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.