勉強 benkyou—study

Regular readers will have noticed that my blog is a little quiet recently. That’s because I have a Japanese exam in just three weeks (2nd December) and I’m trying to study as much as I can.

The exam is the nihongo nouryoku shiken—Japanese language proficiency test, commonly known as JLPT.

The JLPT takes place in centres all over the world, in July and December. The easiest level is level N5, and from there the difficulty increases to level N1, which tests near-native level ability (e.g. for university entrants).

Over the years I have done the old level 4 and 3 (equivalent to N5 and N4), then (last year) the new level N3. This year, I am attempting N2, which is way beyond my actual level of ability, but a stretch target is always good for motivation!

JLPT exams test vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening. They do not test your ability to write or speak. (In technical terms, they test recognition, not reproduction.) Preparation for the exam involves a lot of rote learning – lots of vocabulary items, kanji characters and grammatical structures – and a lot of practice.

The practice is key. Someone who is good at Japanese but casually decides to do the exam is liable to fail, whereas someone (like me) who is not at all good at Japanese but has spent months learning, studying and practising will have a chance of passing.

Two reasons are:

  • the exam is very perfectionist (as is typical of exam culture in Japan), and the questions can be deliberately tricky. If you think you might know the answer but you’re not sure, you’re probably wrong. Someone unfamiliar with the exam will probably not realise this;
  • the time available for the exam is very short, especially for the reading section. If you go in unprepared, you will run out of time. One of the hardest things is to keep moving on to the next question, while knowing that if you spent a little bit longer on this question you could figure it out and get it right.

My most important learning tool is Anki. It’s a flash-card program that runs on my phone and on my computer, and allows me to learn vocabulary and kanji on the train or even while walking. It is an incredibly powerful learning method. Without Anki, I wouldn’t have a chance.

So, if you don’t see many posts here over the next three weeks (though there will be a few), now you know why.

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