We are inching closer to the big test day on December 4th. I’m getting regular emails from everyone about what they can do to increase their score this late in the game. You’ve studied as much as you were motivated to, you hopefully went through all those JLPT prep books you bought to get ready for test day. So, you might think you have done everything you can to get ready. But, there are some things you should keep in mind before you head to the test.
Test-taking is an imperfect way of measuring your skills. Even though it is the best current way to do so, it has its faults. Take the JLPT tests your Japanese ability, but it also inadvertently tests your test-taking ability. And this is a skill you to need to learn to maximize your points. How to manage your time, familiarity with test questions, what kind of test questions will be asked are all things you should know if you want the best score.
Another aspect of test-taking is the mental game. It’s not enough to simply know the material, you need to be able to endure the mental endurance of the test itself. Simple things like losing focus during a critical moment of the listening or going blank in the middle of a reading passage can obviously cost you points. The JLPT will stress your focus more than real life because there is no going back in some sections like listening. And for the higher levels, you only get one, sometimes relatively quick break. That might not be enough to recoup your mental strength. So, what can you do to be prepared?
Decide on a Plan
Hopefully by now you have taken at least one practice or mock exam. This is helpful for any level of the test, but especially important if you are at the N2 or higher level. N2 and N1 require some different skills and generally better time management because there are only two testing sessions for these tests. The first session is quite long, almost 2 hours. So, you need to get a feel for how best to use that time.
So, first things first, if you haven’t done a mock/practice test, you can check out some of the free ones from the JLPT organization. They call them workbooks, but they are basically full mock tests, made up of questions from previous tests. I’ve added notes to the first three levels:
JLPT N3 Workbook
JLPT N4 Workbook
JLPT N5 Workbook
The Workbooks for N2 and N1 are only available on JLPT.jp due to copyright restrictions.
If you have exhausted all those mock tests, there are some great options at White Rabbit Press. The best ones are available from Unicom, like this N5 mock test. There are also some great mock tests from JResearch with good explanations, like this one for N4.
If you have the time, and you haven’t done so already, you should take one of these mock tests and mark down the times when you finish each section of the test. Be sure to limit yourself to the actual time limit of each section for your level. If one the real test you only have 70 minutes to complete section, time it out and only give yourself that much time. But while you are taking the test write down (on the actual test or the answer sheet), the time that you complete each section. Later, you can calculate how much time you need for each part. You can these times to form a set plan or “time budget”. Try to make it as specific as possible without going overboard.
During the test, stick to your plan. If you start to go “over budget” in a section, more on as quickly as possible. This will keep you from drowning in a section if you find yourself dwelling on a particular question or group of questions. There might be questions later in the test that you can answer more easily for more points.
If you are worried about leaving some questions unanswered, you might want to factor in some extra time into your budget that you can use to go back and check the questions you felt you needed more time with. For more details on how to formulate a test taking strategy, premium users can check that particular section of the JLPT guide.
And of course, to make use of any of this strategy, you are going to need a watch. Be sure to pack a basic, nothing fancy watch with you. You can usually find one at a Y100 store in Japan. You will not have access to your smartphone obviously. In some cases, you will have to put it inside a bag that can not be opened during the test. In other cases, they might provide a clock in the room where you are taking the test or they might even announce that you have 5 minutes left. Unfortunately, they not required to do either, so prepare for the worst and pack a watch.
Don’t Fear Failing
In my final quarter of college, I had already earned enough credits to graduate, but I was taking a few classes as a victory lap before moving on to better things. Being that I really did not care that much about passing the finals, I caved into temptation when one of my buddies asked me to go drinking with him. I thought I would just have a few drinks and head back to my place. The night lasted a lot longer, and by the time I made it back I was pretty drunk, and had a final the next day.
I got up at 9am still a little intoxicated, drank some water and a shot for the hair of the dog, and shuffled off to the test, fully expecting to fail. When I got the results back later, I had passed with flying colors. I actually managed to exceed my expectations of taking sober.
Now, I’m not advocating heavy alcohol use before test day. That’s probably the last thing you should do. I’m confident when I say that my alcohol use had little to no positive effect on my test score. What helped me pass the test that day was a feeling of simply trying my best and seeing how I did. I really had nothing to lose by just trying. I had no fear of getting questions wrong, because I really didn’t have anything at stake except for maybe pride. I figured I would just do my best and see where the chips laid at the end of the day. I wasn’t afraid to fail. In some ways, I was expecting to fail, and didn’t care that much about it.
the failure rates for the JLPT can be quite high. Ranging from 40% at N5 to 70% at N1. Somewhere along the line you will probably fail the test. If you don’t, you really aren’t pushing yourself that hard. So don’t fear it. The more you fail, the more you learn.
I recently re-watched the entire Rocky series of movies, the good and the bad. It was on Hulu Japan, and I just couldn’t help myself. Some of the quotes from the movies have a surprising amount of power to them. One that I felt is especially relevant comes from Rocky 6/Rocky Balboa/Rocky Final:
…it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.
Yeah okay, you aren’t going to boxing match. It’s just a test, but try to remember that. For most people taking the JLPT, a fail isn’t going to instantly ruin your life. Victory is only sweet if hard fought for. Good luck in two weeks everyone!