How to Ace Each Section of the TOPIK
Students of Korean are likely familiar with the TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean), a test of Korean proficiency for non-native speakers. It consists of four sections: Vocabulary/Grammar, Writing, Listening, and Reading. Though it’s notoriously challenging, it’s an important exam for those who plan to do use Korean for work or for those who plan to study in a Korean university. And luckily, there are plenty of ways that you can set yourself up for success. Here’s a run-down of each section of the TOPIK, and the best ways to study for them.
Vocabulary/Grammar: Use a Great Course Book
Korean grammar is starkly different from that of English. Indeed, with unfamiliar grammatical concepts like honorifics and particles, truly mastering Korean grammar requires a lot of critical thinking, and a deep understanding of the language. To tackle Korean’s difficult syntax, a thoughtful and comprehensive course book is a learner’s best friend. We particularly recommend Essential Korean Grammar, which clearly explains Korean grammar without getting bogged down with details.
Course books can also help with vocabulary. Essential Korean Vocabulary — the sister course book to the aforementioned Essential Korean Grammar — has thousands of words, many of which will likely appear on the TOPIK. Creating online flashcards using services like Anki and Learn with Oliver is a good way to ensure that this vocabulary sticks.
Writing: Practice Makes Perfect
Korean has its own word-spacing techniques and writing conventions. Because of this, the TOPIK’s writing section, which consists of four short-answer questions, can pose a challenge to learners.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict what the question topics will be before taking the test. However, you can get a good idea of the style and content of the short-answer questions by taking a look at previous exams’ writing questions. We recommend going through these questions and answering as many as you can.
How well will you fare on the TOPIK? Try your hand at our free online Korean level test!
Listening: Take a Movie Break
When your hand has gotten tired from all that essay writing, sit back, relax, and watch some excellent and entertaining Korean-language movies. Indeed, the best way to prepare for the listening section of the TOPIK is to do just that: listen! If you’re used to watching movies with subtitles, challenge yourself and turn them off. When there’s a part of the dialogue you don’t understand, rewind until you can clearly make out each word.
For the more musically inclined, listening to KPop and other Korean music is another useful way to practice your listening skills. Just don’t get so distracted by dancing to Sistar’s catchy tunesthat you forget to pay attention to the lyrics!
Reading: Release Your Inner Poet
There’s a lot of great Korean contemporary poets whose work hasn’t been widely circulated in the English-speaking world. Reading poems from Korean authors is a great way to study for the TOPIK for two reasons. First, it will introduce you to plenty of advanced vocabulary, thus helping you with both the Reading and Vocabulary sections. Second, poems are short and digestible, so they are perfect for squeezing in a little study time when you’re on the go.
The TOPIK doesn’t need to cause you anxiety. With the suggestions on this list, you’ll be well prepared for each of the exam’s four sections. Of course, the best way to prepare is to get personalized tutoring from a native Korean speaker who will be able to answer all your questions. If you’re serious about getting a 100 on the TOPIK, check out our Korean course and package options.