After the Placement Test

So classes have finally started and the first week is done.

On the first day of class, a list was printed with the results of the placement test and the class assignments for levels with enough people for more than one class. (At most schools you will find that an individual class has no more than about 15 people, which is more conducive to language learning. Here I think it is about 12 people per class.)

If you took the placement test (ie have studied some Korean before) then you may find yourself unsatisfied with the level you placed into. As I mentioned before, if you think you should actually be in a higher level try looking through the whole textbook for your assigned level. While it may seem repetitive in the beginning, it will probably get harder as you move farther into the term, but if you feel that most of the book is review then talk to your teacher as soon as possible to see if you will be able to move up to the next level.

I found myself in the opposite situation. I placed far higher than I expected (into level 5). I thought a lot about the situation and eventually decided to stay where I was, but here are some of the things I considered. If your Korean is pretty strong, you may find yourself in a similar situation.

  1. I looked at the level 4 books. Honestly there is a lot in them that I haven’t studied in detail, but I am working on them on my own along with the level 5 class because other considerations won out in the end.
  2. I considered where I want to be in six months. If I stay in level 5 then I will have finished this level in time for the November TOPIK test, and I will be half-way through level 6 for the January TOPIK test. This, hopefully, gives me a fairly good chance of getting at least a level 5 at one of those tests, which would mean I get to start my master’s program in March. If I went down to level 4 I would be less prepared in both November and January, and have a slightly smaller chance of passing. The end result would be either staying in the language program until September, and likely finishing level 6 in the third quarter, and being bored in the last quarter, or barely passing TOPIK 5 in January, and not being able to do the level 6 class (because once you’ve passed TOPIK level 5 you have to go on to the Master’s program). Of course if I bomb both tests anyway then I’ll be stuck repeating stuff for 6 months instead of just three… but I’ll take my chances.
  3. I went to the first class to scope out the competition. Which is not to say I feel any sense of competition with my lovely classmates, but I didn’t want to be way behind everyone else. As it stands, I’m probably somewhere in the middle – stronger in some areas and weaker in others. Even if it is difficult, I figure we’re all in it together, so we can get through it.

Your thought process will be different depending on where it is you end up. For example, if I had been placed in level 4, but felt that that was a little too difficult, then I probably would have decided to go back a level because I would have been more concerned with getting a good foundation rather than passing the TOPIK in January. Honestly, I think level 3 is the perfect starting point if you haven’t studied intensively in Korea already. Starting in level three means that as long as you pass all of your classes you will be able to finish level 6 by the end of the year, and at the same time you’re getting an intensive, well-rounded study opportunity. I think that the students in my level 5 class who studied in Korea before are much stronger in speaking than those of us who spent most of our study time abroad. That is one thing I am jealous of.

No matter what level you end up in, my advice to you is to focus on the 예습 (preparation/preview, the opposite of review). We got a detailed syllabus, so I know exactly what is coming the next day. Rather than focusing on reviewing what you did in class that day, focus on previewing what you will do the next day. Look up words you don’t know. Try to work out the meaning a usage of new grammar. Get a general feel for everything, and figure out what you don’t understand. I think this helps you to get a lot more out of the class.

For example, if you look up vocabulary words in a dictionary, some of them will make sense right away, but others may have multiple possible definitions, or it may be an idiomatic expression, or it might just not be in the dictionary at all. If you know which ones really require a teacher’s help then you can focus on those rather than finding you need help after the class has moved on. The same can be said of grammar. If you know which parts are explained well in the book, and which parts you don’t understand, then you can ask better questions. Of course most teachers will be happy to help you outside of class, but discussing things in class can be a help to everyone.

Of course review is also important. Don’t just move on to the next thing without reviewing the others. This is probably my biggest weakness, just looking forward and not back. It means that I can follow class very well, but forget everything right after… It’s important to find a good balance time-wise between previewing and reviewing.

And don’t worry if you are just starting from zero. Of the 80 something KGSP people here at KNU only about 30 of us even sat the placement test. The rest all started from the beginning. While you may find things difficult at first because the teachers tend to only use Korean no matter how little you know, in the long run studying everything intensively in Korea has its advantages. Your course will be continuous without gaps that come from studying in different curriculums. You’ll have much more access to the language early on, which may help to prevent you from developing bad habits, so if you work at it you may end up stronger than those of us who started higher.

Language Proficiency Tests ~ Part 2

Earlier, I talked about language proficiency tests in general, and the benefits or limitations of them.

Now, I want to talk a little bit about language proficiency tests in the context of KGSP. In my post on required documents for the KGSP application, I did touch briefly on my general opinion, but there are some other considerations as well.

First of all, I would reiterate that if you are not a native speaker of either English or Korean, then I would submit either an English or a Korean proficiency test result. Except in exceptional circumstances, you will be doing your graduate study in some combination of English and Korean, so it is a good idea to show that you are up to that challenge.

You can show English proficiency by taking the TOEFL or IELTS exams, or by showing that you completed your undergraduate or Master’s degree in English (obviously being a native speaker counts too). My knowledge of these tests is limited because I’ve never had to take them. I can say the for TOEFL between 100-120 is considered very high, and 80-100 is high. (80 is the minimum requirement to be admitted to Harvard Graduate School, though of course their actual cutoff may be higher.) As with any test, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the format of the test, and the kinds of questions you will see. Particularly with the TOEFL, you should get used to structuring written and spoken answers within a limited amount of time.

To show Korean proficiency you should take the TOPIK test. NIIED is the organization in charge of administering the TOPIK test, so it’s the only one they accept for KGSP.

First, a brief introduction to TOPIK.

The TOPIK exam was recently restructured, so keep that in mind when searching for information online. The current TOPIK system has two tests – TOPIK I and TOPIK II. TOPIK I is for beginners and includes a reading and a listening section (100 points each). If you score more than 80 of the total 200 points, then you pass level 1. If you score more than 140, then you pass level 2. The TOPIK II is for intermediate and advanced learners (prior to restructuring it was two separate tests, but now it is one test). The TOPIK II includes reading, listening and writing sections (100 points each). You need to score more than 120 points to pass level 3, more than 150 for level 4, more than 190 for level 5, and more than 230 for level 6.

Whereas with an English exam you are trying to show a strong overall proficiency because you will have limited opportunities to improve it formally in Korea, with a Korean exam even a pass at the lowest level (1 or 2) can have value for KGSP. With the TOPIK exam, you are mostly trying to show an interest and an effort in learning Korean.

There are exceptions to that rule though. There are some programs that will require you to speak Korean at the time you apply. If you do already have Korean proficiency, and you would like to apply to one of these programs, then it is a good idea to take the TOPIK and try for at least level 4 (level 5 or 6 would be preferable). Otherwise, you might want to avoid applying to these programs because they may reject you despite the year of language study you would get through KGSP. (When in doubt contact the department about language requirements.)

Also, if you personally would like to start your degree program right away and skip the language study, then you will need to get TOPIK 5 or 6. This is regardless of the language requirements of your degree program. Even if your program is 100% in English, in order to start early (in September of the year you apply, or March of the following year) you need to have TOPIK 5 or 6. (Although to successfully move on from the language program after one full year, you only need to pass level 3.)

So, what should you do if TOPIK is not available in your country?

TOPIK is available in quite a few countries (68 plus Korea), so you should check (and recheck) the official website to find out when and where you can take it. (Right now on the English page the list of testing sites is called “Experiment Station,” which sounds a little scary. The info is also only in Korean, but if you are ready to take TOPIK at any level then you should be able to read it. You can narrow your search by region and country.)

But if it really isn’t available in your country and you are highly proficient, I would recommend one of the following:

  1. Write your application in Korean. The application can be written either in Korean or in English. If you are applying to a program that requires Korean and you are proficient already, but cannot take a test, then show them through your application essays. As with any time you are writing in a non-native language have someone check them if you can, but don’t have someone write them for you – they will find out eventually that you are not that good at Korean, and you will be the one to suffer.
  2. Ask a Korean teacher for a recommendation. Unless your major was/is Korean language, or you just happen to have a Korean person as a professor for another major course, I would not recommend submitting this as your only recommendation. While language ability is important, it is more important to establish your knowledge and ability in your own field. But it doesn’t hurt to submit some proof of language ability as an extra recommendation, if you can’t take TOPIK.
  3. Travel to another country. This can be an expensive option, depending on how far you should go. I would really only recommend this option if it is important to you to start your degree program right away. You should weigh the options carefully. Which is more costly to you (in terms of time and money), going to another country to take the test, or spending your first 6 months in a language program instead of a degree program. If the later is more costly to you, then consider traveling to take the test. You should, of course, check with the organization in charge of running the test in that country to make sure you are allowed to register to take it from another country. You also need to be reasonably certain of passing at least level 5, or your effort will be for naught. If you are on the edge then you would probably benefit from at least 6 more months of study in Korea anyway.

And that last sentence brings me to my final point – it is possible to show too much proficiency. If you are the opposite of the person who wants to start their degree program right away, and you actually do want to spend some time focusing full time on improving your Korean language skills, then you may not want to submit the level 5 score. The unfortunate thing about the new TOPIK test is that the intermediate and advanced tests are now combined. Before if you took the intermediate test, then there was no way to pass level 5, but now the difference between level 4 and level 5 can be just a few points on the same test. Of course, I would always recommend doing your best and achieving the best possible score, but remember, as soon as you submit a level 5 or 6 score, you will be REQUIRED to start your degree program right away without doing the language program. Think for yourself about what that means to you.

Overall, I would say that unless you are a bad tester and you think your scores significantly under-represent your actual language skills, I think it is always a good idea to include a test score when available and applicable. Both English and Korean test scores are, officially speaking, optional, but without them schools can assume the worst rather than the best. If you do choose not to submit them, or have no choice, be sure to make up for it in other ways, such as essays and recommendations.

Health Exams ~ Part 2

So, once you’ve dealt with whatever hassle you should go through to complete the required health exam in your own country, you get to do it all again when you get to Korea.

The way NIIED words it in the official information, it sounds a little like you will do the exam at orientation, but that’s not perfectly true. It probably won’t be at the NIIED orientation in any case.

Each language institute or graduate school will arrange for you to do the exam either at school, or somewhere nearby.

KNU invited the official health exam people onto campus to check everyone in our classroom building.

Aside from the waiting before hand, it was pretty quick. We…

  • Peed in a cup
  • Read an eye chart
  • Got on a scale (that also magically measured height)
  • Had our blood pressure taken
  • Read a test for color blindness
  • Had blood drawn
  • Had a chest xray (without having to disrobe at all… but the image was displayed on a screen for all to see… which reminds me, I noticed that with the girl ahead of me, but forgot to look at my own insides…)

And then it was done. Pretty simple, and non-invasive.

One other thing about the medical check in your own country – you should keep an electronic or a physical copy of it for your own records. I highly recommend sending a scanned copy to them by email before you send the original copy, and in that case you would have an electronic copy, but if you can’t do that, try to make a photocopy.

If you are planning to live in a dormitory at your school (and if you are doing the language year you have to live in the dormitory), they will require you to submit a health examination before you enter. If you tell them that you have already submitted a health exam to NIIED, then it is likely they will waive the requirement to get another health exam, but just in case, it is good to have a copy of your health exam results to show to them.

Placement Exam

It’s raining so much here in Chuncheon!

On such a lovely day, what better thing to do than to sit inside and take a Korean placement test, right?

If it is your first time coming to Korea, or starting at a new language school, you may be curious about what this experience will be like.

I’ve now done it twice. The first time was at Yonsei’s 3-week summer program 2-years ago. The second time was obviously this afternoon at Kangwon National University. The two experiences were pretty similar, so I would guess you will experience something similar no matter where you go.

First of all, if you have never studied Korean before, or your study has been quite limited and you yourself think that you belong in the first beginner level of Korean, then you don’t have to sit the test. The test is only for people who want to start at a higher level. (This seems pretty logical, but people still worry if they have to sit the test.)

Next, the written tests are usually written from very basic stuff at the beginning to very difficult stuff at the end. Obviously a placement test should be able to show the teachers if a student is level 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc, so it should have a lot of different stuff on it. The nice thing though is that they put the stuff in order. (Both Yonsei and KNU did this, and I think it is pretty standard.) What this means is that you can start at the beginning, do as many questions as you can, and then just stop when you stop understanding. (You might want to look at the next few pages/questions to make sure.) I feel like the Yonsei test was much longer than the KNU one, but that might just be because I was less proficient, so there was more I left unfinished. In any case, the length of the test will probably vary depending on the school, but you will probably be able to stop and/or leave when you finish what you can.

As for the types of questions asked… Yonsei was too long ago to remember exactly. KNU started with basic particles, conjugations, some fill in the blank, some multiple choice, and at the end some harder reading comprehension. The KNU test also had a free writing self introduction section on the back. Some people who only answered the first few pages didn’t notice this section, so make sure you do at least flip through the whole test to see if you’re missing anything else you can do. (Self introductions are usually one of the first things you learn, so write what you can!)

Both Yonsei and KNU also had an interview part to the test. At Yonsei we took turns going outside in the middle of doing the written test. At KNU we went for the interview after finishing as much as we could of the written test. Listen to the teachers’ instructions to find out how that works. The questions will vary depending on the interviewer. They may ask you to introduce yourself (again) and work off that. If you speak well the questions will be harder. If you are more of a beginner they may ask more simple things. At Yonsei, I remember the interviewer asking me to name things in the room around me, or what my plans were for the weekend. Here at KNU it was more like a regular conversation.

In the end just remember that this is just a placement test. There is no pass or fail. There is no shame in not understanding some (or many) questions. Don’t be nervous and do your best.

Also, if you feel like you really weren’t yourself and didn’t place as highly as you should, or the opposite, if you placed more highly than you think you should, there will usually be a period of time in the beginning where they will allow you to change. Speak up within the first day or two of class, and remember that the teachers will ultimately have the final say about it.

As someone who has jumped around from school to school both in Japanese and in Korean, I can say that repeating some information is not a bad thing if it means not skipping other important information. A strong foundation is really important for language learning. It is possible that you will find yourself repeating some information at the beginning of your class, but it is likely that you will find newer, harder things as it progresses. Before asking to switch to a higher class, take a look through your textbook and see what you might be missing.

Good luck!

FAQ ~ Where will I study Korean?

If you are selected for KGSP, and do not yet have TOPIK 5 or 6, you may be curious about where you will study Korean for your language year.

The answer is not so easy.

The first thing that I can say is that you will not study Korean in the same region as your degree school. This is definite. They do this on purpose so that you can experience different parts of Korea.

Personally, I think this is a good thing. Different parts of Korea have different dialects and cuisine etc, so getting to know them is enriching for you as a Korean traveler. Another advantage, especially for those ending up in Seoul, is that whatever region you end up in is likely to be cheaper to live in than Seoul. A year to save up is not a bad thing.

Of course if you already have a home someplace in Korea (like me), or you have a spouse somewhere in Korea (like me) this may not be the most convenient arrangement. I was lucky in that I am still close to where my husband is, so I can go home for weekends if I choose, but I may just be lucky (or they may have done it on purpose. I don’t know.)

The next thing I can say is that you cannot choose where you will study Korean, nor can you change schools once they have decided for you. You can’t do it, it doesn’t happen, end of story.

So then what are the possible places you could be sent?

The answer to this question varies by year.

This year (2014 selectees) there are ten schools, but last year (2013 selectees) there were twelve schools. In addition to a reduction of the number of schools, there were also some changes to the schools.

They can be broken down roughly into 5 regions. Seoul, Northern Region, Central (West) Region, South Western Region, and South Eastern Region. (The colors below refer to the map at the bottom.)

  • Seoul/Red – These three universities were used for 2013 selectees, but for 2014 there are no schools in Seoul proper.
    • Kyunghee University (2013)
    • Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) (2013)
    • Sungkyunkwan* (There are Seoul and Suwon campuses. Suwon is just south of Seoul.) (2013)
  • Northern Region/Blue
    • Inha University, Incheon (2013/2014)
    • Kangwon National University, Chuncheon (2014)
    • Hallym University, Chuncheon (2013)
  • Central (West) Region/Green
    • Sunmoon University, Asan (2013/2014)
    • Chungnam National University, Daejeon (2013/2014)
    • Pai Chai University, Daejeon (2014)
  • South Western Region/Orange
    • Jeonju University, Jeonju (2013/2014)
    • Chonnam University, Gwangju (2013/2014)
  • South Eastern Region/Purple
    • Keimyung University, Daegu (2013/2014)
    • Yeungnam University, Gyeongsan (2014)
    • Dongseo University, Busan (2014)
    • Silla University, Busan (2013)
    • Pusan National University (2013)

On the map below you can see approximately where everything is. The highlighted areas are special designated metropolitan areas. These are Korea’s bigger cities (Seoul is pink, Incheon is blue, Daejeon is green, Gwangju is yellow/orange, Daegu is the inland purple, and Busan is the coastal purple). The stars are smaller cities.

You’ll notice that even when they’ve changed schools, they’ve generally added a school in the same general area, for every school they’ve taken away (with the exception of Seoul).

Map courtesy of Wikipedia

As for how they choose which schools to send people to, that is a mystery. One thing you will notice is that none of the old, well established schools are on the list; such as Yonsei, Korea U, SNU, Sogang, Ehwa, etc. Part of the goal of KGSP is not only to raise the level of Korean among foreigners, but to also raise the level of Korean language education in Korea. Well established language programs have little trouble filling spots, and can constantly work on improving their programs with student feedback and results. Smaller programs like the ones KGSP uses need more help. Beyond that, I’m not sure what motivates NIIED to drop one school, keep another, and add yet another. The group of schools for 2015 and beyond may be similar, or totally different, but they will probably be in the vicinity of existing schools.

NIIED Orientation

So remember ESID?

Well, it applies to situations between KGSP year groups as well as those within year groups.

If you’ve followed my advice and watched Lolaloveskorea on YouTube, or found her on your own, or found other blogs from 2013 KGSPers or earlier that talk about NIIED orientation… yours may not be like that.

Mine certainly wasn’t.

And I’m not necessarily complaining.

Last year it appears they bussed everyone to the same place and did a two day orientation/tourism thing – in matching yellow polo shirts.

This year, they are being more economical and practical. We were divided into 4 groups of 2-3 language schools plus people in the area who are exempt from language study. And we got a tote bag and towels instead of polo shirts.

I love KGSP totebag
Towel gift
Inscribed towels. If you spend long enough in Korea, you’ll probably end up with a lot of these.

My group went right to the NIIED headquarters in Seoul, but other groups are gathering at one of the language schools nearby.

NIIED Headquarters in Seoul

Instead of all the touring and socializing at the past years’ orientations, ours was pretty no nonsense, and went something like this…

1. Video about NIIED (fun fact – it started in 1962 and has been facilitating educational exchange between Korea and the world since then)

2. Video about KGSP

3. Greetings from the President of NIIED (in English)

4. Greetings from a student representative (in Korean and English)

5. Traditional Korean performance of gayageum and samulnori

Pungmul nori (the music with the streamer hats)
Pungmul nori with samul nori instruments

6. Group photo

7. Coffee break

8. Explanation of Rules and Regulations following the handbook (mostly just reiteration of what is in the handbook, but it seemed to be based on things that people routinely ask questions about)


9. Speeches from two former scholars (one from 2011 and one from 2009, good information especially if it’s your first time abroad or in Korea)

10. Dinner

And then we went home. All told from checking in to going home, we were there for about 5 hours.

Some of the things they mentioned:

  • If you achieve TOPIK 5 (or 6) then you MUST start your degree program at the earliest opportunity (September if you do it before you arrive in Korea, or March if you get it between September and February of your language year). You cannot choose to do more language study.
  • You CANNOT change your degree university under any circumstances (and keep the scholarship). It has never happened in the history of KGSP.
  • During the application process they got between 400 and 800 emails a day! With a relatively small staff, that’s a lot of emails, so refer to this post and think carefully before you send them email. Again, I’m not saying don’t send them email, just think about it carefully.

And that’s what our orientation was like. Yours may be similar or completely different.