Is TOPIK Difficult? 7 Ways to Make The Exam Easier

Taking the TOPIK exam is no joke – it’s not one that you sign up for and think it will be easy. The score determines your official level in Korean which you can use for school or work in Korea.

That said, should you worry about the exam at all? Is TOPIK hard like what most people say?

TOPIK is difficult and challenging especially for new test takers, just like any other language proficiency test. But with proper preparation one can lessen the difficulty and increase the odds of obtaining a higher score.

What in particular makes the exam difficult? And what are the ways to manage and handle that difficulty to make it easier?

TOPIK Is Difficult, And Here’s Why

TOPIK, whether it be TOPIK I or TOPIK II or EPS-TOPIK, is a challenging test and should not be taken lightly.

But why is it particularly difficult? What can you expect as a first-timer in the exam?

To start off, let’s begin with the obvious. How well you’ll do in TOPIK (or any exam) depends heavily on how much you know. With Korean being such a vast language with a lot to learn, sadly there are no shortcuts to accumulating knowledge, which makes the exam difficult.

And if that’s not enough, consider the hurdle of coming from English as the native language. Unlike French or Spanish which are relatively easier to learn for English speakers, Korean is a distant language, adding further difficulty in the learning process.

Simply put, make sure you have enough knowledge before trying out the TOPIK exam to guarantee getting a passing score.

But let’s say you’re prepared and you’ve accumulated enough knowledge. So now you’re going to attempt the exam.

The flow of the TOPIK exam naturally goes from easiest to hardest. But starting from the middle, you’ll feel the increase in difficulty and soon you’ll be scratching your head as you struggle.

The reason is because the questions get longer and more sophisticated the further along you progress. You will come across the harder grammar and vocabulary during the latter part of the exam. You will also encounter jargon and highly-specialized words, which if you’re lucky to know then you might be able to answer. Also, the question types and instructions will get harder, such as arranging the order of sentences and interpreting charts.

TOPIK is made up of the listening test, reading test, and writing test (for TOPIK II). And each of these tests present their own distinct challenges.

Like for the listening test, you cannot repeat the questions because the tape plays straight for the duration of the test. For me, I’m particularly worried with dialogues that are only read once, since a lapse in attention could make me miss one point. Another concern is with numbers, since I need to make sure that I hear the numbers right to pick the right choice.

When it comes to the reading test, the paragraphs can get wordy and technical as you reach the far end of the paper. If not paragraphs, you might instead encounter charts or labels or announcements, which you need to interpret correctly to pick the right answer.

The writing test is open-ended and you have to provide an answer. While you can get away with guessing during the multiple choice format of listening and reading, with writing you cannot. This section of the exam is what trips most test takers when trying to obtain a high score. especially the part on writing essays, which makes up majority of the points.

When these difficulties are combined together, it’s no wonder why test takers struggle to take the TOPIK exam.

How to Make TOPIK Less Difficult

With the following reasons in mind, allow me to suggest ways to ease the difficulty a little bit.

1. Allot More Time to Prepare For The Exam

Cramming is stressful.

But if you have a long enough time to prepare, you can do a lot of things. You can grow your vocabulary more until you’re ready.

Spaced repetition also thrives under a long timeframe. You start learning new words, add them to your SRS tool, then let the cards run for months to remind you of the words.

Having enough time buffer before the big day avoids the tendency to cram, which isn’t good studying advice especially for learning foreign languages.

That said, it’s not a guarantee that your long preparation will give you a better exam score.

2. Jot Down Notes During The Exam

It is possible to write on the test questionnaire, though it’s hard to write on the answer sheet (the one where you mark your answers).

This is particularly vital for the listening test where the dialogue will sometimes be dictated once (no repeat), as well as the writing test when planning out the writing of the essay.

I mean, you won’t get bonus points for having a clean and neat paper or penalty for tampering with the question paper. So that is an opportunity for you to move with a little bit of freedom during the test.

Or, why not underline or circle areas in the paragraph to help guide you towards understanding it better. Of course you still need the knowledge to determine what was said in the text.

3. Learn the Question Patterns of the Test

When I took on TOPIK I, I found it hard to understand the instructions of the test. Good thing I learned those instructions BEFORE the exam and during the preparations.

Learning the question patterns that will appear in the exam lessens the burden in your mind as you’re then able to focus on the questions themselves. You can learn those patterns by watching test questions on YouTube or by taking mock tests online.

If you want, you can discover those question patterns “in Korean” by learning the vocabulary of the test questions. In that way you can clearly focus on what’s being asked to do.

In the writing test, there are only 4 questions in total – the first 2 being short answers while the last 2 being long answers (they’re essays). The challenge in them is understanding what is being asked of you to provide, which can involve advanced topics asking you to provide detailed answers.

4. Strengthen Your Endurance with Mock Tests

Not only are mock tests a way to score higher, but you can use it as a means to strengthen your endurance in the actual exam.

Any challenging exam like TOPIK is going to drain you of energy, with some sections taking more than an hour to complete. But if you prepare yourself mentally, then you will surpass the challenge from start to finish.

With mock tests, you can better manage your time and energy, allowing you to see which questions to prioritize. In that way you can allot your energy for the more important questions – those that could bring you the crucial points.

5. There’s No Harm In Guessing

TOPIK I and II have multiple choice questions. Those questions provide you with a 25% chance of getting them right – 100% if you’re confident with the answer.

That’s why it can be a wise move to make some guesses. Try eliminating unlikely answers to increase your chance of getting it right.

Making guesses can surprisingly make your test taking easier. It’s not a sign of weakness, rather it can be a strategy to conserve your energy so that you can spend the energy elsewhere.

6. Use Filler Words for the Writing Test

There is a required character count for the essay writing questions. If you can get to the required count as soon as possible, that will ease off your writing struggles.

Try using the longer version of sentences and words, such as writing the full word instead of the contracted form. Use grammar rules that take up a lot of words overall.

Perhaps you could try to insert English words and numbers along the way. All in all, the fillers add up so that you need to explain less in Korean.

7. Be In Physically and Mentally Good Shape

On exam day, you can’t afford to lack sleep and be stressed out. That will further make the exam more difficult. That’s why on the few days remaining, there’s no point in cramming and stuffing new knowledge in.

At this point, relaxation is key.

Do whatever you can to get yourself well-rested and in a good physical and mental shape. If possible, you should treat yourself with some snacks especially during breaks.

Be nice to yourself and take it easy – in that way you don’t feel terrible while in the middle of difficult questions. That is the least thing you can do however amount of preparation you think you’ve done.

Are you going to take the TOPIK exam? I find it challenging to take tests, so I’m going to take it for the challenge. Let’s converse in the comments section.

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