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[TOPIK II Tips] Reading Section

TOPIK II in a nutshell

TOPIK 2 is divided into two papers – listening and writing (110 mins), followed by a short break before the reading paper (70 mins). Visit the TOPIK official site for more details.

TOPIK II also starts in the afternoon, so for those who are prone to post-lunch food coma, it’s even harder to concentrate. Personally, I hate it when my stomach growls during exams, so I always make sure I eat properly (and sometimes more than usual).

Note: If you prefer watching me talk, here’s a link to the YouTube video which I spoke about the same topic.

Reading Section

While the writing section is usually the worst section for most (if not all) test takers, the reading section can also be quite challenging in its own ways. It’s not just testing your reading proficiency + comprehension skills + grammar / vocabulary knowledge, but it’s also about your reading stamina. A lot of people tend to run out of time and energy halfway through the reading paper. It’s normal and reading stamina can be built up over time – sharing some tips below.

I love reading and I usually score the best for reading section in TOPIK (got a 100 in the last TOPIK II exam taken in 2018). Did the 64th TOPIK II practice paper a couple of days ago – the reading section took me about 42 minutes and I got a 96. The timing is not a good indication of actual exam conditions, since you will be so tired out after the listening / writing sections and would likely be slower. I probably would take about 55 mins or so in the actual exam, still sufficient time to check through. 🙂

I’m already in my 12th year of learning Korean so naturally I’ll be faster, but hopefully the tips below can help you! 🙂

Building Vocabulary Bank

Building Reading Stamina Consistently

Building reading stamina is about building concentration, reading speed and “scanning abilities”.

Set a goal (e.g. a paragraph, a page, an article, a chapter – depending on level) and complete it. It’s normal to feel tired (language learning is strenuous!) but keep going on for a bit more to complete your goal before taking a break. In the long run, you will find your concentration level increasing and you can read for longer periods before feeling the mental (and eye) strain.

There’s no short cut to training reading speed. You just have to read more and read widely. One thing I love about language learning is that while there can be more effective study methods, your proficiency is really a reflection of the amount of work you put into it. No hacks, no shortcuts.

One thing that I’m lacking still is the scanning ability. For our native languages, it’s easy to just take a quick look at a chunk of text and roughly get a sense of what it is about. While for the foreign language, you have to really read it word by word to understand the sentences. My Korean language scanning ability did get better when I was doing some research under the pressure of time. You just have to take a quick look at the article if it’s relevant – there’s no time to read it word by word.

General Tips During TOPIK Preparation

TOPIK is meant to be a gauge of your proficiency, which means your focus in learning the language should not be the language exam. Hence, I would suggest to only do TOPIK practice papers about 1 month before the exam. On normal days, you should use a wide variety of materials – i.e. not practice listening skills by working on TOPIK listening questions only.

Even for the most skilled, taking an exam means that you should not only have the content proficiency, but the exam skills. Hence, it’s always important to do sample test papers and get yourself acquainted with test format.

  • Always time yourself and do the paper in one sitting (this helps to build stamina)

General Tips During Test Taking

  • Do the test in chronological order. I approach all exams in chronological order. For TOPIK, the questions get increasingly difficult and I personally find that there’s no point in attempting the difficult questions first as you may spend too much time on it and end up having insufficient time for the easier questions which you can score. It can also be very demoralising to find that you don’t quite understand the difficult passages towards the end of the paper.
  • When in doubt, skip and come back to it later. There’s no point in mulling over it.
  • Always read the whole text. Sometimes it’s tempting to skip the last couple of sentences of the passage but I find that every sentence do matter and it’s easy to make mistakes if you read part of the passage and midst out on important points.
  • Read all the options. Especially for the questions at the back. There may be an option that is more appropriate, which you may miss out if you only read part of the 4 options.

Section-specific Tips

The question numbering is based on the 64th TOPIK practice paper available on the TOPIK official website.

Questions 1 – 4: Grammar

Sample question

Build up your grammar points knowledge consistently over time. It’s not ideal to cramp in as many as possible to prepare for TOPIK, but honestly you won’t remember much (or anything) after the exam! Remember that passing a test is a by-product, you should be focused on improving your real proficiency! A couple of grammar books I recommend:

Questions 5 – 10: Graph / Banner Comprehension

Sample question

You may not get much exposure to these materials if you rely on Korean language textbooks, but you can definitely use search terms such as 행사 안내 in Google Image search to familiarise yourself with the terms used!

Questions 25 – 27: News headlines

Sample question

I actually love this section the most! News headlines are supposed to be succinct, and often they contain a lot of 한자어. E.g. 즉시 사망 instead of 바로 죽었다. This section can be difficult for intermediate learners but one way is to download a news app (e.g. Yonhap) and practice reading all the headlines (no need to click into the individual news).

Remaining Questions

I don’t have any specific tips, just that one should read WIDELY – both in fiction and non-fiction! 🙂


I hope these tips are useful! 🙂 If you have any to share, please leave me a comment!

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