TOPIK II for Intermediate Learners ~ Strategies

Results for the 37th TOPIK exam will be announced on Wednesday, so while I’m obsessing/stressing about those, I thought I’d write a little about what I would do if I was trying to pass level 3 or 4 of the new TOPIK.

If you are an intermediate learner, the new TOPIK is a daunting task. With levels 3-6 mixed into one test, there are going to be a lot of questions that are just too difficult to even approach, and it’s easy to get frustrated and feel defeated.

Ideally, I suppose one would sit down and go through all of the questions and try to answer each one in order to get an “accurate” assessment of their ability, but realistically I’m sure that NIIED accounts for random guessing in setting their standard, so it is to your advantage to learn how to do that effectively with this test. Also, the reality is that passing level 3 or 4 is a requirement for some activities like going to university here in Korea, so it pays to have some strategy under your belt.

So here are some of my tips to help you conquer the TOPIK II exam as an intermediate learner.

TIP #1 Analyze your strengths and weaknesses

NIIED has announced that they will stop publishing all of the TOPIK tests on their website, but they will continue to upload at least one a year, and they will leave the current ones there, so sit down with one of the old tests and figure out which questions you are good at, and which you aren’t.

When you do this, you might want to time yourself, but I wouldn’t worry too much about the time issue. What you want to figure out is which questions it’s okay for you to guess on, and which ones you want to skip altogether.

The thing is that as an intermediate learner, you won’t have time to read all of the questions during the actual test, so you want to figure out where to spend your time.

In general, the questions go from easiest to hardest. In the reading and listening sections that means that the first 12 questions are about level 3, the next 13 level 4, the next 12 level 5 and the last 13 level 6 (give or take).

BUT, just because a question comes before another question doesn’t necessarily make that question easier FOR YOU. Honestly, there are some sections at the beginning of the test that I’m just not good at, but I can answer the “harder” questions fairly well. There may be types of questions that you too are particularly good at answering, even if they do come later in the test, so you want to figure out which ones those are.

The TOPIK exam always includes the same style of questions in the same order on every test, so if you know that you are pretty good at guessing questions 30-33, but not 20-24, then you can skip the earlier ones, and go straight to the later ones.

When you are doing this, skip questions where you can’t eliminate at least two answers. If you don’t understand anything you are better off not guessing. (More on guessing later.) In these practice tests, it’s a good idea to mark the answers you eliminated, and the two you wavered between. If you find that both of those are wrong, and you eliminated the right answer… that might be the kind of question you want to skip on the real test.

TIP #2 Get used to the questions

As I said above, they always ask the same kinds of questions in the same places, so make sure you understand the wording of the questions and what they are asking for. During the test you want to be able to glance at the key words in the questions just to remind you which question it is (I certainly haven’t memorized the exact order), and not have to read the whole question each time. Are you looking for a topic? Is it asking for a similar meaning? etc.

Also, as you practice particular types of questions and analyze the right answers, you may develop better strategies for answering them more accurately.

TIP #3 Don’t think of it as a 50 question test

The listening and the reading sections have 50 questions each, but if your goal is to pass level 3 or 4, don’t even attempt to answer all 50 questions.

For the reading test, find 20-25 questions that you answer fairly accurately most of the time (TIP #1) and think of it as a 20-25 question test. Spend as much time as you need to on those questions. If you have time, then keep going, but again if you can’t eliminate at least two answers then skip it.

For the listening test, unfortunately you only have as much time as they give you for each question. But for example, when they start asking two questions for one conversation/speech you can decide to only answer one of those (whichever one you are better at), and spend more time reading the answer choices for that question, and listening for that answer only. Then if you decide not to even attempt the last questions you can take the extra time to start the writing section (if you can concentrate with the listening test still going on).

TIP #4 Do the math

Or I can do a little math for you…

First of all, to pass level 3 you need 120 points total, or an average of 40 points per section. For level 4, you need 150 points, or an average of 50 points per section. BUT, chances are good that you will score better in the multiple choice sections than the writing section, so you want to aim for a minmum of about 50/50/20 or 60/60/30 (or if you have more confidence in writing, 45/45/30 or 55/55/40).

So how do you do that?

Let’s focus on level 4 (you can apply similar math to level 3).

Each reading or listening question is worth 2 points, so to get 60 points, you need to answer 30 questions correctly. BUT, that doesn’t mean you need to know the answer to 30 questions.

The TOPIK exam has one major quirk, or flaw, that you can use to your advantage (unless they get wise and change it). That quirk is that they always distribute the answers (almost) evenly among the four possible choices. I say almost because there are fifty questions, and fifty is not divisible by four, but there are always 12 of each answer, plus one extra for two of them. That means that even if you just filled in the same answer for every question you would be guaranteed 24 (or possibly 26) points.

Now that is not enough, of course, to pass any level, so you do still need to answer some questions by yourself, but you can use it to your advantage.

Let’s see how it works with the 37th TOPIK.

You take your time answering the first 25 questions, and are pretty confident with your answers. If your answers are all correct, you would count them and find the following:

  1. Six answers
  2. Eight answers
  3. Six answers
  4. Five answers

So, because (4) has the fewest you fill in (4) for all of the remaining answers. That gives you 50 points for the 25 questions you answered, plus 14 points for the seven other times (4) was an answer. That’s 64 points, not too shabby. If you answered 5 questions wrong, and then accidentally chose (2), then you’d still be left with 50 points.

It’s only a minor boost, but with totally random guessing, you run the risk of getting more wrong. Unless you can accurately narrow your chances to a fifty/fifty guess, you are better off sticking with one answer. Think of this as insurance for the questions you tried to answer but got wrong.

You can of course apply this strategy at any level. Assuming you get the first x number of questions right these are the possible outcomes for x questions answered (on the 37th TOPIK, actual results will vary).

You answered/Score

Remember the above is assuming that all the answers you attempted you got right. In the end, for a goal of 45-60 points, you want to be really confident for about 15 to 25 questions. (You probably want to attempt more like 20-30 to allow for wrong answers early on.)

And when you think about it that way, the new TOPIK doesn’t seem that bad, right?

So in the end, if you just want to see how many questions you can answer for your own personal fulfillment, you can use the practice tests. If you need a certain score on the real exam, then play it safe and smart.

More on the writing section later.

Do you have a strategy or tip that’s worked for you?

9 thoughts on “TOPIK II for Intermediate Learners ~ Strategies”

  1. Thank you for your great tips! I always enjoy reading your blog.
    Do you also have any useful strategies for the reading section?
    The time is very limited and the texts consist lots of unknown vocabulary. I often feel so desperate since I do not understand some parts of the text or the questions 😦

    1. Writing is coming next, but I’ll try to do reading too. My teachers did give some tips for cutting down on time for some kinds of questions. Of course to some extent you do just need to know more vocabulary, it’s hard to get past that entirely, but there are ways to give yourself more time to work on the harder questions. In any case, I’ll try to do reading Sunday or Monday?

  2. Hi! Thank you for all of your blog posts, they are extremely detailed and useful.
    Since I happen to be following a similar learning path for Korean language (except for the Japanese backgroung), i wanted to ask you about the 3 week couse at yonsei. Do you think it had some impact on your learning? Would you do it again?
    Also, I’m currently studying for the main purpose of taking Topik (i know it’s not the best appoach, but can’t avoid it). From your experience, which one between ewha and yonsei textbook do you think prepares better for the test?(self study, lvl 2 to 4, using other resources as well)
    Good luck with your studies!

    1. The three week course at Yonsei was good. Basically a regular Yonsei course, but only part of it. If you are totally self studying and can’t commit to a long term thing then it’s a good chance to get some correction, reinforcement, practice etc. I’d do it again if I ever felt the need. For TOPIK and self study… I’d say Ewha is most cost effective… One book gives you reading and listening and grammar and writing. Yonsei really crams in the “grammar” points but isn’t as good with some of the other aspects. For those you’d have to buy the other books in the Yonsei series (which are good if you really want to practice reading or listening, but the basic book is a little bland) The new TOPIK focuses away from pure grammar with more reading comprehension style questions, so I personally think Ewha is a little better.

  3. Hi, This was really encouraging and timely. I was just frustrated after doing a listening for TOPIK II but this has really lifted my mood. Thank you for sharing.

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