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I was wondering if it's appropriate to use 위해 in this context:

Study FOR an exam -- 시험을 위해 공부해요 Is this an accurate translation?

Perhaps it might be more natural to say 준비하다?

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시험을 위해 공부해요/ 준비해요 is grammatically fine but it is not a commonly heard phrase. 위해 corresponds to "for the sake of someone/something" (e.g 널 위해 뭐든지 하겠어 = I'd do anything for you). It is rarely used for the exam one is taking.

The common expression for "studying for NOUN" is just "NOUN 공부하고 있어요". It might look strange to learners that there is nothing between NOUN and 공부하다, but this is the most common way. I think it has come to this short expression through heavy use (as taking an exam has long been a way of life in Korea, both during school years and later to get into a good profession). You can think of it as a short form of "NOUN(을) 보려고 공부하고 있어요" (studying to take NOUN. 보다 = take) or "NOUN을 위해 공부하고 있어요".

For "studying to become NOUN", we say "NOUN 되려고 공부하고 있어요".

Ex)

  • I am studying for the bar exam = 변호사 시험 (보려고) 공부하고 있어요.
  • I am studying to become a lawyer = 변호사 되려고 공부하고 있어요.

준비하다 can be used instead of 공부하다, but 공부하다 is more specific in meaning.

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In addition to @Tony's great answer, "시험을 위해 공부해요" would mean you are studying for the sake of the exam. It would be a good phrase to describe someone studying only to achieve a high score, not interested in actually understanding the subject.

"시험을 준비해요" is fine: it means preparing for the exam (which is basically the same as studying for the exam).

Because 준비하다 is a transitive verb, I think "시험을 위해 준비해요" sounds strange: it would mean you are preparing something(?) for the exam, but that "something" is missing from the sentence. You could say, for example, "시험을 위해 시계를 준비했어요." ("I prepared/brought a watch to use in the exam.")

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