2021 Fall Ewha Woman's University Korea Rebekah Harding Temple Exchange

What it’s really like taking the TOPIK in Korea

After weeks of preparation, anticipation, and stress, TOPIK day has finally come to an end— and I couldn’t be more relieved.

If you’re a student studying Korean, you’re probably all too familiar with the Test of Proficiency in Korean. No matter what level you’re studying at, the TOPIK just has its way of slipping into the topic of the lecture. A new grammar point? “When you take the TOPIK, you’ll see this a lot.” Placed into a higher class? “We think this would better align with your probable TOPIK level.”

There’s no escape, and I finally caved in to the TOPIK hype this semester during my exchange semester at Ewha Womans University. 

In Korea, the TOPIK is used to categorize your level of fluency in Korean into one of six levels. Different institutions, like companies, schools, government programs, or scholarships often require a specific level of TOPIK according to the specific communication needs. For example, many long-term visas in Korea require at least a TOPIK level 2, which is just slightly higher than basic conversational phrases and vocabulary that can be found in the first level. On the flip side, to work at most companies in Korea, you’ll need to get at least TOPIK level 5 to be hired. 

While I had the intention to eventually take the TOPIK, it really sparked my interest when I was placed into an intensive Korean language class at Ewha that corresponded with TOPIK level 4, slightly higher than I expected. Eager to confirm what my placement is, I signed up in September for the November test— the last one offered this year. I secured a spot at the Samyook University testing location and endured the early morning two-hour commute on test day.

Upon my arrival, I was impressed by the COVID-19 safety measures in place. Before I could enter the building, my temperature was taken and we had to sanitize. In the test room itself, we sat far apart and were required to wear KF94 masks to prevent spreading or contracting the disease in case of an unknown COVID case in the room. 

While I can’t give specifics about the test itself, I found the material to be extremely similar to the free study materials available online, which was a huge relief after months of stressing over sample prompts. The only thing that really tripped me up was how fast the test is conducted— I felt like I almost didn’t have time to finish each section, and my work quality probably suffered because of that. After finishing the test, I reminisced about taking the SATs to get into university in the States and the relief was insurmountable. 

Although the test was challenging, I’m trying to remind myself that a standardized test and academic success isn’t a perfect measure of my worth or capability— it’s a standardized exam after all. And sometimes, your result really comes down to whether or not you’re a good test taker (I am most definitely NOT). 

If you plan to study abroad in Korea, your time as an exchange student, when you’re immersed in the language and culture, is the perfect time to give the TOPIK a try. 

Read about how other students are getting involved in their language studies.


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