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My Topik Intermediate 34th Experience

I thought I had hit the jackpot because the testing area was at a school that is (technically) in my small city, however I didn’t realize until a couple of days ago that it is off the beaten path. So much that I have to take a taxi from my apartment to the campus and then walk about 7 minutes to the testing building. It cost me about 10,000 won.

I arrived at the building about 1.5 hours before the test hoping to be able to get some last minute review in. I foolishly assumed that it would be set up like any standardized test I’d taken in the US. It wasn’t. There was no one giving out information or directing anything. I looked around and I was the only Westerner there. Nearly every other people present was of East Asian or South East Asian descent. I wasn’t exactly surprised since the majority of people who would even study Korean are more than likely international students here. I heard a mixture of Chinese, Thai, Tagalog, and some Indian languages being spoken and zero English.

Through the groups of people standing around I saw a board with numbers on it. After staring at it for about 10 minutes I figured out we needed to find our ID numbers and match it to a specific classroom in which we would being taking the test. I found mine and waited. After about 40 minutes hundreds of people came pouring out from the morning exam. There were 8 doors on this building but only one was open so all (what seemed like) 800 of them came out of it. After this we were allowed to enter. We went in and found our classrooms that had lists with our names on it. The classroom sat 40 people and was quite large. I was happy when I entered because I wanted to grab a seat near the side. Then I realized our seats were assigned so I found mine and sat down.

I sat there hoping I’d see another English speaker because then I wouldn’t stand out so much. Not one came in. Not one. I wonder if any were there, still. Before the test started, I overheard quite a few people speaking their native tongues and then seamlessly switching to Korean when they needed to. Everyone seemed so well learned in Korean. “Great, I’m the only one here who doesn’t speak that well”, I thought. Being an English speaker people don’t expect you to, so despite living here, I rarely find people who try to use Korean with me.

I sat there pretty much alone until about 10 minutes before the exam when everyone else started to come in. The exam proctors came in and started passing out the fill-in sheets. We all filled in our information and with about 10 minutes to go, they came around to check that everyone was who they claimed to be. The exam booklets were passed out about 5 minutes before and I looked around the room at at least 10 people had their books open. This is also something I’m not used to. Every standardized test I’ve ever taken has been sealed shut and breaking the seal and opening the test is an automatic failure. The proctors asked everyone to refrain from solving until it was time. They waited. When the announcement came on, we started solving.

I felt the test wasn’t that bad. Right out the gate it was easier than expected. Until today, I had never taken a timed Topik test. I realized that like 5 minutes before the start and that had me worried. All too often I read about people feeling like they didn’t have a lot of time to finish. I thought I did okay on the first part of exam. There were definitely a few questions I wasn’t 100% on. After solving the first page of the grammar section I remembered to look at the writing topic. It read:

“What was the happiest day so far in your life? Why was it so happy? What happened on this day? When was it? How much did it affect you?”

“Fuck yes! I can write about my dog”, I thought. I finished up the grammar portion and realized something. Out of all that advanced grammar I learned, none of it was on the test. Okay, maybe there was one. I got the the end of the grammar section and the idioms got me. There were 2 I knew (which were not the answer) and 2 I didn’t know. So, I just guessed. On the writing section I also did much better than I thought. I got one of the ‘fill in the missing part’ problems right and the jury is still out on the other one. I made it to the essay and managed to write all the way down until the last two lines of the paper. I actually wanted to write more, but I didn’t have room so I just sucked it up and ended it. Who knew I could write so much in Korean considering I practiced essay writing the least?

Then I put my pen down expecting there to be 10 or so minutes left. There were about 35 minutes left. I finished 35 minutes early. “Um….what the hell?”, I thought to myself. I had gotten good at solving correctly and quickly while studying, but I thought I’d slow down for the actual test. Apparently not. Since I had so much time left, I went back to the fill-in problems and re-read the one I was unsure about. In the end I changed it to a more likely answer. I then re-read my essay and corrected 2 mistakes and put the pen down and waited.

Those were the longest 25 minutes of my life.

After the bell rang I went outside and had a snack. I needed to stretch my legs. I went back in about 15 minutes later and the answer sheets for the second half had already been passed out and the tape player was already set up. Even though I’ve heard “tape condition” a ton of times on the Topik listening track, I had no idea it was an actual tape. A damn cassette. It tickled me pink. I got my answer sheet, filled in my information and prepared for the test. Although I haven’t studied listening in at least 2 weeks, I did well. I even understood the final listening track which I’ve never understood. I managed to do 5 or 6 reading problems in between tracks but decided to stop that as I needed to focus on listening once I reached the 20th problem. Like other parts of the exam, the reading seemed easier than when I’d practiced. Again, I understood the final question and I’ve had that happen exactly twice on the past tests I’ve used. Half way through the reading, my study burnout started coming back. It became harder to focus and I started to get a bit of a headache. I slowed down A LOT and just rode it out. I finished with like 10 minutes left, though I would have finished sooner had my head no started to hurt.

All in all it was a good experience. Despite it not running how I’m used to, it really surprised me in the end. I can’t wait to get the results back and I’m even more excited about expanding my Korean horizons.

If you took the 34th exam, how do you think you did?

—Charm

By Charm

I am an American living in Korea, teaching English to Korean students, and Korean to myself. Topik here I come!

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