Book Review

Topik Intermediate Preparation Books

Getting yourself in shape for the Topik intermediate exam is no joke. If you are new to the Korean language, the initial things learned in beginner’s grammar will definitely make you think “Oh, this is so easy”. However, once you move from the beginner’s level to the intermediate level the gap in difficulty level jumps. No, leaps–dramactically. Before I started to prepare for the Topik, I’d read around the internet a bit. People kept saying that the difficulty of the test levels were huge but I didn’t believe them. “How big can it be?”, I thought. It’s about the size of the Grand Canyon. To seriously prepare for the Topik intermeidate level test, you’ll need a lot of supplies. Not only will you need to have a solid knowledge of all of the beginner’s level material but you need to have a very strong grasp of everything on the intermediate level. And boy is it a ton of information. Below are all the books I’ve used over the past year in order to get ready for the Topik intermediate:

1. Darakwon (다락원) Elementary and Intermediate grammar

These two books are the bee’s knees. They have about combined total of about 150+ grammar points with full explanations as well as examples, practice and comparisons. I already studied beginner’s grammar in the two years I studied Korean in college, so I simple did a quick review of the book to make sure I knew everything. It took me about a month or so to finish the 90 grammar points in the book. The intermediate level book gets a bit more intense. You have the same explanations, and examples/practice as before, but since the grammar gets more complex you have a lot of comparisons and information on the differences and nuances of similar grammar.

I don’t think that this is hard or made it harder to do, but it did cause my speed of study to slow down a lot. It took me about 3-4 months to get through this book. I also may or may not have (I did) taken a month or so break to be all around lazy and not study a thing.  With these two books I was able to learn about 95% of the grammar necessary for reading, writing, listening and grammar portions of this exam. They are absolutely invaluable. I can’t wait until this test is finished so I can get the advanced one!

2. Topik Essential Grammar 150 intermediate by Hangul Park

Topik Intermediate 150 essential grammar

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Darakwon series does not include all of the grammar you might see on the intermediate Topik. For some reason there are about 30 less commonly used(?) grammar points that may or may not be included in the exam. While they probably don’t show up in more than 1 or 2 questions, I think it is very important that you know them. I had no idea what 을 리가 없다 meant until I opened this book. I understood every other answer choice and continued to choose the incorrect one several times until I saw this in the book. By the way it means “there’s no way that….”.

3. Yonsei Korean Reading series (연세 한국어 읽기) by Yonsei University

smaller yonseii reading

I hadn’t started to really practice Korean reading until late November 2013. The reason for this was because I hadn’t yet finished all of my intermediate grammar and I hate reading when there is a lot of grammar I don’t know. I’d heard about this book series since there isn’t exactly a wealth of material to choose from when it comes to practicing reading in Korean. Book 1 was very easy. At first I couldn’t read book 2, but after I finished one I was golden. However, it started to get hairy around book 3. I did finish 3 but it took help from a tutor to finish a couple of chapters I didn’t understand. Then by book 4 I think my brain was fried. It was February and I only had a few more months left to study so I completely quit book 4 a few chapters in. I think I will definitely finish book 4 after the test but I don’t have time before. I think it would be very beneficial to finish them all prior to going out for the intermediate test but I simply don’t have the time. I do believe that reading them sequentially helped me to improve my reading speed and ability. Without them I don’t think I would have been able to tackle the reading portion and sentence structure of the intermediate exam.

4. Korean Vocabulary Practice for Foreigners by Yonsei University

smaller vocab book

I have the elementary as well as intermediate level for this book series. I bought them both because, despite knowing a lot of elementary words there were still a few hundred important ones I didn’t know. I’m glad I learned the. I also think the intermediate level books is invaluable. Many people don’t like to memorize words, but I think it’s something, that if done right, can be very beneficial. Each book as about 800+ words in it. The topics range from food to relationships to society. After studying these two books my reading ability definitely increased dramatically. The intermediate level book definitely introduces you to the level of words you can expect to see on the Topik intermediate.

4a. 500 Basic Korean Verbs/ Adjectives by Kyubyong Park

500 Basic Korean Verbs Adjectives

The title of test books explain themselves. Buying and learning the 1000 words in these two books will help you immensely on the grammar, vocabulary and writing portion of the exam. It also gives you a boost in the reading and listening parts. I think verbs one of the most important parts of a language. The verb book gives you the most commonly used verbs in Korean language many of which will be on the first few pages of the grammar and vocabulary portion of the exam. The adjectives also help you in reading. Although adjectives in Korean don’t seem to be as important as verbs or adverbs, they can make or break a question. Nothing upsets me more is not being able to fully understand a sentence or reading passage because there are simple verbs and adjectives that I don’t know. I would recommend both of these books.

4b. Korean photo dictionary


I am mildly obsessed with learning words in Korean. I feel like when studying for an exam it is easy to forget all of the simple words and names of things it would be nice to know in Korean. Using this book I got to know all kinds of things that one wouldn’t think to study but is definitely important. For example, in the transportation portion of this book I learned the verb “to drive”. Previously I always though it was “운전하다” and it is but I found out that “to steer” 몰다 is also used. Then a few days later I read it in a book. There are also topics such as household, foods, hospital equipment, household supplies etc. that are fairly common to the point that they are rarely taught as new words, but knowing them is priceless. I learned the word living room cabinet from this book and saw it in a reading passage hours later. I also know the names of types of buildings, body parts (hello tracea 기도) and even traditional Korean tools and objects because of this book. Books like this can also prevent miscommunication in word usage by showing you the picture and you deciding what it means rather than it being misprinted in a book. Also, every language has words that mean different things but are the same part of speech so it can be hard to reconcile their meanings but when you are given a picture it helps you to better understand.

5. Topik Korean Reading by Sotong

smaller reading book

I bought this little book a few weeks ago when I was still struggling with reading. I believe that they make it for all the portions but I only felt I needed this one. This book breaks down the reading portion into parts. There is a portion for only ads, then only graphs, then only main idea and so on. It gives you tips, and tricks and points out some of the main words in passages to help you solve them more quickly and accurately. There are also a few practice exams in the back. This book is perfect for those of you struggling with the reading portion of the exam.

6. Previous Topik Exams 


If you do nothing else in preparation for this exam, I absolutely recommend that you print off all of the past Topik exams and solve all the problems in order to get an idea of what is expected of you. I do not think it is beneficial to do this before learning all the necessary grammar, but after that, I think that you have to jump straight into this at least 2-3 months before the scheduled exam. Even though I bought several test preparation books with mock exams, none of them replace the actual exam. It helped me to gauge my level, preparedness and helped me learn what I needed to know if I wanted to pass this exam. After finishing each portion one by one, I think that I have a fighting chance of passing the level 4 before they merge the intermediate and advanced levels together.

Book I wish I didn’t buy:

Topik Master by Darakwon

smaller test prep book

I’ve sung the praises of Darakwon a few times before (even in this post) but this book is definitely off the mark. Darakwon should stick to writing grammar books.  Before I printed out the past Topik exams, I tried my hand at this book. It took me probably 8 hours to get through 30 reading questions, since I marked down all the words I didn’t know and their definitions. I also failed every single reading test. I had heard good things about this book, but I think that the negatives of it outweigh the positives. I completed 5 of the reading portions of the mock test and stopped. Why? Because I felt like it was wasting my time. The questions in this book are not written by the people who write the Topik. They do not use whatever method is used for those questions and its obvious. It’s the first thing you feel when taking it. Most of the questions are far off mark of what was written on the actual exam. I felt like it was unnecessarily harder than the actual test, so I stopped with it. A few things I did like about it was the explanations of the types of questions and what kind of answers they were looking for. I also liked the writing rules and examples provided. However, the tests seemed like trash to me. I didn’t feel like it was helping me. I felt like it was wasting my time. Anyone interested in this book should look through it for a while and decide if it’s right for you. It wasn’t for me.

So there you have it. All the books I’ve used to study for the last Topik intermediate before the structure is changed. I hope that my study tools help people also studying for the upcoming Topik as well as those who will be preparing for it in the coming months or years.


Preparing Topik intermediate reading.

For many test-takers, reading seems to be one of the most difficult portions of the exam. The first time I looked at the reading for the intermediate exam I nearly passed out. You see, I’d read the Yonsei reading series up to book 3. I’d studied thousands of vocabulary words and even messed around with answering the past test questions for the Topik elementary level. While none of this hurt it me, it certainly wasn’t helping.

The test was filled with (what seemed like) thousands of words I didn’t know. Great. I thought there was no way that I could do well on the reading portion since a few months wasn’t enough time to memorize thousands of new words and study. So, I took the tests and underlined all the words I didn’t know and wrote them on the side.

At first I failed all the tests mostly due to not understanding what they were looking for. The central idea questions and the arrange the order questions, especially threw me for a loop. It seemed like I just could not get it right. Though I suck at central idea questions in English as well. A rebellious part of me wants to make the case for why both A and C could work.

I started with test 17 as it was written in the format of the 35th Topik. I failed reading on test 17-21 or so. Then, something clicked. I started to get into the groove. Words that I’d previously not known started to repeat. I started to seen the pattern in how questions were written and which answers were expected. By test 27 or so I could answer most of the questions correctly without even looking up the words I didn’t know.

I don’t know how other people study for the Topik but I definitely recommend studying on portion at a time. Only reading then only listening and so forth. Why? I find by doing this the brain (mine at least) begins to fill in the ambiguous parts of the language as well as develop an idea of how the test works. Its really hard to explain the click, but anyone who has ever done consistently terrible at something and continued to keep trying knows what I mean.

After doing 6 or so reading exams I began to really figure out the format of the test question. The first 5 are always ads of some sort. Then a graph followed by short readings etc. I learned that on the intermediate Topik they use the same 200 or so words in every reading test. Just learning those can help you to determine meaning of passages you otherwise wouldn’t be able to understand.

The last major part of reading (and the other portions as well) is remembering the Topik was written for Koreans by Koreans so a lot of the conclusions reached in the reading aren’t what I would reach. For example, there was a reading passage about larger corporations killing the businesses of small business owners. There were a few key words I didn’t know and I understood the meaning about 80%. I read the answer choices and saw 2 answers that stood out. One said shop owners have to ensure their own livelihood and the other said that large corporations should consider/mind smaller businesses and not operate to shut them down. Now, to me the latter was ridiculous. However I remembered that my local E-mart shuts down once every 2 weeks to allow smaller businesses to profit. The second answer choice was right.

It’s very important to understand how Koreans think and feel about things. It’s important to know how they think about many topics because it’s the single most beneficial thing in reading. Just because you don’t think that it is so or should be so doesn’t mean that Koreans (as a whole) don’t feel differently.

I finished my last practice test a couple weeks ago.  My scores went from high 50’s to the 80’s and I even had a few in the 90’s. I’m happy with the increase in score but I’m not patting myself on the back just yet. I still need to review. After reviewing for a while I should be able to do well. I still haven’t timed myself but I’m not worried. I think I can solve fast enough to answer 30 questions in 45 minutes. Now, I’m slaving over the listening exercises. Bleh.


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