Note: If you don’t care about my journey to the JLPT and just want STUFF YOU CAN ACTUALLY USE SHUT UP ALREADY – skip to below the first picture.
I’m not proud to say or admit publicly that I’ve failed the test twice. It’s especially hard when you see your friends go on to pass the N1, and you’re still stuck.
I had a few excuses – both times I took it before were very bad timing. Something kind of awful happened before each one. One of these things I found out about literally right before I walked in the building for the test, via text. The second one happened in two steps, one step two days before the test, and the second on the day before, leading to very little sleep and a less-than-rested mind. I’m honestly not sure which made it harder to concentrate.
But. Those are excuses. The truth is if I had properly prepared I might have been able to overcome these setbacks. But I hadn’t. I could communicate in Japanese, I was in an upper-level Japanese class, and I had so much practice. Study? Nah.
The fact is though, that the JLPT isn’t an ordinary test. Many would argue that it’s not a good measure of your fluency, and I agree to some extent. In the Japanese education system so much is based on input, and the JLPT is no exception. There is no writing, there is no speaking. So, I’ve definitely met people that passed N1 and can’t hold a steady conversation in Japanese. Does that mean it’s a bad measure? I guess it depends on your goals. For me, it’s mainly about communication, which I can handle pretty well at this point. So the guy I know who passed N1 and can’t speak? He probably doesn’t have the same goal, and I guarantee he knows more vocabulary, grammar, and kanji than I do. But anyway, debating the usefulness of the JLPT is a topic for another post…
For now, I FINALLY PASSED! HALLELUJAH!
So how did I do it? I buckled down and started studying every single day way back in September, as soon as I was committed to taking the test.
My first task was to stop reading in English. I’m an English major. I love my books, so this was a challenge. Luckily my sister had been nice enough to get me the Harry Potter series in Japanese, and one of my best friends also sent me a book specifically designed to help you learn grammar for the N2 test, written only in Japanese. So I began taking these books with me everywhere and reading whenever I could. Generally that meant while I was waiting for the bus or riding on it (you’ll see what took up all of my free time at home below…). It got me a few stares, but also started a couple of interesting conversations.
I also knew I needed to listen to more Japanese. So I finally got into this whole podcast thing. I looked for as many Japanese podcasts as I could find that seemed remotely interesting and downloaded them. I searched for topics I’m interested in, such as refugees and world history. So for example, I typed “難民” (refugees) into the search bar and pretty much downloaded any that mentioned the word. If I liked the podcast well enough, then I would subscribe. And again, I’d listen whenever I could – getting ready for work every morning, taking a shower, washing dishes, etc.
I’ll probably make another post about the podcasts I explored later, but typing in what you like in Japanese or looking at what’s trending in Japan are good methods. Also NHK is really valuable, especially if you’re going for a high level. It’s really intimidating at first, but the more you listen the easier it becomes.
So I have reading and listening practice…what did I forget?
Ah, kanji. DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUN.
Luckily, I had this covered too, though I went a little insane given the limited time I had. I used the Heisig “Remembering the Kanji” method. If you are considering taking the JLPT, at least at a higher level, you probably know what this is. If you don’t, in short, it’s a method designed by James W. Heisig (who’s book you can (and should) find here), where you assign a concrete meaning to each radical, and then build off the radicals to make a story to remember each kanji. That might sound confusing, but trust me. It works. I highly, highly suggest it. I wish I had started this method when I started Japanese. And I suggest combining it with a shared Anki deck (free for computer or Android, costs money on iTunes (but I think it’s worth it)). Saves you a lot of time on making physical flashcards and sometimes you have unexpected fun. But if writing it down helps you remember, go for it.
My friends had been telling me for years to use Heisig, and I had always had an attitude of, “I’ll get to it sometime.” I had tried and stopped on a few occasions, including relatively recently before I committed to the test. Well the JLPT finally gave me the kick I needed to seriously dive in…and I went in a bit too deep for a sane person. I started out doing 20 a day, which was hard but not bad.
Then I did the math to see how many I needed to do a day in order to get through them all before the test, and I bumped it up to 50 new a day, with up to 500 reviews per day (and only because I capped my Anki deck at 500 reviews per day). Then when I ended up slacking due to some awful work stuff and another failed attempt at Nanowrimo, I was forced to bump it up further to 100 per day. I bumped it back down after a week; that’s way, way too much. Studying kanji is pretty much what I spent my downtime doing every day. SO. It’s March, people. Start now. Do 5 a day or even 1 a day if you’re super busy. Even one new kanji a day will have you with 60 new kanji by mid-May. That’s pretty sweet.
I plan to make origami of all the pages I filled of kanji and maybe I’ll post that later, but here’s an example of one day of my practice:
Later in my study game I was introduced to an awesome website called “Nihongonomori – 日本語の森” that teaches you grammar and vocabulary for each level of the JLPT. The night before the test, as Yuuki and I sat in our little hostel room, I solely watched these videos for about six hours straight, and then again in the morning. They’re so helpful, and clarified some questions I had about the grammar in the book my friend had sent me. Definitely check out their website, YouTube channel, or Facebook page. Can’t recommend them highly enough!
Unfortunately that headlong rush into December for the JLPT burnt me out of all of these things, so I pretty much stopped after the test. Writing this now, I kind of miss it. Don’t call me crazy, I like learning. I don’t know where I’ll be at next December, but hopefully I will be taking the N1. To that end, I need to get back into the game.
What do you do to prepare?