Preparing for TOPIK 2014

Written by on April 1, 2014 in Worldwide Korea Bloggers

As this coming TOPIK session is the final one before the updated (much harder looking!) exam starts in the summer session, I decided to bite the bullet and apply.

TOPIK, the Test of Proficiency in Korean, is offered 5 times a year in Korea and twice internationally. At present, it is divided into three categories that you can test in; Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Within each of these categories is two further groups resulting in 6 levels.

TOPIK is a notoriously hard exam. It consists of two sections; part 1 being vocabulary, grammar and writing, part 2 being reading and listening. Each section lasts for 90 minutes with a 10 minute break in between.

I applied for the intermediate level…and wow, it’s not easy! Preparing for the exam really highlighted all the gaps in my Korean…which of course is a good thing and I have no doubt my Korean is getting a lot better as I tackle these issues but at the same time – there are just so many!

Anyway, without further ado, I thought I’d share with you some of the books I’m using to prepare for Intermediate level TOPIK.

1. EBS TOPIK Intermediate Level Preparation Book

(Includes CD. Price: 17,000원)

I picked this book up on my last trip to Seoul because my Korean friends picked it out as a good book…”Well, I can’t see any mistakes in it!” said my Korean friend encouragingly. Jokes aside, I actually really like this book. It’s quite big compared to normal books (A4 size) but it fits a lot in. It extensively covers the vocabulary for the exam with a great section on all the expressions (속담) that you’re expected to know. The grammar is a little weak but it never portrayed itself as a grammar book so I don’t see that as a drawback. It also includes 4 practice exams and explanations to the answers.

It is worth bearing in mind that the book is entirely in Korean. If you’re applying to intermediate level Korean then this shouldn’t prove to much of a problem but I do find myself looking up definitions (especially when learning the expressions) if I still find the Korean explanations confusing.

It’s a really good preparation book – it needs to be supplemented in some areas (i.e grammar and writing) but for a main source, it’s a great place to begin.


2. EBS TOPIK Intermediate Level Writing Practice Book

(No CD. Price : 13,000원)

This book focuses purely on the writing section of the exam and I bought it because writing is easily my weakest area.

The book is not bad….but it’s not great. It is basically a book of practice questions and answers but it lacks any explanation which is why I wouldn’t really recommend it. It’s great practice but sometimes, if I don’t understand a question (or I understand the literal meaning of the question and answers…but still don’t know why that’s the right answer) I find myself calling on my Korean friends for a helping hand.

Like the above book, this book is also entirely in Korean.

If you’re just searching for some writing practice, you could buy this book. (You could also just print some practice papers of the internet…but they wouldn’t be as pretty).

Writing is always the hardest..!

Writing is always the hardest..!


3. Darakwon Intermediate TOPIK Master Preparation Book

(Includes CD. Price : 27,000원)

This book contains 10 mock intermediate level TOPIK exams. That’s it. However, it also comes with a smaller book (which cleverly slots in at the back) which contains all the answers – and most importantly explanations which are in English!

I really like this book because the main book is all in Korean so you can test yourself efficiently without being distracted by the English but when going back over the papers with the reference book, the English explanations make everything crystal clear.

That said, it’s not at all organised. The explanations are done according to the questions so the grammar / vocabulary is all over the place. I think this book is suitable towards the end of your exam preparation – when you’ve got all the vocabulary and grammar learnt and you just need to put your skills into practice with the occasional reference help.

Despite this,  this book is probably one of my favourites. Not only have I learnt a lot from it but it’s also actually been quite enjoyable to use!


Really just a book of questions...but it has a secret advantage!

Really just a book of questions…but it has a secret advantage!

4. Sogang Korean Level 5A.

(No CD. Price : 7,000원)

I included this book, even though it’s not official TOPIK preparation material, because it’s awesome. I also have the Level 5B book and I think both are fantastic. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Sogang textbooks (too many pictures=_= How old do you think I am?) but these little books, which are meant to function as vocabulary and grammar references for the textbooks, are basically condensed versions of the textbooks. No pictures. No wasted space – just clear grammar explanations and a selection of useful, intermediate to advanced level vocabulary on a number of topics including Korean history, literature and social customs to name a few. They’re also really cheap!

Not TOPIK material - but good practice!

Not TOPIK material – but good practice!

5. Korean : A comprehensive grammar

(No CD. Price : (on Amazon) £60)

I nearly had heart failure when I checked the price for this book – £60?! When I bought my copy two years ago (from Amazon), I paid £40…while I wouldn’t advocate paying £60 for it, this book is definitely a worthwhile investment. I bought this book prior to starting my Korean studies at university and it has become my bible. Everything is in this book. The explanations are clear, the examples are useful and it helps that the author is one of my professors – any queries and I drop him an email!

This isn’t official TOPIK material either but it is the most “comprehensive” comprehensive grammar I’ve found (there are many which honestly don’t deserve the title) and if you’re serious about your Korean studies, it’s an investment worth making.

a true comprehensive guide!

a true comprehensive guide!

6. EBS TOPIK Intermediate Level Vocabulary Preparation Book

(No CD. Price : 16,000원)

I love this book. It is just amazing. All the vocabulary you could possibly need to get a good mark on the TOPIK paper is in this book. Like the other EBS preparation books, there is no English in this book. However, there is a clear definition in Korean and two explanations for each new word and a revision module at the end of each section (every 20 words or so) which I find really useful.

There are different sections in the book covering the different components of the vocabulary section of the exam; from the fill in the blank questions, to the synonym/antonym questions, the expressions – everything gets covered in detail. I like this book because it can be used on its own or used with the general EBS preparation book to provide comprehensive coverage of the vocabulary exam.

If you don’t walk away with a high mark after using this book then there’s no hope!



7. Magazines (My favourite : Newsweek)

It may seem obvious but as your level of Korean gets higher, one of the best ways to further improve it is to increase your exposure. I read books in Korean (currently reading 50 Shades of Grey in Korean and learning ALL sorts of new vocabulary!) but I’d never really read articles…it’s a lot harder than I’d expected. Of course, branching into new areas like politics and economics is also a challenge but a refreshing one – it’s good fun, provides a nice break from textbook material and on top of that, there’s the added bonus of my Korean getting better too!

good practice!

good practice!

8. Hangul Park TOPIK Intermediate Level Essential 150 Grammars.

(No CD. 21,000원)

I bought this book ages ago – at least a year ago, long before I was even thinking of actually taking TOPIK simply because I liked the book. I used the book now and again and liked it – now I’m actually preparing for TOPIK this book…is ok. Considering it only has 150 grammars in it (which are helpfully rated according to frequency of appearance in previous papers) I had admittedly expected more comprehensive explanations and examples than the book has. That said, when used with my comprehensive grammar, the book is quite useful. The examples seem to come from past papers helping you get a feel for how the grammars will be used in the exam and there are revision questions at the end of each section.

As the exam gets closer, I find myself using this book increasingly more. It seems really good as a crammer book – ‘memorise the 150 grammars in this book and their examples and you should walk away with a decent mark’ seems to be the message coming from this book.


9. Yonsei University Publishing Korean Grammar Practice for Foreigners : Intermediate

(No CD. No price on book)

If you haven’t noticed, I love grammar books. I’m a cool child – this is what I do on my Friday nights – haha, just kidding. Not really….*awkward*

I picked this book up over the summer when my friend texted me to say she’d be an hour late. I could have bought a magazine….but this just looked so much better! I’m really glad I bought it. It’s not my favourite book but I particularly love all the practice questions that come with it and the fact that it has space to write in it…(I’m a rebellious child, I like writing in books!)

Like some of the other texts I’ve looked at, it isn’t an official TOPIK preparation book but I have found it helpful, when used alongside my other grammar books, as a reference guide as I’ve been learning all the grammar for the exam.



That’s it I’m afraid. I should have bought another book so it could have been 10 but we’ll have to finish on 9!

If you’re in the middle of preparing for your TOPIK exams, I wish you luck! We can do it!

But I’m curious – what about you? Do you have any experience of preparing for TOPIK? Do you have a book you can suggest as No.10?!

Let me know below!

About the Author

Anna Darnley

Born and raised in the UK, I'm a 21 year old, final year university student reading BA Chinese and Korean with a minor in Japanese at SOAS. I also speak French and Spanish and I'm studying Russian too. I'm utterly fascinated by the world around me and spend half my time saving for plane tickets, the other half travelling wherever my mood takes me. I'm now back in the UK at university (when I'm not popping back out to Korea at every chance!) Follow me as I explore the Orient!