Taking the TOPIK I

Finally! I experienced the TOPIK for the first time. Some of you might remember that I took the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) in the summer, and that I planned on taking the TOPIK, which is the Korean equivalent. Well, I was finally able to sign up and (after a bit of drama) finished my test!

In Korea, most business transactions, online shopping transactions, and so on require you to have a PC with Internet Explorer. Pretty inconvenient for a dedicated Mac user like myself. So I had to get my fiancé to help me sign up to take the exam, but doing so was easier said than done.

First of all, with the JLPT, I’m pretty sure the sign up page can be accessed in English, Chinese, etc. but the TOPIK website is really dumb and everything is pretty much in Korean. Also, neither of us could figure out when the test was or how to sign up, and it took multiple tries to pay once we did. Again, though, paying was a pain in the butt, and for some reason I got an saying my payment was canceled, so we tried again, and again the same email came. Despite this, once I logged on to the site, it said that my payment was complete and gave me a test number. I thought all was well and just forgot about it.

The test was held at the university across the street from my house, so I didn’t need to rush too much (or so I thought). I wrote down my test number, made sure to bring my Alien Registration Card, and took some pencils with me as I left the house. Junkyu dropped me off near where I thought the test was being held, but when I got to the building, I didn’t see many people. I only had 15 minutes to get into the test room, so I started panicking. A man in the International Center saw me and told me the test was on the other side of campus, and he offered to drive me. If he hadn’t, I definitely would have been in hot water (or missed my test completely).

He dropped me off and the building was full of test takers, but that wasn’t the end of my troubles. I went up to the door and showed them my ID and test number, but the man asked me, “Where is your paper?” because apparently everyone else got a sheet of paper that had their information and everything on it. I have no idea why I didn’t know about it, but I knew I could probably get away without having one.

He took me inside to a lady on a computer, where all the test prompters got the tests and their other materials. She tried looking up my test number but said I wasn’t in the computer. Great, I thought, I’m really not going to be able to take it after all. However, she told me to just go to the classroom where my test was, so I started on my way. All test takers have a test number, and they put us in rooms according to that number, in chronological order. I walked past the guy who I saw at the door, and he asked me why I still didn’t have a paper. Then he got another lady to speak English to me, and I explained my situation. She showed my my test room and once I got inside, I looked down to see my name on the very first desk in the front row.

Phew. I made it. I sat down, got out my pencils, and waited for the test to begin. The format was similar to the JLPT but slightly different. They took our phones away from us and put them in a bag marked with numbers corresponding to our desks so that we wouldn’t cheat and that no noise would disrupt the other test takers. They also told us to put away our writing utensils and gave us thick black markers to use instead. At first I thought this would make it harder, but it was easier filling in the bubbles with a marker, so we saved a lot of time and effort. I was still nervous, though, that I would mess up and have to use the white out they kept passing around.

They did a sound check, gave us our test booklets, and told us not to open them until the music started. However, a guy in the row next to me opened his and began to mark out answers, so they threw him out. He tried to pretend he didn’t know what they were saying, and when they finally started to drag him up out of his seat, he grabbed the test book and stormed out. Thankfully, they got it back from him, but it caused a lot of murmurs in our room. Then the chime sounded and we began our tests.

First was the listening section, which was 30 questions. The first half were pretty easy, but the level got increasingly harder as the test went on. I hadn’t studied much for the listening portion, so I was pleasantly surprised when I finished the section feeling confident that I didn’t miss any.

Next was the writing, 40 questions, which also started out simple and increased in difficulty. Even the last few questions were too bad, though, and I had about ten extra minutes to check my answers to the ones I was iffy on. The test as a whole was fairly straightforward, but there were a few words I had never seen before, and many of the questions got trickier toward the end.

Once the test was over, we got our phones back and were allowed to leave once all the test papers were accounted for. It was a great feeling leaving the room knowing that I did my best. I think I can expect pretty high results, so I’m excited for the results, which are announced on February 4th.

I’m probably most pleased that even though I didn’t dedicate a huge amount of time to studying, my Korean improved enough in the 5 or so months that I’ve been in Korea that I was able to take the test with ease. Recently, I’ve been picking up nonfiction books and novels in Korean to see how much I can understand within the first few pages or so, and I get excited when I can understand a lot of them.

Of course, both my vocabulary and grammar skills need to be honed before I can actually read novels without looking too much up in the dictionary, but already I feel like Korean is easier than Japanese. In just under a year and a half, I’ve learned enough Korean to get around on my own and even read texts that are geared toward adults. Maybe the fact that I don’t have to study kanji/hanja anymore is what’s allowing me to learn faster. Being able to read the ENTIRE Korean alphabet, versus being able to read a decent amount of Chinese characters makes life a lot easier.

I think it’d be good for me to take the JLPT again so that I can get a certificate for my Japanese level, because eventually I want a job where I can use Japanese. However, being away from kanji is definitely putting me at a disadvantage, and it’s hard for me to get back in the rhythm of speaking it, now that all I hear is English and Korean.

The TOPIK, though, I will continue to study for and I know that eventually I can pass the highest level if I study enough. I hope my motivation doesn’t dwindle as much as it did when I was in Japan (where I studied more Korean than Japanese) so that I can be proud of myself.

Now that my test is over, I can take a rest and get other things done, but I’ll probably be anxious until I see my score.

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3 thoughts to “Taking the TOPIK I”

  1. Wow congrats on finishing the test! Although the test itself didn’t sound too hard for you, I’m sure the stress of getting there in checking might have put you on edge!

    I’m surprised the online website was so disorganized (I thought Korea was supposed to be better than China with these kind of things? Haha). Do you think you’re going to take the next level of TOPIK? (how does the grading work, by the way?).

    I think learning Korean after Japanese is a wise step! I have a Korean boss at work and I hear her speak Korean almost 20% of my day. I catch a lot of words and phrases because they’re similar to Japanese, and I also hear the grammar resembles Japanese as well. Interesting!

    1. Thank you! Yeah that part was stressful so I’m glad my first TOPIK experience is over. Now I won’t be so in the dark next time I take it. The one I took is the TOPIK I and it covers levels 1-2 but the TOPIK II covers levels 3-6. If my score is above an 80/200 that means I’m level 1 and if it is over 120 or so points, I will be awarded level 2. The same format works for the TOPIK II but that one features two essay writings. The test format changed a lot a few years ago so the one I took is easier but the other became more difficult. I will definitely have to study more than I did for this one but I wanted to test my level asap since I feel I’ve learned a ton living in Korea.

      Well a lot of websites in Korea aren’t available for mac users and it’s a big pain for everyone. I wish they would get rid of it but I think they have a reason for requiring internet explorer…. Hopefully haha. I think it is more organized than China but maybe less so than Japan. However, I often think Japan is TOO organized because there is no flexibility and as my friend said recently, “It takes forever for nothing to happen.”

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