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JLPT Dec 2013: Reflections and resolutions December 2, 2013

Posted by ayasawada in Japan, Personal.
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I sat N3 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) yesterday. It’s the first test I’ve done in the new format. The last time I did it was passing the old 3kyu 5 years ago, back in the dark ages when there were just 4 levels and the test was just once a year.

A lot of things have changed since then – we now, thankfully, get to take the test twice a year and there is now a new intermediate test level bridging the chasm that used to sit between 3kyu and 2kyu. Still, some things never change: the whole thing still takes 5 hours – at least an hour longer than necessary – due to endless amounts of unnecessary faffing caused by Japanese bureaucracy. Why we have to rigidly be in our seats at the start only to then sit for 25 minutes staring into space is beyond me.

It was nice to get back into the swing of things though, and having a test to aim for certainly sharpened my focus over the last year of study, particularly these last 2 months.

So how did the test itself go? In all honesty, I’m disappointed at my performance. Devastated even.

Right from the first paper (vocabulary), I knew I was screwed. The first question was unexpectedly unknown to me and the rest of the paper ended up 80% guess-work on my part. I hadn’t expected to remember all the vocabulary – particularly as many words I’ve only studied once at best – but I had hoped to only have to guess, at most, 30% of the answers.

That was rather a shock to the system, but I tried not to let my head drop, particularly with the monster 70min reading/grammar section coming up next. Unfortunately, I also misjudged this. I got bogged down and spent far too long on the ‘easier’ questions at the start (easier but NOT easy I can tell you). Thus, I ran out of time for the longer reading passages, and thus didn’t finish the paper (I picked random answers rather than leave them blank though – it’s multiple choice, I might as well). This despite me knowing full well how tight the timing would be. The disappointing thing is that it’s not like I couldn’t do these bits, it’s just that I couldn’t read and comprehend them fast enough in the 30 mins I’d foolishly left to do them in.

The final listening section was, at least, about what I expected. I’ve been doing a full mock test run-through every weekend for the past month, so I was fully versed in how the sections went and scoring decently. I’m hopeful I did enough to pass this section, though I don’t think I did spectacularly well (I think I probably got at least a quarter wrong. The hard thing with the listening is that you have no time to think as you only hear things once – given a second listen or an extra few seconds to work out the logic of some questions one usually does better).

So all in all, pretty abysmal, which really disappoints me as I had put in a lot of time and effort, studying every day for the last 6 weeks at least. It’s not a waste as such – the intensity has definitely improved my knowledge and ability. But still disheartening, as I had expected to at least feel like I was on the borderline and might scrape a pass with a bit of luck. I’m very doubtful of that now.

On the plus side, I did learn a few things. For one thing, what my true weak points are. I spent a lot of time worrying about the listening (hence the mock tests) and the reading (hence a lot of practice questions – though crucially not so many timed). But in reality, my recall of vocabulary and kanji was a real problem, making the ‘easier’ vocabulary paper a bit of a nightmare and knocking my confidence right at the beginning. Our class has crammed a lot of vocabulary into our heads over the past 6 months and I don’t think I’ve really made the effort in my own time to revise what we’ve learned. But having now gone through most if not all the vocab we need to know for N3, I want to spent the next 6 months properly learning then by heart. But there’s tonnes and I’m not sure what the best way of doing this is. Simply re-reading them seems too passive. Flashcards maybe? Or just drilling lots more practice questions and papers? If you have any suggestions, do comment – I’m all ears.

For the reading, I think my mistakes are fixable. In hindsight, I should’ve started the paper from the back, working in reverse. The last few questions all require at least 10 mins each to do and are worth more points I believe – if I were going to spend longer on my first few questions better it be the ones that require longer. I could then have more easily skimmed and guessed the shorter ‘easier’ questions from the beginning in whatever time I had left at the end. Strategy for next time. On top of which, I really need to get into the 70 minute window habit so as well as the listening mock test drills, I’m going to make myself sit full reading mock tests in the month leading up to the next test in July. As well as making sure that every individual practice reading question I do between now and July is to time – 3, 5 or 10 mins as per whatever the recommended time allocation is depending on the type of question.

And while I did put in a lot of time and effort studying these past 2-3 months, I don’t think I did enough. I didn’t make enough sacrifices, partly because my day job is pretty demanding, but also because I at various times took on freelance work or attempted to stick with social appointments, fitting in 30 mins study here or there or trying to study for an hour at 11pm at night. Again, in hindsight, I’m not sure how useful that is – 30 mins during your workday isn’t really enough time to get into the right mindset, apart from maybe looking through some flashcards or doing some drills. And studying late at night is just silly (getting more sleep each night is also one of my overall New Year resolutions!). So more dedication from earlier on in the lead up (from January onwards) is what I vow to rectify.

One useful thing my class did is meet up mid-week for a study club, and we’re going to continue that from January (after giving ourselves a month off to recover!). With our regular 2 hour class and another session mid-week, plus at least 2 more one hour slots of self-study scattered through the rest of the week, that should be enough to keep the nihongo brain in gear. I’ll then increase the intensity in the final 6-8 weeks before the next test. Of course, me writing this blog post is another way of making sure I do it….



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