Candidates miss Korean language test as exam time unclear

By Binh Minh   April 11, 2023 | 11:49 pm PT
Many were unable to take the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) in Vietnam last Sunday as they did not show up at least 30 minutes before the exam, as was required.

Pham Thi Nguyet Thu, 25, arrived at Marie Curie High School in Hanoi at 12:23 p.m. last Sunday for her TOPIK test that was to take place from 12:50 – 4:20 p.m. that day. But when she arrived at the school’s gate, she was prohibited from entering.

"The gate was already closed and there were 17 candidates standing outside," she said. "After a while, there are up to 40 who were not allowed to go inside for the test."

A representative of IIG Vietnam, the organizer of TOPIK in Vietnam, told those candidates that to take the test, they must enter the examination venue 30 minutes before the exam time.

However, candidates said IIG Vietnam had never mentioned that rule either when they registered for the test or when they officially received the examination notice, which informs candidates of the time and place of the exam.

Thu said the next TOPIK test would not take place until July but that if she had to wait until then, she would lose her MA scholarship in South Korea.

"Some even burst into tears as missing the test means they could not apply for the universities for the next school year," she said.

Candidates are prevented from entering the venue for taking the TOPIK exam at Marie Curie High School in Hanoi, April 9, 2023. Photo provided by a candidate.

Candidates are prevented from entering the venue for taking the TOPIK exam at Marie Curie High School in Hanoi, April 9, 2023. Photo provided by a candidate

Lee Ha Seong, a 12th grader at the Korean International School in Hanoi, is one of those who missed the test.

Born to a South Korean father and a Vietnamese mother, Lee has applied for Yonsei, Hanyang and Sungkyunkwa universities in South Korea.

As a South Korean national who has been abroad for 12 years, Lee does not have to take the university entrance exam, but must submit documents, including grades, information about extracurricular activities, and language certificates in Vietnamese, Korean and English.

According to the regulations, Lee must submit the application while still in the 12th grade, and after this time the application will be tagged invalid.

"I need to apply before July [when she graduates from high school]," said Lee."But with the next TOPIK test only taking place in July, it would be too late. Now I'm really worried."

Another 40 students in Hanoi were not allowed to take the test at Hanoi University of Science and Technology while 20 could not take it at the University of Irrigation.

The same situation also happened to TOPIK candidates in Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang.

Nguyen Thi Nguyen, a university junior in Da Nang, was one of 30 who could not take the exam held at Dong A University last Sunday morning.

Nguyen said she showed up at the exam venue at 9:20 a.m., 20 minutes before the exam, but was not allowed inside.

She is in need of the TOPIK certificate to complete her graduation procedures.

"I called the IIG hotline and one staff told me that I should have checked the information on its website," she said. "This is just bad customer service."

When she checked, Nguyen saw the information requesting candidates to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the exam had only been posted on the Facebook page of IIG one day before the exam took place. It was listed on the company’s website a month ago.

"People don’t have time to check Facebook all day," Nguyen commented.

In HCMC, Pham Dang Khoi, 22, said he had to leave along with 10 other candidates after they were refused permission to take the test at the University of Economics and Law.

Khoi had just graduated from university and he needs the TOPIK certificate so that he can study in South Korea in June.

"When I arrived, they had already shut the gate three minutes earlier," he said. "Now I have to change the plan to study abroad because I would have to wait until July to take the exam."

A media representative of IIG Vietnam, which is in charge of organizing many exams including the SATs, TOEIC, Graduate Record Examinations, and TFI (a French-language proficiency test), said the rule to show up 30 minutes before any test was announced by IIG many different times on its official channels.

However, the representative confirmed that there was no information requesting candidates to arrive at the exam venue 30 minutes in advance posted on the registration form or in the examination notice.

"The number of candidates missing the test on April 9 is not high but even if there is just one of them that could not take the test, it's a regret," the representative, who wants to stay anonymous, said Tuesday.

IIG is reviewing all cases and will respond to each of complaints of candidates as soon as possible, the representative said.

TOPIK is a test to measure the Korean language proficiency of non-native speakers. The test is offered six times annually (January, April, May, July, October, and November) within South Korea and less often to people studying Korean in other countries. The test is for individuals whose first language is not Korean and is taken by overseas ethnic Koreans, those wishing to study at a Korean university, and for those who want to be employed at Korean companies in and outside of Korea.

According to IIG, the test on April 9 attracted nearly 25,200 students at 12 venues in Hanoi, HCMC and Da Nang.

The cost to register for the test is either VND550,000 (US$23.48) or VND770,000 depending on the level of proficiency.

Vietnam stands top in the number of students in South Korea, with more than 70,212 as of January, according to the Korea Immigration Service under the Ministry of Justice.

*Names of several candidates in the report have been changed.

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