Test strategy is something that is often overlooked when taking the JLPT. I certainly overlooked it when I first took the test. I innocently thought that the test would simply grade you on your level. I think I didn’t even know about the concept of test strategy and that you might have to use it to pass the test.
But, knowing a few basic test taking strategies can push your score just a little higher and give you the passing score that you need. I’ve started to utilize a few of these while I’m taking the test and it probably helped me pass the test last December. If I had score two points less than I did, I would have had to do it all over again.
And that is definitely something you don’t want to have happen to you. You don’t want to have to put in all the sweat and effort just to come up short by 2 or even 1 point when simply doing a little prioritizing could have helped you out. In order to prioritize properly though, you need to know the answer to the following question:
How Much is Each Question Worth?
And that question has a rather difficult answer. Because for the most part, we can’t really know for certain how much each question is worth exactly. They no longer publish the test specifications, and so we no longer know how much weight each question has for certain.
Of course, if I stopped there, this would be a very short blog post.
So, it is time to do a little bit of guessing. A lot of this should be no brainer stuff really. Questions that take longer to answer should in theory be worth more. Or at least that is the presumption I’m going with. Also, a few mock tests out there happen to agree with me as well. So let’s go with that.
Questions that are Worth More
Vocabulary Usage Questions – These are the questions found in the last part of the vocabulary section of every level of the exam except N5 (you luck out). These questions are generally testing two things: 1) Do you know the correct part of speech? 2) Do you know the specific meaning that the word has? (e.g. is this clear as in I can see through it, or clear as in a clear idea)
These questions are probably worth twice as much as a regular vocabulary question, so it is probably a good idea to spend a little extra time on them in the exam. For N4 and N3 levels, the vocabulary section is administered separately from the grammar/reading and so you can try to race through the vocabulary questions at the beginning and spend a little extra time on these until the timer goes off.
For N2 and N1 levels the reading/grammar section globbed together with the vocabulary, making it one big 105 or 110 minute section. You’ll probably want to spend more time on the reading sections at these levels though. You generally need as much time as you can for that section of the exam.
Long Passage Questions – The questions about the reading passages are generally worth more points than all the other grammar/vocabulary questions, but the long passages could be worth 3 or 4 times as much as one vocabulary question. Meaning that one question on a long passage is almost worth the same as one part of the vocabulary section.
These passages can be found in the 3rd part of the reading section of N3, the 4th part of the reading section of N2, and the 3rd and 5th parts of the reading section of N1. These are more generally focused on overall comprehension more than point comprehension and so take a longer time to answer.
Information Retrieval – These questions are in the last part of the reading section for every level. They are generally easier to answer, but take good scanning/skimming skills. They are believed to be worth as much as the longer passages.
For reading, I would recommend going through the reading questions first if you are taking the N2 and N1 exams and then going back to vocabulary and grammar if you have trouble with reading. Be careful though, don’t spend too much time in the reading section.
For the listening section, you can’t really prioritize that much. Just be aware that the quick response questions (the ones with only 3 chooses) are worth about half of what the other questions are worth, so don’t spend too much time on them. Give them a guess and move on.
Devise a Plan
Now that you know what the meatier questions are, it is best to work out a plan of attack. Plan out how you are going to take the test. Are you going to start with another section first? Or are you going to go the safe route and start from the front? Either way make sure you have worked out in your head before you get into the exam. You want all the thinking time you have for answering questions.
Do you have a plan of attack?
How are you going to attack the test? Do you have a general plan or are you going to just take it straight through? Let me know in the comments.
Photo by Avinash Kunnath