Let me begin with a disclaimer: I’m not out merely for a certification. I desire fluency. Therefore, the higher test scores I can get along my journey, the better I feel my progress is going.
This is how I achieved a very high Beginner TOPIK score:
- Choice of Correct Materials
- Individual Skill Practice
Choice of Correct Materials
While I have studied Korean a little bit previously, it wasn’t really until recently that I started focusing on it and trying to improve. I’ve lived in Korea now for 7 years, and I feel that my learning has gone a little something like this:
It’s true that once you reach a certain level in Korean (particularly as an English teacher where Korean ability is not required for a comfortable life here), it’s easy to just stop learning. Once you can carry out basic conversations and do and get what you want relatively easily, many people find little motivation to continue studying. And that’s where I was for years.
But when I finally decided that this was something I was going to do, I sat down with my wife and scoured dozens of Korean language books to find just the right ones to get going again. Here’s what we came up with:
This is a combination of the Sogang Series beginner books A and B (so it’s really two books in one). It is an excellent intro to all aspects of Korean that would make you comfortable living here.
This is the book we go over in our Beginner class.
This book reviews the grammar points introduced in the Sogang series and adds about 100 more. It’s a wonderful in-depth look at all the basic Korean grammar that is covered in the TOPIK Levels 1 and 2.
This is the book we go over in Low Intermediate.
After completing the first two books, this guide to the test is key. It’ll help you learn the question types and get a feel for the flow of the organization, pacing, and content of the test.
This is the immediate follow-up to Low Intermediate and the book we study just before taking the TOPIK. Contact us for more details.
After all is said and done, I definitely feel as though I’ve learned about as much in the last six months as I’ve learned in the first 2 years I was in Korea. Using proper materials is the first key toward TOPIK success.
Individual Skill Practice
As any TOPIK student knows, the test is divided into 4 parts:
- Vocabulary and Grammar (어휘 & 문법)
- Writing (쓰기)
- Listening (듣기)
- Reading (읽기)
Here are the steps I took to improve each of these parts of my test:
1. Vocabulary and Grammar (어휘 & 문법)
- In the Sogang book, I read through the entire thing from cover to cover, highlighting ALL the vocab words within as well as any words I didn’t know and then created daily and weekly vocabulary lists with the words.
- My wife also recorded vocabulary videos and a few videos over a some of the grammar points (and we intend to make more).
- I created a vocab and grammar quick reference list for each of the grammar points in the Korean Grammar in Use book.
- I additionally often tried to put new vocabulary to use as soon as I learned it.
2. Writing (쓰기)
- I went over all the previous TOPIK writing questions.
- I studied previous TOPIK writing examples and the marking policy.
- I learned proper essay writing techniques as well as proper word-spacing techniques. (And it’s important to get comfortable doing everything in the ~ㅂ니다, ~ㅂ니까? form in this stage as well.)
- I also started a Korean writing blog where I practiced (and will continue to do so).
3. Listening (듣기)
- I tried to watch more TV and speak to more people.
- I practiced the TOPIK Listening from previous tests and in the test prep book. I did my best to take notes during the listening (all in Korean) and even tried to write down the entire phrase or conversation when possible. Sometimes that required more listening but it also helped me notice small parts that I would have otherwise missed.
4. Reading (읽기)
- I did read a good deal of children’s books to my son during this period, so it helped my reading improve.
- But I noticed that what REALLY helped my reading improve was doing as many practice tests as possible in the Android and iPhone versions of the TOPIK One app. That app is hands down the best investment you’ll make in approaching TOPIK.
Finally, the most important resource you need to get a high score is time. I’ve been in Korea for over 7 years now (albeit studying hard for only about 2), but time and repetition are huge factors in solidifying Korean in your brain.
There is one notable exception to this that comes to mind however. One of our previous students (Peter) approached us with relatively low Korean skills around March or April. He said he just wanted to learn enough to pass the TOPIK Level 1. Yet, he recently received his scores and found he passed with a HIGH Level 2!
I have to give him props because he put in a lot of time daily (1-2 hours) to be sure that he would go into the test with confidence.