2015 KGSP Graduate Scholarship

So the new guidelines for 2015’s graduate scholarship have been released. You can find the info here:

2015 KGSP Graduate Scholarship Info

The first thing you need to check is what kinds of quota’s your country has this year, and decide which one to use for your application, either University or Embassy.

Next, please go to that University or Embassy’s website and check for their information about the scholarship. They will be the ones to tell you about the deadline for sending your application. It WILL be different depending on the country or the university, so if you can’t find it for any reason, contact them to ask. Don’t just assume it will be the same as someplace else. Most of the deadlines will be in early to mid-March, so you actually don’t have much time to get everything together, especially if you need to send documents to Korea.

You’ll find the quotas and the application forms all in the first document entitled “01. GKS Graduate Program Guidelines(English-Korean).doc

I, personally, copied the application forms into a separate Word document and worked with that.

There appear to be a couple of differences between the 2014 and 2015 programs.

The first thing I noticed is that they have taken out the part about starting your degree program in March if you achieve TOPIK 5 or 6 in September-January. There is still the possibility of starting your degree program right away if you have TOPIK 5 or 6 when you apply (and if you submit your score then it is mandatory, not optional to start your Master’s or PhD in September 2015). I’m not sure what the deadline is to submit a score. I have several classmates who got TOPIK 5 in the April 2014 test (results announced in early June?), who were not allowed to start early. I don’t know if this was because of some problem with how they reported it, or if it was just too late. If this is something that concerns you, you can check directly with NIIED about this issue. (EDIT: There is a check box in the application for starting in September, which means you should already have TOPIK 5 or 6 when you apply. So in other words it is already too late if you don’t have it yet. But again if this is something that is important to you, you might want to check with NIIED anyway. If you do come back and comment here, to let me know how it went.)

I’m not 100% sure if it will be impossible to start in March if you fulfill the requirements, or just a different process from this year. Again if this was something you were hoping to do, and affects whether you apply/accept the scholarship, then please ask for yourself.

The second change is a new university quota for “Designated Regional Universities” for people applying in Natural Science and Engineering Fields. You can read more about this in the information, but basically they are trying to attract Natural Science and Engineering students to the regional universities (in other words outside of Seoul). The quota per university has been increased, so that they can accept more NS&E students for the scholarship, which can increase your chances of getting in. There is also a special quota within the university quota for some countries just for NS&E students applying to these regional universities, so it means at the second round (NIIED selection) you are competing against fewer students from your country. If you are a Natural Science or Engineering major (and your country has this option) then this may be a good way to apply.

Some things about this new category:

  • You can apply for a Natural Science or Engineering major at any of the 66 available universities, but only the 35 Designated Regional Universities (as listed in the info) will be available for this special quota.
  • Some countries with a university quota only have a “General” quota, and not a “Regional” quota. This doesn’t mean that you cannot apply to one of the regional universities under the university quota, it just means that your application will be considered with other “general” applicants to the university instead of under this quota, and at NIIED your application will be considered with all scholars from your country regardless of major. (Of course you can apply to these universities under the Embassy quota as well).
  • You do not have to apply to these 35 Designated Regional Universities with a Natural Science or Engineering major. You can choose from any of the majors listed in the University information. But again, if you choose another major you will be compared with a different group of students.

**In the application forms there are two versions of “Attachment #1: Personal Data.” One is for Embassy and one is for University. Obviously, you should choose the correct one. In the University version, under “Type of Recommendation” (which on my computer is labeled 1, but should be 2) there is only a check box for “General.” If you are applying for this Designated Regional University quota, then I would probably add a check box for that, so there is no confusion over which quota you are applying with.**

The third change, is a special category for Research Programs. These appear to vary in length from one month to a year, and do not include Korean Language Study. If this is something that applies to you, then you know who you are and what to do, if you’re not sure where to start, then it probably doesn’t apply to you.

Those are the major changes that I noticed. As usual there are probably some changes to the countries and what kind of quotas they have, and also to the list of universities. If you were making plans using last year’s information make sure you double check that your country and universities are still there.

Also, make sure you check the University Information. If you have been looking directly at university websites, then it is possible you found departments and majors that aren’t available to KGSP students. The University Information lists only those majors that are theoretically available to KGSP applicants. By “theoretically” I mean that not all departments will consider foreign applicants who don’t have sufficient Korean skills when they apply, even if those departments are listed in the University Information. If you are concerned, contact the department to ask.

On the personal front, this is my last week of Korean class and next month I will be moving on to my graduate program. Personally, I am ready to leave. The language study has been fun, and I’ve learned so much, but if I had to stay for another 6 months, I think I’d go crazy. That’s just me though. If you start at the beginning or intermediate level, then you’ll constantly be challenged (though you’ll still probably experience some lows, culture shock is par for the course). If you’re at a high-intermediate/advanced level now, and they really won’t let you go in March, then I’d consider all options before applying. Frankly, my language university hadn’t (in recent memory) had a level 6 class, let alone programs for people after that, so it remains to be seen what people in my class who don’t get level 5 or 6 will do for the next 6 months. Being in Korea is great, learning Korean is great, but being tied to a program that really doesn’t know what to do with you can be difficult. If it is true that anyone who doesn’t have TOPIK 5 or 6 right now will need to study in a language program for a year, then for some people it might be better to stay home and get money and/or work experience and apply in 2016 with TOPIK 5/6 already under your belt (that is if you feel confident about getting it in the next year). Either way you’d be starting the graduate program in Sept 2016, and there might be a more productive way of spending the next year. If you’re planning on doing a graduate program in Korean (like the lectures are in Korean, not that you are studying Korean Language/Literature) though, then that year of preparation might not be a bad idea, even if they don’t know what to do with you in your language program for 3, 6, or 9 months. (My degree program is in English, so while Korean is useful, it’s not totally necessary.)

After the 38th TOPIK

So because of my scholarship I had to take the TOPIK one more time this past Sunday. (KGSP/NIIED pays, so they get to decide who has to take it. Of course NIIED is also in charge of the test, so they’re paying themselves…?)

Anyway, I hope that everyone who took it on Sunday will get the score they are hoping for (or better)!

From this test NIIED has stopped posting the questions/answers online, so I have no idea how it went. Personally speaking, listening was easier than last time, reading was similar, and writing… Writing was way out of left field…

In general, I don’t have a problem with the fact that they have stopped posting the tests. Someone elsewhere commented that “NIIED is making it harder for us to study Korean (by not posting the tests),” but I disagree with that… mostly. Studying Korean is very different from studying TOPIK. But even for the TOPIK, one of the most important things you can do is keep up with current events and read the newspaper. The TOPIK questions come from all kinds of different subjects, so you need to get used to reading a variety of things. Depending on your level that may mean choosing short articles and picking them apart, or using a reading textbook, or it may mean just reading the news on a regular basis. Of course watching the news, and listening to online radio is also good practice for listening.

In any case, studying old TOPIK tests is not going to make you significantly better at Korean, and that alone is only going to make you marginally better at TOPIK. In as much as it helps you understand the question types it is useful, but the content is totally different every time.

But writing is a little different.

As I detailed before, the reading and listening question types are always the same format. But judging from this latest test, they are still trying out different types of writing questions.

51 and 52 were not very new. 51 was a letter in response to a wedding invitation (as usual in the -sumnida form), and 52 was a short writing about meals and eating habits. Content-wise they were both pretty simple.

Question 53 and 54 were very different from what we’ve seen so far in the new test.

For Question 53, it has mostly been explanations from a chart. Analyzing a graph, comparing two things, etc. But this time, they gave details for an event (a singing contest/event) and asked us to introduce it as if we had gone to this event. On the one hand, the content was quite a bit easier than some of the #53’s in the past. On the other hand, it is hard to know exactly what they expect out of that question. Should we include our impressions after (supposedly) attending this (fake) event? In previous #53’s, you could mostly fill 200-300 characters just with information from the chart, but this time that was harder. (There was still a chart that included the date, place, who we went with, what we saw, and the purpose of the event).

Question 54 was also structured differently from the past tests. Usually they have given a short paragraph explaining a situation or issue. Then they’ve included 3-4 questions to answer in the essay. This time the questions were all in the paragraph (write at least 2 problems associated with internet comment boards, and possible solutions), and the place that usually had questions included examples of each (violent language in comments is one problem, and forcing people to post using their real name is one solution).

Overall, I have a feeling that both questions actually got much easier than anything that we have seen so far, but the problem is that now we can’t see the “perfect” answer, so it is harder to know what exactly is expected. For example, in 53 I included my (imaginary) impressions of watching the event, but I don’t know if that’s what they wanted. In 54, I used the two things they gave as examples, but I don’t know if they wanted us to think of two different things…

They may have decided that they had set the bar too high before, and actually are trying to make the writing section easier. Or it may be a fluke. Or I may have totally misinterpretted the questions. Only time will tell.

I guess I just have to wait and see how it is reflected in the score…

The 39th and 40th tests (March 21/22 and April 25/26) will both be available abroad, as well as in Korea, so keep an eye out for registration info if you are not in Korea. (From briefly looking at the lists of sites I think that it will not be available in every country on every international testing date, so please check with the TOPIK website or your local office in charge of TOPIK to find out when it will be available in your country.)

Good luck again to everyone now waiting for a score, and for those of you planning to take it some other time this year!

TOPIK II By Section ~ Reading

Reading. Ironically, this is longest section in the new TOPIK, but there’s still not enough time. Basically in this new TOPIK there is never enough time.

Like with the other sections, my biggest advice is to figure out where you personally are strongest, and spend your time there. Finding a strategy that works for you is most important.

If you are trying to get level 5 or 6, it’s also really important to cut down on the time spent in the beginning of the test.

For reading, I’ll go part by part.


These are intermediate level grammar questions. 1-2 ask you to fill in the blank with the correct grammar. 3-4 ask you to find the grammar point with a similar meaning to the underlined part of a sentence.

Basically, you have to know the grammar. If you never learned one of the choices, chances are it’s not the answer. These are level 3/4 questions, so advanced grammar will not be the correct answer.

If you know the grammar point in the sentence for questions 3-4 then you probably don’t need to read the whole sentence. If you don’t know it don’t panic. You can usually approach it like questions 1-2. Think of it like a fill-in the blank.


These will be some sort of advertisement or instructions. You need to figure out what it’s for.

The first ones are usually an advertisement for some object (refrigerator, glasses store, air purifier, etc.) and you should think of what it is.

The later ones are usually some sort of warning or instructions, and you should choose what for. (Telephone manners, instructions for use, etc.)


These are the reading version of the 내용 questions in listening.

“내용과 같은 것을 고르십시오.”

Question 9 is a poster advertising an event and 10 is a graph (usually). For these two personally I like to read the answers first and look for the info. The way it’s organized, it’s usually pretty easy to locate the info and determine whether it’s true or false. This way you can skip any info that isn’t necessary to answer the questions.

For 11 and 12 you have to find the info in a short paragraph, so for these two personally I like to read the paragraph first and then the answers.


For these questions you are given 4 sentences and you have to put them in order.

There are four answer choices, but there will be only two possible starting sentences. Read those first, and chose which is a better starting sentence.

If it starts with 그 or 이 (그런, 그래서, 그 때문에, 이는, etc) or another connecting word (하지만, etc) or ends in 때문이다 then it is not the first sentence.

If it’s not that obvious you want the sentence that seems to be introducing the topic better.

Once you have a opening sentence you’ll have narrowed it to 2 possible answers, which means you now have two possible closing sentences. Find the one that sums things up best, and you have your answer. If you’re still unsure read them in the two possible orders and decide.


These are fill in the blank questions. The first fill in the blanks were looking for specific grammar points, but these are asking you to pick the appropriate meaning.

Unfortunately, all of the choices will probably sound like possible answers if you just read the sentence with the blank, so you do need to read the whole paragraph.

As with listening, don’t panic if there are words you don’t know. Try to infer the meaning from the words you do know.


These are the last of the intermediate level questions. There are 3 paragraphs, with two questions each.

19 & 20

20 is about finding the correct information (내용과 같은 것), so you’ll need to read the whole paragraph.

19 is a fill in the blank. Probably a connecting word, so think about the relationship between the two sentences it connects.

21 & 22

21 will be an idiomatic expression or proverb. You’ll probably have to read what comes before the blank to figure out which is appropriate. As for learning idiomatic expressions and proverbs, mostly you just have to study them, which is annoying because there’s only one question that asks about them. But if you get some under your belt, you’ll probably get better at guessing the meaning of others, so don’t feel like you have to memorize long lists of proverbs or idioms.

22 is about the main idea or 중심 생각. For these look at the first and the last sentence again. These two sentences should give you the main idea, and keep you from getting distracted by other information that may be in the paragraph, but is not the main idea.

23 & 24

This paragraph is usually from literature. 23 is about the 기분 or 심정 of someone as indicated in the underlined part. So how were they feeling? Korean has so many ways of describing emotions… So if someone knows of a good vocab list of these emotion words, please point me to it. This is one of my personal weaknesses.

24 is a “내용” question.


The dreaded newspaper questions. These give you a title for a newspaper article, and you have to find the sentence that describes what the article is about.

Essentially you are looking for a sentence that says exactly the same thing as the article title in different words. The hard part is the vocabulary. Aside from just learning tons of vocab, look for the explanation that seems most like news, fits the best with the words you know, and doesn’t “translate” the hard words too literally. If it looks like it’s trying to trick you, it probably is. Looking at Korean news headlines is also good preparation. Often they pull TOPIK questions from real current events, so keeping up with the news and just getting used to what Korean headlines look like and common vocab can help.


These are the advanced versions of questions 16-18, the fill in the blank questions.


These are the advanced versions of 11 & 12, they 내용 questions.


These questions ask for the 주제, which is the same as the 중심 생각, or main idea.

First of all, be careful that you’re at least skimming the directions because coming right after the 내용 questions it’s possible to forget what you’re looking for.

Second, if you’re running out of time, and by this time you might be, you may be able to save time by only reading the first and last sentence of the paragraph. The introduction and conclusion of the paragraph should state the main idea, so not only can you save time, but you can avoid other distracting information. This method is not for everyone, so you should practice ahead of time to see if it works for you, but if it does work you can cut out a significant amount of time.


These are the advanced version of questions 13-15, the correct order questions.

Instead of arranging all of the sentences, you’ll be given a paragraph and an extra sentence, and you have to decide where the extra sentence fits.

Read the extra sentence first. Look for key words that tell you its function in the paragraph. Is it defining something? Giving a reason for something? What kind of info should come before?

Then read the paragraph and decide where it goes.


These are the advanced multi question paragraphs. They include a sampling of all the question types that came before in much longer paragraphs. There are three paragraphs with 2 questions each, and the last one has 3 questions.

42 The feeling of the person in the underlined part.

43 내용

44 Main idea (remember first and last)

45 Fill in the blank

46 Insert the extra sentence into the paragraph (remember to read it first before reading the paragraph)

47 내용

48 The author’s reason for writing

49 Fill in the blank

50 The author’s attitude/intention of the underlined sentence

At this point, unless you’ve moved super quickly through the first 40 questions, you probably will be running out of time, so I’d pick and choose the types of questions you’re good at, and the topics you’re more familiar with.

Overall, I’ve talked a bit about strategy for people aiming for levels 3 and 4 before. If you are aiming for 5 or 6, you’ll want to be able to get to around 35-40 at the least.

My personal plan for timing was:

1-18 About 1 minute per question (average), 20 minutes total

19-24 About 2 minutes per paragraph, 6 minutes

25-41 About 1.5 minutes per question, 24 minutes (Total so far 50 minutes)

42-50 About 4 minutes for the 2 question paragraphs, and 8 for the 3 question paragraph. (Total 70 minutes)

That was my ideal, but honestly, if you’d be really happy just to get level 5 (while leaving room for the possibility of 6) I’d completely ignore 42-50. They’re long and hard and by that time you’re totally exhausted. Ultimately any of those I got right was pure luck anyway. Obviously if you happen to have time at the end then go for it, but I wouldn’t rush through the rest, and stress yourself out to leave all that time for the last questions. Depending on your current level you might want to make a plan that’s a little more leisurely.

So that’s the end of how I approached the TOPIK. I’m not sure how much help it is…

I’m not writing this because I think I’m totally awesome at Korean. Actually, I’m writing it because I don’t think that.

I know that level 6 does require a certain degree of knowledge, so I’m proud of myself for that. But I also recognize that knowledge about the test and a little luck is what put me over the edge, so I wanted to pass that knowledge on.

In the end, for me, level 6 is not the goal, but the starting line. It’s what I needed to get me to the next step in my plan, but there’s still so much more to learn before I really feel comfortable with Korean.

Hopefully in two years when my current result is no longer valid, I’ll be able to pass with a much higher score…

Good luck to everyone in your TOPIK journey! If you have any questions or personal strategies please leave them in the comments!

TOPIK II By Section ~ Writing

Writing is the hardest section to get a really high score in, except for particular types of people. (Apparently there were a couple of people, actually in the level below me in terms of class level, who got between 70-78 in writing, but I think most of them were Chinese.)

Ultimately, anywhere from 50-70 is a really decent score in writing, and as long as you make up for this lower score in the other sections, you will still be able to get level 5 or 6.

I think I’ve talked a little about writing before, but I’ll try to go into more detail.

Questions 51 and 52

These are fill in the blank questions. They have two blanks for each question, so each blank is worth 5 points. The points are further divided into grammar points and vocabulary points. In general, they are looking for specific words and grammar structures. If you combine these correctly, you’ll get full points, if the meaning is still conveyed with less ideal words or grammar, you’ll get fewer points. If your word choice or grammar is wrong you’ll get no points (for whatever is wrong, but you still might get partial points for the other elements).

Question 51 will be some sort of advertisement or invitation, etc. It will usually be written formally (습니다), so make sure you match your endings to the rest of the sentences. Watch out for question marks. Sometimes you will be asked to fill in questions. Reviewing how to make formal requests, suggestions, etc will help you with this question.

Questions 52 is usually some sort of short writing like you might find in the reading section. I’ve personally noticed that it is often comparing two different ideas, so usually it will express one side of the issue, and you have to fill in the opposite opinion or view. So generally you can mirror what they have already written from the opposite perspective. This may not always be the case, but it is one common type. Again, you want to match the verb endings to the rest of the passage, but it will most likely be in regular written form (다, ㄴ/는다).

If you are trying for levels 3 or 4, these two questions are very important, and I would spend more time on them. If you are trying for levels 5 or 6, leaving these questions entirely blank is probably not a good idea, but you also don’t want to spend too much time on them. Read them first, but if a good answer doesn’t come to you immediately then skip them and come back.

Question 53

This question is VERY important. It’s 30 points and requires very little original work. You need to write some sort of introduction (one sentence, two max), then organize the information from the graph or chart in some logical way (include everything), and then write one sentence as a conclusion. That’s 200-300 characters right there.

To practice this kind of question, I seriously recommend the Sogang Writing book (2). I’m sure there are other books out there that are good, but I haven’t used them. In any case, the question for TOPIK 35 was chapter 6 (graphs/data), TOPIK 36 was kind of chapter 3 (reasons) with some data, and TOPIK 37 was chapter 4 (definitions and characteristics). The practice question (published after they announced the new test structure) was also chapter 4 but good points/bad points. We may not have seen all of the possible types of questions, but I have a feeling they will all be based on the same basic structures found in this writing book. Remember, this is still just a level 3/4 question.

If you are going for level 5/6 spend 10-15 minutes max on this question, and copy, copy, copy. Yes, you do have to put the data/info from the graph/chart into full, logically flowing sentences, but don’t be afraid to include it word for word as is. In this question they do not take off for that. Also remember that this data/info will likely take up most of your 300 characters, so keep your introduction short, and leave room for a concluding sentence too.

*Make sure you finish your last sentence. If you run out of room then either think of a shorter way to say it, or ignore the boxes and cram it in there. The readers will not read anything outside the writing area, and you will get minus points if it is obviously incomplete (like you stop mid-sentence).

Question 54

This question is a little harder to strategize, but…

Leave enough time. If you only need level 3 or 4, then you may want to focus your energy on the first three questions, but for 5 or 6 you want to try to finish this one. You’ll probably want 20-30 minutes.

Unlike question 53, for this one you want to try not to copy from the prompt. Reword things as much as possible.

Include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. I’ve heard that some teachers say you don’t need a conclusion, but it’s safer to have one. And my teacher, who has been a reader for the TOPIK writing said to include one, so I trust her.

Additionally, make sure your body is longer than either your introduction or conclusion. This is totally picky, but makes logical sense. This means you’ll probably want to keep the intro to about 150 characters, 300-400 in the middle, and another 150 at the end, give or take.

Avoid the first person. Unless it specifically asks about your experience, try to talk in generalities. Avoid things like 생각하다 or 것 같다.

Avoid very colloquial expressions. There are certain things that are only appropriate for conversational Korean, or very informal writing, so keep your tone more formal.

Try to include difficult words and grammar, but make sure you know how to use them correctly. This can be hard when you’re under a time limit, but if there are certain expressions or grammar points from your class that you feel comfortable with, you can try to choose some specific ones ahead of time that you can fit easily to a variety of topics.

Include answers to all of the questions that are asked in the writing prompt.

Again, make sure you finish your last sentence, even if it’s not the end of what you wanted to say, make it look like you’re done.

For maximum points, you want to cross the 600 character line. A combination of length and the overall “sophistication” of your essay will determine your starting point, and then they’ll mostly start taking points off from there. You want to start as close to the full 50 points as possible.

It should go without saying that both 53 and 54 should be written in literary style.

Personally my goal was to spend no more than 10 minutes on 51 and 52, about 12 minutes on 53, and about 28 minutes on 54. I think that I stayed pretty close to that goal, and did finish all four questions. If you are at a level where you decide to skip the last listening questions, then you can start writing earlier. And remember there is no break between listening and writing. I don’t remember if there is some announcement at the end of the listening to start writing, but either way as soon as you finish the last listening question move immediately to the writing.

TOPIK II By Section ~ Listening

So I was asked by one of my fellow KGSPers to write about some of the strategies we got in our TOPIK class because unfortunately not all KGSP language schools provide such classes. I’ll also include some of my own personal impressions about what helped me.

So following the order of the exam, I’ll start with listening.

TIP #1 Analyze the test

There are certain types of questions they always ask, and they always ask them in roughly the same order. Even if you don’t memorise the exact order (and who would want to), you should try to get used to the questions, so that you can spend your time reading the answer choices, not the questions. (There are some tricky ones though, so make sure you skim carefully even if you are skimming.)

  • Questions 1-2 Look at the pictures and find the correct one.
  • Question 3 Look at the graphs and choose the one being talked about. If graphs are not your thing, make sure you look at the titles, the units of each axis (for bar graphs), the trend (rising, falling, for pie charts which is biggest). This is still one of the “easy” questions, but it is easy to get wrong if you miss something important, and/or dislike graphs.
  • Questions 4-8 What will the person say next? I, personally, hate these questions, so I don’t have much to say about them, but… It’ll be a man and a woman talking. If the man is the last one to speak, then you want to find what the woman will say and vice versa. Also remember that it will always be a three line conversation. For example, man starts, woman says something, and you answer what the man says next.
  • Questions 9-12 What will the person do next? Usually the conversations include some distractors, so make sure to look for the thing that the person will do first after the conversation ends.
  • Questions 13-16 Which answer is true according to the conversation/speech?
  • Questions 17-20 What is the main idea? There will always be a distractor or two that is found in the conversation (like the answers for 13-16), but NOT the main idea. Remember you are looking for the person’s main opinion/point/etc.

These first 20 questions are level 3/4 questions. They are only read once, with one question per passage. Questions 21-36 are high 4/low 5 level questions. They are read twice, with two questions per conversation/speech. Questions 37-50 are high 5/6 level questions, and are also read twice with two questions.

For questions 21 on, one of the two questions will almost always be like questions 13-16, something that is true according to the conversation/speech. Out of 15 passages, only 2 or 3 will not have that question. The other things they will ask about are:

  • Main idea (중심 생각 or 중심 내용, see advice above)
  • Reason/Intention (의도): Why is this person talking about this? What are they doing? Are they making a request, explaining something, criticizing someone, etc?
  • Who is talking? This usually refers to their profession.
  • Attitude (태도): This one is usually similar to the reason/intention question in that it usually includes something about what kind of speech it is (explanation/request/etc), but it also usually includes how they are doing that (with examples, citing data, personal anecdotes, etc). It may also include their feelings about the subject.
  • Topic (무엇에 대한 내용인지): This one is similar to the main idea question, but the answer choices are more objective (doesn’t include the speaker’s opinion, just the topic about which they are speaking)
  • What is the speaker doing?
  • What came before? (담화 앞의 내용): This will usually be an interview style conversation. The first speaker will thank the other speaker for talking about X and ask a follow-up question. You want to think about what X was. For these questions you need to make sure to catch the very first line of the conversation.)
  • Reason (Detail) (이유): This is a more detailed question about the contents, asking about the reason given for something contained in the speech.

TIP #2 Read the answers first

This one is obvious, but not always easy in practice. Ideally, you want to look at the answers to the first question as soon as you open the test book, answer the question while they are reading, and take the time given at the end to look at the answers to the next question.

The problem comes when they start asking two questions per passage. My personal strategy is to at least try to read the “what is true according to the passage” answers first. For these questions it is important to be able to look for specific information in the passage. If you are listening for those, then things like the main idea or the speaker’s “attitude” will also come to you. As it gets towards the end, though, I tend to switch my focus to the “other” question. If you don’t really understand exactly what they are talking about, you may still be able to pick up clues about the “attitude.”

TIP #3 Pick out key words, but don’t worry if you don’t know what they mean

This one can also be hard, but useful. As you get to the end of the test the topics with get more difficult, and they’ll start talking with more technical terms. Unless it happens to be your major, and you’ve studied/read about it in Korean, you probably won’t understand what it is, but don’t let that keep you from finding the answer.

Look for what seem like key words in the answers and listen for those words in the passage. More importantly look for how those words are explained or described. You may never figure out what those words mean, but you may still be able to figure out the answer to the question. It can be really hard to allow your brain to accept this ambiguity, but if you can get past it, it can help you answer more questions.

For example, on question 49 of the 37th TOPIK, I never figured out that he was talking about the stone wall at Bulguksa Temple, but I did figure out that whatever it was it was special because of its harmony with nature.

TIP #4 Strategize, but be flexible

Come up with a plan before the test rather than deciding as it goes. If you are aiming for level 6, then you may have to try to answer every question, but if you are trying for 5, 4, or 3, then at some point it is probably a good idea to focus your attention on certain types of questions that you are better at answering.

For example, if your goal is 75 points, you might decide to answer every question until question 30, and then focus only on one of the two questions for each of the last 10 passages. If you get them all right, that’s 80 points, plus an extra 2-4 for choosing one answer for the rest. That gives you room for getting some wrong, and a better chance of getting more of the later questions right.

Just make sure you adjust your plan to fit your own strengths. (Don’t do it like that because I told you to 😉 ) If, like me, there is some kind of question at the beginning that you are really inconsistent with, then you might need to try more questions at the end. If a topic pops up that you are really familiar with, then try answering both questions, even if you’d only planned on answering one.

Question Types for 21-50

(There may be some variation, but the 36th and 37th were like this. I list them in pairs because the order within the pairs does vary.)

  • 21-22 중심 생각 + 내용
  • 23-24 무엇을 하고 있는지? + 내용
  • 25-26 중심 생각 + 내용
  • 27-28 말하는 의도 + 내용
  • 29-30 누구? + 내용
  • 31-32 중심 생각 + 태도**
  • 33-34 무엇에 대한 내용인지? + 내용
  • 35-36 무엇을 하고 있는지? + 내용
  • 37-38 중심 생각 + 내용
  • 39-40 담화 앞의 내용 + 내용
  • 41-42 중심 생각 + 내용
  • 43-44 이유 + 중심 생각**
  • 45-46 태도 + 내용
  • 47-48 태도 + 내용
  • 49-50 태도 + 내용

내용 = All possible ways of asking about the contents (except for the question about the main topic). These include: 들은 내용으로 맞는 것을 고르십시오/들은 내용으로 알맞는 것을 고르십시오/들은 내용과 일치하는 것을 고르십시오. It’s all the same question. Be careful because sometimes the question asks for 중심 내용 (question 43 or 44). This is the same as 중심 생각, not the above.

**These two pairs of questions are the only ones that don’t include a “내용” question.

37th TOPIK Result

So I’m not sure what it was, but I was so nervous about this result that I’ve literally had trouble sleeping the past three or four nights.

It’s probably partially the fact that this time means something.

I’ve taken TOPIK three times before (the beginner level once, and intermediate twice), but it was always just a personal progress thing. For my own satisfaction. This time passing level 5 means the difference between staying in Chuncheon for another 9 months, or returning home to my hubby in Seoul at the end of February and starting my Master’s program in March.

It’s partly that this is the first time I’ve taken a TOPIK class before the TOPIK.

My teachers are awesome and so kind, but that’s also what increases the pressure. I want to do well for them too.

It’s partly that this is the first time I’ve taken TOPIK with other people.

For me it’s always been an individual thing. No one in my classes (mostly older Japanese women) was ever that concerned with it, and I never shared the experience or the results with them.

This time 75% of my class is KGSP, so they’re in the same boat as me. And everyone in my class took TOPIK. It’s understood that we will report to the teachers about how we did, and it will be discussed amongst us. As a naturally competitive person there’s some pressure there…

It’s also partially that I’m still in a state of disbelief.

I just passed level 4 in April, but I still don’t feel confident about my Korean skills. Not in all areas anyway. I didn’t expect level 5 to even be a possibility at this point. I honestly expected to place into the level 3 class, or maybe 4 if I was lucky, so level 5 was a major surprise. Before starting Korean classes here I was seriously considering throwing the January TOPIK in order to stay in language classes for the full year, but that was when I thought I might just barely pass by luck. Then I started to gain confidence that passing was more than a slight possibility, and began to entertain the idea that level 6 might be within reach soon. When I told my teacher what I thought I’d gotten in listening and reading, she said “Oh, 6 might be a possibility” And honestly, that’s probably what made me so nervous now.

So I was literally counting down till 3:00 pm today.


And the result is in………..

Writing 66
Listening 86
Reading 84
Total 236

Which means… level 6!

Back in April when I took the intermediate test, I seriously wouldn’t have imagined passing level 6 anytime soon. With the old test, I’m not sure if I would have honestly… Although because I was convinced I was not even close to ready, I never actually looked at the advanced test.

But here we are, and I’m pretty ecstatic. Not the least because it means I can go back to Seoul in February.

The moral of the story: Having a good teacher who knows the test well can work wonders!

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?