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.
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).
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.