Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Study, Study, Study

I've never been good at studying. I'm one of those people who goes to class, learns, never does the homework, and does well on the test. But, that's one thing that's never worked with me while studying Korean. I've tried everything I can think of to memorize vocabulary, and it's not that the methods don't work (flashcards, writing words repeatedly, making lists in my ipod and checking them often), but it's just that I don't keep up with it. And, it's never been a problem, really, until now.

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?


  1. "All the Koreans have told me "just memorize it" but... I'm not a memorizing kind of person"

    To be honest, I don't really believe this is true. You're right, Memorizing doesn't sound fun, but I'm sure you could memorize anything you wanted to.

    For new vocab, I use [http://orangeorapple.com/Flashcards/Default.aspx] on my iPod touch. You can enter new words for flashcards, they have a great 6 in a row learning method, etc. That will take care of your memorization 'problem'

  2. is your app free? I've tried to find free ones and haven't been able to find them. That really is what I need. Something digital that I won't lose and that I can keep organized like all the papers that pile up...

  3. I'm sure you already know what I will say. But here is a reminder:

    All the Koreans have told me "just memorize it" but... I'm not a memorizing kind of person.

    Bullocks. The biggest weasel-excuse I keep hearing from Americans is "I am not X kind of person." Memorization works for everyone. The only difference is the level of effort put in.

    And how can one memorize every possible word that could come up on a test?

    With time, patience, effort and discipline. I did it myself, you know. There are only so many words that show up in an exam.

    You know I have no mean intention when I wrote this. :) Just trying to give you some motivation.

  4. I know that I CAN do all this, and that nothing is impossible. but... I'm really freaking lazy, easily distracted and easily disheartened. having 2 months to prepare for this test is not nearly enough time for me.....

  5. It's really freaking depressing looking at the test and only getting 10 out of 36 problems that I've done correct. that's less than 30% right. And I haven't tried the listening or writing sections yet. I just have a feeling that whatever I 'memorize' won't be the right thing. I also hate the idea of memorizing, because it doesn't stick for a long time. I have some words that I've "memorized" right now, but I have them memorized when I see them on a particular piece of paper, but if I saw them in context, conjugated with some unfamiliar grammar then I probably wouldn't recognize them...

  6. Like, say I told my students, just memorize these words: say, tell, talk. And then on the test," said, told and talked" show up. Memorizing the base form of a word doesn't mean you'll automatically recognize it in it's conjugated form in a stressful situation when you're under time constraints. If I had all the time in the world, maybe I'd figure it out, but I get panicky when I don't know the answer right away and I just eliminate what I think are wrong (which sometimes I eliminate the right ones) and then just guess from what's left.

  7. Memorizing is possible for everyone. It's also crappy level I and II work on Bloom's Taxonomy, which I'm pretty sure most Korean teachers have never even heard of.

    Having said that, WordChamp is your friend for vocab. Or Anki.

    How do you know which words will show up on a test? You go buy the book that separates the vocab from the TOPIK into levels A (beginner), B (intermediate) and C (advanced) and you study for A and B. (http://www.hanbooks.com/koesvo60forf.html)

    It sounds like you don't know the grammar patterns you need yet. It is an overall weakness in grammar or just in some patterns?

    Why do you have to prepare in two months? I know you want to get the points-based visa, but isn't the test offered four times a year in Korea? Why not do it in five months?

    How are you getting your writing samples graded when you take the practice tests?

    By the way, in my gifted ed class we learn about when gifted people hit the wall. When showing up in class, not studying, not doing the homework no longer works.

    I think you've met your wall.

    If you had gotten an *appropriate* education, you would've hit the wall in a safe environment in elementary school (preferably) or at least in high school (at the latest). So when you're down and frustrated that you don't know how to study, you can blame past school districts for not making you hit your wall faster, and your parents for not advocating that you fail earlier. Ha.

  8. Oh, and the comment about hitting the wall was not meant as a dig at you, your parents, or your schooling. I just got home from my gifted ed class and every Tuesday after class I'm "RAWRRRR, GIFTED ADVOCATE!"

  9. As for the App.. I use it everyday, to learn new Korean and Chinese words... i spent about 5 bucks on it..but.. um.. yea, I use it like everyday, so it's worth the money.. There are tons of free apps that do similar things, this one is really nice and scalable (eg. I have like 1300 words in one of my decks, and it doesn't matter, cuz I only see the words I haven't mastered, etc)

  10. My weakness seems to be... just about everything. I never know where to focus my efforts... vocab? grammar? reading comp.? I know about half the grammar and less than half the vocab that appears on the test that I've been working on. I realized today after studying for 1.5 hours straight that my brain just started to hurt, mostly from looking at so many unfamiliar words, or just getting mentally exhausted from reading so much Korean. 8 out of 10 passages are a little above my level, and even some might not be so bad, but my head starts to hurt after a while and I can't focus properly. I start not to recognize words I know because I'm not focused properly. I need to learn how to do some speed reading in Korean or something because I'll never get through the whole reading section in the time allotted.

    I was studying with my conversation partner yesterday and she just told me... "buy a grammar book. Doing practice tests isn't teaching you the material." And I guess she's right. But, everyone tells me different advice. My boyfriend tells me, "Oh, you know plenty of grammar, you can just figure it out from what you know". And other people tell me, "just take lots of practice tests. Once you know the form it will be easy since you just need to learn the pattern."

    I'm just feeling so overwhelmed! Honestly, I've never studied this hard for so long before. I've crammed for tests in college, but besides organic chemistry, I never really studied much at all (and even after all the organic chem study I still barely scraped by). I need to train my brain to focus (and I'm doing better than I expected) but I need to study even harder than what I'm doing.

    And while there are 4 tests a year now, I plan on leaving Korea before the summer test is administered and I'm not sure when I'll be back (but if and when I come back, I hope to do so on the F-2... if I can pass this stupid test that is).

    How many hours a day would you say is normal to study for a test like this? (I mean any test, SAT, GRE etc etc) is 2 hours a day good enough? Is that too much? Is it way too small? Do I sound strange because I have no idea what the answer to this question is?

  11. Oh, and as to the writing sample grading question, I haven't even started practicing that part yet! -_-

  12. I don't think speed reading is going to help if you don't know a full 50% of the grammar patterns and vocab.

    If you haven't "figured out" the grammar, get a grammar book. Your boyfriend is well meaning, but his advice isn't working.

    Writing can be graded on Lang-8.com.

    But I'm confused about something. Don't you have to pass the test before you can take the social integration class, since the class is taught entirely in Korean? That means the earliest you can take the class is...when? Isn't the class twelve weeks long?

    If you pass the test, you won't get the results until May or June. If you're leaving Korea before the summer test (in July), how are you possibly going to fit in a 12-week social integration class before you come back?

    Why don't you just go to the center, get your level assessed, do the free language courses (skip the TOPIK) and then take the social integration course?


    As for the answer to "how many hours a day would you say is normal," I have no idea. My husband started learning English when he was 12. He ignored his public school teachers and went to a hogwon for one year in middle school. The rest he learned on his own. It took six attempts in a two year period to get a high enough score on his TOEIC to get into grad school. And, of course, he had to take the GRE in English.

    So I have no solid answer, but it took more than two months of concentrated effort.

  13. Amanda (again, sorry)February 24, 2011 at 7:55 AM

    Also, you might want to check if you need to be a level IV to take the class without language training.


  14. The social integration class requires a separate test. It's not an indicator of your level for the visa, either. I took the test a week ago. The questions are more based on Korean culture and history more than grammar (although there are grammar questions too). My class will start early-mid may and finish in late june or early july (they don't have the dates fixed yet -_-). My scores will come out for the TOPIK in early june. I have no idea how long it takes to get the visa processed, but if it's like the E-2, once you have the paperwork, I'm hoping it doesn't take long.

    Actually, if in the end I can't get the visa, it's not the end of the world. I was planning to take the test before I left korea (and before I knew about this F-2 visa thing) and this class is free, so how can I not take it (esp. now that I'm only working part time making crap money). My boyfriend and I have been talking about the possibility of getting married. So, if I wind up back in Korea I could eventually get the F-2 if and when we tie the knot...

  15. Ahhhh, I thought in the original draft, they had decided that if you got through the social integration class, you demonstrated a language ability. Is the social integration class still in Korean?

    What about taking the social integration class and getting those points, then retaking the TOPIK in September?

    By the way, if you want some grammar book suggestions, I *really* like BASIC KOREAN and INTERMEDIATE KOREAN by Andrew Sangpil Byon. The books are pretty jargon-free and I found his explanations thorough. Also, both books have workbook sections, if you want to use those.

    I'm actually taking the TOPIK in April, too. But I'm taking beginner level. I have no reason to take it other than Because I Want To Have Something to Put on My Resume and It's Only $15 So What's Stopping Me? (When my husband and I end up in Korea again, I'm totally riding the marriage F2. I sponsor him in America, he can sponsor me in Korea. Ha.)

    Now, going back to the TOPIK: I can read entire books in Korean--I read a million characters last year. I can read upper elementary level stuff with no problem, chick-lit mostly with ease, and even managed to read some real avant garde crap. I'm currently reading an adult-level memoir by a North Korean who was born into and escaped from Camp 14 and boy, I WISH I couldn't understand it like I do.

    But on my last practice test hell if I could tell you what one dumb paragraph about going on vacation at the farm was about. It was boring and out of context, and...blaaaaaah.

    Good luck!!

  16. you can read books and you're taking the beginner test?? And, yea, those reading excerpts are terrible, aren't they? I can only do it for so long before I stop recognizing words I know because my brain is too worn out. Although, I don't know if it's dumb luck or that I'm actually doing well, but The most points I've gotten on a section was on the reading section.

    Anyway, if I take the TOPIK in september, I'd probably have to do it in NYC which is probably 5 hours away from where I'll be. It's not impossible, but I'm sure once I get back to the states I will not want to be studying Korean. And I hope to start Grad school so I'll be busy with school work and work work. But, who knows? Maybe I won't get in to grad school and I'll just have to stay in Korea longer ^^

  17. I am working full-time in a new school with a new grade and with a new curriculum. I am taking graduate level endorsement classes--which are necessary for me to keep my current position. With those two factors, the TOPIK is low on my priority list. I don't need to score anything specific on it, so I'm not going to worry myself with the intermediate level this year.

    I have discovered that even at the beginner level there are some nuances in grammar that never stuck in my head. Luckily, after all of that exposure, just a little bit of studying has made the nuances clear. So doing the beginner level doesn't seem like a total waste of time. :D

  18. Btw, thanks Amanda for the tips on the 2 Andrew Sangpil Byon books.. I'll get those ordered on my next Amazon haul. :) I'm busting my ass to learn Korean outside of Korea :S

  19. Why don't you study in Korean-Chineses character?
    The Korean was influenced by the Chinese character.
    If any chance I'll explain history of Hangul.

  20. Thanks Jade. I have studied some hanja, but only very simple ones. I know about 30 or 40. I would love to learn more later when I have some time!!

  21. That's great you want to improve Korean and pass the test. You know, sometimes you think you haven't done any progress but you have, you really have. I wish you good luck!