Category Archives: TOPIK

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!

Search term: What is a good TOPIK score?

Now people have sat the TOPIK, found out how to check their scores, and now comes the question “what is a good score?”

I suppose that depends on what you need it for, how long you have studied for it, and your own expectations?

Which level?
I guess most will first look at the level and then at the margin by which they passed. If you need a level 5 to enter a study programme in Korea, passing level 5 is the primary concern. As long as that little green table says 5급 you’re home safe. In this case it’s not about the actual numbers but about having a score that is “good enough”.

By what margin?
I passed level 2. But the margin wasn’t absolutely great. A few more questions off in the multiple choice sections or a few more blunders in the essay and I would have gotten a level 1. Is it better to get an average of 97 than a straight 70? Yep, absolutely, but when it comes to the overall level, there are two options: you either passed a given level or you didn’t. It’s not like a uni grading scale where the specific margin is important because it determines an actual grade.

The margin will in most cases be a matter of personal pride and a way to figure out which skill needs more work.
The specific score will of course also say something about how much you have to work to pass the next exam if that is your goal. For instance I will have to work much harder to be able to successfully sit the intermediate exam than someone who got an average of 97 in the beginner exam since I have a greater gap to cover having an average of 71.25.

For how long did you study?
Someone who takes the beginner exam 3 months after finding out that Korea even exists and juuuust manages to get a level 1 might run a victory lap in the living room singing “we are the champions” while someone who studied several years for the beginner exam and got a 98 average is likely to be a little more stoic about it.

What else did you do? / other things in your life
Did you spend 8 hours a day drilling Korean grammar for four months before the exam or did you spend 18 hours per day writing on your thesis, crying yourself to sleep at night because your focus group didn’t turn up and your supervisor was getting antsy?
Or were you sick when taking the exam, eating pain killers during part 1 and desperately trying not to cough during the listening section?
What I’m trying to get at is: did you do well “considering the circumstances”?

So what is a good score?
Who knows? There are some objective measures such as passing a given level or not, but the rest really is one big grey zone.
I think the most important question is: are you happy with your score considering the amount of work you put into it and considering the circumstances under which you sat the exam?

How to see your TOPIK result?

I saw this search term, and figured that is one question that just cannot go unanswered:

1. Go to

2. Click on the icon that looks like a man facing left.

3. Depending on whether you sat the TOPIK in Korea or abroad, click on the Korean flag or the icon depicting a bunch of happy foreign Korean learners.

4. Type in your candidate number and birthday

5. Click search and voilà there is your TOPIK score!

I hope you did well!

Material I went through before TOPIK

Yesterday I posted my scores and today I’m making a study plan for the next TOPIK exam that I will sit – the one held in April 2014.

For those who have not yet taken the exam and wonder how much I prepared considering the scores I got, here is an overview of the material I went through:

Sogang Korean books
2A chapter 1

TTMIK levels
Levels 1-3 (level 3 from TTMIK overlaps with the material covered in Sogang 2A to a fairly large extent).
Level 4: a few lessons.

Further material
Writing essays for my language exchange. When writing these essays, I did not respect the TOPIK rules ~ I did not time myself and I used a dictionary to look up all the words I needed.
When I got corrections from my language partners, I made sure to note down the right grammar patterns and glossary. I did not drill the corrections, but I did try to remember them, looking through my notes when writing new essays so I wouldn’t make the same mistake over and over.

These corrections are of course quite random compared to the syllabi of both Sogang and TTMIK because they are based on my actual mistakes and what would sound natural rather than “what a student should know at level X”.

Last minute
In the days before the exam I watched some drama every night to hear the language more. I kept my electronic dictionary next to me, paused and looked up whenever I caught a new word that seemed important to know. I saved the words in the dictionary for future reference.

30회 한국어능력시험: 합격!

The TOPIK scores are out!!! We have now passed 3 pm Korean time and the scores have been published. I have been having nightmares about writing answers in English and failing the exam so it was a big relief to see the score.


It might not be the most impressive margin for a level 2, but at the moment I’m too happy to be too bothered. However, next time I will make sure to prioritise 듣기 more!

As I already knew, my listening score would be a bit of a gamble so I was slack-jawed to see a 57 considering that at some point during the exam I found myself thinking “why are they all turning their papers?! Why are they turning the page already?!” I must have understood more than I thought, though.

As for 쓰기, I’m really happy that I had the opportunity to write all those essays throughout the year. Without my language partners to look over my work and tell me what sounded off and what sounded natural, I would have struggled so much. I’m not trying to sound smug, but for this exam I actually managed to also enjoy writing even though it was the section I feared the most since it’s notoriously difficult for foreigners to write well in Korean as beginner students.
In total I wrote 35 essays of varying length and had them corrected so that should also help on my essay-confidence 🙂

So all in all I’m very happy with status quo after 10 months of structured Korean studies 🙂

Next stop: 중급 in April 2014!!! 화이팅!

I’m crossing my fingers for all of you who also sat the TOPIK 🙂 how did it go? 🙂

First TOPIK test: done!

The night before the TOPIK I slept really badly and kept waking up because I was afraid of being late. And yet that’s what almost happened!

At 5:30 I just got up, got ready, and went to my brother’s place for breakfast.
I left so that I would have a good half hour to wait at SOAS in case of transportation problems. That turned out to be a good idea, because somehow I confused the address (even though I have been there last year) and ended up on the wrong campus! Cue rushing to the right address in a taxi (on the verge of tears) while a concerned driver was telling me to just take it easy since he would make sure I got there on time, adding that I shouldn’t be too stressed out before an exam or I wouldn’t do well. I am so grateful to that man!

In any case, I made it there. On time! Though not looking or feeling as relaxed as I had hoped.

The exam
Part 1:
The exam wasn’t as difficult as I had feared. There were some questions that I was a bit unsure of, but all in all I had a good gut feeling. I tried to vary my essay by including different grammar points such as -는데, 네요, 위 해서, and -(으)ㄹ수록. Let’s see if the people scoring it will like it or if I just came across as seriously confused…

The essay question this year was different from the other years. Basically there were three questions, and they were much broader than they have been previously. First they asked what we work with, then what we like to do – which I connected to the work question – and lastly why we are learning Korean.

Part 2:
Listening… Before the exam I didn’t do a single TOPIK listening exercise because it just never fit into my schedule! I’ve listened to plenty of dictations, audio books, and so on over the past year, but I hadn’t tried the TOPIK listening test format. In hindsight that wasn’t too smart, but it was not as bad as I had feared – although I did have a brief moment of panic when we got to the questions based on a longer discussion and each discussion covers several questions.
I can only hope for the best, I cannot change it now anyway.
The reading section was not as bad as I had feared. From my experience going over the past tests, reading was a hit or miss section for me. Either I understood most or there would be many questions where I really struggled. In this year’s exam, there were a few questions that I was really in doubt of and many that did not seem too difficult. I had about 20 min at the end of the exam to go over those that were causing me trouble, which was nice. Of course that doesn’t compare to the guy who finished so early that he found time to take a nap for the rest of the exam 😀

Overall impression
Aside for almost running late, it was a good experience and I’m definitely determined to sit the following levels. I was in doubt of a few questions, but of course that is no guarantee that everything else is correct so I’m awaiting the scores before opening the champagne.

One thing I would do differently next time is to write the essay with -ㅂ니다 endings rather than -요, but in the exam I felt much more comfortable with the latter so I went with that to avoid making too many mistakes simply because of differences in conjugations. There were already enough opportunities to write something wrong as it was…

After the exam
I met Matt at the test and it turned out he has been following the blog – though mostly for the count-down function it seems hahaha 😀
We went out for lunch at a Korean cafe called Bibimbab Cafe where his half-Danish friend joined us for a talk about languages and other stuff. (I got two bottles of soju to go for only £10!)

After lunch we went shopping for Korean books in Foyles (click here to be directed to the website and here for the details in the book section on this blog). I bought an intermediate reader about Korean language and culture, which I will introduce more thoroughly in an upcoming review 🙂

After that we went out for cocktails and then went out to yet another Korean restaurant – Naru – before ending up in a pub in Covent Garden.

After that I thought it was time to call it a night while Matt and his friend continued.

Thank you so much for introducing me to the book shop and some places I had never been to before in London, Matt 😀

I’m crossing fingers and toes for everybody’s scores! 화이팅!

Did you sit the TOPIK? Which level did you take and how did you think it went?

TOPIK prep status 15

Status for 16-29 March 2013

I’ve been going over quite a few lessons. Listening to the level 3 audio while walking to the station in the morning and doing the exercises on the train on my way to and from work.
I’ll soon be done with level 3 🙂 this might seem rather slow, but I prefer to listen to the audio several times before moving on so I actually remember the material.

Language exchange
Both my partners are travelling and I have been working a lot so we haven’t met. I did write an entry for one of my partners, though. Now I just have to send it!
I have only just gotten a work plan for April so I haven’t even been able to ask my partners for new meetings before now.

In general
I cannot say how many hours of audio I have been listening to but it’s a lot! At times when you don’t have time to sit down at a table and study but have to do it on the go, TTMIK is a lot better than Sogang. Perhaps I should try to make a comparison of the Sogang system and TTMIK to see how many lessons I need to go through to go all of the grammar because the TTMIK system is a lot easier for me to fit into my daily life at the moment.

TOPIK prep status 14

Status for 9-15 March

I have put some of the original level 3 audio files on my dictionary and then I listen to them when I go to and from the station. I also have the files that come with the book, but when I walk somewhere I actually quite like to listen to all of Hyunwoo and Kyungeun’s bantering along the grammar points rather than the clean cut version that comes with the work book.
This has been a substitute for listening to Korean music while commuting.

Language exchange
I have only met one of my partners since the other’s schedule clashed with mine this week. The sacrifice that comes with afternoon/evening shifts at work. We have agreed that we will exchange mails instead so I’m really happy we can still ‘see’ eachother that way 🙂
As for meeting my speaking partner, my speaking skills are… close to non-existant. It’s bordering on shameful that I read simple things fairly well and my writing is also slowly coming together, but when I speak I seem to forget everything. Every week I hope the next will be better.

Sogang books
I think it’s time for me to revive them.

There is such big difference between hearing native speakers in real life and hearing them on audio files. Endings disappear, entire words may disappear (e.g. 아침을 먹었어요?), words merge, and it all happens about three times faster than in the audio files. Also if you meet in a noisy place it doesn’t sound as clear. Those moments I become thankful that there is no speaking part in the TOPIK because without it my chances of success have increased significantly… The TOPIK isn’t everything of course, but now I paid the exam fee, hotel, and plane tickets! I need to get my speaking in order, though.

TOPIK prep status 13

Status for 2-8 March

So here is the weekly study status post 🙂 a bit later than usual, but I have a good excuse! I just came back from the airport from my MSc graduation for my first masters degree 🙂 it was held in the city hall and it was a beautifully done ceremony. I’m so happy I decided to make the trip, it’s been such an exciting weekend. In the midst of exams and travelling, I have still managed to study a bit of Korean:

Language exchange
I met one of my language partners on Thursday and we talked about living abroad on your own. One thing is to live abroad with someone else, be it family or a significant other, but living abroad all alone – away from everyone you know, that’s something entirely different…

I’ve been going through some of the drama phrases from the Korean drama phrases sound book and pdf. What I really like about it is that it contains some things that are really handy in real life as well as some of the less polite things you may hear in a drama. So it’s pretty realistic in that sense. Also those “less polite” sentences come with appropriate “warnings” for learners 😀

It’s nice that for each drama phrase they go over the whole sentence, break it into the individual vocabulary, the most important grammar points, and also give example sentences so you can see the words and grammar points you haven’t heard before in one more context rather than just the drama phrase.

Time needed to sit the TOPIK – and pass!

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!

Other commitments
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!