We are now somewhere around the midpoint of the year and hopefully you are around halfway through what you planned out in the first month. If you are feeling that your motivation is slipping a little, you might want to check back with month 2. Are you looking to make a change with your studies? How about giving month 4 another read? Constant tweaking and adjusting can really help your studies.
It being the midway point, now is a good time to take another snapshot of your studies. Have you covered roughly half the vocabulary you wanted to cover this year? How about your writing? Are you keeping a good journal? Have you been practicing with regular conversation? What has been working and what hasn’t been working for you? Everyone is a little different as to what they can get into and excited about, so don’t be afraid to try something different or something that isn’t the super efficient way of studying. Do what is right for you.
Most people use a spaced repetition system (SRS) to manage most of their vocabulary learning. My personal favorite is Memrise.com, but there is also the standalone program Anki. These systems remind you of a word just about the time you are going to forget it, so you don’t need to manually schedule anything. I went over the differences before.
So, scheduling is out of the way. Now, it is just a question of pace. Are you able to keep up the pace that you set for yourself at the beginning of the year? Is your pace a little too ambitious? For instance, I think the maximum someone with a regular work schedule can squeeze in is around 25 words a day. And even then, those words should be spaced out through the day and not in one big marathon session in the morning. If you put in 3 study sessions a day, e.g. 5-10 words in the morning, 5-10 at lunch, and 5-10 before you go to bed, your focus and willpower will be able to recover enough to make sure you really retain the information.
When reviewing words, always ask yourself a few questions. First, can you use the word in a sentence easily? If you get two words confused a lot, what is the difference between them? Only very rarely are two words completely interchangeable, there is usually a slight difference in the connotation or in what situations the word is used. Make sure to take the time to explore these differences instead of just marching on because you feel like you have to learn X number of words today.
If you are taking the test in December for N3 or above. You should have completed studying all the grammar points by now. You can go at a different pace of course, but the reason I recommend learning them all first before going on to reading and listening is that grammar is special in that you really need to over-learn it.
Over-learning allows you to become truly confident with the material so that you can answer questions about it quickly. Also, a lot of the grammar at the N3 and above levels is rarer. It is still used, but you might see a handful of situations where N3 grammar is used in a book or tv show.
For N1, you may only see a particular grammar point or expression used once every 400 pages you read or even rarer. They are often times specialized phrases reserved for dramatic speeches and formal writing which you may never need to work with in the future, but are handy to have around none the less.
So at N3 and above, regular review is necessary. A good way to do this is to go back through your drill books and work through the test questions again. You might think that they will be too easy and some of them will be, but you’ll get at least a few of them wrong. Sometimes they will be questions you got wrong before. Sometimes they will be new questions that you didn’t have problems with before.
For N4 and N5, if you have been following this study guide so far, you should be about halfway through all the grammar points already. Now is an excellent time to look back through everything you have learned so far and test yourself to see if you can use it all. Be especially picky about particles. A lot of the N5 and N4 grammar questions revolve around how to use particles. At the N4 level, you will start to learn a few phrases and other grammar points, but there a lot of particles that you should do your best to master.
Finally, for all the levels, put yourself in the test writers’ shoes and try writing some test questions for yourself. Walking through the thought process of how they test you will help you to think about the grammar in a different way and make it easier for you to answer questions on the test. It will also help you spot some known trouble spots that you might not have been aware of.
Regular Review Makes it all Click
There are two different ways to learn a language I think, which causes a heated debate over what is the best way to get the job done. One school of thought is to take a calculated paced way of learning and reviewing and making sure you have come close to over-learning everything before moving on to the next topic. The other school of thought is more like a Panzer attack, strike hard and try to take out as many big targets as you can in the shortest amount of time. If you need something else, you can go back for it later.
Both methods have their merits, the second method can be a lot more motivating because it is usually driven by necessity and what you want to use. People that use this method tend to make a lot more mistakes, but they learn from those mistakes and usually end up being pretty good speakers. The first method takes more time over all, and can lead you to getting bogged down in details, but allows you to use the full set of tools that are available to you and will eventually make you a better speaker. It is also the method that is better suited for the JLPT, since the test likes to nick-pick on all the little details.
There is always the temptation to run after the shiny new piece of grammar or vocabulary word that you haven’t learned yet. But, try to resist that urge for a while and focus on the small differences between the grammar points. These small differences are not immediately apparent, as you may be studying each grammar point by itself, but that is why writing your own test questions can really make these pop out.
July Test Takers
You have just one month before the test in July. You might be thinking that there isn’t much you can do in this last month before the test that would even make a difference. But, there is actually a lot of things you can do that will help you get a few extra points.
First thing to do is take a practice test. I mentioned before that there are a lot of free JLPT practice tests you can take, but there are also some paid ones that are pretty cheap and pack a lot into them. What I like most about the paid practice tests is they have fairly detailed explanations of each answer, so if you are studying by yourself you are able to understand why you got the question wrong.
Second, this last month is a good time to review what you know and over-learn it all. Most levels require you to answer questions quickly and confidently and that means knowing the grammar points inside and out. I generally try to avoid starting anything new unless it is reading or listening practice. This is a time to sharpen your sword and make sure everything is solid.
Third, in the final week before the exam, there are a few strategies you can try out. I and a few other test takers usually go on a vocabulary binge, trying to study as many vocabulary words as possible in the lead up to the big day. Of course, it is best to learn all the words for a given level way before this last month, but memorizing words takes a lot of time, and sometimes you just don’t make it in time.
Overall, don’t get stressed out. Even if you need the test for something like work or school, try not to think so seriously about it. The more relaxed and carefree I was with the test, the higher I scored. Last time I took it, I had had a long week moving, I was tired, I hadn’t studied much of all over the last month, so I just went in with the attitude of trying my best and not really caring if I passed or not. I ended up seeing my highest jump in points yet with the N1, so don’t fret.
How about you?
How’s your studying going? What kinds of problems do you have when you review? Let me know in the comments below.
This is just an excerpt from the JLPT Study Kit. Inside the kit, you’ll also find:
- Different kinds of activities to use to study Japanese
- How to review for the test effectively
- How to build mnemonics easily that help you remember words the first time you see them.
- a PDF checklist of what to do each month
- and more…
If you haven’t picked up the kit, why not give it a try? It has a 90 day money back guarantee, so you have nothing to lose!