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.

Milestones
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?

Uncertainty:
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!

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6 thoughts on “Opinion about TOPIK changes

  1. bluehanbok

    “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?” OMG THIS!!!!

    I quite don’t get the basis of the changing type of TOPIK. My guess is they are bored with the old one because there have already been cheat sheets about the techniques in answering the TOPIK. But I think changing the old one to this new type is still unjustified. I don’t really get it why do they have to have only one type of exam for both Intermediate and Advanced? Ugh. I wish they will release an official statement on how they can measure one’s proficiency with this new type of exam.

    Good luck to all of us!

    Reply
    1. koreanlearner Post author

      It would be nice to see a statement about why they think this is such a great idea, and if they would publish a score/level equivalence table. The pollution question in the sample exam is counting 50 points. Since the number of points associated with essay questions usually don’t change, chances are that the will be one question worth the usual 30 and then one worth 50?

      Also, I just noticed: Since the 쓰기 will be put in the same block as 듣기 while 일기 is a part on its own after the break, the two essays and the two fill-in-the-blank-with-your-own-sentence HAVE to be completed in 50 min since the listening is scheduled to take 60 min. There is no way to “create” more time for the essays by answering the preceding questions quickly because you have to listen to a dialogue first. Argh!

      Reply
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  3. sweetangel

    I am self-studying KOrean, so I need a yardstick to evaluate my Korean proficiency and also to show my strength and weakness. Topik exam takes place only twice a year, and the fee is very cheap in my country (about 12$/ level and 20$/ e levels), so I think I will take Topik exam regularly to keep up with my Korean skills.
    I ‘m just worried that this year is my last year at University and I have to do a thesis to graduate. I’m not sure if I can find enough time to prepare for the Topik.

    Reply
    1. koreanlearner Post author

      That IS quite cheap! In the UK, the test fee is £25 and then I also need to fly to the UK and pay for hotel and so on. So for me it makes no sense unless I’m pretty sure to do well.

      I remember spending a lot of time on my first MSc thesis so I understand your concern. However, in my experience, if you only research, write, eat, and sleep, it won’t take long before you feel that you’re going crazy. Maybe Korean can be that necessary break from academia?

      Good luck with both your formal studies and Korean 🙂 화이팅!

      Reply
      1. sweetangel

        I think because Vietnam is near Korean and there are a lot of sponsors, so the topik fee is really cheap. My foreign friends are very surprised to know that the topik test only costs 12$ in Vietnam.
        Yeah, I agree with you. Korean is one of the outlets for the stress of the university.
        Thank you very much for your advice.

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