So the TOPIK is finished, for now.
The single best thing about the TOPIK is that they release the test questions almost immediately after the test, so you can attempt to self score while it’s still fresh. (Unless my writing was completely incomprehensible, I’m thinking 5).
That is they did until yesterday… If my reading skills are not too off, as of 2015, they are increasing the number of times the exam can be taken in a year (6 total, 4 outside Korea), but they are going to stop posting the exams online (my guess is with the increased test load they will start recycling questions). It did say they would continue to post one test per year, and they won’t remove the tests that are already there.
But anyway, as for my overall impressions of actually taking the new test in an official capacity…
1. My palms were sweating and I think my hand was literally shaking during the writing section, so I may have been nervous…
2. I’ve read a lot of complaints about how the timing is too short. But honestly, I don’t think it’s that bad. Short, yes. Unreasonably short, no.
The thing is if you’re prepared and really know your stuff, then there’s plenty of time. I at least finished reading/writing/answering all questions. Whether I understood them is a separate issue, but that’s my level, and I accept that.
If you’re only aiming for level 3 or 4… You don’t even need to attempt all questions. Take as much time as you need to answer the questions you know, and choose one answer for the rest.
The same goes for writing. Yes, there’s limited time, but for levels 3 and 4 focus on the first 3 questions, and do what you can on the last one if you have time. For levels 5 and 6 rush through the first three and focus the bulk of your time on the last question. You might not write a perfect essay, but if you get 85-90 points on listening and reading, you only need 50-60 points on writing for level 6.
Essentially NIIED is saying you should be able to do x in y amount of time to get each level. The timing is integral to the standard, so making it longer would essentially make it easier.
Or in other words, if you can’t finish the test in the allotted time (with a sufficient score), then you are not at the level they consider to be level 6.
Now, by saying this, I do not mean to imply that if you can’t pass level 6 of TOPIK, you are not fluent in Korean. That is a whole separate issue.
First of all, there are people who just don’t test well. This TOPIK exam certainly places a strict time restriction on examinees, which can make people who don’t test well very nervous. My only recommendation for such people is to study the test really well. While the content changes each time, the structure is very rigid. If you know what to expect, and make a plan, then it may help you improve your score. If not, and the TOPIK specifically is not necessary to you, consider other options for gauging and demonstrating your proficiency.
Second, there are people who can speak and interact on an everyday level with ease, who find the test very difficult. I would say the test is primarily a test of academic readiness. It’s asking whether you can read and accurately understand a variety of difficult texts, whether you can understand an academic lecture, and whether you can write an essay such as you would need for a final exam. It doesn’t test speaking. If having normal everyday conversations with your friends is your goal, then I wouldn’t worry about the TOPIK too much. If you plan to attend school in Korea, in Korean, then not passing level 6, does not necessarily mean you won’t be successful. It may mean that you have to work that much harder though. You’ll spend more time reading, have more questions after lectures, and spend more time writing and correcting your essays.
As I’ve written before, with proficiency tests, it is important to have a clear idea of what they are and what they aren’t. Passing the highest level of TOPIK doesn’t mean all of your skills are equally good, nor does it mean you are at the end of your learning. Likewise, not passing doesn’t mean that your Korean is terrible. If you feel pretty fluent and still don’t do well, it just means that the test isn’t testing for your particular skill set.
Set your own goals outside of passing TOPIK, and do your best to achieve them.
And if you are a KGSP student, or any foreign student in Korea, then the TOPIK may be a necessary evil. For you the best advice I can give is to study the test. Knowing what to expect, and finding a strategy that works for you can really help you to improve your score.