Today I realised that the new layout of the new TOPIK has been published. It’s finally been established that the beginner level will lose the 쓰기 section while intermediate and advanced will be put together into one. That is, levels 3 through 6 will all be tested in the same exam. Honestly, I think it’s a big mistake and here is why.
The TOPIK test in its current format provides some nice milestones. When you pass the first two levels, you might not be a Korean chatterbox, but you have a piece of paper stating that you have accomplished something, and when read and hear Korean, you can feel that you’ve progressed. You can then work on the intermediate level, and finally move on to the ranks of the Korean language feinschmeckers: advanced level. There is a natural progress from one level to another.
In the new system, the beginners no longer have to struggle with the essay question, which might encourage more learners to sign up sooner than they otherwise would have. But boy, will the essay questions catch up with them just one level above. Suddenly test takers go from having no essay question at all to being required to write two separate essays about topics ranging from IT to environmental concerns and pollution. Quite a leap, don’t you think?
Of course the graders take into account that some learners are intermediate learners so they probably expect these test takers to not be able to answer specific questions in the multiple choice section (they probably know exactly which points will go first) and they know which grammar points will definitely not be used in the essay section. However, I cannot imagine finding myself in an exam, making educated guesses about a potentially large fraction of the answers, just hoping that “those are the advanced questions”. All intermediate learners will sign up for the test being fully aware that even with a solid intermediate level they will not be able to understand all of the exam questions.
Normally when you leave an exam, you have a fair idea of what went well and what didn’t. The benchmark is “I understood everything”, which, by default, will no longer be possible for an intermediate learner in the new test format. If they did, they wouldn’t be intermediate learners, but advanced!
I see why there might be a pressure to make the beginner level easier to encourage more students to actually test their Korean ability without the fear of failing. Making them enthusiastic about passing and getting that sense of accomplishment. However I do not see the economic wisdom of combining the intermediate exam with the advanced.
Do they expect test takers to sit “TOPIK II” four times? Do they expect intermediate learners to pay the fee with the mindset “at least I won’t feel as lost when I reach level 4”? Maybe it’s because I’m fairly perfectionist, but I won’t feel that it’s a good experience to enter an exam, not knowing if the vocabulary I don’t understand are words that are “okay” not to know at my level.
I will postpone my test until I feel confident and not risk finding myself wondering “why are the other test takers turning the page? Why are they turning it???” during the listening test. Until I don’t feel embarrassed and stressed about myself spelling my way through the reading section. Until I feel that I stand a chance of being able to convey how I actually feel about the given essay topic so I don’t have to spend time thinking up a lie that requires much easier vocabulary.
I realise that not all learners are as perfectionist as I am. I know that for some people the big jump from beginner to intermediate/advanced will not be a deterrent. However, a lot of people might feel the same as I do. We all study because we care about the language and enjoy when we finally understand the social cues that are embedded in the choice of words and speech level. We sign up for the test because we care about our progress.
Why wouldn’t test takers wait until they feel confident about the result?
What do you guys think? Will you revise your TOPIK plans? Sit the exam before originally planned to have one more exam governed by the current system? Or will you postpone it?
Rant and rave in the comments!