Monthly Archives: January 2014

Learning log: week 2, 2014

Inspired by the recent encouragement to consider how many hours we put into Korean, I actually timed my grammar study last week. I studied about 2h and 15 min (not counting Korean singing in the shower :-D), which isn’t enough, but I’m satisfied since my exam prep has not gone as planned.

Last week was tough. As you know, I got a mail from a classmate wanting a whole semester worth of notes for our next exam (the day before another exam). It was an unpleasant experience since it was so clear she would not have contacted me at all had she not wanted my notes, and she blatantly ignored the fact that I had another exam to study for as well as my work. I hope this whole thing hasn’t affected my exam the following day too much because I wasn’t exactly zen the evening before and didn’t sleep as much as I should have. At first I decided to ignore the mail, but when she started texting to remind me to answer (and thanking me in advance for handing them over), I finally decided to just tell her I couldn’t give them and earned a snarky reply.

My last final is on Friday and I’m determined to do well and not be bothered. Even if I have to go into hiding in one of the bathrooms to avoid a nasty confrontation, so be it. It really shouldn’t be necessary considering that we really are to old for this stuff, but I simply won’t spare energy for a discussion about whether or not her understanding of the course is my responsibility in front of 100 people just before going into a 4 hour exam.

From Friday, I can finally study Korean at night instead of revising, and I even have a couple of hours after the exam to study Korean before meeting a friend 🙂 it’s looking bright 🙂

Final exam frustrations

Korean studies are on hold until tomorrow afternoon after my final exam. Next week I have one more. All of a sudden I got a little uneasy about it although I’ve been exceedingly calm about it throughout the whole Christmas break. Actually I wasn’t nervous until I got a mail from a classmate earlier today, asking for a copy of ALL of my notes for next week’s exam. She even suggests dropping by at the office where I work to get them, making copies, and then returning them. I still haven’t decided what to answer. My jaw dropped when I read the mail, thinking “again?”.

On one hand, what are the odds someone else will make anything sensible of my handwritten notes if she cannot get anything out of her own? I won’t lose anything from sharing my notes in that respect, and our grades are absolute, not based on a normal distribution. Furthermore it’s a closed-book exam so no aids are allowed in the room on the day anyway.

On the other hand, I feel annoyed since this is the only type of exchanges we’ve had for about two months. No smalltalk, no coffee breaks, just “what do you think of XYZ?”. I’m not an oracle, I don’t know everything either, and I also need to work a lot for the notes I do have.

For our last exam I shared my entire outline which condensed 970 pages to 16 pages, in the form of a step-by-step recipe for how to solve cases depending on which specific area of law the case would cover, which verdicts are considered important for each area, their court number, and the most important paragraphs in the verdicts. Grades are not out yet so I cannot yet claim to have definitively cracked the code for that one, but at least I did work diligently. And I shared my outline for nothing in return.

How many times should you do that? Are two exams enough? Three? Does it depend on how close friends/colleagues you are? Is it even “okay” to feel miffed about such a request or should I just feel proud that she even asked?

In comparison, I had no qualms about sharing a lot of notes with a guy in my class who on his own accord offered to share an entire compendium of notes that he had been given by someone he knows – who happens to be the chief legal officer of a large corporation O.O – since he thought I might benefit from them as well.

I know two things, though: firstly, I won’t let the originals out of my sight so if I’m to give copies I will make them myself and give the copies. Secondly, it won’t be considered very kind to say no…

Learning log: week 1 of 2014

I have been quite active this week and I studied Korean in some form every day.

Specifically, I’ve made progress with numbers, and I am reaching the point where I can relatively easily translate from letters to digits as well as the other way. I’m still experiencing a bit of trouble translating from digits into written native Korean numbers, occasionally writing a sino-Korean number for the very last digit. Odd… As for the sino-Korean system, I’m becoming much more confident – even with quite large numbers.

I’ve also practiced alternating between different speech levels to get it really worked in. My first notebook that I never completed has experienced a revival for writing practice sentences.

I focused on these two areas of Korean this week, since I also have a final exam this upcoming week and one more the week after that. Rather focus my efforts.

Since the beginning of the holidays I have been sleeping a lot more and I feel a lot more alert during the day. However, part of my sleep should almost count as revision since I’ve been dreaming of both Korean grammar and hypotheticals for the law exam… Hmm…

Opinion about TOPIK changes

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!

Financial justifications?
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!

새해 복 많이 받으세요!

Happy New Year everyone 🙂

I hope you had a nice transition into the new year. As always, I have some New Year’s resolutions. They can be condensed to:

1) Sleep more. 2010-2013 were the years of sleep deprivation and now it has to stop.
2) Actively prioritise the things I really want to do. E.g. I have decided to postpone two classes at uni to take up a second student job working for one of my professors (helping with some research).
2.a) Skip the study group I worked with last semester. Honestly it was mostly a waste of time, which meant I had to catch up at other times of the day. Times when I habitually studied Korean two semesters ago.
3) Study Korean every day. If I don’t put in the hours I will never improve. It’s as simple as that.

Do you have some New Year’s resolutions for the new year? Please share in the comments 🙂