I’m 2 days away from finishing my second semester here at Yonsei’s Korean Language Institue, and I think it’s safe enough for me to say that I’m definitely used to the exam system here now. That doesn’t mean I find the exams a breeze at all, any form of speaking under pressure – aka being marked on a spoken performance – still sends me into a mini mental breakdown, and I’ll always be just that bit under-prepared for listening exams (those tapes are nightmarish); but I’m 90% sure I’ve sussed the way these exams are marked and how to prepare for them.
So I guess if you’re planning to study at Yonsei, or any of the other Korean Language programs the different unis over here offer – since I’m pretty sure they operate on a similar kind of structure, then I hope you’ll find this kind of useful.
This is the first ~exam~ you’ll sit if you want to study Korean in Korea at a university and not a hagwon. (That’s the Korean word for a kind cram school type thing). It generally consists of two sections: writing/reading and speaking. It’s a bit of an ordeal if you don’t know what to expect, so hopefully this prepares you a little bit.
Writing/Reading: Even though this part of the placement test does actually test your written Korean skills, the paper will be entirely in Korean, and therefore your reading and comprehension skills will also come into play. You’ll basically be given a booklet that gets progressively harder as the page numbers increase, so don’t worry if you can’t complete it all! The first page will be the easiest, the last page the hardest. Stop at the point when you feel like you can’t understand anything.
Speaking: This is conducted like an interview. You’ll be asked for your name, nationality, maybe age and then whatever questions the person doing your placement test feels like asking you. Answer to the best of your ability and try not to panic!!! I mind-blanked, brain-farted and pretty much almost broke down crying I was so nervous, but my interviewer was really lovely and saw that I was scared, she just took me through some really basic Korean, making the questions harder as I got more comfortable talking with her. Sometimes they’ll give you cue cards, it really depends. They’ll stop when they’ve mentally sussed out what level you’re at, and that depends on how fully you understand/answer their questions.
Sometimes you may be placed in the wrong level for your ability, but don’t worry if this happens, just find administration and explain! Please don’t ever think that you’ve failed yourself/your uni/your tutors in korean if this happens!!
Midterms!: I will just point out that these midterms are Yonsei-specific!!!! I know SKKU has presentations and speeches that you have to prepare for… but I don’t know fully as I don’t attend that schools’ program!
These are about four weeks after you start your course properly. At Yonsei, the midterms test the material you’ve learnt in chapters 1-4(inclusive) of the level you’re sitting for grammar/vocabulary and you’ll be told what chapters to revise in your reading classes. The midterms consist of four overall sections: speaking, writing, listening and reading. It’s a good idea to work hard for your midterms, because good midterm results mean you don’t have as much pressure on you to do extra well in finals!
Speaking: The speaking part of midterms is split into two exams. In level 2, the first part is a role-play you and a randomly assigned partner from your class will write using grammar and vocab from chapters 1-4. You’ll be given three scenarios, and you have to write for, and learn, all three! The role-play counts for 20% of your overall speaking mark, so if you do really well you don’t have to do as spectacularly brilliantly in the interview part. In level 3, you have to memorise a 3 minute speech on a topic your teacher will give you. In level 4, there are both newspaper presentations and debates that will go towards your speaking mark.
The interview part is a 1-on-1 sit-down interview with you and your teacher. Your teacher will ask you questions on the topics you’ve studied, and you have to answer to the best of your ability. It’s a really good idea to write/learn/practice example sentences that contain the grammar you’ve studied for each topic beforehand, so that you can get a feel of using the grammar points.
Writing: Just one exam for writing. And yup, you guessed it, the paper is all in Korean. It contains vocab drills (pick the right word for the sentence); grammar drills (you are given the grammar they want you to use and you have to construct a sentence around it); specific grammar practice (eg: banmal [informal speech]); and an ‘essay’. The essay has to be a set number of sentences long, and you must include a set number of grammar points.
Listening: One exam for listening, and it’s pretty much the same as those language-listening tests you did at GCSE, if you took a language. If not, you’re given an answer paper and then a tape is played and you fill the answers in as the tape progresses. The majority of the paper is multiple choice, then towards the end, usually the last two or three questions, you’re required to write (in Korean, obviously) the answers that you hear.
Reading: This exam is also in two parts! You’ll have a reading/comprehension part, which is a paper using passages from your reading book that you’ve studied – you’ll be asked a few questions on each passage, and then there will be a new passage as the last question, one that you’ve never seen before.
The second part is the pronunciation exam, where you will be marked on how well you read Korean out loud. This is worth 10% of the overall reading mark.
These are run in the same way as midterms – speaking, writing, listening, reading – only you’ll be tested on chapters 5-9(inclusive) instead of 1-4. The questions will be harder, since you’ll be building on your korean knowledge from the first half of the semester. For the speaking part of finals, it’s still split into two segments, the first is a role-play, the second is the interview. Also, your class participation activity will be used as some of your speaking mark too (5%). So make sure you attend that!
Will I know how many marks a question is?
Yup!! The marks for each question are in brackets at the end of the sentence, or at the end of the explanation that is relevant to the question set you are about to answer. The format will be a bit like this:
explanation of question set, ooh look here’s an explanation please read me carefully. (4 x 2)
The first is an example of a 4 mark question, (most of the questions are 4 marks, actually), the second is an example of a question set that contains 4 questions at 2 marks each.
Overall Marking + pass/fail thresholds:
Marking of the papers is done in lovely red pen, and can take some getting used to. A circle around a question number tends to mean a right answer, and a line through a number tends to mean you got it wrong. You can also have marks deducted for incorrect spelling, spacing, use of particles and slight misuse of grammar points – so please be careful, and don’t try and be too clever if you’re not 100% sure that you use that like that.
In South Korea, the pass mark is 60%; so if you get 60% overall or higher in each module, you have passed the module. The two scores from Midterms and Finals are added together to give you an overall mark. This is then calculated into your final percentage which determines whether you pass or fail the level.
If your final percentage is 60% or higher, you have passed the level. This can happen even if you fail one or two modules (receiving lower than 60% overall for speaking/writing/listening/reading); providing your other marks are very good. If this happens you can retake the modules you need to pass. If your final percentage is less than 60%, you have failed the level, and, unfortunately, have to resit the whole thing. (Though in some very special circumstances you can ask to resit/remark etc).
Welp. This has been a super long post but I hope it helps those intending to study at Yonsei’s KLI!! I always find having an insight into things like this really helps – and I really don’t want anyone to be in the position I was in before I started at Yonsei: aka completely lost and panicked because no one had told me how the placement test was done – let alone what to expect come midterms.
If you have any more questions please don’t hesitate to ask!