Wednesday, April 13, 2011

T Minus 4 days until the TOPIK.

Or the day I get destroyed.

As I mentioned in my last entry about the TOPIK I've been having a bit of a hard time getting myself up to par. A lot of my readers gave me some good advice and I've tried to take it all to heart. The Korean suggested just memorizing the common words on the test and another reader suggested an awesome app that allows you to make your own flash cards. I've used both of these suggestions. I've made 125 flashcards and managed to memorize nearly all of them to varying degrees. I may not be able to spell all them but as long as I can recognize them I'm happy. I do flashcards for about 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening, give or take. Now, I'm happy that I've memorized that many, but unfortunately there are about 200 more that I need to memorize for the vocabulary section and probably about 1,000 for the reading and writing because anything is game on those sections.

On the most recent practice test that I have taken I received the following score (remember that 100 is the total number of points for each section, 70 points is necessary to achieve level 4, 50 points in each section is necessary to achieve level 3. Below that is nothing, failing.

Vocab + Grammar: 50 points
Writing: 26 + essay (maximum 30 points)
Listening: 62
Reading: 29

My reading score is about on par with guessing randomly. And sadly, I read every question as carefully as I could. Unfortunately most of them sound like gibberish to me because of the amount of vocabulary I don't know (or don't recognize in the context of the reading). Sometimes when I start to see a lot of words I don't recognize, I start missing words that I should know because I start to panic. Then when someone goes through with me line by line and explains one or two key words I suddenly know the answer. But, unfortunately, I haven't been able to reproduce this phenomenon without help yet.

But, the most depressing part of this whole thing is that I've never studied for anything as hard as I have for this one exam in my entire life. I know that sounds ridiculous to most people, but even when I was studying for Organic Chemistry (which also quite nearly defeated me and was the first and only time in my life I've gotten a tutor) I also had 3 other challenging classes that I needed to study for and so Organic Chemistry only got an hour or so every few nights plus study sessions before exams. Now, Korean is the only thing I'm studying. I've only been working about 25 hours per week since I started studying in February. I go to Korean class for 2 hours MWF, then usually study for an hour or so after class and on TTh I usually put in at least 3 hours or more of study doing practice tests, learning grammar through a new book I bought recently, or just meeting my Korean friends and just speaking Korean. Plus the flashcards ever day. Is this not enough? I don't feel like I could do more than that. Usually after 3 or 4 hours of studying Korean my head is swimming and I don't retain anything anymore (not that I seem to retain anything anyway).

I'm partially grateful that the TOPIK has forced me to study and partially angry that all this information is being forced into my head. While I can recite all these flashcards now, there are very few of those words that I've actually been able to use in my everyday life. Though, I can tell you that the few that I have been able to use in everyday life are not easily forgotten. I much prefer learning language in a natural sort of progression. Learn the vocabulary that you need to complete a task, see it around or use it again a few more times and it's stuck and it's hard to forget. Memorize a bunch of flashcards about stuff I don't care about at the moment and the chance of me remembering the words for the long term is low. For example, yesterday I learned the word 단추. Before yesterday I never cared about the word, but suddenly I needed it. So I learned it. I figure it will now come up again in the future at some point, at which point I'll suddenly remember that time I needed to say 단추 and it will be reinforced in my mind. Where as if that word had been on a flashcard, I might have put it into my brain but I am sure that when I've actually needed it (and this has already happened with some of the other words I've put in my flashcards) I can't recall the word in a conversation. I know that it's a rather slow and less efficient way of learning the language, but other than for this test I'm not in much rush. I can hang out with my friends and converse in Korean and keep up with conversations about the things my friends talk about. So far I haven't needed to talk about science or politics and while I'd like to learn those words, I think I'd rather just learn them when I need them rather than cramming them in my head with a bunch of other unrelated words like I'm doing at the moment.

I guess I've realized that memorizing is good, just not in copious amounts like I've been doing. I think if I had the motivation to learn 10 words a week, of words that I wanted to use in the outside world, it would be more efficient than trying to learn hundreds in three months.

Also if anyone knows of a website that explains how the essays are graded I'd be eternally grateful. All I know is that you lose a point for each unique spelling error (I'm hoping that it's capped after a certain number because under stress it's quite possible that I might make as many spelling mistakes as there are points on the section).


  1. Good luck. I know you'll do very well!

  2. 70 points is necessary to achieve level 4, 50 points in each section is necessary to achieve level 3. Below that is nothing, failing.

    I don't think that's quite right. It's my understanding that to get a 3, you need an AVERAGE across all four sections of 50 with no section below 40.

    To get 4, you need an average over all sections of 70 with no section below 50.

    As for the essay, they give you an idea of how it's graded on past tests.

    ~ If you don't address all of the included topics, -5.
    ~ Under 400 characters or over 600, -5 per 100 characters
    ~ Grammar and spelling, 1-3 mistakes is -1. You get docked 2 pts for 4-6, 3 pts for 7-10, 4 pts for 11-15 and docked 6 pts for 16 or more mistakes.

    You're taking or have finished the exam now. But there's your answer.

  3. Thanks! that's really useful.. wish I had known that a few days ago and not on the day of the test. I know that about the no section below forty bit, but I didn't want to make it too complicated for my non-TOPIK test taker readers... Though I didn't know it was an average score. That makes me feel a lot more confident. The book I have doesn't explain the grading system very well and just said that below 40 was failing. I figured maybe if I got one section below 50 was ok, but two not. So, hopefully if I just keep acing the listening like I have been doing than that can bring up the average a lot..