Here is my profile of the TOPIK, a Korean language exam that is held twice a year for non-Korean natives who wish to test their knowledge by government-created standards. Theoretically, if you finish, you should be able to attend college or postgraduate studies in Korea because you are as close to a native speaker as it gets.
There are six levels to the exam through three tests (beginner, intermediate, advanced), with each test consisting of two levels. Here are the standards at each level:
The test goes across four sections: grammar/vocabulary, writing, listening, and reading. Each section is graded out of 100, then summed for a total out of 400 points. Passing requires two things: a good average and a minimum score across all categories. To pass on to the next exam, you have to get an average score above 70 but can’t score less than 50 in any category.
The test is held by Korean consulates around the world, usually at local Korean schools. All I know is that it’s available in the San Francisco Bay Area at a few locations, which are all pretty convenient. The exam is relatively cheap, around $25, although the San Francisco consulate only holds one exam in the spring.
As far as difficulty, I’d say the most troublesome thing aren’t the individual exams, but the leaps between exams. I’ve only taken the exam twice and passed it, jumping from nothing to level 2, then passing to level 3 last year. For some perspective, I score very well in reading and writing, moderately well in listening, and atrociously poor in grammar and vocabulary. I probably should have studied harder in Korean school as a kid, rather than being jealous of the kids who got fat from eating sugary cereals and watching cartoons all morning on Saturdays. But the leap from the beginner exam to the intermediate exam was very significant, and people at the test say the leap to the advanced exam is extreme. It’s the English equivalent to going from reading a children’s folk tale to taking the SAT.