roughly compare to the TOPIK levels:
TOPIK level – Sogang Korean books
Beginners level 1 – SK 1A,1B
level 2 – SK 2A (2B for a safe side)
Intermediate level 3 – SK 3A,3B
level 4 – SK 4A, 4B
Advanced level 5 – 5A and/or 5B
level 6 – 5B and other newspaper articles or literary texts.
Each of the Sogang books is estimated to take 75-100 hours to get through in a class setting. You can do the math depending on which level you aim for.
Of course this isn’t the whole story:
On one high end of the scale there are students like Shanna from Hangukdrama who passed TOPIK level 4 in exceptionally short time. Actually she has written a post about the myths and facts of her studies just a few days ago. I encourage you to read it.
One thing you will notice is that she does something related to Korean every single day. Come rain, come shine, she either listens to Korean music, reads something in Korean, or watches Korean programmes on TV. In short: she is exposed to Korean a lot!
However much we would like to, most of us cannot study Korean all day long. We have university grades to think of, work, family obligations, and maybe also a sports activity that requires a couple of hours per week. It all adds up. If you have the opportunity to put those aside and just study from morning to evening, it is possible to successfully sit the TOPIK a lot quicker than it is for those who give it 45 min every evening when they are exhausted. But most of us have other commitments that demand our attention.
Do you have a sticky brain?
This is where your talent for languages come in, some people have “sticky brains” as we say in my mother tongue, and they don’t have to read everything multiple times for something to stick. If you have a “sticky brain” having many other commitments is not going to be as big an issue as it is for someone who has to read something minimum three times to remember it.
Are we really learning only for the test?
Ask yourself why you study Korean. Is it really only for the test? I study because I truly enjoy the language, the finesses it shows about the relationship between speakers, the little cultural hints that are hidden in expressions. My TOPIK score is just a consequence of my efforts. Yes, I made a bet about my TOPIK score in 2012, but I also ended up abandoning it to focus on the journey more than the result because the original focus was draining me completely.
Does that mean you cannot have goals? Of course not! Dream and make plans, that drives you forward, but remember to enjoy the journey too. Otherwise, why bother? It’s supposed to be fun, not a dreadful duty.
Knowing Korean vs. “just” doing well on the TOPIK
What’s with the rush? The thing is, even if you do learn enough vocabulary in one month to just make it through the test, do you then actually “know” Korean?
Korean is a rich language and reaching the point where you know things like which formality level to use in different situations, and that people are not necessarily asking if you have had lunch when they ask you whether you’ve eaten since it’s really just an expression for “how are you? Is everything alright with you?” takes time! A language cannot be reduced to a list of verbs to conjugate and nouns to cram.
Then why even care about the TOPIK?
The TOPIK is a great tool for measuring your progress and a way to easily tell other learners or even universities or potential employers which level you’re at. But it really is a tool rather an end in itself.
Happy studies everyone!