Deciding to take the TOPIK exam
After years of wondering if I should do it or not, I finally took the Korean proficiency exam yesterday. My motivation was purely to have a challenge that would force me to study more advanced vocabulary and grammar. Having studied Korean for almost a decade, I felt my level stagnating at an upper intermediate and not really progressing to advanced. I always used the same words and grammar. By studying for the TOPIK, I exposed myself to new vocabulary and topics outside of my daily conversational scopes.
TL;DR: here's a video!
Good thing I booked some lessons
It was my first time taking the TOPIK, so beforehand I booked some lessons on italki specific to exam prep (and I’m really glad I did!). If the test not been postponed to July and I had taken it in April, I would definitely not have been as prepared as I was. I owe this all to my tutor who helped me learn test-taking strategies and tips.
Vocabulary and grammar study are things I could have studied on my own, but but my tutor also told me how many questions I should try to solve to get to my desired score (in the sense that X amount of questions in the paper are aimed at level 6 and it’s OK if I guess on those as they’re not at my level, for instance)
My test-taking experience
General hiccups and annoyances
At 11:30PM the night before, I checked my email and saw that I forgot to print a COVID entry form to allow me in to the Korean school. I had to pay S$39 to get urgent midnight printing and delivery done, so I was up until late didn’t get enough sleep for the exam, which sucks.
Another bleugh aspect is that I am a bit dyslexic with numbers, so it was a stressful start because I kept checking and re-checking to see if I wrote my applicant number correctly on the answer sheet.
They played some weird first-gen Kpop before the exam started which I found interesting and strange… like it would help to calm us down (??)
And lastly, unlike the Japanese JLPT exam where invigilators wrote the time on the board, there was no time tracking and I found it hard to remember what time we started. I lost track of time easily.
PART 1: LISTENING & WRITING
Listening was fine but they go fast between questions, so I tried hard to read ahead to the next question if I finished one question. I circled main words and made sure I read the question first so I knew what to listen out for.
I understood about 100% of the listening at the start and it dropped down to as low as 40% as it got progressively harder near the end.
Listening is my strongest still, so I am keen to see if it reflects in my score once the results come out!
The next section of the first paper was writing. I did not track my time well, so I didn’t finish writing the conclusion to the long-form essay.
My biggest mistake was that I spent too much time trying to use academically advanced grammar structures rather than just get the content down as fast as I could.
For the long form essay, they give 3 points you have to discuss – so for planning, I drew two lines from each point and jotted down 2 or 3 points to discuss which helped me organize my thoughts despite not having time to write them all in the essay format.
The other writing question is based on a graph/some stats/research. It’s easy if you know the format to write the answer in as you’re marked in a very methodical, templatized manner. I prepared well for this by reading lots of example answers and practicing this question a lot.
PART 2: READING
Reading was not bad! I had a snack during the break so I felt energized and did not get tired for this section. However, as expected, as the paper progressed, the questions became much harder and I had to guess on the last 3 questions. The vocabulary is extremely specialized and rare. I recommend reading up widely about different topics to prepare for the reading section.
I timed myself really well for reading, rushing through the first few easy ones so I could focus harder on the last ones. If I got stuck, I would mark the question with a star and come back to it near the end.
a tip is to a look out for connector or contrast words like 하지만, 그러나 or 게다가 as this helps you notice faster where in the paragraph you need to place a sentence they give you.
- Know what level you are aiming for and do your best up to there. For example, for level 4, you should aim to do your best until question 30-ish. Anything after that will be for level 5 and 6, so if it’s hard, don’t let it get you down!
- Have a strategy that suits you. It is different for everyone but for me, I circled questions I was stuck on and went back to those if I had time. I also just guessed if I couldn’t do it.
- Circle main keywords for listening so you know what to listen out for and read the question first before the audio recording plays. They might ask you “what is the main point the man wants to get across?” and then you know you have to listen out specifically to the man talking.
- For fill in the blanks words I read the options first and then scanned the text, it got progressively harder so I focused more on those in detail later
What I wish I did better
- Studied less grammar structures and more vocabulary
- Practiced writing more essays but timing myself
- Wish I didn’t try to be creative in the essays but tried to follow the example structure of model essays and write faster
Overall, because I entered knowing how hard it would have been and did my best for the questions designed for my level, I feel positive. Yet it was difficult and I had to guess on a few. I’ll see what happens when the results come out! Congratulations to everyone who took it and I wish you all the best of luck!