Two weeks ago, I took the TOPIK II test for the first time. I had a year to prepare for it, so I got to experiment with all sorts of exercises – reading news, listening to radio, writing articles – with varying degrees of success. In this article, I’ll be talking about the ones that I found the most effective.
I also wrote an article on the test-taking strategies that I used during the exam, which you can read here.
The listening paper is 60 minutes long, and it contains 50 multiple-choice questions. Audio clips will be played, and you’ll have to listen to them and answer questions designed to gauge your listening comprehension skills.
My listening skills were the weakest out of the three primary skills TOPIK II aims to test, namely reading, writing and listening, but they weren’t too bad. I could understand most native content without subtitles, unless they used a lot of technical terms. But even then, I was thrown off by how formal and stiff the voices sounded when I tried the mock test on TOPIK Guide.
I found them a bit difficult to understand. No one speaks like that in real life, except for people voicing commercials and news anchors. But if you don’t live in Korea and have been building your listening skills using more natural, organic content, chances are you’ll feel the same, too. I knew it would take some time to get used to, so I started practicing with past TOPIK papers, which can be found here and here.
And while I was doing that, I also noticed that the content of those audio clips can be extremely specific. In my case, for example, there were questions about moon dust and ancient mirrors discovered through some archaeological excavation somewhere. Granted, those were among the more advanced questions, but I was aiming for level 5 – 6, so I needed to get as many questions right as possible.
This means vocabulary is extremely important – you need it to understand not only the clips, but the questions and answers as well. To solve this, I tried to read as extensively as I could. I would look up something new on naver everyday, and read whatever articles and blogs I could find on that topic. I would write down any words I didn’t understand, look them up, and then transfer them to a memrise deck so I could memorise them.
An additional perk to this exercise is that it increases your reading speed, which is actually a tremendous help when it comes to the listening paper. See, just because you know what a word looks like and what it means doesn’t mean your brain is necessarily going to recognise it when you hear it – at least not for the first few times. If you’ve never heard a word being spoken, chances are you’re going to miss it if it’s said very quickly in a sentence.
Reading the questions and answers first, however, solves this problem somewhat. If you know a word is coming and you’re listening for it, you’re much more likely to catch it. But to constantly read ahead of the clips, you need to be able to read very fast. And the only way to gain that ability is to read a lot, and often.
The writing paper consists of 3 sections. Section 1 contains 4 fill-in-the-blank questions, section 2 requires you to summarise a couple of graphs or charts in 200-300 words, while section 3 requires you to write a 600-700 word essay on a specified topic.
Section 2 is really easy to prepare for. All you need to do is gather a bunch of words, expressions and sentence patterns that are commonly used in reporting-style texts, like 3 different ways to say ‘increase’ (늘다, 증가하다, 상승하다) and ‘decrease’ (떨어지다, 하락하다, 줄다) , how to compare figures (A는 X%로 B Y%보다 높게 나타났다), or how to cite the cause of an issue or phenomenon (~때문인 것으로 보인다).
Write a couple of essays using those words and expressions, and then memorise them so you can tweak them to suit whatever you’re asked to summarise during the exam.
Section 3 is a little trickier. There’s no telling what topic you’ll get, so once again, vocabulary is important. To prepare for this, I wrote a lot – with references. I would look up articles and essays on the topic I wanted to write on, and then use them as references as I wrote. I would highlight sentences that I thought were well-written, or sentences that I’d like to say/write but would never have been able to come up with on my own, and put them in my essay. And if I liked them enough, I would repeat them again and again in future essays, until I got so used to writing and saying them that they became my own.
The importance of writing with references (as opposed to just writing with what you know) is that we, as non-native speakers who have yet to master the language, often lack the ability to tell what is natural and what isn’t. The only way to acquire that ability is to be repeatedly exposed to natural speech and writing from native speakers. We become more like them through emulating them. Writing with reference is like that. Without references, you’ll just be stuck regurgitating your own limited pool of words and expressions at best, and unknowingly repeating (and therefore reinforcing) the same mistakes at worst.
Plus, it lets you read and write at the same time. You get to read something, learn something new from it and put it to use right away through writing. This significantly reduces the time between the moment you first encounter, say, a word, and the moment you reinforce your memory of that word by actively putting it to use, which is where most of the decline in retention happens. Simply put, the longer you let the information stay idle in your head, the more you’re gonna forget, and if you wait long enough, it’s going to be like you never learned it at all. So if you want to remember a word, you need to use it ASAP, and often.
I practiced writing like that on a wide range of topics, from the Coronavirus to the fourth industrial revolution. I had it all printed out and filed away in a folder, and read them once a week in the months leading up to the exam. By the time it was time to take the test, I was so familiar with those essays that I could have comfortably recreated them during the exam if I needed to. There was no need for that, as it turned out, but I was able to modify some parts of them to suit the essay I was writing, which was a great help when I found myself panicking towards the end of the test due to not having enough time.
Like the listening paper, the reading paper consists of 50 multiple-choice questions. There’s no special way to prepare for this, as most of this comes down to vocabulary, reading speed (the passages get really long towards the end) and some test-taking strategies that’ll help you make the most out of the time and knowledge you have.
My advice, again, is to read often and extensively. Read as much as possible, about as many topics as possible. If I have to recommend one specific source of reading material, though, I would suggest news articles and blogs. Novels and webtoons are great, too, but novels are slow and webtoons don’t really provide the kind of vocabulary you need to ace this test.
Something that I found surprisingly helpful, though, was hanja knowledge. I know a lot of people say that you don’t need it to become fluent in Korean, and that’s true to a certain extent, but it definitely helps with the more advanced passages on the reading paper. I managed to make it to the end of the paper pretty smoothly, even though there were plenty of words I’d never seen before, and that’s because I was able to deduce their meaning based on my hanja knowledge with the help of contextual clues.
This is because hanja-based words tend to appear a lot in advanced, academic texts. I remember reading this article about the election system in South Korea a few days before the exam. I found it ridiculously dense, and decided to try and count how many pure Korean words there were. There were exactly 5. Everything else was hanja-derived.
I’m not saying you need to master hanja in order to score well on this test, but if you’re aiming for level 6, I’m sure some knowledge of it will help.
Update: How I Did
The results came out yesterday, and I actually did better than I thought! I scored 100/100 for reading, 96/100 for listening, and 84/100 for writing. I’m mostly surprised about the writing part, because I really thought I screwed the last section up. I think I could have done better on the last essay, but overall, I’m happy with the results.
(Edited: 21 August 2020)
To sum it up, here’s what I did to prepare for TOPIK II, with the goal of scoring Level 5 – 6:
- Practice with past TOPIK papers
- Write once a week, with references
- Read daily, on a diverse range of topics
- Memorise words and sentence patterns commonly used in reporting-style articles
- Brush up on my hanja knowledge
If I have to narrow it down to just a few essentials, I would say the key to acing TOPIK II is solid vocabulary, the ability to read fast and scan for gist, as well as the effective use of test-taking strategies that suit your goal (whether you’re aiming for Level 3-4, or 5-6).
I hope this article gave you an idea of what you can do to prepare for the exam. In my opinion, a lot of it comes down to strategy, so it is in no way a complete, accurate reflection of your proficiency in the language. All the best, and happy learning!
20 thoughts on “ How I Prepared for TOPIK II ”
Hello! i,m planning to take TOPIK II next year and im aiming to reach 3급 or 4급 is it possible to reach those levels if i skip section 3?
It’s a bit risky, but not entirely impossible. To achieve 3급, you need to score at least 120 points in total (listening + reading + writing). Section 3 is worth 50 points, so skipping it completely will lose you 50 points right away. Let’s say you really focus on getting Section 2 right and doing really well, and score 20/30 for it, as well as get everything in Section 1 (short-answer questions) right, which gives you 20/20.
That’s 40 points already, which means you still need 80 points – maybe 40 points from reading and listening respectively?
Depending on your reading speed and vocabulary, though, you might find the reading section a lot harder than listening. The longer passages start around the 11th question, so you’ll want to get the first 10 correct if you can. There are strategies you can use to make things easier (as highlighted in this article:https://themalaysianpolyglot.net/2020/07/15/hacking-topik-ii/) but it’s still largely a question of vocab and reading speed. In any case, remember your goal (20 points being the minimum) and aim for that – try not to waste too much time on one question. If you just can’t figure it out, make a guess and move on – you might find something easier (unlike listening, the difficulty of the reading questions don’t progress as linearly – although they do get increasingly harder towards the end).
Of course, very few of us actually end up with evenly developed skills when it comes to language learning – some of us are a lot better at reading than listening, and vice versa. Make sure to do lots of past papers to find out which one you’re better at and adjust your goals that way – for example 50 points for listening, 30 points for reading (if you’re better at listening than reading). Either way, you need at least 80.
Still, this is quite risky because it kinda hinges on you being able to score very well in Section 2 (20/30). What if you don’t? I would recommend still doing Section 3 – even if you feel like you have no chance at doing well at it, a point is still a point. Let’s say you get 10/50, or 15/50. That’s 10 or 15 fewer points you need to worry about! I would recommend focusing on Section 2 still, though. Focus on doing really, really well on Section 2, and then write whatever you can for Section 3 using whatever time you have left after finishing Section 2.
So to sum it up, I think to attain 3급 – confidently, so as to not narrowly miss it, you should aim for:
– a combined score of 100/200 for listening and reading
– 20/20 for Section 1, 18-20/30 for Section 2, 10-15/50 for Section 3
If you manage to achieve all this, you might actually score 4급. But if you fall short a little, then you’ll probably still get 3급! 🙂
Hey, I’m studying for TOPIK II and was just wondering if you have a list of the different topics you looked up before the test? You mentioned COVID-19 and the fourth industrial revolution – do you have anymore?
I don’t have a list of the topics that I wrote about and I actually lost some of my essays when I replaced my laptop, so I can’t really give you an exact list, but off the top of my head, here’s what I remember:
– artificial intelligence and what it might mean for the future job market
– occupations that might be in huge demand in the coming decade
– environmental protection
– how I feel about animal testing, capital punishment and government surveillance
– data security
– the importance of early childhood education
– the present & future of social media
– the importance of free press
– global warming
but also some relatively light-hearted stuff:
– if I could move anywhere, where would I go and why
– ways that an individual can give back to society
– ways that an individual can contribute to environmental protection
– what success means to me
– why I love language learning and why I’m learning Korean
– what constitutes a healthy relationship
I also have the habit of writing about the media I consume – books, movies, songs – not because I think there’s any chance that they’ll be featured in TOPIK, but because I believe in the value of writing about something that I actually enjoy!
I hope that helped somehow. Good luck for TOPIK II! Wishing you all the best ❤
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Oh this is awesome, thank you so much for taking the time to reply Heather! I didn’t expect so much detail! I’ll look into these topics – it beats me randomly looking up news articles, which is what I otherwise would have done. Hope you’re having a good day 🙂
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Oh I’m glad it helped! 🙂 Thanks for leaving a comment and I hope you’re having a good day too! ❤
I’m a new Korean learner ( I only knew Hangul, Basic vocabs and some grammar) and have been thinking of taking Topik II this October. Can you tell if it’s possible to pass at least level 3 by self-studying and do you have any online source to recommend? Thanks
Hey Toch! It’s definitely possible to pass level 3 by self-studying, but it can be quite challenging for a new learner because the difficulty gap between TOPIK I and TOPIK II is huge (mostly because TOPIK II is designed to test everyone from Level 3 to Level 6). I would recommend trying out the previous TOPIK I and II papers as early as you can – it’s not only great for practice, but it’ll also give you an idea of what to aim for!
All the best! ^^
I always find answers to my queries from your posts. I’ll try to work on these strategies for my preparation.
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Aw DJ, you’re too sweet! I’m glad you found this article helpful though. Good luck for the exam!
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Thank you so much for this it is Very helpful lol
(by the way i noticed that the links in the article are broken now! Once I changed the url to thelunartreehouse.com they worked completely fine so just thought I would let you know.)
Oh thank you so much! I really need to go through my older articles and fix those links asap ;-;
I’m glad you found the article helpful – all the best for your exams! (in case you’re sitting for the one this Sunday)
I’m curious as to what your Korean level was at before you began studying for the TOPIK. I just want to make sure my expectations are not too high for how much I’ll be able to improve.
Hmm I think I was probably a solid B2 when I started (I knew I could get definitely score a high-ish level 4, level 5 if I do well), so I went in hoping that a year of prepping would help me get a really high Level 5 or a modest Level 6. Are you taking the test in April? 🙂
Hello your suggestions are very helpful !!!
Do you have any links to the references you were speaking of?
Hi Zaria! I assume you meant references I used for my writing? Unfortunately, I do not keep track of the links – I just write down select expressions in my notebook. I probably should, though. 😦 Sorry! If it helps, I found most of them via naver (naver blogs if I was looking for something anecdotal).
Hi, your post are very helpful. I am between level 3 and 4 and want to advance to level 5 atleast but vocabulary is the major problem. Could you please refer any link or anything from where I can learn the necessary Hanjas?
Hey Muzaina! I don’t think there’s an official list anywhere of hanja-based words that are commonly featured in TOPIK, but I suppose the hanja lessons on How to Study Korean (https://www.howtostudykorean.com/hanja-unit-1-lessons-1-20/) would be a good place to start. 🙂
Thank you very much Heather 😊