20 In Korean learning journey (:/ TOPIK

Changes to TOPIK .. and my thoughts

I missed seeing the news report on the new and upcoming TOPIK changes in 2014 so I’m kinda late. But I still want to offer my two cents on it.

1. Intermediate and advanced paper combined

This means that instead of 3 papers spanning 6 levels, you get 2 papers spanning 6 levels. Beginner paper will be level 1 – 2 as per normal, and the intermediate/advanced paper will cover level 3 – 6 from now on.

2. Removal of 어휘/문법 section

Originally there were 4 sections in each paper. But with the removal of the vocabulary and grammar section, we are left with Reading, listening and writing. Which in some sense, is easier as it corresponds with the major categories in language learning. The vocabulary and grammar section will be fused into the 3 remaining categories.

3. No more MCQs in writing section

Yeah. Now you just write.

4. Removal of writing section for beginner paper

The writing section is thought to be difficult for beginners, so you are just left with reading and listening.

5. Increase test taking to 6 times a year

For Korea at least. Originally it was 4 times a year (months 1, 4, 7, 10), now I wonder where they will slot in the 2 new test dates.

The changes are likely to be enforced from the later half of 2014.

Mmm had time to digest the information?

Now for my two cents.

To be honest, I’m very very skeptical about all the changes. Maybe sans point 3, but that will also depend on a whole load of factors too.

Overall, it depends on how you view the TOPIK test. For me, I want it to be a stringent test of proficiency in Korean, especially in the intermediate and advanced levels. I want it to have value, in that scoring well in the TOPIK can allude (somewhat) to your proficiency and I want the high levels to be difficult to attain, challenging. I don’t want it to be just a useless piece of certification which is easy to get.

Now for my thoughts for each change. It’s hard to comment when I haven’t seen the actual new paper. But let’s just throw in some assumptions and move on ok?

Point #1

I don’t like it. Well. It depends, like I said, on how the paper is actually going to be like. For now, I assume that all the test takers will complete the exact same questions. Does that mean the intermediate/advanced test takers will write the same essays? If so, how are they going to grade them and separate the levels? The level of vocabulary? The use of “difficult grammar points”?

By combing two levels, you are making it harder to differentiate and I seriously think that’s the whole point of the exam. Differentiating the beginner from the intermediate from the advanced.

To be honest, I quite like the huge jump between the 3 different papers. With two papers now meshed together, is the jump going to be HUGE across the 2 papers? If not, will the advanced level become easier?

Meshing the levels reminds me of KLPT, where everyone takes a single test and then depending on your score, you are divided into 6 levels. That was how I could have gotten a level 5 just one year into learning Korean (the same time I got my TOPIK level 4). I totally feel that the level 5 was unjustified and too easy to get. Making it useless in my opinion. That was why TOPIK is thought to be a more stringent and difficult test compared to KLPT.

Point #2

If done well, I think it’s a good move. Although this will mean finding more creative and effective methods of testing grammar and vocabulary knowledge in other sections, possibly raising the difficulty level of the rest of the sections. Can be a good or bad move, depending on how it’s carried out.


I welcome this. But that means they should have more types of writing questions. Not just the essay. More of those killer fill-in-the-blank questions?


I always thought that the beginner TOPIK was a waste of money. That’s why I took intermediate right from the start. I know the argument is that by making it easier, it will encourage more Korean learners to take the test. Maybe, but to me, it just made the test more useless. I won’t even be happy if I get a average 99 mark on it, knowing that my writing ability is not even tested. And that’s usually the most challenging part for a beginner.


A possibly good move. Since TOPIK is so important to foreigners living in Korea. Increasing test dates means they are less stressed, since they can try again in just a month or so and not let their school / job applications screw up just because they can’t get the certification.

Like I said, these are all opinions based on the (lack of) information given. To be fair, we all haven’t seen the real paper and it’s really hard to judge. I may revise my opinions later on, but this is what I feel for now.

What are your thoughts? 

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  • Reply
    21 September, 2013 at 12:48 AM

    Oh man. Maybe I should really try for level 5 in april next year then (if they haven’t changed by then). Not liking the sound of not having mcq for writing! >.<

    I like that they took out grammar/vocab section though. It always seemed redundant to me since it's kinda covered in all the other sections too.

    • Reply
      21 September, 2013 at 9:44 AM

      hehe just try for it!! (: I don’t think they will change by then.. yet.

  • Reply
    21 September, 2013 at 1:35 AM

    I’m planning on taking the beginner level in the spring… So hopefully I will still have to write the writing part. I agree that it’s important. I think the vocabulary being in fused into the rest will hopefully allow more practical and challenging questions in the rest of the test. The thought of the intermediate and advanced being combined scares me at this point 🙂

    • Reply
      21 September, 2013 at 9:45 AM

      Good luck! (:

  • Reply
    21 September, 2013 at 1:47 AM

    I guess it remains to be seen, but it seems odd ( crazy!) to lump 3-6 in one paper! That spans lower intermediate to virtually fluent. A huge gap, one of years of study. I am interested how they will create questions on that paper, perhaps the questions will get progressively harder the further into the paper the examinee goes.

    Anyway, after 2 years I am finally looking ready to pass 3급 this October. ^^ I did 초급 a year ago and thought the writing made it an exam worth doing. It was good practice writing an essay under pressure. I guess I have to hope 중급 this time as I think the new super paper will be quite stressful.

    • Reply
      21 September, 2013 at 9:49 AM

      I guess it will be that way, questions getting progressively harder and perhaps it will be harder to complete the paper in the time limit and in that way it separates the intermediate from the advanced. BUT. It’s still MCQ, you can just choose something and complete the whole paper and if you have loads of luck, this can mean jumping a level. Which is super redundant. Imagine you are a level 3, but because you are lucky enough to score a few more points in the “advanced” questions, you get promoted to a level 4. But in actual fact, you can’t even do some of the “intermediate” questions. x.x If that happens, it will make TOPIK an inadequate testing instrument. mmm.

      hehe good luck for the October test!!

  • Reply
    21 September, 2013 at 2:06 AM

    Wait and See 🙂

    • Reply
      21 September, 2013 at 9:49 AM


  • Reply
    21 September, 2013 at 5:50 AM

    I can kinda understand taking out the vocab section, but I think there should still be one on grammar. After looking through some stuff on grammar questions for the N3 (even though it’s a totally different test… and language…) there are definitely ways to make it a sole grammar section and raise the difficulty. By removing that completely, it kinda gives room to slide. I can read a passage, get a general idea of it, and have a good chance of passing the section while being shaky on some grammar points that should be solid in my mind, but the test or testers won’t know that I didn’t know a good chunk of stuff.

    Overall, I don’t really like this new plan for TOPIK. If they were just going to make it a pass/fail thing for Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced, I’d be fine with that. It would encourage me to try harder to pass instead of thinking, “Okay, if I can’t get to level 4 I’ll definitely make level 3.” Merging the intermediate and advanced sounds bad to me. I have no idea how they’re going to do it, but when I’m at that level, I’d like a true assessment of my skills. If I’m continuously failing the “advanced” test then maybe it’s because I’m still intermediate but strong in the intermediate level. BUT I won’t know that because all I’ll see is “fail.” If I easily pass the “advanced” test then I don’t know if I’ve truly grasped advanced concepts or if 50% of the test was material below my level.

    I was looking forward to taking the intermediate test next year too. OTL I don’t want to rush anything, but I don’t want to be in the first group of victims of this new test. Hopefully, they’ll release some type of sample test or book or idek. SOMETHING. XD

    • Reply
      21 September, 2013 at 9:53 AM

      agreed!! It’s totally possible to read a passage and use reasoning etc to figure out the entire thing but still be unsure of the grammar points. I hope the question design will be good and avoid such pitfalls

      I can understand the rationale behind making TOPIK beginner more accessible to foreigners (even though that’s still debatable), but I really hope that the intermediate and advanced standard will not be compromised.

      Well.. the TOPIK cert is technically valid for 2 years. I may end up having a need to take the new exam x.x Can’t wait to see sample questions too!

      • Reply
        29 September, 2013 at 3:10 PM

        Ah, I forgot about the length of its validity. I wonder if they’ll be changing that too. o.o

        I just wondered- what if int./adv. is more adv. than int.? What would they do about that large gap? (It would be the old JLPT 2 and 3 all over again…) All I can think of is self-learners doing this: “Okay I passed the beginner level” -years of hardcore studying- “Okay, I loaded up the missile launcher for my war tank. I think I’m ready.”

        • Reply
          30 September, 2013 at 5:17 PM

          if it’s just one test, i guess they will have questions of different levels. Start out easier and progressively get more difficult. I guess if you are aiming for the intermediate level, you can just conveniently ignore the back questions lolol. hehe the intermediate paper is doable, no need for the missile launcher 😛

  • Reply
    Autonomous Korean
    22 September, 2013 at 9:27 PM

    Regarding point 3, I definitely welcome this. Multiple-choice questions just don’t belong in a writing test; they completely lack validity. Same with the fill-in-the-blank questions, so I hope they’ll do away with them. I hope they’ll add some short answer (e.g. 1-2 sentences) questions, and they should probably have at least 2 essay questions, one less challenging, and one really challenging, similar to TOEFL written prompts, which requires proper structuring, reasoning and justification. Because you shouldn’t really be able to attain the most advanced level without being able to write at a semi-professional level.
    I also wonder if they’ll ever add a speaking section…. Too hard to administer, perhaps, but would be welcome if they do it right.

    • Reply
      29 September, 2013 at 10:07 AM

      Actually I find the fill in the blank questions really hard. Especially since you are filling in a grammar point >< Yeah I agree with the 2 essays part, the current essay is not really challenging enough.

  • Reply
    Loving Korean
    23 September, 2013 at 5:38 AM

    I was kind of disappointed at first because I was preparing for TOPIK with a specific idea in my mind what it will be like, and now that goal is gone. I think I will just skip beginner and (hopefully) some day take the more difficult test.

    • Reply
      29 September, 2013 at 10:06 AM

      yeah just take the other exam!

  • Reply
    25 September, 2013 at 3:22 PM


    Would like to know if the Yonsei or Sogang Korean language regular program is more preferred.

    Sorry for asking a question which is not related to the post.

    • Reply
      29 September, 2013 at 10:00 AM

      that depends on your goal: Sogang is more focused on speaking skills while Yonsei tends to focus more on writing / grammar

  • Reply
    3 October, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    wow then all the current guide books on topik available for intermediate-advance levels must all be written again…must be quite a hassle for the publishers to do so

  • Reply
    5 January, 2014 at 9:55 PM

    I agree with that they have made the beginner level pretty much useless. But their argument is that now the beginner level is for people who are learning Korean just as a hobby and serious Korean learners are supposed to take the Intermediate-Advanced level test.
    I have given the details of other changes in my latest blog post:-

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