What Is TOPIK: Should You Take The Exam When Learning Korean?

When it comes to measuring your Korean ability, you may have heard of TOPIK.

Many Korean learners are indeed taking the TOPIK exam for various reasons. Some take it to apply for work in Korea, some take it to study in a Korean university. While some take it mainly to gauge their current level in the language.

Every once in a while in your Korean journey, it’s good to know exactly where you are and how your Korean is doing. Tests like the TOPIK exam can help give you an idea of your ability.

But is it really worth the bother? After all, you’ll need to register for the test, pay a fee, prepare for the big day, and make sure you answer the exam well. All that effort could instead be allotted to more time in the language, right?

To answer this question, it’s best to know first what the TOPIK exam is about.

TOPIK In a Nutshell

TOPIK, or Test of Proficiency In Korean, is one of the most recognized proficiency tests for the Korean language by South Korea. It’s an official exam designed to assess the proficiency of non-native speakers and overseas Koreans.

Many people take the test in order to prove their capability to understand and communicate in Korean, which is useful for applying for study or work in South Korea.

It’s also possible to take the exam simply to assess your current ability in Korean. That’s what my purpose is for taking TOPIK, and it serves as my motivation to study and prepare hard for the exam.

TOPIK is held all over the world, and it varies with every country on how frequent they conduct the test. In South Korea they hold 6 tests per year hosted in various venues. Depending on your country, you can personally check the schedule of TOPIK by referring to your respective Korean center or through the Internet.

Meanwhile, EPS-TOPIK, which stands for Employment Permit System-Test of Proficiency In Korean, is designed specifically for employment in industries such as manufacturing, construction, and agriculture. It’s a separate test from TOPIK and caters more to laborers wanting to work in South Korea.

What Is TOPIK Made Of?

TOPIK, the primary test, is divided into two main tests: TOPIK I and TOPIK II.

EPS-TOPIK, on the other hand, is a separate test in itself.

So for the sake of organization, I’ll break down each of the three tests:


TOPIK I is the test that assesses basic proficiency, which is perfect for beginners in the language.

The exam focuses more on simple conversations and situations in everyday life. Which is a relief because you’ll only need beginner vocabulary and grammar to do well in the test.

TOPIK I is made up of the following tests:

  • Listening Test – 100 Points
  • Reading Test – 100 Points

The TOPIK I test allows you to reach Level 1 or Level 2 depending on your total score (see below for the required scores).


TOPIK II is the harder exam, where you’ll be probing deep into the language with more specialized topics.

Along with that, is you’ll be encountering advanced vocabulary and grammar, therefore challenging your knowledge of Korean.

If you think you’ve surpassed the basics and are ready for the advanced stuff, then you can move up to this test (which is what I’ve done recently).

Acquiring a TOPIK II score is often a prerequisite for studying in Korean universities at undergraduate or graduate levels and is also required for job application in Korean companies.

TOPIK II is composed of the following parts:

  • Listening Test – 100 Points
  • Writing Test – 100 Points
  • Reading Test – 100 Points

TOPIK II is particularly tricky for its writing test. Instead of a multiple choice question, you’ll be given an open-ended question where you need to fill in an answer by writing it in Korean.

There are only 4 questions for writing – Numbers 51 to 54. But the last two involve writing a detailed essay, which make up the majority of the points of this section.

The test checkers will rate you based on whether you comply with their criteria, which I believe deserves a topic of its own.

While TOPIK II may be the harder test, it serves as the gateway to achieving the highest levels – Level 3, Level 4, Level 5, Level 6. You can definitely jump straight to higher levels if your score is high enough (see below for the required scores).


You need to take EPS-TOPIK if you’re looking for work through the Employment Permit System (or EPS).

EPS-TOPIK is the Korean proficiency exam taken by laborers who want to get employed in South Korea. It doesn’t have any level as it’s more about whether you pass the test or not.

The test is made up of the following:

  • Listening Test – 100 Points
  • Reading Test – 100 Points

I would say the difficulty is not as hard as TOPIK II, since you won’t be taking the writing test. But you certainly have to do your best as it’s based on rankings, which will determine if you get employed or not.

What Do The 6 TOPIK Levels Mean?

In case you may be wondering why there’s a need to classify test passers in 6 levels, let’s talk about the distinct characteristics of each level.

Here’s the breakdown of it in table format:

1Able to understand and use basic expressions and sentences in Korean. Can carry out simple conversations related to daily routines.
2Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Able to describe aspects of their background and environment in simple terms.
3Able to understand and carry out conversations in Korean in their field of specialization, besides being capable of more general communication.
4Can engage in conversations fluently with native speakers and is able to read and understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics.
5Able to understand and use the Korean language in a wide range of social, academic, and professional contexts. Can appreciate nuanced differences in tone and meaning.
6Fully proficient in Korean, capable of understanding and expressing themselves spontaneously, very fluently, and precisely, even in more complex situations.

When looking at this table, I can’t help but think of the CEFR standard levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2. If you’re familiar with them, then somehow TOPIK resembles these 6 levels.

TOPIK Passing Score: How Much Should You Attain?

As you can see, taking TOPIK allows you to head straight to your designated level – from 1 through 6.

Here’s the breakdown of the passing scores for TOPIK I:

LevelRequired Score (out of 200)

Here’s the breakdown of the passing scores for TOPIK II:

LevelRequired Score (out of 300)

For EPS-TOPIK, there isn’t a fixed score to aim for, although you should try your best to score high. The candidates are ranked based on their scores, which changes according to the demands for workers and the number of available positions. Meaning there isn’t a reason to slack off as this will decide whether you get employed or not.

Take note that validity of the EPS-TOPIK score is set by the rules in Korea (by HRD), while for TOPIK the score is valid for a fixed 2 years.

Should You Take the TOPIK Test?

It’s going to be obvious for people who need a TOPIK score to take the test. When they need to work or study in South Korea, they’ll naturally be motivated to prepare and do well in the exam.

But what if you’re taking TOPIK simply to measure your ability? Is it worth the bother?

The simple answer is YES – any means to gauge your Korean is going to be helpful if your goal is to become fluent in the language. You can take the test once in a while, just so you know if you’re getting good at the language (preferably every 2 years since your score is valid for that duration).

And besides, the TOPIK score you’ll get is something you can be proud of showing to others – it’s your official score after all!

However, there are good reasons to say no and skip the exam.

For one, there’s a lot of preparation involved with taking the test. Unless you’re so good at the language that you don’t need to prepare hard, TOPIK is going to eat up a lot of space in your head – at least during the months from officially registering leading up to the exam day.

Also, if you think you’re not ready, then better to not take the test until later. Learning a new language doesn’t happen overnight as it needs to first plant its roots in your brain before you can use it. In an exam setting like TOPIK where there is time pressure and dictionary is not allowed, the knowledge that’s deeply rooted in you is the one you’re able to use when answering questions.

The last reason, which involves more the nature of TOPIK as a test, is that TOPIK does NOT determine the full scope of your Korean abilities. It lacks the speaking test, which you need to take on a separate exam (TOPIK has just opened its speaking test).

And if you think of it, the test format of being mostly multiple choice questions is something you cannot see in the natural setting. When conversing with Koreans, do you really have an A, B, C, D for how you’re going to answer? While immersing in Korean content, say movies, will a multiple choice test type appear to see if you understood the dialogue well?

Of course not – it requires a different cognitive and thought process to deal with these situations.

But overall, TOPIK is certainly one of the ways to test your level, although it must be supplemented with other tests or ways to improve your ability in the language.

Are you going to take the TOPIK exam? I certainly would, but I’d like to know what you think by leaving a comment below.

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