I can speak Korean. I can hold down a normal, everyday conversation that you'd have with your coworker or friends. What did you do last night? How was your vacation? I'm having this problem lately... etc etc. And you know what? That's really all I need for now. I've never needed to talk about science or politics or technical stuff. I'll keep studying and I hope that some day I can progress to that point.
BUT, now I'm studying to take the TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) with the hopes of getting the F-2 visa after passing EITHER level 3 or level 4 (intermediate). But, if I were to take that test tomorrow, I would fail. Miserably. Even though I've studied through level 4 at my hagwon (and took level 3 three times, to the point where I have the whole book practically memorized). Because I suck at studying. I always picked up the words I could use in conversation, because that's what I like to do. But I never picked up those nuance words that I could always get around using by using other, simpler words. This test, though, is all about nuances. It's designed to trick you into second guessing yourself.
For me, the questions fall in to one of two categories. The questions that I don't understand a word of and the questions that I understand every word of and STILL don't know the answer. The questions I don't know a word of, well I don't stand a chance with. But those questions that I DO know every answer to, I should be able to reason it out. But, let's put 4 words that mean very similar things as possible answers. Now, you need to know what word combination fits the best with the given information. Which, is good, you should know what words go together and what not, but I suck at studying and I have a feeling I'm never going to get these under my belt. All the Koreans have told me "just memorize it" but... I'm not a memorizing kind of person. And how can one memorize every possible word that could come up on a test? My method of studying is just talking and using my Korean, but this test doesn't even have a spoken part. They measure me on all my weakest points.
I bought a reading book recently. I wanted to get the level 3, since reading is my weakest point (except for maybe writing). But, they didn't have level 3. So I settled for level 4. Big mistake. It takes me about 2 hours to read each one page long story in the book. I need to look up about every 3rd word or so and I can't answer any of the reading comprehension questions without help. I'm starting to get really discouraged...
To make things worse, I also started working with my Japanese friend who is studying for the test too. When we speak, I always feel that we're on the same level, or that even my Korean could be a little more advanced. But, then we take a practice test. Out of 10 questions, she gets one wrong. I get one right. Even more depression sets in. The thought that I might not even get 50 points (minimum score to achieve level 3 on the TOPIK) is becoming more and more real. I have less than 2 months left to study for this test. I've been studying pretty hard (in my terms of studying) for the past 3 weeks and have seen no improvement yet. Who's to say that trend won't continue? I'm only working part time now so I should have all the free time in the world to study, but it doesn't seem to matter.
What works for you?