Taking the Topik (Korean Proficiency Exam) in Korea

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Arts + Sciences

Authored By:

Emma M.


Today I want to speak on the Topik Test--(the only official) Korean language proficiency exam administered by the Korean government. Taking the Topik exam is a great way to gain a formal gauge of one’s Korean language abilities since it is standardized, although the score is only valid for two years after taking the exam. 

I have taken the Topik exam once before back in April 2019; however, my language program (NSLI-Y) registered me for the exam so this was my first time doing everything myself: from registration to taking the test!

I am going to split this blog post into 3 parts: registration, studying for the exam, and the actual exam + results at the end.

Topik Test Registration 

You have to apply for Topik through an online registration portal which involves logging in at a specific time for specific locations. (For example, registration for testing centers in Seoul opens before the testing centers in Busan, Gwangju, etc). It is important that you log on right when the registration period opens--especially for popular locations like Seoul--or you might miss out on getting a seat.

Also, registration opens about two months prior to the test date and the period only lasts about a week (but will close earlier if all seats are full). So remember to check the official Topik timeline to make sure you do not miss the registration date for your desired test date as the test is not administered every month.

I actually registered for Topik twice this semester and I was not prepared for my first time registering in August for the October 2023 test when I was greeted by a line of 10,000 people just to enter the Topik website!!!! I did not make it out lucky with a spot in Seoul and had to wait a couple days to register for a spot in Gangwon-do at Hanlim University (which meant a 3 hour journey for me all the way to Chuncheon!)

By my second time around, I was ready and snagged a spot at a middle school in Southern Seoul. 

If taking the test in Korea, it is also important to remember that you can only pay for your exam fee (Topik 1: 40,000 won and Topik 2: 55,000 won) with a Korean credit card or a Korean bank account money transfer. This is my biggest critique of how the Korean government handles Topik administration--as well as their wonky test registration system--because how can a test that is (mostly) geared towards foreigners learning Korean not permit international payment methods? Especially considering that the Korean government recently passed a law that does not allow foreigners to open Korean bank accounts if they are not staying in Korea longer than 6 months. This payment system restricts short-term foreign residents (like exchange students or tourists) from being able to take the exam.

Of course, the way around this system is to have a friend pay for one’s registration fee (which is what I had to do for both my exam registrations). And when calling Topik’s customer service center about payment, this is what they told me to do because I lacked a Korean bank account. But I still have a problem with this because although I have a multitude of Korean friends/host families I can feel comfortable asking for such a favor, not all foreigners have such connections to local Koreans.

Anyways, once you pay for your exam within 24 hours of submitting your registration application, you are fully registered!! 

Preparing for the Exam

Okay, so for preparing for the Topik exam, for me, involved a lot of cramming about a week before the exam. In specific, I ended up buy a textbook from the Yonsei bookstore to aid my studies. This textbook provided example question types and gave advice on how to go about answering each type of question from the 3 sections. It also included to mock exams which I find the most helpful--practicing taking the test in the allotted amount of time is very necessary so you can gauge pacing. 


I also studied a lot of vocabulary because I think the higher the level you progress, the bigger role vocabulary plays in level distinctions. This includes studying proverbs because they always throw a question or two into the reading sections with random proverbs!! I made several Quizlets from my Topik mock exams so that I could study with flash cards on my phone whenever and wherever (I am really glad I invested in Quizlet Premium for Korean class because it also proved helpful in my Topik studies). 

Also, the writing section is hard to study for but if you practice how to phrase sentences when analyzing graphs/survey results, I think you can pick up the proper format for answering such questions.

studying 2

The official Topik website also posts past exams and other similar resources so you can definitely study for this test for free! I just like studying from a physical book and appreciated being able to take the mock exams using the same Topik scantron sheet to resemble the actual test day as much as possible.

Exam Day

Okay, if you take away anything from this blog post when taking the Topik, please remember this: BRING YOUR PASSPORT OR ARC TO YOUR TESTING CENTER!

I signed up for the Oct 2023 Topik test date and traveled 3 hours on public transportation to my testing center, only to realize I had left my passport at my dorm (and as of that day, I had yet to have received my ARC--Alien Registration Card--in the mail). The test center would not accept my American State Identification card nor my Yonsei student ID and they wouldn't even accept my visa!! Let’s just say that was a very humiliating experience…. I do not recommend following in my footsteps unless you wanna cry on the subway all the way back home.

For my second (real) test date in November 2023, I arrived at my middle school testing center with everything I needed: my passport, ARC, my test admission ticket (수험표), and correction tape (수정 테이프).

Email Info

For the Topik test, your admission ticket (as well as the email you will receive from Topik as a test reminder) will let you know what time you need to arrive by and which room you’ve been assigned to. (They are really strict on timing so you should not arrive late by any means!)

test center

I cannot speak on behalf of Topik 1 (testing levels 1~2) but for Topik 2 (testing levels 3~6), all the directions given within the classroom by the test proctors and over the announcement speakers are in Korean so for a level 3/level 4 speaker, it may be a bit confusing. But you can always ask questions if you do not understand any of the instructions. The test proctors did say they could explain it in English if something didn’t make sense; however, I would assume most people might feel pretty shy to ask for such help in front of the room of the other test takers.

The Topik test is administered like any standardized test with test booklets that can only be opened during certain periods and a bubble answer sheet--that must be filled in with the Topik provided black felt marker pen (with two sides: one for writing and one thicker one for filling in bubbles)

The Topik 2 test takes 3 hours (Listening: 60 min, Writing: 50 min, and Reading: 70 min) and there is a break halfway through the exam period--so definitely bring a snack! My stomach was rumbling after the listening portion…

And that is really all about the test! Test results are announced via the Topik website like 1.5 months after the exam date---so a lot of waiting… 

Result & Conclusion

Honestly, no matter what my score would have ended up being, I was really proud of the progress I made throughout this semester. I felt more knowledgeable and prepared for this exam than I did 4 years ago--when I received level 4. I was super anxious before taking the exam--to the point where I felt nauseous--because I had such high expectations for myself--conflating my worth and "success" as a Korean language learner with my future Topik test score. 

But at the end of the day, I knew I improved so much--my effort was obvious to myself, my friends, and my teacher. And even when taking the test, I felt so much more confident in my comprehension of the listening and writing sections. And, for the first time ever, I was able to read all of the reading passages within the allotted time!!! (Whether I answered the questions right or not, I am proud for being able to read them all within the 70 minutes--something I never achieved during any of my mock tests)

And I FINALLY got the results about 5ish weeks after taking my exam! Level 5, baby!!!! Actually, I got a score of 227/300 which is the upper bracket of level 5--in fact, it is only 3 points away from level 6!!! If I had answered just one more question right...I could have been level 6. Nevertheless, I am so happy with my score and proud of myself!!!

If you are looking to test your abilities and challenge yourself, I highly recommend signing up to take the Topik exam during your time in Korea.

Happy Studying!