JLPT N2 and Reading Comprehension

With about 4.5 months left before the JLPT N2, I have been focusing on two main areas: reading and listening. Listening I can do at home watching TV with my family, or talking with my wife and daughter. Practice tests showed I score a little better in listening than I thought.

Reading comprehension, or dokkai (読解) is difficult for me though. Each time I take the practice tests, I struggle a lot on reading the long, difficult essays, especially because time is so limited. I tend to be calm during tests in general, but for the JLPT N3 reading section, I remember having a big panic attack during the exam because I felt that I didn’t undersatnd anything and time was running out. That was my fault. I did pass, but my reading score was the worst of the three.

Plus I’ve talked with people who already passed the N2 and they confirmed that time is pretty short and the essays are difficult. Reading manga isn’t too helpful either I’ve found, because the format and topics in the essays are quite different.

Reading comprehension, even in one’s own language can be hard, so it’s much harder in foreign language. With reading comprehension in general you have develop broad background, build vocab, recognize the structure of paragraphs, etc. But what about reading in a foreign language?

I’ve spent a lot of time using the N2 Gokaku Dekiru workbook. This workbook is pretty comprehensive in covering all topics for the JLPT N2, and the vocab and grammar sections have made me want to cry because they are difficult. The good news is that they helped me prepare a lot for practice tests, so the workbook is certainly effective. I still get maybe half the essays wrong, but I’ve been workign hard to review my mistakes and work through the essay again until I understand the correct answer, and why.

What I often find in my case is that I can physically read the words fine, but I can’t put them together in a way that has any real meaning. I believe I haven’t spent enough time overall reading Japanese at a sufficient level to get familiar with how words are put together to make good sentences (in other words, how people express things). I can read, but not understand, in other words. So, I’ve been working on this lately by reviewing essays and trying to really get familiar with how people write in Japanese.

In the same way, I’ve learned a lot of helpful pointers for the reading sections too, that I wanted to pass along. Some are things I figured out, others are suggestions from the book:

  • No matter how short time is, slow down! Read both the question and the answers very carefully. If don’t understand either the question or the 4 answers carefully, you’re likely to pick the wrong answer even if you understood the gist of the essay. This happens to me a lot. I’ve had wrong answers because I skimmed too much and two answers looked very similar, or I misunderstood the question because I didn’t read carefully.
  • While you’re at it, take the time to understand each sentence. By the N2 level, the essays have subtle nuances that can drive you crazy (they drive me crazy). It’s tempting to rush because of time, but then you’ll just miss details and get it wrong anyway. Also, taking time to understand the essay helps me at least, avoid the panic feeling I get when I don’t understand something and I feel like I am losing control of the situation. When I took the N3 exam, I remember having a panic attack during the reading section because I felt I didn’t have enough time and didn’t understand what I was reading. Pace yourself, balance time against comprehension.
  • The book also recommends that you read the questions first before you read the essay. Based on my experience, they are right. This helps a lot because you can filter out the important details more easily, and it saves you the hassle of re-reading the essay a second time after you read the question.
  • Don’t get hung up on the extra vocab words they put in there. I found they usually don’t affect the comprehension of the essay much. They help, but if you’re reading skills are strong, you can still comprehend the meaning just fine.

In any case, you should still practice, practice, practice. I found with the Gokaku Dekiru workbook, there are still critical vocabulary words that I missed, and also that sometimes I was hasty or careless, so I have been training myself to “think” more carefully as I read the essays. Probably good practice for real life anyway. But if you have the benefit of time, find good reading sources other then manga. You need to laern how to read more complex reading sources or the JLPT N2 essays will seem long and painful. This site suggests reading children’s newspaper articles instead, which have roughly the same length as the JLPT essays.

Either way, reading comprehension is a tough skill to learn, like conversation, so it requires time and investment. Shortcuts will only help a little.

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.

4 thoughts on “JLPT N2 and Reading Comprehension

  1. First of all, allow me to congratulate you for this wonderful blog of yours.:)

    Secondly, 頑張れーwith the JLPT N2 test preparation!

    Third, I would like your advice/opinion. I’m a professional Japanese/English/Spanish translator who graduated at the end of 2006 from college and has been, more or less, keeping her Japanese alive ever since. I live in Chile (South America) and I’ve never been to Japan (yet).

    For the first time ever, this year the university I graduated from is hosting the JLPT in my country. Before, you had to go abroad in order to take it, which is why I’ve never taken it. But now I’m thinking about taking it, although I’m not sure if I should. The test in on December and I haven’t even began studying or preparing myself for it. Of course, I’ve worked more or less with some Japanese texts during these years, but lately that’s been scarce… And although I used to listen to a lot of music and watch a lot of doramas in Japanese, I certainly have kinda stopped doing so because I got “saturated” with so much Japanese…

    So, long story short, I’m kinda out of practice and I don’t even have a lot of money to just buy a bunch of books and kill myself studying from now until the test.😛 I’ve been trying to find books to download to begin studying something and all, but… I haven’t had much luck.

    I’m still debating whether or not to actually take the test but… My question is: if you had to buy 1 book that would help you prepare for this test (N2 and all), which one would it be? Would it be the Goukaku Dekiru? I’ve been thinking about getting that one, since it’s not so expensive (taxes and shipping expenses included…) and it seems to cover all sections of the test. But I’m not 100% sure and, since you seem to be using it and preparing for the N2 too… I’d love your opinion. Would it be worth it to buy it and use it as my guide?

    Sorry to bother you with this but… Thank you, in advance, for whatever help you may provide.

    Best regards!

  2. Hi Andrea and welcome to the JLR!

    I am very happy to hear that the JLPT is now offered in yoru area. I lived in Ireland for a while, and it wasn’t offered there until recently, so I know how you felt. As for last-minute help, without costing too much, yes I think the Gokaku Dekiru books are excellent. It covers all subjets on the test, and is really hard, so it makes you more prepared. It took me months to work through the book, but I am a parent and working, so I am really busy. I hope you can get through the book quicker.

    Also, spend a lot of time practicing listening. People always neglect this until too late. The JLPT page here has links and suggestions for free listening practice.

    If you can afford, try to find some Japanese manga (they’re somewhat cheap), you can practice reading with. Just pick one you like, doesn’t matter what, and read it many times until you can read it comfortably. It will help your reading speed too.

    Best wishes on the test.

    P.S. Take the test no matter what. The test experience will teach you a lot.

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