Getting Pummeled by the JLPT

So this Sunday I undertook the JLPT exam, level N3, which also features an all new format for 2010. This post will not cover the contents of the new test (I don’t want to get in trouble and invalidate my efforts), but I will talk about my own experience, and what worked for me and what didn’t.

I came into this test with some pretty big challenges I think: new test format, new level, and almost no study material. I spent the year reading lots of manga, and listening to podcasts, then moving on to TV dramas my wife gets from family at home (I liked “Kaibutsu-kun” 怪物くん a lot and will watch again). So, I came into the test feeling motivated, but pretty apprehensive. To be honest, the test was quite difficult and I didn’t walk away from the test as confident as I did the previous year when I took the old JLPT 3 (now N4). However, out of a classroom of about 20 people, I saw that 3 people didn’t come back after the first break. I guess they realized they were going to fail. I had my own sense of panic attack during the middle section, but managed to finish the test without any unanswered questions left. I am happy I accomplished at least that.

As the JLPT home page shows, the N3 test comprises of 3 sections: vocabulary/grammar, reading and listening. For me, the vocabulary/grammar was by far the hardest. I was really caught off -guard by words I realize I should have known but didn’t. When I asked my Japanese wife about it later, she pointed out those were common words to know (e.g. why didn’t you know them already? ;) ), so it was pretty humbling.

Reading was less difficult for me, owing to my experience reading manga a lot: Chibi Marukochan (Hyakunin Isshu), Ryō-san, and the new “Seinto Oniisan” manga which I’ll take about in a post next week. I still struggled to finish the test on time, though. Normally I like to finish quickly and review my answers for later, but I just barely finished in time. Still, given how much content there was, I was happy to finish even finish at all.

By far the easiest for me was listening.1 I was surprised given that most JLPT test-takers dread the listening section. The new format was clever and definitely tested one’s ability to listen and comprehend, but proved to be practical as well. I liked it and felt better completing that section than the other two. I think watching Japanese dramas, podcasts, and watching cartoons with my little girl (Shimajiro, Anpanman, etc) helped here more than I expected. The dialogues sounded a bit artificially slow (since this is beginning Japanese) compared to what I am used to listening to at home.

So, I walked away from the test with mixed feelings. I wasn’t happy about the vocabulary/grammar sections, even though I am certain I answered at least half the questions right, but felt better about the other two.

The scoring for the JLPT N3 is still somewhat confusing to me, but based on the JLPT site link above, it looks like you need to pass each section with at least a 1/3 of the questions right (19/60 per section), and with total passing score of about 53% (95/180). That way, you can’t pass the exam with a lop-sided score (100% vocab, low score in listening), which makes a lot of sense. The creators of the JLPT want candidates to demonstrate more well-balanced skills. Anyway, based on this information I feel I actually might have passed though I am still worried about my grammar/vocabulary score in particular.

Unfortunately, as with past tests, we won’t know the results until probably February. The test was a lot more nerve-wracking and less enjoyable than the previous year because of so many unknowns, and depending on whether I pass or not, I am trying to decide if I want to put in the same effort next year. For the amount of effort I put into it (in spite of parenting, work, etc), I am disappointed and frustrated by my poor performance on the test. If I don’t pursue the JLPT next year, I will just devote my time enjoying Japanese media, and maybe just take a year off. My wife mentioned some anecdotes about people living here who somehow took an interest in Japan and there Japanese improved a lot because they were motivated by their own newfound hobby as opposed to a conscious need to study. The JLPT is not a hobby for me, but obvious Japanese culture is, so this may or may not be my last JLPT test, but my studies and exploration will continue all the same. :)

1 I suppose this is a good thing in a way, since listening is the slowest, most time-consuming skill to acquire. You just can’t cram for it.

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About Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.
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