March 2014

21 days until Topik 34

Last night I finished all of the writing section’s “fill in the blank” portions and despite understanding the majority of the reading passages, still failed at it. I’m starting to think that part is just over my head. Not only will I be timed while taking the grammar/vocabulary and writing together, but I will have to also write a 400-600 character essays, so I’m coming to the conclusion that I just need to worry about that part a little less.

As of right now, I have all of the tests (17-33) finished and corrected in every section. I have all the words I don’t know underlined and all the grammar I’m unsure about marked. Now I just have to review it. This morning I was very slow to start despite having woke up at 8am with 5 hours left before I have anything to do. I spent about 3 hours procrastinating so far. I took my dog on a much longer walk than usual and then I rested my eyes in the bed for about 30 minutes and then I read around the internet for a couple hours or so. I’v managed to do anything besides review my tests.

About 20 minutes ago I decided to start reviewing the vocabulary in the reading section by reading the passages again as it is easier to remember words when they have context. Then it struck me: I really don’t feel like doing this. I really don’t feel like reviewing. I don’t feel like studying Korean. I don’t feel like doing anything.

As I mentioned before, I started studying for the Topik Intermediate in January of 2013. I studied for it all year. However, I had quite a few breaks in there. Out of the 12 months that made up 2013, I probably spent a combined 4 or so not doing anything related to Korean. I can study diligently for a couple of months (damn near daily) and then I hit a snag and need to take like a 2-3 week break. So far this year I haven’t taken one. For the past 3 months I’ve been studying Korean daily. Sure I had a couple “fuck this I’m catching up on my TV shows” days, but they were quite sparse compared to what I’m used to.

So now, I find my brain fried. It’s filled up completely and just tired of Korean. Studying for the Topik has taken a lot of joy out of learning Korean. Even though I’ve taken 17 practice tests, spend probably over a hundred hours studying for this test, I still don’t feel like I will do well. This isn’t me being pessimistic either. I look at the reading section and all of the words I don’t know. I look at all the questions I consistently got wrong and how most of my grades have been between 50% and 80% overall (in every section) and I find myself worrying. One would think that because I’ve prepared so much, I am sure to get at least an 80% overall on the exam, but I seriously don’t know. How can you truly prepare for a test when you don’t know exactly what will be on it?

What if I studied those thousands of words for nothing? What if there are thousands of new words I don’t know on the new Topik and I fail because of that? What if the style of this exam is (for some bizarre reason) different than all the ones I’ve studied?

It’s making my head spin. I have 21 days left. 21 days to get a handle on 17 tests worth of words and grammar. 21 days left to improve my listening to the point where I can understand it 100% clearly. 21 days left to study daily and not slack off. 21 days to see if my hard work has paid off.

21 fucking days…and that’s it.

And due to the Topik format changing drastically after the 34th exam, not getting a level 4 on this exam is not an option. I think I’d stop studying Korean if I knew I had to go from beginner’s grammar to intermediate/advanced all smashed into one. It just wouldn’t be worth it anymore.

I’m not excited to take the Topik, but nor am I dreading it. I find myself just wanting to get it over with. Wanting to open up the test booklet and skim the questions to see if I could even do well on the test. The Topik as become the equivalent of a shot. I don’t fear them but the anticipation of one makes you just want to get it over with so you can go on about your day. Regardless of the outcome of the exam, I just want it to be April 21st, 2014 so that I can be on the other side of the test.



It finally happened…

My listening skills have gotten better. I was finishing up my last 3 listening portion exams and half way through exam 30’s listening questions, I realized I understood 95% of the conversations with ease. On parts that I missed information (questions 20-30) I listened a bit more closely to the second reading and I was able to figure out the missed part. I feel like developing a skill in is kind of like losing weight. You can lose 5 pounds and feel the same, but the moment you’ve lost 20 pounds, you really feel the loss. I’m sure this whole time my listening was getting better but I didn’t directly feel it so it had me worried.


The only problem I am encountering now is sometimes selecting the incorrect answer. Before, when I didn’t fully understand the listening tracks I would try to listen for one or two words or pharses that pointed to one answer over the others. This was always hit and miss. However, now that I do understand the tracks I find myself sometimes trying to decide between answers because at least 2 of the answer choices will be brought up in the listening and I have to determine which one was actually talked about directly while the other was just mentioned in passing. Questions 27 and 28 always do this to me. Not only do you have to decide what it is about, you also have to figure out what the responses are considered. Is he disagreeing strongly? Or is he carefully disagreeing with her option? Sometimes, I can’t tell. I think this is where it become obvious that Korean culture is very well laced into the Topik exam. In the US a disagreement is a disagreement. While you can do so strongly or softly, most of the time it’s pretty neutral and no distinguishment is made.


I’m slowly learning to think “How would a Korean perceive this?” because sometimes it boils down to that. Most of the conversations in the listening portion seem very neutral to me. Like the person doesn’t feel this way or that way. However, I’ve started to realize that Koreans often convey their emotion in their speech rather their tone. I listened again and I realized the words they chose to use determined their feelings whereas in English generally tone of voice and facial emotion would convey it.


The next step after this is doing the “fill in the grammar” part of the writing exam. I absolutely suck at this but with it being worth 16-18 points I need to get at least 10 points from that portion. I have 20 days left before the test and I still feel unprepared despite preparing like hell. I just can’t wait for it to be over.



Solving Topik intermediate reading questions 31-42

When taking a reading exam in a non-native language you are bound to encounter words or phrases you don’t know. Even though my Topik reading has improved dramatically, I still come across parts I don’t fully understand. I’m sure that there are many ways to go about solving them, but I wanted to show how I have come to solve them having done on section at a time (ex: all reading portions 17-33 then all grammar etc) to completion. Below I have highlighted the words I don’t know in yellow, text I think is most important in solving the questions in red, and the first thing you should look at in green.

How I solve the advertisements:

The first 4 problems one the reading exam are the easiest, as you know. However, I often find that one or two of them have tricks laced into them. Because of these tricks, I’ve had times where I’ve chosen the wrong answers, which can make or break a grade. What I do:

1. Quickly read over it and pick out the important parts and ignore the rest.

2. Scan the answers and select if it is very obvious or,

3. Do a once over again if I’ve come down to two answers because usually there is a word or part that points to one over the other.

Topik 20회

Topik 20회

Here I’ve highlighted 3 parts. I have no idea what “싹싹이” means so I don’t waste time on it. However the red parts say: “Clean without a sound” and “dust”. The rest goes on to say “neatly removing” etc. The answer choices are tissue, detergent, washer, vaccuum. Only one deals with dust and makes a sound. The answer is obviously 청소기 number 4. It would take me about 10 seconds to solve this as I have all the words above already written in my vocabulary note book.

Topik 24회

Topik 24회

The two highlighted parts in this ad say “rest” and “even if you move, the person next to you won’t wake up”. You have 4 answers. Table, wardrobe, desk and bed. The word “rest” automatically points to “bed” and the second part solidifies this. So, the answer is number 4 침대. Just knowing basic words like rest, move, next to, and wake up means you can solve this in less than 10 seconds.

Topik 20회

Topik 20회

I highlighted the 2 parts in this one. The word 화면 means screen. I have no idea what the yellow word means but it’s not important. Look at the words 감독 and 배우 at the bottom. The mean “director” and “actor” so it points to one obvious answer number 3 영화. Not knowing these simple words could lead you to choosing number 2 or 4.

Topik 24회

Topik 24회

The first part of this one was hard to read. Then I saw the words 모습 which is appearence, the pharse “만나 보세요” which means “please try to meet” and “가위 하나로”  or “with one pair of scissors. The word scissors obviously points to number 1 미용실 as the answer.

Topik 23회

Topik 23회

The first highlighted section is easy to read. You should know that 회 is attached to nouns to mean “meeting” or “conference” of some sort. The second “people who study about our tea” and the last “anyone is welcome” points away from a job or class so 1 and 3 can be crossed off. I was stuck between 2 and 4 but 문의 means inquiry and I don’t see a phone number so the answer must be 회원 모집 number 4. 

Topik 24회

Topik 24회

I realized after highlighting that 박홍구 must be a name. However, I’m fuzzy on the meaning of 담다. Filled with? Anyway, let’s look at 사진작가 or photographer. Knowing only this word doesn’t mean anything. It could apply to any answer, but the bottom part shows a place, and date as well as period. What usually takes place at cultural centers and also deals with photographers? An exhibition which is why the answer is 전시 안내 number 4.

Topik 24회

Topik 24회

The 3 highlighted parts “receipts”, “7 days after buying” and “to be possible” cancel out number 1 and 2 right away. It says you need to bring the receipt with you. When you do need to bring receipts? For product characteristics? No, but you do need them for exchanges or returns which is why the answer is number 3 교환 방법.


The first one or two problems in the reading can be solved easily within 10-15 seconds, however I like to spend about 20-30 seconds on the next 3 just be be sure. I’ve definitely had moments where I selected the wrong answer because the problem was laced with a trick and they want you to be on that “this is so easy” high so you’ll end up selecting it. Also it’s important to notice that they use the same 40 or so words in the answers for 31-34. Words like information, class, purchase, standard, travel, movie, bookstore, inquiry, warning, method etc are used so much it’s important to make sure you know them.

How I solve the flier problems:

When I first tried my hand at problems like this, I would try and read the whole flier and then go to the answers at match it to the flier. Problem is I couldn’t remember the flier so I’d have to check again. Now I just do this:

1. Read the title of the flier.

2. Go to the answers and read them and glance up at the flier to check correctness.

Topik 26회

Topik 26회

1. Weekday viewing time is one hour longer than weekend time.

2. If you go to this place, you can see the world’s various kinds of pottery.

3. If you do your application in advance, the pottery experience is free of charge.

4. The events invitation is sent electronically to people who have done the application.

I read each one by one and compare. The viewing time is longer on the weekend than weekday so number 1 is wrong. Notice under the title it says “various country’s pottery viewing”. This means number 2 is the answer. Don’t bother reading the others.

Topik 28회

Topik 28회

The title of this one says: “Foreign Scholarship Student Selection Announcement”. 선발 is a very important word. It comes up often in the reading.

1. If you are a scholarship student, you receive two semesters of scholarship.

2. If you are selected for a scholarship, you will be informed via phone.

3. The scholarship student will be selected from students who attend graduate school.

4. Students who have received other scholarships can also receive this one.

Read number one and notice it says 1, 2 학기 등록금 전액. Even if you don’t fully understand, the words 1 and 2 tuition point to number 1 being the answer. So there is no point in reading on. Note: 전액 means full, but the answer can be chosen without know that.

Generally solving question number 35 is easy but it’s also very easy to stumble so I like to use the time I saved on 31-34 to really pay attention to 35. Also it’s a good idea to look up the words always listed on the ads like: registration period, method, intended for, recommended, announcement etc and all of its synonyms because they are often interchanged on the exam. I’ve also noticed that if you have to read all the answers of number 35 and the answer ends up being 3 or 4 then number 36’s answer will most likely be 1 or 2.

How I solve graph problems: 

The graphs are only worth 3 points but like number 35 are places where I can mess up. The reason for this is sometimes incorrectly reading the data on the graph. I find pie graphs to be easiest but line or bar graphs a bit harder. For graphs I usually do this:

1. Read the title of the graph

2. Take note of the categories

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know all of the words of the categories.

Topik 26회

Topik 26회

This title of this graph is: “High school and college students job selection standards”. 기준  is a word that pops up a lot.

1. High school students think aptitude is more important than college students do.

2. College and high school students all answered that income is the most important.

3. For the college students promotion opportunity was the least selected thing.

4. High school students selected promotion opportunity more than work conditions.

Despite not knowing the words 수입 and 적성 I can easily find the answer because I know 더, 보다, 답하다, 선택하다.  All of which are basic grammar. Read number one and compare it to the graph and BOOM, number 1 is the answer so just move on. Not knowing basic grammar can force a person to have to read more option and waste more time.

Topik 27회

Topik 27회

The title says: 2011 Male and Female Reading Field Survey. The words 분야 and 조사 show up all over the Topik test.

1. Men read the economic field’s book the least.

2. Women read science field’s books the most.

3. Men read science field books more than history books.

4. Women read culture books less than they read history books.

This is why I love the pie graphs. They are easy even if you don’t know all the words. If you know the words “most”, “least”, than etc it will be easy to select number 3 as the answer.

I generally do well at graphs but have to remind myself to slow down on line or bar graphs as I’ve messed them up in the past. The grammar necessary for graphs usually comes from the most basic of grammar.

How I solve the “content/answer match” problems:

From number 37, you really start to get into the reading portion of the exam. I really like to spend about 1.5 minutes on the next 2 questions because they are worth a combined 8 points. I usually do this:

1. Read over each questions translating the meaning in my head into English.

2. If I don’t know what a word or phrase means, I just guess their meanings.

Topik 28회

Topik 28회

The red part read as: “Bike Event”, “No cars can attend via the road”, “traffic police will organize”, “expect the situation to cause difficulty for citizens”.

From these little excerpts you can determine there will be a biking event, cars will not be able to drive on the road in an area and that it will cause some disruption in citizen’s life, but police will be directing it.

Answer is number 1

How I solve the theme/central idea problems:

This is where it gets gritty. I start the tripping up hard phase here. The theme questions almost always have at least 2 possible answers with one looking better than the other. And as no surprise they are each worth 4 points each. So rushing this part is not a smart thing to do. Here is what I do:

1. Read over the excerpt quickly translating it as I read.

2. Figure out what the point of the reading is.

3. Scan over the answers and get rid of the obviously wrong ones.

Topik 28회

Topik 28회

“At a musical performance the audience claps to express feeling to the muscians”, “inappropriate clapping”, “cause disruption”, “concentration falls down”, “before it ends”, “unable to feel”.

From this I determined that: you must be careful when clapping at musical performances because if you clap at the wrong time you may disrupt other people and the players so it’s best to wait until the end to clap.

Answer 2 and 4 are the best answers:

2. Clapping at any time during a concert is not good.

4. You should wait until the end of a performance to show your appreciation by clapping.

The reading is about the effects of clapping at inappropriate times, sure you should wait to the end, but that’s not the point, so the answer is 2. 

Topik 29회

Topik 29회

The red says: “microwave”, “worry it’s not good for your health”, “not a good influence on the food”, “only bad for your body”.

So I can infer: People are worried that microwaves are not good for their health. They are worried that the waves are not good for the food and their bodies.

Anyone who reads knows this about microwaves, so applying common sense can help with this problem.

1, 3 and 4 are obviously bad answers and far off the mark, so number 2 is correct.


Topik 29회

Topik 29회

From questions 40 onward, they start to get really hard, I find.

The red part reads as: “Because of amusing story or funny situations, there are no more than 20% of these instances”, “because you want that other person to have a good feeling”.

Obviously this about people laughing at situations that in fact funny, but a lot of the time they laugh at things they might not find funny because they just want the other person to feel good. When was the last time you fake laughed? Exactly.

2 and 4 and both really good answers. However, if you read number 2 it says that you have to laugh or smile at the other person so that you are mindful of them, however, as people we don’t consciously choose to do this so 4 is the better answer here. Though, I feel 2 is a legitimate answer, too.

Topik 29회

Topik 29회

The red part reads: “when you discuss with another person because you are trying to solve a problem”, “listening to opinions is good”, ” you can learn a new method of solving”, “even if you have an opinion, listening is better”.

So: When someone has a problem, they sometimes like to discuss it with other people to help solve it. Listening to a persons opinions are good because they can come to learn a new way of solving it but even though you might have an opinion about it, sometimes it’s best to just listen.

Ever heard of bouncing ideas off someone? I have.

1 and 4 suggest the opposite of “listening is better” so they are automatically wrong. 3 suggests tilting the head to listen which is ridiculous and not in the reading so the best answer is 2.

Topik 31회

Topik 31회

The red reads as: “In order to live a healthy life we need vitamin D”. “Not much in food”, “can’t get as much as your body needs”.

So I can infer: Human beings need vitamin D as it is important for us, however there are not many food that contain large quantities of it so it is impossibly to get as much as you need in a day.

1 and 3 are obviously wrong because it says nothing about disease and vitamin deficiency. 4 looks like a good answers but it says you can’t get that much from food so answer 2 is the best choice.

Before I practiced the reading exclusively, I was terrible at it. I was terrible at figuring out which was the best answer and I was terrible at inferring the meanings of things I didn’t know. While I’ve looked up all the words I don’t know and plan on studying them before the exam, I am aware that there is no way for me to know them all. So, this is the strategy I like to employ. I will be adding questions 43-60 in a different post as well as a post about writing, grammar and listening solving, but for now I need to get to finishing my listening exams as I’ve wasted enough time today procrastinating and writing this post.





Korean is more than a hobby…

It’s a necessity for me. I refuse to live in a country and not speak the language. Heck, I hate traveling to countries whose native tongue I can’t speak at all. This is partially because Americans make no apologies about refusing to speak anything other than English on American soil so I don’t see anything wrong with natives of any country expecting long-term expats to learn theirs. Also, I hate not being able to do small things like ask for help, directions, or explain things to people.

Being unable to express myself makes me feel like a child, plain and simple.

I fear having to explain something with hand motions like many other people do. I’m not a kid. I’m almost 25 years old. As I’ve gotten better at Korean I’ve found that interacting with Koreans has become smoother. I know someone who was hung up on while trying to order food because her Korean wasn’t that good and while he tried to oblige her it just got too hard and was holding up the line. I also once went into a vet with a friend we stood around hoping someone would help us but they thought we were just shopping until I said we needed to see the vet. Imagine how long she would have stood around had I not been there.

One other huge benefit of knowing Korean is that it helps me teach. Many hagwons and schools don’t want people to speak Korean with the kids (and I don’t) but when they are confused on the nuance of something I just show them an example in Korean. Knowing Korean also helps me to teach grammar points to them. I don’t know how the hell other people manage to teach grammar without knowing Korean because I need the English equivalent to learn Korean.

Another benefit of knowing Korean while teaching is knowing what the kids are talking about during classes when they shouldn’t. See Korea is a very indirect culture when it comes to socializing but all kids are kids. Our students aren’t  bad but do like to mumble the occasional shit under their breath. At first they spoke too fast for me to understand but after 3 months I could understand them. After 3 more months I got to know them so well I started to respond to them in English. You should see the face of a kid who just realized you understood what they said. Some still talk crap but most know I’m listening to them.

The most fun part about understanding Korean is eavesdropping. I overhear the most ridiculous conversations. Sometimes regarding how tall I am or “wow look how well she eats spicy food” or something like that. The things about foreigners that fascinate Koreans is so bizarre. And then, that moment when they realize you’ve been able to understand them this whole time is priceless.

Finally, I think that learning Korean while living in Korea is something you can add to your skill set. I don’t expect people to study as much as I do but a couple hours a week over a two year period can get you at least to the intermediate level. And as I’ve told my students who think learning English while living in Korea is stupid, “What can it hurt? From where I’m standing it can only help you.” I believe this. Learning anything new can only benefit you and for me studying Korean as much as I do surely beats the alternative– drinking and clubbing.

I have always considered myself to be a leaf in the wind. I try to plan but life it always takes me in a different direction so I’ve learned to just go with it. I don’t know exactly what I plan on doing with Korean, but every time I’ve taken a shot in the dark it has greatly paid off. The was I see it, if I wasn’t studying Korean as much as I do, I’d be sitting around wasting my 20’s with nothing more than “I taught English in Korea for few years” under my belt. And anyone teaching English in Korea knows that’s not exactly a difficult job to get. Hopefully my studies will pay off down the line.


Sinus Infection, Shots and Procrastination

I’ve lived in Korea for over 1.5 years and have never been sick. Surely not memorably so. However last week I woke up with a bit of a sore nasal tract. Kind of like how you feel when the air is dry in your room. I thought it would pass but it turned into a sinus infection. I couldn’t breathe and my nose and throat were full of mucus.

This lasted for about 3 days.

Then I started losing my voice and it was time for the hospital. I’ve never been to a Korean hospital except for my initial check up when I first arrived. They scare me. If you’re American then they way Korean hospital work is different. I’ll spare all the boring details but I did get a shot. I’m guessing it was antibiotics? Anyway it was injected into my butt. What an experience.

Since my sickness I haven’t been on the ball these last few days. I am still only half way through test 29 listening and still have 4 more listening portions left until it’s review time for the exam.

I had been studying a ton up until this point. Lately I haven’t done anything. I want to blame it on my sickness but I have to be honest and admit I was losing steam inspite of that. I find it a bit ironic. I could study for hours without destraction 3, 4, 5 months before the exam but here I am with 3.5 weeks left before the exam and I’m looking for any reason not to study. Maybe its because I think I can do it?

I’m sure I can do at least a level 3. A part of me even thinks I can pull a level 4, but there is also a part of me that feels like if I sqeak by with a level 4, then I’ve failed. People who have taken the exam might think this is silly but hear me out.

I’ve been preparing for this test like crazy. I am the kind of person that has a good idea and then gives up without following through because it becomes boring over time. Studying Korean is the one thing I haven’t given up on. Also this is the first standardized test I’ve seriously prepared for. All other ones throughout my life have been brushed off which led me to mediocre scores because I didn’t learn the exams style/expectations.

I am the fat person who worked out and ate right for months religiously and when I step on that scale I want a number that reflects it. A number might just be a number…to a degree. I think this is something people say as a cop out for not doing well. On the practice exams that I got the higher scores on, I did so because I understood the material in front of me well. I’d spent time looking up words on previous exams but after I found the groove I started looking them up afterward and I was still doing well.

I think the Topik does test your understanding and ability in Korean. If you are well prepared for the exam in every way you will get a good score. It’s hard not to. You don’t fail or nearly fail a test because you’re not good at tests, sometimes it boils down to not being prepared. I said it before, the first time I looked at a Topik test nearly 6 months ago I couldn’t even answer the easier questions. Now I can after studying diligently for months I can do substantially better than before.  Hopefully I can pull it together and finish it strong.


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