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?

After the TOPIK II ~ Attempt #1

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.

Textbook Review: Sogang Korean Writing 2 서강 한국어 쓰기 2 (학문 목적 과정)

Sogang Writing Books 2 & 3
Sogang Writing Books 2 & 3

In an earlier post I mentioned that I like the Sogang writing book we are using, so I thought I would talk a little more about that.

Sogang is generally well known for their heavy focus on speaking, but this book appears to be from their Korean for Academic Purposes course rather than their Korean for General Purposes course. I have never attended Sogang for Korean language, or anything else, and I can’t find exactly which textbooks they use for each, aside from their standard textbook. In any case, keep in mind that this is a review of the book, and not of how well Sogang actually teaches writing.

So, there are 4 books in the Writing series, and I have books two and three. We are using book two now in level 5 at KNU, but I would say that it would be useful and usable around level four (maybe three?). I bought book three by accident, but we’ll be using it next semester anyway.

Book 2 Chapter 3
Book 2 Chapter 3

Book Two is divided into 8 chapters with 4 extra appendices at the back. Each chapter talks about a different topic such as “Major and Future Plans” or “Studying a Foreign Language.” Each chapter also focuses on a specific goal of writing and the related grammatical expressions, such as “Comparison,” “Explanation,” and “Explaining Survey Results.”

20141112_185824 20141112_185833

On the one hand, the writing instruction is sometimes very basic. If you have learned how to write in your native language (or like me, have taught people to write in your native language) some things may seem like common sense (topic sentence, etc), and not worth learning again. Or it may not. Different languages do have different writing styles.

But, the grammar introduced, while not difficult, is useful to review because there are some things that you probably don’t use often in everyday conversation, and they are applicable to a variety of academic situations, including the dreaded TOPIK, and even academic presentations.

Each chapter includes several short essay samples demonstrating the style being introduced, explanations of the grammar/vocabulary points, practice writing sentences using the grammar, and a topic for writing an essay of your own. Self-study of writing is always hard because you don’t have anyone to check your mistakes, but the book does include an answer key for everything but the essays, so you can at least check your answers against their examples. It also includes notes about frequently made mistakes, so you can check yourself against those as well. BUT the explanations are all in Korean, so you should be comfortable enough with Korean that that is not a problem. There is, however, a vocab list for each chapter at the back, which does give definitions in English and Chinese.

I think no matter what book you try to use, if you are self-studying there will be limitations to how useful it is. When possible it is always best to have a native speaker who can check your work. But all things considered, I think this is one of the better books I’ve seen for academic writing in Korean, and of use even to self-studiers.

I would especially recommend it to people looking to improve their TOPIK writing score. It will give you a lot of practice and useful expressions for the essay questions in the TOPIK exam.

And then there are the appendices! These are about writing various parts of the application for applying to a Korean university. The first is general information about preparing documents for your application, the second is about writing your self-introduction, the third is about filling out the application forms, and the fourth is a sample set of application forms. If you are considering applying to a Korean university, or would like to write your KGSP application in Korean, then this will be very useful to look at.

Sogang may not be the first place you think of when you think of writing skills, but I do think they have done a good job on this one.

서강한국어 학문목적과정 쓰기 2

1과 진로와 전공
2과 대학 생활
3과 유행
4과 온라인 의사소통
5과 우리 생활의 변화
6과 여가 활용
7과 외국어 공부
8과 외모 지상주의

D-12: Countdown to the TOPIK test

As a KGSP student, or even as a regular Korean learner, the TOPIK test is an unavoidable obstacle.

As a KGSP student you are required to study Korean for 1 year, UNLESS:

  1. You have already passed TOPIK level 5 or 6 before arriving in Korea. In this case you are required to go straight into your graduate program from September. The April test is the last you can take to submit a score by the deadline. (I’m not sure if you can submit scores later from the July test and be exempted, but it’s only offered in Korea anyway, so that would only be an issue for a handful of people.)
  2. You pass TOPIK leve 5 or above during the first 6 months of language study. In this case you MUST start your graduate program in March (after studying for just 6 months). In Korea there are tests in October, November and January, but if you want to take the October test you need to consider applying even before you come to Korea.
  3. You DON’T pass TOPIK level 3 or above after one year of study. In this case you will be given an extra six months to pass level 3 and start your graduate program the following March. There are no extensions after one year and six months.

For some it is confusing that you need level 5 to start a graduate program early, but only level 3 to start after one year. On the face of it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but to me it seems like a good policy. On the one hand they want everyone to reach as high a level as possible, so for people with previous knowledge of Korean they want them to show that they are at an advanced level in order to skip all or part of the Korean language requirement. On the other hand, if they required that same standard of everyone, including those that start from zero, that would be a near impossible feat for just one year of study, and classes are intensive enough as it is. Plus many graduate programs only require level 3 or 4 for admission. Makes sense to me.

In any case, I am one of those people hoping to start my graduate program in March, so I now have two chances at passing level 5 (November and January), and the first is coming up in just 12 days.

Under normal circumstances I would be looking at past tests and trying to get an idea of strengths and weaknesses, and test day strategy, BUT in July they introduced a new TOPIK format, and only two exams have been administered so far in the new format. And I’ve looked at both of those…

This will be my first time taking the test in the new format, and that’s a little scary. BUT as part of the KGSP program KNU offers afternoon classes twice a week specifically geared toward the TOPIK exam, and I feel like those have been useful in developing test strategy, and also getting used to the new format. My reading score went up 10 points from the practice test we took at the beginning to the one we took on Monday (which was the actual test from this past October), so that puts me squarely in level 5 territory, assuming this test isn’t harder… or my guessing less accurate…

At the beginning of the term the TOPIK couldn’t be far enough away, but now I really just want to get it over with…

Some TOPIK hints that I’ve learned from my prep course:

  • In both reading and listening the test format is always the same, meaning that you will always find the same kinds of questions in exactly the same places, with only slight variations. Look at old tests to get used to what kinds of questions you will be asked.
  • In TOPIK II (which combines the old Intermediate and Advanced tests, and includes levels 3, 4, 5 and 6), the questions always go from easier to harder. The first 24 (ish) questions would be equivalent to the old Intermediate and 25-50 are Advanced. If your goal is level 3 or 4 take plenty of time on the first half, and through practice tests try to figure out which of the harder questions you’re best at answering. Also, for the grammar/vocab questions at the beginning of the reading section, you can usually eliminate any “hard” grammar or vocab answers because those are level 3/4 questions.
  • For writing, there are two passages with two free fill in the blank answers, and two essay questions. The first two questions are 10 points each (5 for each blank), the short essay (200-300 characters) is 30 points and the long essay (600-700 characters) is 50 points.
    • The short essay will be based on a graph or chart. All you need to do is explain it. Include all of the information included in the chart to answer the prompt question. Make sure to include some kind of topic sentence at the beginning and a conclusion at the end, and there’s your 200-300 characters. Very little thinking involved. Brush up on useful words to talk about statistics (more than, less than, rise, fall… easy stuff) and you should be good.
    • The longer essay will be more abstract, and usually about some issue in society. It will include three or four sub-questions, so make sure to answer all of those (in the form of one cohesive essay). More advanced vocabulary and grammar forms will gain you points, so choosing a couple things (grammar is most flexible) that you are comfortable with before the test may be helpful. If you run out of time make sure to at least finish the sentence you were writing because points are taken off for being incomplete.
    • I mention the fill-in-the-blank questions last (even though they come first) because for me they are a low priority. If you read them and can answer them right away, then do it. If you can’t, they are only 5 points for each blank so your time might be better spent on the essay questions. The first question will usually be some kind of invitation or advertisement. It will usually be in 습니다 form, so make sure you match your verb endings to the other sentences in the passage (and the same for the second question which will probably be plain 다 form). The second question is usually some kind of story or essay. If you are aiming for levels 3 or 4 then these first two questions are more important.
    • And speaking of the verb endings, ideally the two essay questions should be written in 다 form (like a book or newspaper in Korean). If you are in a Korean course that is more speaking focused and don’t have practice writing, you might want to brush up on this before the test.

That is a crash course in taking TOPIK II. I’m guessing that in terms of having the same kinds of questions in the same places, TOPIK I is similar, so definitely get hold of past tests, which you can do at the TOPIK website. TOPIK I does not have writing. Tests from the 35th test on are in the new format.

Nearing the end of term one

So we just started chapter nine… of ten…

It’s been a long eight weeks, and it also seems to have gone by in a flash.

I would say that my Korean has definitely improved… in some areas, but not so much in others.

One thing I think my language institute (Kangwon National University) does really well (at the higher levels) is writing. We use the Ewha University textbooks (level 5) plus Sogang University’s writing book (number 2), and we have afternoon TOPIK classes with one class each week devoted to TOPIK writing.

Sometimes I (we all) think “Oh my gosh, not more writing!” but in the end it is actually really useful, and really the only way to improve in writing is to do a lot of it, and get feedback.

I’m not a huge fan of the writing section of the Ewha textbooks though. I’ve used a fair selection of the major Korean language institutes’ textbooks: Yonsei’s at the summer school and for self study, Sogang for a conversation class I took in Japan, plus the writing book now, and Ewha’s for my current class. At some point, I will do a review of Yonsei and Sogang’s books as well, but for now here are some opinions on Ewha’s textbooks. (I have only seen levels 4 and 5, so my review will be based on those.)

Each chapter in Ewha’s books is divided into several sections:

  1. Preparation: Introduces three grammar points (in level 4 all three are introduced at the beginning, but in level 5 there is one at the beginning and two later on)
  2. Listening: Listen to a short conversation or speech
  3. Speaking: Introduces a situation and expressions that can be used in such a situation
  4. Reading: The readings vary from opinion to fiction to poetry
  5. Writing: In level 5 there is an additional reading demonstrating a particular form of writing, and a topic for practice writing. In level 4 the reading section is the example, and the writing section just has the topic for practice.
  6. Debate/Discussion: Some short reading introducing various viewpoints, and a topic for class discussion
  7. Idiomatic Expressions (level 4): Introduces three idiomatic expressions
  8. Vocabulary Expansion (level 5): Introduces a verb with mutiple meanings and 6 of the ways it can be used
  9. Proverbs (level 5): Introduces three proverbs (similar in form to the idiomatic expressions section in level 4)
  10. Culture and Life (level 4): A short reading on some aspect of Korean culture
  11. Literature (level 4): Introduces poems or short pieces of fiction

One thing I like about the Ewha books is that they are fairly balanced in their content. Whereas the main Yonsei books are very grammar focused and the main Sogang books are very conversation focused, the Ewha books have everything in one place, in a single B5 sized book (with an additional workbook available). I also like the extras at the end of each chapter (numbers 7-11 above). Proverbs and idioms are interesting and also useful, and some exposure to literature is a good change from the normally non-fiction contents of language textbooks.

The one thing I don’t like is the writing section. In level 4 you are still practicing the basics, so I feel like the writing topics are still fairly related to real life tasks that you might encounter. In level 5, however, it becomes more like a creative writing class, and less like a language class. How you feel about this depends on what your goal is in learning Korean, and what kind of writing practice you’ve had so far. For me, my experience writing was way behind my other skills, so I was looking for more basic advice about writing. I am also looking for a more expository approach to writing. If you’ve gone through Ewha’s books from level 1, then the level 5 writing assignments may seem less “out of the blue,” and if you enjoy creative writing then you will have fun with the Ewha topics. But again for me, I’m not really looking for creative writing skills in Korean.

The writing topics in book 5 include: a comparison of dialects in your native language, a speech about your personal technique for good health, a PR statement for an exhibition of historical artifacts, a newspaper article from 50 years in the future, a rewriting of a fable to represent current societal changes, an editorial about differences between Korean food culture and your own country, an essay about something you’ve felt or discovered about the environment, a movie review, a product user review, and a poem.

One of my big objections to the Ewha writing portion of the program here at KNU is more to do with how it is taught, and less to do with the assignments themselves. The primary focus here is in class work, with very little assigned homework. Some people would find that good, but with these writing topics I feel like they require more thinking time than just a 50-minute class period. I feel like time would be better spent discussing what we already wrote for homework and talking about how to improve it, rather than doing the actual writing in class.

I also am just not that interested in writing poetry in Korean… But practice is practice I suppose.

Choosing A Major for KGSP

This is a very important step in your application process.

First of all, I should say that in my personal opinion you should think very carefully about whether you really need a Master’s degree or not, and whether you are ready to do that Master’s degree or not before applying. If you already have a Master’s and are applying for a PhD, then I assume you know what you are getting into, but I feel like a lot of people choose to do Master’s degrees for the wrong reasons.

I should know… I did that once…

If you just want the chance to study in Korea and you’ve already finished university, a Master’s degree might not be the right thing for you.

If you want to study something completely unrelated to your university degree or anything you’ve ever done before then a Master’s degree might not be the right thing for you.

Or it might be, but you have to think long and hard about it.

The primary goal of a Master’s degree is to gain deeper knowledge in a field you already have knowledge in. A Master’s degree is a continuation of a Bachelor’s degree, not a second shorter Bachelor’s without the General Education requirements. This is why many universities will require that your Bachelor’s degree was in the same, or a very related subject. Look carefully at these requirements when you are choosing a university and a major because if you don’t fit the requirements your chances of getting into the school you choose will be very small, no matter how good your grades and test scores are.

The exception to this rule would be if you have extensive work experience in your field of choice. The reality is that businesses hire a wide variety of people, regardless of major, so if you have managed to gain real life work experience in the field you would like to get a Master’s in (like Investment Banking or Computer programming) then it might not matter that you majored in English Literature or History (or whatever).

Ultimately, a Master’s degree is a lot of work (especially if you are doing any part of it in a language that is not your native one), and it requires a vested interest in the field. It’s not something to do just because you want to go to Korea, or just because you want to put off looking for a job. It’s good to have a goal for what you plan to do after the Master’s degree is finished, and it’s best if the Master’s degree is an integral part of achieving that goal.

If choosing a major is difficult for you, then doing a Master’s degree might not be the right thing for you right now.

I should also note that once you have been selected for KGSP, you will not be able to change universities or majors without giving up the scholarship, or reapplying for the scholarship. When you apply to a Master’s program you are applying to a specific department within a university, so with or without a scholarship, switching to another department means submitting another application. The scholarship is not just yours to take with you wherever you decide to go. It is a specific agreement between NIIED, a university department, and yourself. Within a department at a university, you may be able to change the specific focus of your studies if the policy at your university allows that.

This was one of the points that NIIED emphasized at orientation, and is really something you should be aware of before you apply.

Think through your choices carefully, and choose the best path for you.

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.