As I told you in my latest blog post I’m currently preparing to take the TOPIK in London this November. That is, if the Covid-19 situation allows. So far, things are looking rather bleak with cases skyrocketing all over Europe including Denmark and the UK. Anyway, I’m determined to continue studying as if everything were back to normal. I find that it helps me stay on track, keep my racing thoughts under control, and remain of a somewhat sane mind in this weird world.
Since the TOPIK is divided into three parts; listening, writing and reading – with each discipline worth 100 points, I thought I’d break it down in three separate blog posts. I’ll take reading here, since this is where I spent most of my energy this weekend.
I try to spend at least 1.5–2 hours every day studying for the TOPIK during weekdays and then 3 hours on Saturdays allowing myself to take Sundays off. Each day I focus on a specific discipline and yesterday was reading.
This is my favorite part of the test and usually the one where I score the highest. Since I’m aiming to defend my TOPIK 6 status, I’m really training to have as few mistakes in this as possible. I realize that getting 100 points may be pushing it – even for many native Korean speakers – but I’m definitely aiming for somewhere in the high 90’s. That means next to no room for mistakes.
The trick to reach such a score is a solid vocabulary that covers a variety of expert fields. The reading texts appearing on the TOPIK, which consistently increase in difficulty, may include pieces on abstract painting techniques, discussions of optimal tax systems, artificial intelligence and it’s influence on the labor market, and changes in taste related to interior design. Very broad indeed.
Aside from understanding what you read, you need to be able to read fast. With 50 questions and only 70 minutes, most students lose points in reading simply because of the time pressure. Training yourself to read faster using a timer and forcing yourself to skim through pages while still grasping their content is very helpful.
I read many Korean novels – both novels written in Korean and translated into Korean – and spending countless of hours nose-deep in Korean literature has helped increase my reading speed significantly. The more you read, the more like you are to have a broad vocabulary that you may not necessarily use on a daily basis but nonetheless know and recognize. So, read, read, read!
It also helps to read the news in Korean. Just skimming the headlines on Naver news every morning aids in training your ability to grasp what the underlying article is about, plus it builds on your knowledge about current affairs in Korea, which may also be tremendously helpful.
Finally you need to be able to grasp the logical flow of a text. Several of the questions of the test are of the type “which sentence fits best here?”, or the similar type “where does this sentence fit in the piece you just read?” This type of question usually appears later in the reading section and is aimed at those studying for levels 5 and 6. It may look difficult at first but with adequate training, this type is actually really fun and once you learn what to look for, the correct answer is usually quite obvious.
Okay, that was a lot of general advice on the reading part. So what do I do specifically? Like I did the first time, I purchased a TOPIK guide book to get an overview of the test format. This time I bought this book 토픽, 한 번에 통과하기, which is the latest edition of the standardized test guides. It’s all in Korean and covers study techniques and pitfalls for each discipline together with 3 full mock test papers.
I have read each chapter carefully and usually reread or at least skim through the relevant chapter before doing a mock test. I usually focus on writing throughout the week, and every Saturday I alternate between taking a reading test or a listening test. I find the tests here.
With 70 minutes assigned to the reading test, I set my own timer to 60 minutes to pressure myself to read even faster, so that the 70 minutes at the actual exam will feel like an extra long time to double check my answers. So far, I’ve only done the reading tests on the computer but I highly recommend underlining passages and striking out the answers you know are wrong in order to maintain the overview and be able to answer each question faster.
The first 10-12 questions are fairly easy and therefore really stupid points to lose on account of being sloppy, so I always double check that I did indeed not miss anything here. Each question is worth 2 points, which could ultimately determine the difference between a level 5 and a level 6.
The challenges start to present themselves from around question 40. Here, we’re clearly in advanced territory and attention to detail, tone, and motif are crucial. My own alarm usually goes off around the time I’m reading through question 46 or 47, meaning that I have 10 minutes to finish the remaining 3 questions. Usually the last 3 questions relate to the same long text where you have to correctly identify the theme, the purpose and the logical flow. This one is hard for intermediate learners who may lack the necessary vocabulary and most importantly the time to read through the whole text.
Now that I’ve told you how I’ve been studying, I’m sure you’re all wondering how I’ve been doing on the tests. When I took the TOPIK in November 2017 I scored 84/100 on reading. When I did my first mock test before really getting re-aquainted with the test format I scored a 86/100. After having bought the book and studied the format and question types I’ve taken two more tests. One two weeks ago 98/100 and one yesterday 94/100 – both with several minutes to spare.
This is not bad, obviously, but there’s still room for improvement. I find that Korean idioms can be challenging, and once in a while I stumble upon something where I just don’t know what I’m reading about. So, practice, practice, practice. Also, after each test I’ve taken I’ve gone over it once more, meticulously writing down all the new vocabulary I didn’t already know. It’s usually only 10-15 words, so it doesn’t take too long to jot them down in my notebook or add them to a memrise deck so I can review them later. While my main focus is to study in order to perform well on the test, learning new words and phrases at the same time is definitely an added bonus.
For those of you interested in more material, I recently stumbled on a series of youtube videos where a Korean teacher guides the viewers through every part of the test. I know that there are plenty of such videos out there but this one is kind and not a pain to watch. I learned a lot already from subscribing to her channel.
If you’re planning to take the TOPIK I hope you find this post helpful. In the following posts I’ll go over how I prepare for the other two disciplines. Stay tuned!