For all the times I’ve mentioned that I was studying for and planning to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), I’ve never actually gone through with my plans and written the test! On two previous occasions I just felt that my studies, or lack thereof, meant that it was pretty pointless to sit it as I was pretty much guaranteed to fail it.
On July 5 this year though I arrived at Matsumoto University and whipped out my pencils to take the N5 level test along with countless other eager Japanese language learners all across Japan.
Just over two hours later I emerged into the bright sun knowing that pass or fail I’m glad that I finally managed to work up the courage to go through and sit for the test.
So here’s what I learned after taking the test:
Grammar is important!
This is sort of self-explanatory but I really underestimated the amount of time that I would have to answer grammar questions which meant that I had to use guesswork for some of the answers when I wasn’t too sure. Study your grammar beforehand and you’ll be far more relaxed on the day!
Don’t focus too much on one aspect.
Before the test I was furiously pumping almost all my study time into kanji as that was the one part of learning Japanese that I’d neglected. I managed to get through over 300 kanji and breezed through that part of the test. The only problem is that I didn’t have enough time to study my grammar which meant that some simple grammar questions caught me out.
Work to a plan!
Self-studying a language is crazy difficult. More so when you work a full-time job and have a family. That’s why I’ve come to realize that the first step you should always do when you set out to study is to write up a study plan. You’ll want to set out your long-term goals as well as your short-term goals so that you know what you’re working towards. After that start laying out your weekly study schedule and what you would like to get through each day at a minimum. The important thing here is to not set the bar too high for yourself. If you fail to meet your goals you’ll soon find yourself unmotivated and eventually you’ll just throw in the towel.
Cool it with the textbooks!
By that I mean don’t go overboard and try to confuse quantity with quality. I’ve found myself living with a pile of Japanese textbooks, all of them good in their own way, but trying to work through several books at once is a recipe for disaster. Rather look online at reviews or ask friends their opinions on which books work best and how they are structured. Once you’re certain of a textbook that’s going to meet your needs then buy it and work your way through it. At most you should have one grammar textbook (or series), a grammar dictionary, one or two test review / drill books and maybe a kanji textbook.
Work with a friend or teacher.
While self-studying Japanese is a great way to prepare for the exam it helps even more if you have a teacher to give you those small nuggets of information that only native speakers of Japanese know. A lot of the time you might be bashing your head against a brick wall with a certain grammar point and all you needed was to use a friend as a sounding board or to help give you a different way of approaching the problem. Study sessions with friends are the perfect way to motivate yourself as well.
I can’t begin to tell you just how nervous I was as I walked into the testing room. I was sure that I had forgotten almost everything I’d learned up until that point and that I would hopelessly fail the test and have to just throw in the towel and give up trying to learn Japanese. Your biggest enemy when it comes to the JLPT (or any test) is yourself. If you have prepared well and studied your hardest then the morning of the test you should refresh only a few points you are unsure of and then take some time to relax and calm your nerves.
While the above tips will help you on the day of the test, you will have to put in a lot of studying ahead of time to get confidence and be able to answer the questions that the test puts in front of you.
Hopefully the tips I’ve given will help those of you looking to take the JLPT and remember, you can do it!