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:
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.