My Korean Study Strategy


I’m planning to take TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) in November, so cue the intensive studying! But first, I need a study strategy.

For TOPIK, the highest possible level is 6, and the beginner level is 1. There are two versions of the test: the first version evaluates people who may have around a 1 or a 2, and the second version evaluates students from 3 to 6. The score is valid for two years, at which point you must retake it to re-authenticate your Korean proficiency level. 

This score is simply a value assigned to the number of questions answered correctly – no standardized test could ever perfectly evaluate someone’s true language capacity – but still, getting certified via TOPIK matters for jobs and school applications.

So, what’s my battle plan?

Strengthen vocabulary and increase speed of reading comprehension

Many of my recent 단어짱 posts have been about a book called 언어의 온도, or the Temperature of Language. I read and analyze at least a passage and up to a few pages a day. I’ve created a process that works very well:

  • Read the passage
  • Write down unknown words and grammar structures
  • Utilize Naver dictionary (both the English and 국어 versions, as not all Korean words exist in the English version of Naver), Google, and my S.O. to identify and write down definitions and usage
  • Immediately add new vocabulary to my study lists on Memrise (I create a new level each week)
  • Read the passage aloud to practice my newly learned vocabulary
  • Later, I use Memrise to refresh, and each day, I review as much vocab on Memrise that I can (usually about 50-100 words)
  • Rinse and repeat

This repetition of writing, typing, and reviewing the vocab keeps it firmly planted in my memory.

But why is 언어의 온도 particularly useful for this type of study? Well, The Temperature of Language is a compilation of anecdotes and essays on language and meaning. The other day, I learned vocabulary for when a car or machine breaks down, a few days ago I learned wedding and marriage vocabulary, and the day before that was about traveling for stress relief.

Image result for 설민석 조선왕조실록

Image from Interpark

The variety of the vocabulary keeps me interested; its usefulness keeps me motivated. I also add in some 설민석의 조선왕조실록 so I can get my fix of Korean history, and that means my vocab lists are sprinkled with things like “the heir to the throne” (왕위계승자), “the name given to a king after death to pay tribute to the good deeds he performed for his people” (묘호), and “father-and-son relationship” (부자 사이).

Study vocab that’s useful – but also, study what you love. It’ll keep you going.

Practice writing in 원고지 regularly

My biggest issue when I took the test previously without preparation was my slowness in the writing section. I didn’t finish the long essay in time, coming in about 30 boxes short of the minimum required length.

I didn’t know that TOPIK used the boxed format of 원고지 until a few days before the test, and despite trying to familiarize myself quickly, it wasn’t enough practice for the actual exam. This boxed structure is a key feature of the writing portion of the exam.

Image result for 원고지

Source: 내일학교

So, 원고지. Beginning this month, I’m going to start writing practice essays a few times a week. The key is not just that I’ll write them, but that I’ll be practicing on the official paper. TOPIK isn’t an exam that’s just about your Korean abilities. It’s also about your ability to follow the rules and structure of a standardized test.

Incorporate Korean news articles

In the next month, I’ll begin reading more news articles and analyzing them the same way that I’m currently reading 언어의 온도 and 설민석의 조선왕조실록. News articles generally incorporate substantially different vocabulary than your average book, so it’s important to also improve my vocabulary and reading comprehension in this way.

Take practice exams

I have an excellent set of books on TOPIK that I’ve barely glanced at. They also have numerous sample questions and explanations of the answers, so as I get closer to retaking the test, I plan to utilize this resource. For the last few weeks prior to the exam, I’ll actually set up a few different days as full practice exam days – timed with 원고지, the special TOPIK pen (they let me keep it after the TOPIK in April), and everything else.

This is a strategy I used in high school with AP classes, and it has served me well with all kinds of standardized exams.

What’s your study strategy? Are you planning to take TOPIK this year, too? Let me know in the comments!

읽어 주셔서 감사합니다.

지금 재생 중


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