5 In Japanese learning journey (:/ Korean learning journey (:/ N2 Journey/ TOPIK

How to prepare for language proficiency tests

3 simple tips.

By not making it your end goal.

By doing everything else except studying for it.

By avoiding preparatory books until the end.

If you are looking to take language proficiency tests such as TOPIK (Korean) and JLPT (Japanese), one of the worst things to do is to actively prepare for it and to make the test syllabus the core of your learning.

Learning a language does not revolve around the proficiency test. Sure, it’s a very neat and structured way to base your learning on and it does make sense that if you progress from N4 to N3 syllabus you are improving.

No matter how much we proclaim to hate exams, it’s a part of our lives from young and our minds are conditioned to prefer having a 範圍 (syllabus) than not.

But it’s a black hole

When you find yourself learning Korean from TOPIK preparatory books, memorising vocabulary that are “commonly tested”, be able to identify what belongs to N2 grammar and what does not, and are looking at lists and lists of N3 Kanji or what not, you are doing it wrong.

Never try to learn a language from proficiency test materials. 

It’s like doing things backwards and it’s a very very tedious way of learning. You are likely to feel that it’s a daunting task and learning a language is damn hard.

Well, it’s hard because you are doing it all wrong.

Take JLPT for example. There is a Kanji section in the test where you are given a kanji and asked to pick its correct hiragana version. Are you going to go through lists and lists of “N2 Kanji”, memorise them and hoping that you remember at least half of them?

Or are you going to take the less crazy route and do like 20 practice questions a day and learn the unfamiliar kanji from there?

Either way, it’s a lot less effective and a hell lot less fun than learning kanji by reading novels, articles, tweets (and what not) and watching dramas/anime etc.

If you belong to the “suffering builds character” mindset or feel that 고생 is needed to produce results or what shit, be my guest.

But I can tell you for sure (100%) that my way of learning is more effective and long-lasting than yours.

I’m not sure if it’s a result of JLPT being more established for a longer period of time or what not, but I feel that there is a stronger classification of N2/N3 vocabulary and it’s less common (as of now) to hear learners talking about a Korean word being classified as a TOPIK 4 word.

Basically I think that’s bullshit. If you can actively tell me this word is N2 and that word is N1, I’ll first admire your brainpower and then question your learning methods lol.

By having the mindset that a word is of a “higher level” than the other, you are simply setting limits on yourself. Are you really going to ignore that N1 word just because you are studying for N2 and the N1 word is “not important” for now?

Oh, and never try to outsmart the exam (and yourself) by predicting what grammar points / vocabulary are frequently tested and prepare for the test that way.

The right way

Learn the language with all kinds of materials except proficiency preparatory materials. If you are aiming for TOPIK 4, try out one or two practice papers to see the how far away you are from that level. If it’s damn far, stop thinking about TOPIK and just focus on your learning. If you are doing things the right way, you will be improving in the meantime and the next time you attempt a practice paper (maybe 6 months later), you will find yourself naturally able to do more questions.

If you are just like 10% away, then it’s worth doing more papers and looking at preparatory materials to fill that minor gaps you have.

The only TOPIK / JLPT books I like are those that have loads of practice questions. Exams are exams, you need practice to get the hang of the type of questions asked and the format of the paper.

Do those questions to get a gauge of your level but do not make use of them to fill the gap. You should fill the gap by doing other things.

In that, I am of the opinion that exam preparatory classes and books like 1000 words tested in XX exam are ways of eating your money. lol. But sadly there are a lot of people who believed in such stuff.

I had friends who enrolled in TOFEL classes to improve their English…… o.O

Maybe those classes do help you get a better score, but improving your true proficiency……… mm.

How do you prepare for language proficiency tests? Do you believe in buying books focused on those tests or enrolling in those specific classes?

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  • Reply
    21 December, 2013 at 1:49 PM

    My TOPIK Intermediate preparation consisted purely of watching K-Dramas… the night before the exam I realized I could actually solve a lot of the questions… the ones I couldn’t… I didn’t worry too much… the aim should not be to pass an exam… if you feel comfortable communicating in the language, then passing the exam is just a way to show others, “Hey… I know this language… no I’m not just saying it… I have a certificate that backs me up”…. But just passing the exam when you’re not confident… well your certificate becomes just a piece of paper… ^^

  • Reply
    22 December, 2013 at 12:32 AM

    I have books for TOPIK but they’re more on reviewing. I don’t study that much so I just pick up whatever what’s new to me and if I remember it then that’s it. I like books and reading but I actually don’t like studying XD I learn from what I read/hear through novels, articles, tweets, dramas and variety shows. I don’t think language learning should be approached like that instead it should be natural. Taking those exams whether you get low or high level results is proof of what you’ve learned and people should not aim themselves on getting a higher level results.

  • Reply
    24 December, 2013 at 5:50 AM

    I agree with you. It reminds me of trying to cram for quizzes and tests, but I didn’t retain that much information though. Also it reminds me of students in Korea (maybe a lot of Asia) that just memorize English terms and grammar points, but have no idea how to apply them. Also they don’t focus on critical thinking but just memorize as much as their brain can handle. We have to integrate the language into our daily lives, and some of it will just come naturally like how we learned a language when we were younger. Anyways good post! 🙂

  • Reply
    25 December, 2013 at 8:42 PM

    Thank you very much for your advice. It’s really helpful and inspiring. I myself bought a lot of Topik preparation books, but then finally I cannot cram all of those knowledge. I end up doing the previous Topik exam and learned from my mistakes. ^^

  • Reply
    6 January, 2014 at 7:03 AM

    I totally agree with this and it made me laugh a lot to read this post 😀 While I haven’t ever taken a Korean or Japanese language proficiency test before, I took SAT subject tests when I was applying to colleges. It was during the summer, over a year after I had taken the relevant courses, and rather than pouring over SAT subject test prep books, I skimmed back over the major concepts from my textbooks. I had learned the material so intensively and over a much broader range of concepts in my AP (Advanced Placement) classes that over a year later, I still got a perfect score on one of my subject tests and a near-perfect score on the other. Despite the fact that I never once picked up a test prep book and that I only reviewed a little bit, maybe an hour in total, the week before the tests, they were easy.

    I find this also relevant in my language classes in university. I never took formal Korean classes before this past semester, but studied Korean however I wanted (ie what vocab I came across and found interesting/necessary to learn). And it helped me greatly on my tests and oral exams because I could bring in extra knowledge and apply it, rather than learning ONLY the vocabulary in each chapter and knowing only ONE grammar structure as the way to express a concept.

    Sorry for the long comment! I really enjoy reading your blog, by the way^^



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