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.