Korean Language Training

So I’ve been looking through the application guidelines for KGSP 2017. One thing that I noticed is that they eliminated this sentence that was in the 2014 guidelines (my year):

“Scholars who do not pass at least TOPIK Level 3 after one year of Korean language course must complete an additional six-month coursework in the Korean language.”

The current language in both the guidelines and the FAQ make it sound like this six-month extension will not be granted and you must pass TOPIK 3 in just one year. Now, in 2015, they didn’t mention the part about people being able to move on to graduate studies if they pass TOPIK levels 5 or 6 in the first six months, but that was still a policy. So, it may be that they just left it out of the guidelines. If this is the case, then there will likely be information about this in the information given to students who are finally selected in June.

But, it is also possible that they decided to limit the language training to just one year.

Each year, between 10 and 20% of language trainees do not pass TOPIK 3 and are required to take another six months of Korean language training. There are probably a variety of reasons for this. Some may just not take the training all that seriously. They know they have an extra six months if they need it. Some may be worried about their Korean abilities and doing graduate studies in Korean and throw the test on purpose. And some people might simply find the Korean language and Korean experience more difficult than they expected. If, indeed, they have eliminated the possibility of studying for an extra six months then you want to make sure you are not in any of these categories.

If you are serious about studying in Korea, I would recommend taking some time to familiarize yourself with the Korean language before you end up on a plane to spend 3-4 years of your life here. Hangul (the Korean writing system) may look difficult, but it is actually one of the easiest writing systems to learn, so with some help you should be able to learn it on your own.

Beyond the writing system, Korean is pretty much in a language family by itself. Some linguists have said that it belongs in a family with Turkish and Japanese, but many disagree. If you speak either Chinese or Japanese, you will find many cognates (words with similar sounds and roots). There is also some English influence, in terms of vocabulary, because English is such a widely used language. Otherwise, the grammar and vocabulary are likely to be completely different from whatever language it is you speak natively. This naturally makes Korean more difficult to learn, but it is certainly not impossible.

By doing some prep work before you leave, you can eliminate most of the possibility of failure. A leg up will mean that you are less likely to fail because you were unable to learn enough, and you will learn everything better once you arrive. Then you just need to remember that while Korean may not be what you came to Korea to do, it is not just an obstacle on the way to your real goal. It will be a means to achieve your real goal and you should give it as much attention as you do computer science or bio tech or psychology or history or art.

Fortunately, there are many online resources for starting to learn Korean:

How to study Korean

Talk to Me in Korean

Korean Class 101

The Study in Korea people, the ones who bring you the KGSP scholarship, even have their own list of online courses here.

Whether you start now, or after you reach a certain stage in the application process, is up to you. It is not even 100% necessary to do that much before you leave. One year should be enough to learn Korean to TOPIK 3, if that is your goal, and you put in the work, but I would recommend just looking through some lessons to figure out what it is you are getting yourself into and whether Korean really is for you. You don’t want to do all of this work applying, only to be sent home after a year because you were unable to pass a Korean test.

KGSP University Quota – Regional Universities Revisited

**Disclaimer** I am not in any way affiliated with NIIED except to be a KGSP recipient. All opinions are based on my personal experience in Korea.

So, the Regional University quota versus the General University quota still seems to be a mystery to some (or many).

The Korean government’s apparent objective with the regional university quota is to attract talented people in STEM fields (specifically natural science and engineering) to universities outside the Seoul area. Keeping this goal in mind lets look at how that should affect your decision for your KGSP application.

Stage one: University selection

Say you are choosing between two universities that are roughly equal in prestige and are equally difficult to get into. One is a university in Seoul and one is designated as a “regional university.” There are 30 people applying to each of them. Based on their applications each person is ranked from 1 to 30 and the people at each rank are the same as each other (the first ranked people at each school got the same score as each other, the second rank people got the same score, and so on). Also, assume that all 30 are qualified for acceptance into the university, so the only thing that would prevent them from being accepted would be the quota that NIIED sets for university recommendations to KGSP.

You are an engineering major. If you apply to the school in Seoul then you must be one of the top 20 students, no matter what. (This is in a simplified universe where all majors are equally valued by the university. Obviously, in the real world, they may choose someone farther down the list because they want/need people from a particular major, or there is some personal relationship, or any number of random reasons.)

But, if you apply to the regional university then they get three extra spots specifically for natural science/engineering majors. (It used to be three, but it might be more or less now.) If you are in the top three students in one of these fields then you will be accepted, no matter what your overall rank is. For example, even if you are last in the ranking, if all 29 of the other people are majoring in history, psychology, business and philosophy then you can still be accepted. Also, even if you are not one of the top three  science/engineering students, then you just need to be in the top 20 out of 27 students instead of 20 out of 30 at the school in Seoul.

Stage two: NIIED selection

The exact same situation applies for the NIIED phase of the selection process. Now instead of being compared to people applying to one university, you are being compared to people from your own country.

Say that 10 people from your same country have been recommended by various universities. Your country has a quota of 2 people from regional universities and 3 general spots.

Again, if you have applied through a regional university in a science or engineering field, if you are one of the top two students who fit the regional quota, then you will be accepted, even if you are objectively ranked below everyone else.

But what if you aren’t one of those top 2 students? The quota for general applicants is bigger that the regional quota, so wouldn’t it be an advantage to apply just for a general spot? This is where you have to remember the original goal of creating regional university quotas in the first place. The whole idea is to attract smart people in STEM fields to non-Seoul universities. If, of the 10 students, the top five ranked people are all regional quota candidates does it make sense to reject 3 strong candidates in favor of people who don’t fit the regional quota? They are trying to bring people to these regional universities, so why would they turn them away?

The answer is that they wouldn’t. If all five of the best people applied through the regional quota then they will likely use the entire quota for that country for these five people. In other words, there is a maximum limit of three people that they will accept from outside the regional quota, but they may accept fewer if the regional candidates are strong. This works out in the following way:

General Candidates

Rank 1-3: Definitely accepted

Rank 4-5: Maybe accepted if one or more of the 1-3 ranked students were in the regional quota

Rank 6-10: No chance to be accepted

Regional Candidates

Rank 1-3: Definitely accepted

Rank 4-5: Definitely accepted

Rank 6-10: Maybe accepted if only one or fewer of the higher ranked students were in the regional quota

So you can see there is a definite advantage to choosing a regional university if you are in a natural science or engineering field. But, like all decisions in KGSP there is an element of uncertainty. If everyone decides to go this route then there will be more competition, but it is likely that the attraction of Seoul and its universities will balance against the attraction of a slight advantage in the admissions process. This is not a guaranteed process even for very weak students. You will still need to meet the standards of the KGSP program and for the university that you choose. Universities don’t necessarily have to fill every quota if there are not enough qualified students. But, if you think that you are a good candidate for the university, but worry about competing with others from your country who will be applying in Seoul, then the regional quota may be a good choice for you.

KGSP Updates – 2017

I’ve been responding to people’s comments, but I haven’t written in a long time. There have been some significant changes, so I do want to update some of the things I’ve said in the past. If you are applying to KGSP yourself, you should make sure you read the instructions for the year in which you are applying carefully and thoroughly yourself before sending in your application.

  1. There is still a regional university option for people in Natural Science and Engineering fields from certain countries. For more on this option see my 2015 post here.
  2. Always double check the available universities. They change slightly each year. (For example, this year Ajou University appears not to be on the list.) The same goes for countries and their quotas.
  3. Good news for people who have studied abroad in Korea! While there used to be a rule that people who studied abroad in Korea were not able to apply for KGSP, that rule no longer applies. If you were an exchange student at a Korean university you will be able to apply to KGSP (page 7 of 2017 guidelines). If you did a full degree in Korea (Bachelor, Master, or PhD) then you are still unable to apply, unless you were a KGSP scholar at that time. For former KGSP scholars, you may apply again for a higher degree program, but only through the Embassy quota.
  4. They seem to have strengthened the language on GPA. Those with GPAs under 80% or the equivalent will be automatically disqualified. They also require an official explanation from your university describing the “university’s evaluation system as well as the applicant’s academic achievement” (page 7) if either A) your transcript doesn’t include GPA info or B) your grades cannot be easily converted to a 4.0, 4.3, 4.5, 5.0 or percentage scale. This would seem to mean that you can’t use third-party conversion services, it must come from your uni.
  5. They specifically disallow use of the TOEFL ITP to show English proficiency. The ITP has always been for internal evaluation purposes and not for outside certification purposes. If you want to submit English test scores you will need to take the IBT (or PBT/CBT if those are what is available) or the TOEIC or IELTS.
  6. Other people who might get preference include the following. Remember, “preference” most likely means a couple points added to your score. (For example, the self-intro and statement of purpose are worth 10 points each. The other parts of the application are likely also worth some undetermined number of points.) So if you are an extremely strong candidate in a field that doesn’t get any preference then you still have a chance over a weaker candidate from a “preferred” field. Don’t give up just because you may have less “preference.”
    1. Applicants in natural science, technology and engineering
    2. Applicants for majors included in the Industrial Professionals Training Project of the Korean Government. This is a slightly more specific version of the STEM fields above and includes various high-tech fields like biotech, semiconductors and LED technology.
    3. Faculty from higher education institutions in countries to which Korea gives ODA.
    4. Descendants of Korean War vets.
  7. Changes to required documents:
    1. They give very specific requirements for the length of the Self-Introduction (or personal statement) and Statement of Purpose (including study plan and future plan). You must use Times New Roman size 10 font. Your self-introduction letter must be one page or less. Your Statement of Purpose should use the same font type and be two pages or less (including both study plan and future plan).
    2. You need TWO recommendation letters. (It used to be just one.) They should be able to comment on your academic abilities.
    3. You need an “original copy” of all diplomas or transcripts. That is kind of an oxymoron – it can’t be both original and a copy, can it? Remember never send your actual diploma, you will not get it back. You should get an official copy from your university (from my experience it should be in the form of a certificate, the closer to your actual diploma the better), or if that is not possible, have a copy of the original notarized or apostilled.
    4. Certificate of Korean Citizenship Renunciation and Adoption documents are “optional” in the sense that not everyone has to submit them, but they are a “must” if they apply to you (i.e. if your parents or yourself ever had Korean citizenship, or if you are a Korean adoptee).
    5. Notarize ALL photocopies. Including passport, etc.
    6. If you are applying through the University track, you only need to submit ONE set of original documents. If you are applying through the Embassy track, you still need one set of originals, and THREE sets of photocopies. You must get four sets of all sealed documents. This means that you should ask your professors or other recommenders to make three copies of their recommendation and seal each one, plus the original in four separate envelopes. Transcripts should also be in sealed envelopes and you should get four copies from your university.
  8. They have gone back to explicitly stating that students who get TOPIK 5 or 6 in the first six months may start their degree program in March. This was always the case, though they stopped talking about it briefly in the 2015 application guidelines.
  9. For the language year, they state that you can live off campus (outside the dormitories) if you have TOPIK level 3 or above.

These are just some of these changes. For other advice and requirements see my other blog entries and the comments. Good luck with your applications or future applications!

Long time no see… Yonsei GSIS

So I’ve been seriously remiss in updating this…

It’s been two semesters already since I started at Yonsei, which means I am halfway through my Master’s program, and more than halfway through this KGSP experience.

I had some requests (last summer… sorry!!!) to talk more about my experience at Yonsei, so here it is.

From talking to friends at other GSIS around Seoul (Korea U., SNU, Sogang) I can say that Yonsei is one of the bigger ones (300+/- students), if not by far the biggest. This has its advantages and disadvantages.

On the plus side, there is a fairly large selection of classes, comparatively speaking and the large number of students means that it is fairly easy to hold events such as academic conferences and social/sports events because there is always someone interested in participating.

On the minus side, more students and a higher student:teacher ratio means less individual attention. That means fewer TA opportunities and more difficulty in finding thesis advisors, for those who choose to go that route. (Indeed, at Yonsei it is not required to write a thesis, and the number of people eligible to write one is highly restricted to those with a 3.7/4.3 GPA. That’s an A- and the relative grading scheme limits the number of students who can receive any grade in the A range to between 40 and 60% of any given class.) This is not to say that professors are unwilling to help students, but you do need to make a concerted effort to approach them.

So far I’ve taken three core courses (required of most students regardless of major), one required course (of all Korean Studies majors, which I’m not, but everyone is allowed to take them), and four electives.

The core courses are all big lecture style classes. There were around 70 students in International Relations and Introduction to International Economics, and 30-50 students in Statistics and Data Analysis and Research Design and Methods (RDM). The professors for these classes vary a bit from term to term, and there are changes to the course content accordingly. Basically the grading is based on exams (often partly or totally multiple choice, sometimes with essays) and group presentations. Some have essay style take home finals, and RDM has a final research proposal.

The required class had around 25-30 people in it and was also lecture style. There are two required courses for Korean Studies, whereas other majors do not have required courses other than the core courses. In exchange, Korean Studies majors only have to take two core courses (IR or Economics and Statistics or RDM). This particular course may just be particularly popular with the general student body, in part because of the professor (it’s the one offered in the fall), and that accounts for the relatively high enrollment. This class had a midterm and final (identifications and essays for both) and a final paper.

The elective courses tend to be smaller with around 10-20 people (some may have even less). Of the three that I have taken, one was basically lecture style, two were seminar style with a large degree of student lead discussion, and the last one was kind of half and half. These mostly had midterm exams and final papers. Some classes have research proposals for these final papers due sometime midterm, but mine didn’t. Some classes have take home exams where you are given 24-48 hours to write essays on the assigned topics. All of these classes also had presentations (sometimes small group and sometimes individual), which factored into the grading.

For the most part I have found the professors to be not only knowledgeable in their fields, but to also to be active and respected beyond the university. Visiting professors can be a bit of a gamble, but the full time professors live up to the Yonsei name in reputation, and many of the visiting professors are quite good as well. Teaching skill can be another issue entirely, but how much you get out of a course depends on how much you put in. Even in my “worst” class, I feel like I gained valuable information and resources for future exploration. Whatever class you take there will probably be a lot of reading (anywhere from 50 to 150 pages a week per class), so the professor’s insight is important, but not everything.

There is a blog for Yonsei students to write professor evaluations (search for Yonsei GSIS faculty evaluations), so you can check out what people say there. It is for faculty evaluations, not questions, so don’t go there with questions. If you do have questions there is a facebook group for Yonsei GSIS, but try doing your own research online and in the past group posts first. Many questions have already been answered.

If you are choosing between GSIS, I highly recommend looking through course catalogs. At Yonsei, look under the notices section for the classes that have been offered each semester in the most recent semesters. There is also a place to find class descriptions, but I don’t know how recently it has been updated. Class schedules are also available for past semesters at the Yonsei Portal. These should be available without logging in (for non-students). Some classes will even have syllabi on record (though you will need to log-in to access a syllabus uploaded as a separate file). You can find similar lists and databases for the other schools as well. The most important thing is that there are enough classes that you are actually interested in taking. In a pinch you will be able to take a certain number of classes through another GSIS and transfer the credits (4 classes or 12 credits if you are at Yonsei).

Finally, about that relative grading thing…

Basically, Yonsei grades on a kind of curve, but how it works may vary by professor. “A” grades (A+, A0, A-) are limited to 40% of students in core classes (the biggest classes), 50% of students in other classes bigger than 10 students, and 60% of students in classes fewer than 10 students. An A+ can only be given to the top 10% of students. This is just a rough guideline limiting the maximum number of students who can get As. Some professors may choose to give a smaller number of students As, some might choose not to give any A+s, and in some cases it may depend on the ultimate distribution. For those who do not get As, there are no other rules or limitations, so everyone else could conceivably get a B-/B0/B+, or professors can choose to go lower. I haven’t found there to be a great degree of transparency in terms of distribution or curves or any of that (some professors do give that kind of information for the midterm exams, but not all, and after finals you’d have to ask directly for any kind of feedback).

For me, this system has worked out… So I’m not really sure what happens to the other half of the class…



Degree Studies

I’ve finally come back to Seoul!

(Actually came back about a month ago, but it’s been a busy month.)

I am now starting my Master’s program at Yonsei University GSIS.

GSIS, again (?), is Graduate School of International Studies. Yonsei had one of the first GSIS divisions, but now there are others at places like SNU, Korea University, Hanyang, Sogang, etc. These are departments within larger universities that generally have a completely different administration (admissions process, etc). They offer a limited number of subjects, usually having to do with international trade, international relations, international business, and some area studies (like “East Asian Studies” or “Korean Studies”), and the majority (if not 100%) of classes are in English.

I was lucky in that what I want to study is available at the GSIS because personally I would not have chosen a program that is not in English. (There are other programs that are available in English, but you need to check by university and department.) For more on the non-English graduate experience check out Lolaloveskorea’s video here.

My experience so far is nothing like that. At Yonsei GSIS you have to complete 48 credits, and a thesis is not required. (At other GSIS schools like Korea U., I believe, a thesis may be required.) If you choose to write a thesis (for which you need at least a 3.7 GPA in the first year) then you need 42 credits worth of classes and the thesis.

One class is 3 credits, so if you plan to finish in the standard 2 years, then you need an average of 4 classes (12 credits) per semester.

Right now I’m actually doing 5 classes, 4 regular ones and Korean language (for fun?) We’ll see how that goes. There is a point later in the term when I can drop classes without having a grade registered, so if it seems like too much I may do that. Other than Korean language (which has about 11 people), I have 3 “core courses” and one “elective.”
The core courses are required for everyone (필수 as Lola explained). At Yonsei GSIS those are International Relations, Introduction to International Economics, some kind of intro to research methods (there are two choices) and Academic Writing. Some of those you can get waived if you have previous equivalent experience. I don’t have to do Academic Writing because I’m a native English speaker, so that’s why I’m only taking 3 core courses right now.

These core courses tend to be quite big because most people have to take them. Each one has at least 50 people. (There are 85 new students total.)

My elective course (Modern Korean Japanese Relations) is smaller, with only about 15 people.

With only a few exceptions all of the professors did their graduate studies in English speaking countries, and most of them did undergraduate studies abroad as well. So far all of my professors speak excellent English (though I’m sure there are exceptions).

Evaluation is based on a variety of things. The core classes tend to be more focused on exams because there are so many people. I’m sure as I shift to more elective courses there will be more papers and presentations.

Overall, I would say that Yonsei GSIS is geared more toward professionals than academics. There are relatively few PhD candidates (only 2 new of the 85), and my impression is that most people do not write a thesis for their Master’s degree (if you plan to go on to do a PhD then you need to write a Master’s thesis). Most people, it seems, are planning to go directly from the Master’s degree to jobs in business or government. Which is fine with me, but is something you should consider when choosing a program. (Not all GSIS are created equal, so if you are considering a GSIS look into how they differ.)

In that sense it really seems like an extension of undergraduate studies (though granted, as an undergraduate the majority of the classes I took were actually graduate level…).

Different majors (especially in scientific fields) and different schools will be vastly different from my experience.

But if you haven’t yet please please watch Lola’s video. I’m certainly not saying don’t come to study in Korea, but come with your eyes open and know what you are getting yourself into.

Please Read Carefully

So don’t get me wrong. I write about KGSP on this blog because I know it’s confusing. Even I was confused and I speak English as a native speaker.

And the people who ask questions here basically ask good ones. You guys are doing the work by coming here in the first place, and I respect that.

So please forgive me for taking a moment to vent…

Theoretically speaking there are no good or bad questions in the world… BUT…

At the very least I wish that some people would thoroughly read the KGSP guidelines before asking questions. (Again not here… Mostly on f*ceb**k).

It would also be really nice if people on fa**bo** would read other people’s past questions before posting their own.

I understand the feeling that you must get everything exactly right, and the desire to get answers quickly. But on **ce**ok I’m not going to answers questions that I or someone else have answered before.

(But to reanswer some FAQs from there… “Faculty” (in the place where you write the university and department you are applying to) is not a faculty member/professor, it is a division of the university (above department). For example I am Yonsei University/GSIS/Global Studies. GSIS is my faculty, Global Studies is the department. And the second FAQ is about the top part of the checklist where it says “Institute of Application/ Confirmer,” you don’t have to write anything there. And finally, the “Research Proposal” is not for regular Master’s or PhD candidates. It’s only for the research scholarship. If you do not know how to fill it out, you shouldn’t be applying for it.)

So, yeah…

In Kyoto, Japan at Kiyomizu Temple there is a shrine dedicated to love and matchmaking. At this shrine there are two rocks. It is said that if you can walk from one rock to the other with your eyes closed, then you will be able to find your true love. It is also said that if you require help from someone to do it then you will also need help from someone in finding love.

I feel like this process is the same. I really wonder if some people are really ready for a graduate program if they can’t find the answers to the most basic questions themselves.

Again there are plenty of mysteries regarding KGSP, and tons of valid questions, and lots of individual circumstances. “Please tell me how to apply for this scholarship” is not one of them…

KGSP Application: Additional Information & Diplomas

In earlier posts I explained in great detail how I applied for the scholarship and how I filled out the application and submitted my documents. But as that was a while ago I will link to those posts here:

Application Tips #1

Application Tips #2

Someone asked on my other post about original copies of language test score reports. As a native speaker of English, I do not have direct experience with English language proficiency tests (IELTS or TOEFL). From what I have seen, it looks like they send additional score reports directly to the institution (not to you). You can request these score reports from them and they will send them to the Embassy or University directly.


For IELTS you should make the request from the test center that administered your test. For TOEFL, please check with the organization in your country to find out where to make requests. Also, as your embassy probably does not have a TOEFL reporting code, just make sure you fill in the complete address and name of the embassy (full instructions are on page 2 of the TOEFL link above).

If your application hasn’t been sent yet when you request the score report, I would send an email to the Embassy or University so that they can expect to receive the score report and your application later. (Might not be necessary, but it doesn’t hurt.)

For TOPIK, you can go to the website of the TOPIK organization in your country (where you took the test). In the case of test takers in Korea, you just log into your account and make the request there. Then you’ll be able to download a PDF file and print it out yourself. In the upper corner it includes a verification number that the people reading your application can use to check that it is indeed an official score report. The process may be the same in other countries, or you may have to request that they send you a physical piece of paper. (This is what I did in Japan, but that was also before they made the new test and new system, so it may have changed after that.) With TOPIK they were able to send it to me, so I just included the original score report with my application.

Also, an additional word about diplomas because NIIED doesn’t do much to warn people of this ahead of time (requesting diploma copies in Korea must be a lot easier than it is in other countries). First of all, if you have already graduated from university when you apply, make sure you include the most official looking proof of graduation you can get. I have talked about this in length before, but my Embassy was not satisfied with the letter from my university and requested that I send a “certificate form” of proof.

Ultimately, my university agreed to make a certificate for free, which they sent directly to the Embassy for me. I also requested an exact replica of my official diploma (which cost about $40 US) and had that notarized and Apostilled in the US (where I’m from). I still have that just in case.

BUT, what I really wanted to say is that the KGSP application is not the last time you will be asked for this document. When you officially enter your degree program, the university will request an original copy of your diploma (NIIED keeps the original copy of your application, and sends one of the copied versions to the universities. If you apply by a designated university, then they may not ask for your diploma again because they did have it in their possession when you applied. Check with them to make sure.) You may be able to ask NIIED to send their copy to the University, but if everyone tries to do this then they may stop doing it for anyone. If your university easily provides official copies, then it is best to get one or two extras.

Which brings me to the other reason you might need extra copies. Your visa. If you are starting your degree right away, without language study, then you will start with a D2 visa. You may need to submit a copy of your diploma when you apply in your home country, but you won’t need one again in Korea. If, however, you do the Korean language course then you will apply for a D4 visa in your home country, and you will need to change to a D2 visa when you start your degree program. And… well, you need to submit another proof of graduation at this time. Fun, right?

So, the moral of this story is while you are requesting diplomas or Apostilling diploma copies for your application, request a couple more for later.

If you have any other questions read the two posts above first, and if you still have questions, leave them in the comments. I’m happy to answer what I can. But do remember the process will be slightly different depending on where you are and how you apply.

2015 KGSP Graduate Scholarship

So the new guidelines for 2015’s graduate scholarship have been released. You can find the info here:

2015 KGSP Graduate Scholarship Info

The first thing you need to check is what kinds of quota’s your country has this year, and decide which one to use for your application, either University or Embassy.

Next, please go to that University or Embassy’s website and check for their information about the scholarship. They will be the ones to tell you about the deadline for sending your application. It WILL be different depending on the country or the university, so if you can’t find it for any reason, contact them to ask. Don’t just assume it will be the same as someplace else. Most of the deadlines will be in early to mid-March, so you actually don’t have much time to get everything together, especially if you need to send documents to Korea.

You’ll find the quotas and the application forms all in the first document entitled “01. GKS Graduate Program Guidelines(English-Korean).doc

I, personally, copied the application forms into a separate Word document and worked with that.

There appear to be a couple of differences between the 2014 and 2015 programs.

The first thing I noticed is that they have taken out the part about starting your degree program in March if you achieve TOPIK 5 or 6 in September-January. There is still the possibility of starting your degree program right away if you have TOPIK 5 or 6 when you apply (and if you submit your score then it is mandatory, not optional to start your Master’s or PhD in September 2015). I’m not sure what the deadline is to submit a score. I have several classmates who got TOPIK 5 in the April 2014 test (results announced in early June?), who were not allowed to start early. I don’t know if this was because of some problem with how they reported it, or if it was just too late. If this is something that concerns you, you can check directly with NIIED about this issue. (EDIT: There is a check box in the application for starting in September, which means you should already have TOPIK 5 or 6 when you apply. So in other words it is already too late if you don’t have it yet. But again if this is something that is important to you, you might want to check with NIIED anyway. If you do come back and comment here, to let me know how it went.)

I’m not 100% sure if it will be impossible to start in March if you fulfill the requirements, or just a different process from this year. Again if this was something you were hoping to do, and affects whether you apply/accept the scholarship, then please ask for yourself.

The second change is a new university quota for “Designated Regional Universities” for people applying in Natural Science and Engineering Fields. You can read more about this in the information, but basically they are trying to attract Natural Science and Engineering students to the regional universities (in other words outside of Seoul). The quota per university has been increased, so that they can accept more NS&E students for the scholarship, which can increase your chances of getting in. There is also a special quota within the university quota for some countries just for NS&E students applying to these regional universities, so it means at the second round (NIIED selection) you are competing against fewer students from your country. If you are a Natural Science or Engineering major (and your country has this option) then this may be a good way to apply.

Some things about this new category:

  • You can apply for a Natural Science or Engineering major at any of the 66 available universities, but only the 35 Designated Regional Universities (as listed in the info) will be available for this special quota.
  • Some countries with a university quota only have a “General” quota, and not a “Regional” quota. This doesn’t mean that you cannot apply to one of the regional universities under the university quota, it just means that your application will be considered with other “general” applicants to the university instead of under this quota, and at NIIED your application will be considered with all scholars from your country regardless of major. (Of course you can apply to these universities under the Embassy quota as well).
  • You do not have to apply to these 35 Designated Regional Universities with a Natural Science or Engineering major. You can choose from any of the majors listed in the University information. But again, if you choose another major you will be compared with a different group of students.

**In the application forms there are two versions of “Attachment #1: Personal Data.” One is for Embassy and one is for University. Obviously, you should choose the correct one. In the University version, under “Type of Recommendation” (which on my computer is labeled 1, but should be 2) there is only a check box for “General.” If you are applying for this Designated Regional University quota, then I would probably add a check box for that, so there is no confusion over which quota you are applying with.**

The third change, is a special category for Research Programs. These appear to vary in length from one month to a year, and do not include Korean Language Study. If this is something that applies to you, then you know who you are and what to do, if you’re not sure where to start, then it probably doesn’t apply to you.

Those are the major changes that I noticed. As usual there are probably some changes to the countries and what kind of quotas they have, and also to the list of universities. If you were making plans using last year’s information make sure you double check that your country and universities are still there.

Also, make sure you check the University Information. If you have been looking directly at university websites, then it is possible you found departments and majors that aren’t available to KGSP students. The University Information lists only those majors that are theoretically available to KGSP applicants. By “theoretically” I mean that not all departments will consider foreign applicants who don’t have sufficient Korean skills when they apply, even if those departments are listed in the University Information. If you are concerned, contact the department to ask.

On the personal front, this is my last week of Korean class and next month I will be moving on to my graduate program. Personally, I am ready to leave. The language study has been fun, and I’ve learned so much, but if I had to stay for another 6 months, I think I’d go crazy. That’s just me though. If you start at the beginning or intermediate level, then you’ll constantly be challenged (though you’ll still probably experience some lows, culture shock is par for the course). If you’re at a high-intermediate/advanced level now, and they really won’t let you go in March, then I’d consider all options before applying. Frankly, my language university hadn’t (in recent memory) had a level 6 class, let alone programs for people after that, so it remains to be seen what people in my class who don’t get level 5 or 6 will do for the next 6 months. Being in Korea is great, learning Korean is great, but being tied to a program that really doesn’t know what to do with you can be difficult. If it is true that anyone who doesn’t have TOPIK 5 or 6 right now will need to study in a language program for a year, then for some people it might be better to stay home and get money and/or work experience and apply in 2016 with TOPIK 5/6 already under your belt (that is if you feel confident about getting it in the next year). Either way you’d be starting the graduate program in Sept 2016, and there might be a more productive way of spending the next year. If you’re planning on doing a graduate program in Korean (like the lectures are in Korean, not that you are studying Korean Language/Literature) though, then that year of preparation might not be a bad idea, even if they don’t know what to do with you in your language program for 3, 6, or 9 months. (My degree program is in English, so while Korean is useful, it’s not totally necessary.)

After the 38th TOPIK

So because of my scholarship I had to take the TOPIK one more time this past Sunday. (KGSP/NIIED pays, so they get to decide who has to take it. Of course NIIED is also in charge of the test, so they’re paying themselves…?)

Anyway, I hope that everyone who took it on Sunday will get the score they are hoping for (or better)!

From this test NIIED has stopped posting the questions/answers online, so I have no idea how it went. Personally speaking, listening was easier than last time, reading was similar, and writing… Writing was way out of left field…

In general, I don’t have a problem with the fact that they have stopped posting the tests. Someone elsewhere commented that “NIIED is making it harder for us to study Korean (by not posting the tests),” but I disagree with that… mostly. Studying Korean is very different from studying TOPIK. But even for the TOPIK, one of the most important things you can do is keep up with current events and read the newspaper. The TOPIK questions come from all kinds of different subjects, so you need to get used to reading a variety of things. Depending on your level that may mean choosing short articles and picking them apart, or using a reading textbook, or it may mean just reading the news on a regular basis. Of course watching the news, and listening to online radio is also good practice for listening.

In any case, studying old TOPIK tests is not going to make you significantly better at Korean, and that alone is only going to make you marginally better at TOPIK. In as much as it helps you understand the question types it is useful, but the content is totally different every time.

But writing is a little different.

As I detailed before, the reading and listening question types are always the same format. But judging from this latest test, they are still trying out different types of writing questions.

51 and 52 were not very new. 51 was a letter in response to a wedding invitation (as usual in the -sumnida form), and 52 was a short writing about meals and eating habits. Content-wise they were both pretty simple.

Question 53 and 54 were very different from what we’ve seen so far in the new test.

For Question 53, it has mostly been explanations from a chart. Analyzing a graph, comparing two things, etc. But this time, they gave details for an event (a singing contest/event) and asked us to introduce it as if we had gone to this event. On the one hand, the content was quite a bit easier than some of the #53’s in the past. On the other hand, it is hard to know exactly what they expect out of that question. Should we include our impressions after (supposedly) attending this (fake) event? In previous #53’s, you could mostly fill 200-300 characters just with information from the chart, but this time that was harder. (There was still a chart that included the date, place, who we went with, what we saw, and the purpose of the event).

Question 54 was also structured differently from the past tests. Usually they have given a short paragraph explaining a situation or issue. Then they’ve included 3-4 questions to answer in the essay. This time the questions were all in the paragraph (write at least 2 problems associated with internet comment boards, and possible solutions), and the place that usually had questions included examples of each (violent language in comments is one problem, and forcing people to post using their real name is one solution).

Overall, I have a feeling that both questions actually got much easier than anything that we have seen so far, but the problem is that now we can’t see the “perfect” answer, so it is harder to know what exactly is expected. For example, in 53 I included my (imaginary) impressions of watching the event, but I don’t know if that’s what they wanted. In 54, I used the two things they gave as examples, but I don’t know if they wanted us to think of two different things…

They may have decided that they had set the bar too high before, and actually are trying to make the writing section easier. Or it may be a fluke. Or I may have totally misinterpretted the questions. Only time will tell.

I guess I just have to wait and see how it is reflected in the score…

The 39th and 40th tests (March 21/22 and April 25/26) will both be available abroad, as well as in Korea, so keep an eye out for registration info if you are not in Korea. (From briefly looking at the lists of sites I think that it will not be available in every country on every international testing date, so please check with the TOPIK website or your local office in charge of TOPIK to find out when it will be available in your country.)

Good luck again to everyone now waiting for a score, and for those of you planning to take it some other time this year!

TOPIK II By Section ~ Reading

Reading. Ironically, this is longest section in the new TOPIK, but there’s still not enough time. Basically in this new TOPIK there is never enough time.

Like with the other sections, my biggest advice is to figure out where you personally are strongest, and spend your time there. Finding a strategy that works for you is most important.

If you are trying to get level 5 or 6, it’s also really important to cut down on the time spent in the beginning of the test.

For reading, I’ll go part by part.


These are intermediate level grammar questions. 1-2 ask you to fill in the blank with the correct grammar. 3-4 ask you to find the grammar point with a similar meaning to the underlined part of a sentence.

Basically, you have to know the grammar. If you never learned one of the choices, chances are it’s not the answer. These are level 3/4 questions, so advanced grammar will not be the correct answer.

If you know the grammar point in the sentence for questions 3-4 then you probably don’t need to read the whole sentence. If you don’t know it don’t panic. You can usually approach it like questions 1-2. Think of it like a fill-in the blank.


These will be some sort of advertisement or instructions. You need to figure out what it’s for.

The first ones are usually an advertisement for some object (refrigerator, glasses store, air purifier, etc.) and you should think of what it is.

The later ones are usually some sort of warning or instructions, and you should choose what for. (Telephone manners, instructions for use, etc.)


These are the reading version of the 내용 questions in listening.

“내용과 같은 것을 고르십시오.”

Question 9 is a poster advertising an event and 10 is a graph (usually). For these two personally I like to read the answers first and look for the info. The way it’s organized, it’s usually pretty easy to locate the info and determine whether it’s true or false. This way you can skip any info that isn’t necessary to answer the questions.

For 11 and 12 you have to find the info in a short paragraph, so for these two personally I like to read the paragraph first and then the answers.


For these questions you are given 4 sentences and you have to put them in order.

There are four answer choices, but there will be only two possible starting sentences. Read those first, and chose which is a better starting sentence.

If it starts with 그 or 이 (그런, 그래서, 그 때문에, 이는, etc) or another connecting word (하지만, etc) or ends in 때문이다 then it is not the first sentence.

If it’s not that obvious you want the sentence that seems to be introducing the topic better.

Once you have a opening sentence you’ll have narrowed it to 2 possible answers, which means you now have two possible closing sentences. Find the one that sums things up best, and you have your answer. If you’re still unsure read them in the two possible orders and decide.


These are fill in the blank questions. The first fill in the blanks were looking for specific grammar points, but these are asking you to pick the appropriate meaning.

Unfortunately, all of the choices will probably sound like possible answers if you just read the sentence with the blank, so you do need to read the whole paragraph.

As with listening, don’t panic if there are words you don’t know. Try to infer the meaning from the words you do know.


These are the last of the intermediate level questions. There are 3 paragraphs, with two questions each.

19 & 20

20 is about finding the correct information (내용과 같은 것), so you’ll need to read the whole paragraph.

19 is a fill in the blank. Probably a connecting word, so think about the relationship between the two sentences it connects.

21 & 22

21 will be an idiomatic expression or proverb. You’ll probably have to read what comes before the blank to figure out which is appropriate. As for learning idiomatic expressions and proverbs, mostly you just have to study them, which is annoying because there’s only one question that asks about them. But if you get some under your belt, you’ll probably get better at guessing the meaning of others, so don’t feel like you have to memorize long lists of proverbs or idioms.

22 is about the main idea or 중심 생각. For these look at the first and the last sentence again. These two sentences should give you the main idea, and keep you from getting distracted by other information that may be in the paragraph, but is not the main idea.

23 & 24

This paragraph is usually from literature. 23 is about the 기분 or 심정 of someone as indicated in the underlined part. So how were they feeling? Korean has so many ways of describing emotions… So if someone knows of a good vocab list of these emotion words, please point me to it. This is one of my personal weaknesses.

24 is a “내용” question.


The dreaded newspaper questions. These give you a title for a newspaper article, and you have to find the sentence that describes what the article is about.

Essentially you are looking for a sentence that says exactly the same thing as the article title in different words. The hard part is the vocabulary. Aside from just learning tons of vocab, look for the explanation that seems most like news, fits the best with the words you know, and doesn’t “translate” the hard words too literally. If it looks like it’s trying to trick you, it probably is. Looking at Korean news headlines is also good preparation. Often they pull TOPIK questions from real current events, so keeping up with the news and just getting used to what Korean headlines look like and common vocab can help.


These are the advanced versions of questions 16-18, the fill in the blank questions.


These are the advanced versions of 11 & 12, they 내용 questions.


These questions ask for the 주제, which is the same as the 중심 생각, or main idea.

First of all, be careful that you’re at least skimming the directions because coming right after the 내용 questions it’s possible to forget what you’re looking for.

Second, if you’re running out of time, and by this time you might be, you may be able to save time by only reading the first and last sentence of the paragraph. The introduction and conclusion of the paragraph should state the main idea, so not only can you save time, but you can avoid other distracting information. This method is not for everyone, so you should practice ahead of time to see if it works for you, but if it does work you can cut out a significant amount of time.


These are the advanced version of questions 13-15, the correct order questions.

Instead of arranging all of the sentences, you’ll be given a paragraph and an extra sentence, and you have to decide where the extra sentence fits.

Read the extra sentence first. Look for key words that tell you its function in the paragraph. Is it defining something? Giving a reason for something? What kind of info should come before?

Then read the paragraph and decide where it goes.


These are the advanced multi question paragraphs. They include a sampling of all the question types that came before in much longer paragraphs. There are three paragraphs with 2 questions each, and the last one has 3 questions.

42 The feeling of the person in the underlined part.

43 내용

44 Main idea (remember first and last)

45 Fill in the blank

46 Insert the extra sentence into the paragraph (remember to read it first before reading the paragraph)

47 내용

48 The author’s reason for writing

49 Fill in the blank

50 The author’s attitude/intention of the underlined sentence

At this point, unless you’ve moved super quickly through the first 40 questions, you probably will be running out of time, so I’d pick and choose the types of questions you’re good at, and the topics you’re more familiar with.

Overall, I’ve talked a bit about strategy for people aiming for levels 3 and 4 before. If you are aiming for 5 or 6, you’ll want to be able to get to around 35-40 at the least.

My personal plan for timing was:

1-18 About 1 minute per question (average), 20 minutes total

19-24 About 2 minutes per paragraph, 6 minutes

25-41 About 1.5 minutes per question, 24 minutes (Total so far 50 minutes)

42-50 About 4 minutes for the 2 question paragraphs, and 8 for the 3 question paragraph. (Total 70 minutes)

That was my ideal, but honestly, if you’d be really happy just to get level 5 (while leaving room for the possibility of 6) I’d completely ignore 42-50. They’re long and hard and by that time you’re totally exhausted. Ultimately any of those I got right was pure luck anyway. Obviously if you happen to have time at the end then go for it, but I wouldn’t rush through the rest, and stress yourself out to leave all that time for the last questions. Depending on your current level you might want to make a plan that’s a little more leisurely.

So that’s the end of how I approached the TOPIK. I’m not sure how much help it is…

I’m not writing this because I think I’m totally awesome at Korean. Actually, I’m writing it because I don’t think that.

I know that level 6 does require a certain degree of knowledge, so I’m proud of myself for that. But I also recognize that knowledge about the test and a little luck is what put me over the edge, so I wanted to pass that knowledge on.

In the end, for me, level 6 is not the goal, but the starting line. It’s what I needed to get me to the next step in my plan, but there’s still so much more to learn before I really feel comfortable with Korean.

Hopefully in two years when my current result is no longer valid, I’ll be able to pass with a much higher score…

Good luck to everyone in your TOPIK journey! If you have any questions or personal strategies please leave them in the comments!