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.

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