Taking the JLPT in Japan

Two years ago, I wrote about taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) for the first time. The test measures one’s reading and listening ability as well as knowledge of vocabulary, kanji, and grammar. There are 5 exam levels, N5 being the easiest and N1 being the most difficult. This past Sunday, I took level N3. In order to work for a Japanese company in Japan, one must past at least Level N2. For all things JLPT, the official website is the greatest go-to resource.

Three weeks prior to the exam date, I received my test voucher in the mail. Unlike the last time, it was a bilingual voucher giving instructions of best practices during the exam and directions to the test site. In order to take the test, you need to have this voucher on hand throughout the test so administrators can verify your identity.

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Studying for the Exam & Resources

Every day, I study Japanese whether I feel like it or not. Truthfully though, these days studying doesn’t feel like a task. It’s something I look forward to doing. In studying for the test this time around, I used more organic resources instead of workbooks and textbooks. However, I will say that the TRY! Nihongo workbooks are some of the best I’ve worked with in terms of giving clear explanations in English about grammar accompanied by lots of example sentences. After I finished the workbooks, I went back and translated the example sentences into English for practice and further my understanding.

The more I continue to study Japanese, the more I realize that it’s not all about the resources you use. However, for the ones you DO use, a good explanation in your native language of context and nuances of the language you’re studying is extremely beneficial. Resources aside, if you don’t have the motivation and passion for learning a language, you’re not going to get very far. You really have to be committed to it like a marriage. The greatest thing my Japanese teacher ever told me is that there are only 2 steps to learning a language: starting and continuing. You’re never finished learning a language. That said, here are a few of the resources I used for studying for the JLPT.

  • Kumon Correspondence Course
  • Conversation classes during the last month leading up to test
  • Reading books, magazines, and online blog articles in Japanese
  • Listening to Japanese music
  • Studying vocabulary with iKnow
  • Watching Japanese Youtubers, movies, and TV shows
  • TRY! workbooks – N3 and N4
  • Nihongo Somatome Series – N3 (grammar and kanji)
  • Living in Japan and having the language all around me

Post-exam Thoughts

My JLPT test site was at Nagasaki University’s Bunkyo Campus amongst floods of students from all over Asia. The exam was 4 hours long with 30 minute breaks in between each exam section: vocabulary, grammar and reading, and listening. All instructions were given in Japanese, which at the N3 level you should be able to understand what is being of asked of you.

First up was the vocabulary section (40 minutes). Going in, I felt confident that this would be the easiest portion of the exam. Despite how I did on the other 2 sections, I was sure the vocabulary section would be the one to determine if I passed or failed. The questions tested ability to translate kanji to hiragana and vice versa as well as how to use vocabulary words correctly in a sentence. The bad news is that after this part of the exam was over, I checked definitions of words and kanji I was unsure of and realized I had made the simplest mistakes. Checking definitions was also a mistake as it put me in a sour mood for the rest of the exam.

Next was grammar and reading comprehension (70 minutes). All the questions were multiple choice, the first portion tested grammar knowledge and the second portion was answering questions about short essays from the exam booklet. I knew this would be the most difficult part of the test, and after not having a clue of the answers to the first 5 questions, I felt hopeless. The chances of passing this exam were slimming. My brain worked so hard during the reading portion that it felt like it could set fire at any moment. Neve have I concentrated so hard on reading and understanding Japanese. During the last section, listening (40 minutes), I burned out and gave up. Compared to N5 however, the listening portion was easier to understand, but it’s still my greatest weakness when it comes to language learning.

After taking level N5 in 2012, I remember telling my Japanese teacher how easy it was and how confident I was that I had passed. And I did. This time around, I am 70% confident I did NOT pass. I know it’s just a test and it shouldn’t matter to me as much as it does. But after having studied and worked so hard to get to this point, I walked away knowing I won’t get the result I want, and it leaves me wondering what all that hard work was for. I feel a bit defeated, but I’ve already spent 2+ years studying Japanese so there’s no other option than to continue. To quit would be the greatest dishonor to how much I’ve achieved thus far.

Test results will be posted in August. Overall, pass or fail, the test did make me realize I’ve made progress with my learning, but I still have a LONG way to go. And unless a future company I work for requests it, I don’t see myself taking the JLPT again.

Have you ever taken the JLPT? What kind of insight do you have for future test takers?

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