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The Final Month Preparations

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This season tends to be my busiest.  In October, we have a series of sports days, 運動会うんどうかい, to plan for and attend as well as some Halloween events.  In November, I get swamped with a seasonal translation project that takes up  a good portion of my time.  And then, in December, we have Christmas, which is a lot of fun, but involves a lot of running around, and writing a lot of New Year’s cards.

I’m not taking the JLPT this year, but I’m sure a lot of you are.  I’ve been reading a lot emails with questions about how to prepare for the big day.  If you are unsure as to what to focus on, you might want to read Month 10 of the study guide.  I’ve packed it with exactly what you need at this point in your studies.

You might be thinking that there isn’t much you can do to turn your studies around this late in the game.  But, there are numerous little tweaks that can help you refocus and consolidate what you know before test day.  Now is the time to reinforce everything and get used to the test and how to get your way through it.  If you have been following a more generalized study plan, now is the time to batten down the hatches and prepare for the big day, so that you can get the best possible score.

Quick Overlap Practice

I have been in maintenance mode over the last year.  Since I’m using it on a regular basis, and don’t need to do anymore ‘preparing’ to use Japanese, more just review what I know so that I can use it automatically.  However, it can still be a little tough for me to switch quickly into speaking.  If someone says something suddenly to me in Japanese, I sometimes can make the switch quick enough in my head.

To fix that, and just get some more exposure to real Japanese, I’ve been doing some shadowing and overlapping practice with FluentU.  I do really like the fact that they break down native material into small manageable parts that I can work through.  It makes it very easy to get practice with native materials.

Since I already have a regular vocabulary practice going with Memrise, I tend to not do much vocabulary practice with their built-in vocab reviewer.  I find that although the practice tool they have is probably really good for beginners, it tends to get a bit tedious and troublesome at the higher levels because it is a little to strict.  Memrise is a lot more flexible.

Instead, I’ve been using the material more for exposure and raising my comfort level with the vocabulary and phrases I have now.  Essentially just reviewing and reinforcing my comfort level with vocabulary and when and where to use it.  I might now the meaning of a lot of words, but I can’t quite use them perfectly naturally yet, and that is something that comes with more exposure.

Reading is Critical

I’ve always believed that in the last few weeks before the test, that the most efficient way to spend your time to improve your chances of getting your best score is to practice your reading and listening.  These are two skills that really need to be practiced on their own.  You might be able to neglect practicing them at the N5 or possibly N4 level, but anything higher than that demands some dedicated reading and listening practice.

A lot of people make the mistake of just practicing the vocabulary and grammar lists and not focusing on anything else.  This will definitely give you a good background, but it will not fully prepare you for the test.

Reading and listening tends to be the most dreaded part of the test, but it doesn’t have to be.  With a little practice, it can be a lot easier.  You just have to practice your comprehension skills.  Just because you know what each part means, doesn’t necessarily mean you can comprehend the whole piece.  Overall comprehension is a completely different skill.

In order to prepare for the reading section of the test, you really need to practice reading quickly. Skimming, reading material very quickly to get the main idea, and scanning, searching through the text to look for a specific piece of information, are two often overlooked skills.  If you have been out of school for awhile, or never really liked reading tests in your native language, you might not have practiced these skills.

Also, skimming and scanning is physically different in Japanese from European languages.  Japanese normally contains no spaces.  It usually uses 3 different writing systems.  Each of these systems are used to emphasize or point out something different.  That’s why if you haven’t practiced this as much your vocabulary and grammar lists, you will have a hard time on the test.

Timed Reading Practice

To practice these skills, you’ll need a piece of reading material that is around your level.  It shouldn’t be too easy, and it shouldn’t be too difficult.  The easiest place to pick up level-appropriate material is with drill books or practice tests.  Jpod101 is a great source of material of all levels, up to about the N2 level.  For N2 and N1 you can use native materials.  For N2, a lighter news source like Yahoo News is pretty good, whereas for N1, you should try a serious newspaper like Asahi, or even Wikipedia.

I often get a lot of questions about finding ‘native’ N5 or N4 material.  The sad fact is that it really doesn’t exist.  Material written at a lower level is meant for kids and typically only in hiragana, which makes it a bit difficult to read.  Kid’s books are also full of 擬音語ぎおんご, onomatopoeia, which have fairly limited usage and aren’t really tested on until the N3 level.  It is not very representative of what you will see on the test.

After you have picked out some good material, you simply just need to time yourself.  Give yourself 2 minutes to read a page worth of content if you are N2+, or about half a page if you are N5~N3.  Read it through and try to get the main idea of the passage.  Look for reoccurring kanji as well as discourse markers that could indicate the flow of the writing.  Then, write down what you think the main idea is.

Now read the same text again, but give yourself 5 minutes.  Circle words you don’t know so that you can look them up later.  This time around, try to read for details as much as you can.  Double-check your guess from before, was it correct?

If you are still hazy about the overall meaning be sure to go back and dig through the text.  Take as much time as you can in order to get the full meaning.  Afterwards, try to tease out what the key parts were.  Whenever you practice for the test it is critical to take time to internalize what your weak points are and reflect on them.

Are you Prepared?

If you are taking the test this December, are you prepared for the big day?  What will you be doing in these final weeks to prepare?  Let us know in the comments below.

Photo by Daniel Wehner

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