15 In Korean learning journey (:/ TOPIK

43rd TOPIK II experience and tips

Yay! Just sat for the 제43회 한국어능력시험 TOPIK 2. The last time I took TOPIK advanced was in 2013, so this is the first time I’m taking the new format ^^

I’ve already passed TOPIK 6 (although by a narrow margin only) but given that each cert is valid only for 2 years, it’s time for me to “renew” it and hopefully score better.

And yes, quite a long post ahead – I always have loads to say.

Quick recap of main changes to the format:

  • 2 essays instead of 1, one of which you have to look at a simple chart or graph and explain the stats
  • No more grammar, vocab section, it is integrated in Reading
  • Level 3-6 is now included in the TOPIK 2 paper

Personal experience:

Overall, I found the paper to be very manageable! First time I left the hall 3 hours later feeling very clear-headed and not in the 멘붕 state.

For paper 1, I finished with 3 mins to spare and I checked though my essay.

  • Listening was the easiest and I could feel that my proficiency did increase in the past 2 years lol.
  • Writing was ok!! The topic for the main essay was quite commonsensical. I actually found the stats one harder.

For paper 2, I finished with 10 mins to spare. Actually I did the first 40 questions within 30 mins or so and it’s the last 10 that made me slightly >< and I was getting a little tired and restless. Didn’t check through all.

Overall, I thought the new paper is actually easier for advanced students and slightly tougher for intermediate learners! I’m very surprised at how grammar seemingly does not feature much, although you can argue that it’s all incorporated. I used to do badly for the advanced grammar questions where they test the more obscure and yet similar looking structures (건마는, 려마는 or dunno what). Advanced learners are usually quite comfortable with reading so the passages are not so intimidating. I thought they were all quite understandable with the exception of 1 lol. Not very technical too.

For the intermediate learners and those who are taking it for the first time, I can see how it’s actually more difficult now. The writing is tougher, with 2 eassys to plan out and 50 mins is very tight. Reading wise, it’s a lot on stamina as much as your skills.

Here are some of my key takeaways for each section and tips! Of course they might not work for everyone.


  • Focus on listening when it’s listening time

I have a friend who advised to start prepping for the writing section during the easier listening questions. I tried and it didn’t work for me. I got distracted on both sides, so I stopped that. Just concentrate on what is in front of you and don’t worry about what’s next!

  • Try to allocate time to read the next question and options before the dialogue.

Not easy I know, but it works. Listening and reading at the same time is tougher and it’s easier to pick out important points in the dialogue if you already know the options and know what you are looking out for. Try to develop a systematic system. For the longer dialogues where it’s repeated twice and with two questions to answers, I actually read the following 2 questions when the dialogue is being repeated. In that way, I can eliminate the wrong answers straightaway as the dialogue is being played for the first time and concentrate well instead of panicking.

  • Shade as you go along 

I know there are people who actually wrote the answer in the booklet and decide to shade after listening. That’s a terrible move. It eats into your writing time (which is already not enough in the first place) and you have to be careful of parallax error lol. It’s just a waste of time!

  • Avoid skipping questions

You won’t have time to go back to a question. If you don’t know, just make a guess. No point getting hung up on a previous question and never think that you will have time to go back to it. JUST SHADE SOMETHING.

  • Don’t get hung up on what has passed

Shit. I didn’t get that previous question. –> Don’t have such thoughts. Focus on the present (and the following questions).

  • To prepare, listen to a variety of topics / voices

I know you might be in love with a certain voice. I can listen to the likes of Kang Dong Won, Kim Woo Bin, Sung Joon, TOP, Lee Seon Kyun (okay you get the type of voice I love) for the whole day, but it’s good to be comfortable with a variety of speech styles / tones etc. For the exam, they usually have a young male / female speaker voice but occasionally they do put in an ajusshi / grandfather voice! If you are too hung up on textbook speakers who speak at a certain speed and have extremely clear enunciation, you are doing yourself a disfavour, not just in tests, but in real life.

  • Listen to dramas, podcasts, documentaries, variety shows – everything 

Listening to your textbook CD 20 times over is not going to help. You need exposure. Period.


  • How to use your 50 mins: 5-7 mins for the first 2 fill-in-the-blanks questions (more if you have time left during listening), 25 mins for 2nd (main) essay, 15 mins for first essay

Time is REALLY TIGHT for the writing section. So please don’t dilly-dally. Plan fast, write faster.

  • Sequence: 2nd (main) essay, 1st essay, fill-in-the-blank questions

Main Essay

Go with the mark allocation. The main essay makes up 50 marks, of course you should do that first. The requirements of the questions are usually easy, so take a quick 3 mins at most to plan. A short intro, the (usually) 2 main points, and a sentence or two to conclude. You don’t need minute planning, just the key things you want to write so there won’t be an overlap of points. Write fast, the sentences just have to keep on flowing. Take note of your spacing though!

First Essay

I think intermediate learners will find this rather tough since you are given a simple chart / graph and you have to explain the stats. It requires the use of quite specific grammar structures, which I believed is usually taught in the advanced books. For those level 3 learners who are not familiar at all with this, just anyhow write and focus more on the main essay (personal opinion). The most commonly used is ~에 따르면. You can find a list of such expressions in a google doc I compiled >> Describing statistics in Korean

It might look like an intimidating component but it’s not. It’s actually easy if you prep for it (which I didnt hahahaha). There’s a fixed way of describing stats.

Fill in the blanks 

I actually thought the questions are quite easy compared to the same question type in the old format. I remember always having ZERO clue for these questions in past papers. Don’t think too much, if you know, you know, if you don’t, just write something. There are usually clues on what goes in the blank before and after.

  • How to prepare: Write more? Read more

I mean, what else can I say. You won’t be able to miraculously write one day if you haven’t been practicing. Reading also helps you become familiar with the grammar structures used in a particular type / style of writing.


  • Just start from the front, but be aware that you shouldn’t be too slow. 

I think there will be quite a lot of differing opinions on this. My logic is that if you are not yet at a good proficiency level, the last 10 questions would be super tough too so it doesn’t really help even if you read them first and you might end up spending a lot of time on it (and still don’t understand) and have less time to concentrate on questions that you can clearly answer. That being said, don’t be too slow. I spent 30 mins on the first 40 questions. To save time, if you are damn sure that an option is right, don’t have to bother with reading the rest in detail, maybe just glance through to double check.

  • If you don’t know, skip 

If you read once and you don’t know, time to skip. But make sure you don’t commit parallax error and you come back to it again afterwards. Even if you don’t have time, make sure you shade something.

  • Never leave blanks

Just anyhow shade once time’s up! hahaha.

  • To prepare, read regularly and beyond your abilities

This section needs a lot of stamina, so you have to be comfortable with reading and reading and reading more. You need to also read widely, so don’t be selective. Modern history, ancient history, environment, politics, culture, arts etc – everything. Always go beyond your abilities too and keep challenging yourself with increasingly difficult texts. I actually found the texts quite understandable this time (save for one….) since I’ve been working on 국어능력시험 questions for the past 1 years or so already (Korean proficiency test for native speakers). But then again, understanding the passage doesn’t translate to getting questions correct, so not saying that I’ll do well!

Overall, it was a very good experience and I always find myself loving Korean more and being more motivated to study after taking TOPIK HAHAHA. This is the 4th time I’m taking the exam already, time flies!! Took 16th TOPIK (intermediate) back in 2009, 26th (adv) in 2012, 30th in 2013 (adv) and now it’s 2015!!

Can’t wait for results to be out.

I love love love reading about other people’s opinions on TOPIK and experience too!! Share please!!! 😀 😀

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  • Reply
    16 November, 2015 at 3:21 AM

    So glad to read your review on TOPIK test. I’m sure you did well!
    I have a question: do you know if in TOPIK I they repeat the listening part twice as before?
    Thank you!

    • Reply
      16 November, 2015 at 10:23 AM

      Oops not sure about that! You can download the past paper and audio clips to check!

      • Reply
        16 November, 2015 at 8:29 PM

        Yes the audio clips are played twice in TOPIK I 🙂 Had just taken it yesterday.

        • Reply
          16 November, 2015 at 11:02 PM

          Thank you so much! 🙂

      • Reply
        16 November, 2015 at 11:03 PM

        Thank you!!!

  • Reply
    16 November, 2015 at 10:00 PM

    시험 아마 잘 못 봤어요 ㅠㅠ

    • Reply
      16 November, 2015 at 10:05 PM

      왜요? ><

      • Reply
        17 November, 2015 at 12:36 AM

        좀 당황해서 그런지 >< 지금 생각해보니까 더 잘 볼 수 있었을 텐데 ㅠㅠㅠ

  • Reply
    17 November, 2015 at 4:47 PM

    I took the TOPIK too, but TOPIK I. I finished the reading section 20 minutes ahead of time so I was bored during that time. The only weird thing was the radio sort of broke down so we had to do reading first. At the end of the test, I think my head hurt a bit because I was hungry looool.
    I want to try for TOPIK II in January (I’m in Korea), but I’m not sure about it yet. I think my listening skills are the best and maybe reading is fairly okay too. Writing, on the other hand, is the lowest of them all lol. Do you have any tips on writing (in general)?

    Hopefully, we both did well on our tests!

    • Reply
      17 November, 2015 at 4:54 PM

      Hi Mya! For writing, it’s really about practice. Lang-8.com would be a helpful tool (: Reading widely would help, since you will become more comfortable with the writing style and the way sentences are structured! hehe can’t wait for the results and hopefully we do well! 😀 😀

  • Reply
    16 April, 2017 at 3:51 PM

    Is it compulsory to mark answer in question paper?

  • Reply
    David Mchugh
    15 November, 2017 at 10:03 PM

    What korean website do u recommend for reading up on a variety of topics? Been looking around but usually just end up picking out random news articles to read and listen to.

    • Reply
      15 November, 2017 at 10:20 PM

      I would usually just go to news site like Yonhap or I watch KBS news through their app. Actually there’s no need to keep to a site, you can just google using keywords from different topics and find different sources.

  • Reply
    Rachel Park
    30 January, 2018 at 6:34 PM

    I came across your blog searching for info on the TOPIK 2 . Thanks for the great tips!! Did you use any TOPIK prep books? Can you recommend any? Thanks in advance~~

    • Reply
      30 January, 2018 at 6:37 PM

      I have a list of korean textbook reviews and you could find a couple of TOPIK prep books and they are pretty good. I also have a video on “books to learn intermediate Korean” on my YouTube channel and they are mainly TOPIK books (:

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