Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) has been for years, the official and internationally recognised touchstone that non-Japanese people rely on to measure just how good their Japanese really is. Whether it be N5 level you are aiming for, or straight away challenging N1, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind when preparing for this “Competitive Exam”.
Before I get into this post, here’s a quick refresher on the main subject of this article.
Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or JLPT, in simple terms, is a test to evaluate certain Japanese Language skill sets you need:
- to basically survive a short stay in Japan (N5 level),
- to be able to hold basic conversation with a Native speaker (N4 level),
- to express your thoughts better to a Native speaker (N3 level),
- to be able to hold a business/professional conversation with a Native speaker (N2 level),
- to fluently deliver your thoughts like a Native speaker (N1 level).
(There is definitely much more to these 5 levels than what is mentioned here.)
Every year, about an average of 600,000 people globally take a crack at proving their skills. About 50% of those people pass the test, and receive a certificate of their victory.
(Source – http://www.jlpt.jp/e/statistics/)
People around the world appear for this test for a lot of reasons. Many take this to get into a Japanese school/university or land themselves an easy job in Japan, while many take it as a hobby. Personally, I do it to have Japan evaluate me for my language skills…….regularly.
I will be elaborating my JLPT experience in a separate post, for those interested (leave it in the comments if you are!). Read about My JLPT Journey(in brief).
I will be talking in detail about this test in a different post.
Okay, so coming back on the topic,
If you are really trying to ace your JLPT, or just glide through the passing marks, no matter where you are on your learning journey, these few tips can help you grab the test by its neck(pun intended).
一・ Know your motive
All in all, it is up to you. Before you dive into the strategies and study plans aimed to ace JLPT, think of your motives. Why are you really studying for the test? Is it just for a sense of accomplishment on your hard work? Is it for self-evaluation? Is it to get a job in a Japanese company? Or maybe study abroad in Japan? Is it to give yourself an extra push, since you know you won’t study unless you don’t want to waste your entry fee? A mere interest that may be lost in time? Hobby? Passion?
Nothing wrong with any of these to be honest. If you’re currently deep in the trenches trying to study for the JLPT, close all your books and ask yourself these questions. The moment you have a clear answer as to why you need to have JLPT certification, is the moment you are half way across the path to your goal.
二・ Set your priorities straight
Once you are enlightened enough and on the right path, it is time to get on with preparing for the test. You need to sit down and draft your priorities on a paper first. You then go about setting time and managing your resources, or getting a teacher to help you with your prep.
Just as it is explained rightly in this Japanese 四字熟語（よじじゅくご）4-character idiom:
|本末転倒（ほんまつてんとう）||putting the cart before the horse|
mistaking the insignificant for the essential；getting one’s priorities backwards；failing to properly evaluate the importance
あ・Set a Goal
Whatever level you are at, you need to know how to move forward towards your goal. And for that, you need to have a goal first. JLPT Nx level is a big goal, as I see it. It is vast and diverse and not limited to learning 20 words a day. Set smaller goals that you can achieve on a regular basis, than have JLPT waiting for you 3 months ahead. Having one day goals or week goals help you plan out a timeline and ease self-analyzation the more you stick to it.
い・Know your level
Easy is relative. No two people have, will have the exact same Japanese Proficiency. No two people will have spent the exact same amount of time studying for a test. No two people will have studied in the exact same way. Be honest with yourself about your abilities, regardless of the effort you think you are putting into learning it.
Please don’t get caught up in “peer pressure testing”. If your friends are all teamed up to go and get their hands on N3, but you secretly feel more confident going for N4, go with the level You feel the most comfortable with.
Of course, there can be exceptions to this thinking. Some people can thrive better under pressure, while having set a goal 4 months ahead may push some people to achieve the impossible and study beyond their limits. Although, knowing your true level can easily translate into better JLPT scores.
Self-assessment Tips: There are different ways in which self-assessment of your Japanese language skills can be achieved. One of these is the JAPAN FOUNDATION STANDARD (JFS), taught exclusively by the Japan Foundation. I will write a separate post for this in the future.
う・Know your sources
After you get a clear idea as to where you exactly stand in your JLPT journey, you can now venture for the right study materials that can help enforce your overall skill set. Having a basic Japanese textbook for levels N5~N3 is a must. These help you build a solid foundation of necessary vocabulary, kanji, reading and listening. If you’re really trying to crack JLPT, finding resources that closely mirror the actual test can be the final key.
However, not limiting yourself to these resources is equally important. Checking out other books on occasion, like reading manga, easy newspaper articles and watching Japanese movies/animes/drama can turn out to be an extensive source of knowledge, that you may not realise.
But, flipping through new sources should be kept way before the actual test. The earlier the better. We don’t want you having a fit right before the test, saying “I don’t get any of this stuff!”, now do we? That can be a real confidence buster. I tell from experience.
え・Keep at it
One of the best ways to grasp all of the vocabulary, kanji, and unearthly grammar rules, is to stick to it like a leech. Keep practicing them! Learn few kanjis and keep typing them on your keyboard, than those everyday Good morning messages. Use new vocabulary and converse with a Japanese speaker. Talk as much as you can, in the bathroom, while you drive, at home to yourself, anywhere, all the time. Reinforcing what you have studied is crucial, but it is best to keep at it like crazy. (comes from experience – the talk to yourself part).
How do you know which materials are going to be useful for the test? How do you know what to study more and what can be left out as a novel read? Model others who have successfully passed the very test you’re trying your best to crack. If you see successful members of a club (*ahem) talking about how they love XX Book Series, it may be time to go give it a try.
Consulting with successful JLPTers can help you pave a path for your yet-to-be-thought-of study plan and help you achieve your dreams.
三・Keep Calm and JLPT
After having persevered through your set goals and clearing each stage one-by-one, you are now ready to go to the battlefield. But since an actual battle can be very different than all the preparatory simulations, always be prepared for what’s to come and measures in case they do.
Take a week before the test date to relax yourself and fall back on your preparation. You can flip through the tacked pages of your grammar notes, write down a few kanjis for self-healing, or just layback and do nothing at all. Don’t worry since your brain’s smart enough to keep all what you studied safe and ready for use a week later. Entering new information at this stage is a NO-GO.
い・Test Day 態度
The most important part in cracking JLPT, aside from your language abilities, is Time management. Since JLPT is a Competitive exam, and like many other tests we have taken in the past, analysing how much time you spend on a particular section of the test, is as crucial as it can be. Do not think that you have more time than you do. I say this because I’ve been there! I left out 2 whole questions in my N1 reading section since I forgot to check the time the end of the test.
Failing the JLPT because you get carded* for doing something dumb like cheating or talking during the test? That’s the last thing we want.
*The JLPT uses a card system to silently warn or eject people who are caught talking or cheating on the exam. They also show cards if they find your mobile phone ringing or vibrating during the test. So be careful to not drop out just before the goal line.
I hope these tips help you in your JLPT journey. I myself have problems keeping up with constant learning. My inspiration comes in spurts. At times I am in no mood to study and just laze around all the time.
For all those out there trying their hands at this test, how is your progress? And all of you successful JLPTers, what are your tips to cracking JLPT?
Please let me know in the comments section below.