Reviewing your Japanese for the JLPT

Review JapaneseI just got my results back from the July test, and they came back as a failure. Not a really big failure, but still didn’t quite make it. So, I’ll be hitting the books again to get prepared and ready for the test in December.

I’ve already pretty much ‘finished’ studying for the test. What I mean by this is that I completed all the books I got to get ready for the exam, and I’ve gone through all the vocabulary on Anki and I’m pretty close to finishing off Japanese Flip, for my iPhone. I’ve even gone back and re-studied an old 二級 (old level 2) book I had for reading.

So, now it is time for some review. Review isn’t exactly the most exciting thing about studying a language, but it is really important for you to stretch your language muscles on a regular basis, so that you can use them when you need to. Reviewing helps tell your brain what is important enough for it to keep for a long time.

Review is usually pretty easy for vocabulary. All you have to do is fire up your favorite SRS system, like Anki or But, for other skills such as listening, reading, and even grammar, SRS isn’t the best tool. To review those skills, you have to use a couple of other activities.

To Buy a New Book or To Not Buy a New Book

It’s often tempting to head off to the bookstore to pick up another book once you’ve finished a book that you have, but it isn’t always necessary. You can get by with just a few books for the test as long as you review carefully and often. On the other hand, buying a new book might allow you to see the material in a different light and also be motivating.

If you do choose to recycle your books, you can do so buy either erasing or circling/checking all the answers. That way you can’t cheat and get the answer. I often do this will old reading comprehension books and grammar textbooks. I go through first and circle or check all the answers then go through the book again as if it is new.

This tactic works pretty well with grammar books I’ve found, because the individual sentences are harder to get stuck in your head. With reading/listening comprehension books, you might want to take a longer break before repeating because a lot of the themes tend to stick in your head.

If you do choose to pick up a new book, make sure it is presenting the material in a different way. Also, you might want to pick up something more challenging than you had before. For example, I started off with the So-matome Reading Comprehension book, which is a little easier than the exam, and now I’m using 試験に出る読解 which in my opinion at least, is just about the same level as the test.

Make a Cheat Sheet

While you are reviewing through your grammar/vocabulary take notes on what is giving you the most trouble. Write down words that sound similar or grammar points that have similar meanings on a cheat sheet. Treat it like you are going to cheat on the test, of course you aren’t, but if you were to, what would you put on the sheet?

You can then carry this sheet around with you and whenever you have a free moment you can take a peek at what you have problems with. This helps you focus on your weaknesses for the test. You need to be as well-balanced as possible on test day.

Review can be a bit boring at times, but it really helps you to be confident with your language abilities. Confidence is not only important for the test, but also important for conversation and fluency. You’ll feel a lot better when you can simply use the grammar or vocabulary without hesitation.

What Say You

How do you review for the test? Let me know in the comments below.

P.S. Do you get a kick out of reviewing? Sign up for the newsletter then!

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Azanea September 21, 2011, 11:45 am

    I had appeared for 2kyuu in 2009 and failed with a score of 230/400. I got 36/100 in the listenng section & was pretty dejected & debating going in for the N3 in July 2010 (it was already April & as an undergrad science student, I had to stop studying after the JLPT ). Luckily, my dad persuaded me to appear for the N2 itself. Though I did have my summer vacation to prepare, it was my parents’ silver wedding anniversary and the entire holidays were spent planning for the party. I only seriously started studying in June, and had to balance my final year coursework with Japanese.

    I used the past tests to practise- I clubbed the Moji Goi and Dokkai Bunpou sections together. I studied for around two and a half hours daily, not including the time spent on past tests. I was terrified of the Listening section, I still can’t afford to have an internet connection which allows me unlimited downloads to use Japanese iPod or whatever resources out there. When a friend went to Singapore, he picked up a second hand copy of Shiken ni Deru Listening 1kyuu.2kyuu for me. Apart from past tests, the Kanzen Master Grammar, the Chukyuu kara Manabu textbook and the UNICOM vocab book were the only other study materials I had. Fortunately, Animax broadcasted ‘Maid Sama’ with the Japanese audio.

    Again, I stopped studying after the test. I passed the July 2010 JLPT N2 with scores of 31/60 in vocab/grammar, 32/60 in both Listening and Reading. Yatta!!

    I’m appearing for N2 again in Dec (I’m rusty) with the ultimate goal of clearing N1 in July 2012. I have the following pointers:

    1) Prepare for the Reading section. When you read a whole lot of texts, you are forced to cope up with ambiguous sentences, kanji and never-before-seen vocab in addition to grammar structures. So you get to reinforce and can cut down your study time for kanji and vocab. There’s a passage for grammar now, so I repeat: Read as much as you can, as crazily as you can. Trust me, even your reading speed will improve as you subconciously begin to pick up sentence stuctures even if you don’t actively focus on developing skimming and scanning techniques. Reading is tiresome and gruelling, but it pays rich dividends.
    For me, using the Chukyuu kara Manabu helped.

    2) It is easy to score in Grammar if you use a good drill book. Kanzen Master, Nihongo So-Matome, Donna toki Dou Tsukai are all good picks. I recently acquired the Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar and the Intermediate one in the same series and these are gems! However, if like me, you are only interested in a JLPT proficiency certificate, focus on drill books.

    3) For Kanji/Vocab I used the Unicom book and had no major problems in 2009 (59/100) or 2010. I don’t know if this will work for everyone though. I could get by because -yes, I prepared for the Reading section. Look out for giongo and gitaigo doozies and don’t neglect adverbs.

    4) Listening is always a gamble for me. I really feel the need for a good prep book here especially because there are major differences between the old test and current test formats. Also, I can’t use the net as much as I want to and I don’t listen to podcasts. Occassionally Japanese movies are broadcasted on TV, and some anime in their original Japanese audio. I make do with these.
    One day before the July test, I spent so much time listening to past tests, the Shiken in Deru CDs and recorded anime episodes and movies, that even the four other languages I know began sounding like Japanese to me!

    5) Review periodically. There’s no point spending hours learning if you’re going to forget. Keep a fixed day for reviewing. Once a week works well but not more than 10 days. Websites doling out study tips state that new info must be reviewed within 8 hours the first time.

    6) Track your progress so you know where you should be spending more time. If you take a mock test, minus about 10% of your score for an accurate standing.

    7) If passing the JLPT is just the by-product of your Japanese study (as it should be) then spend around 10 days before the test doing drills. Attempt a mock test once so you have an idea of just how exhausting the actual test can be.

    8) Go through Mac’s ‘Five Biggest Mistakes People Make on the JLPT’. Eat well, sleep well, know the test format like the back of your hand, blah blah blah…and NEVER ever stop studying after the test, like I did. A week’s break is all you need.

    CAUTION: Though I do recommend prep books, bear in mind that using them exclusively will only get you anywhere between 40 to 60% “test ready”. It’s still a great start.

    My current study plan is targeted for N1 and I’m not too worried about the N2. Mid-October, I will start going through all my level 2 books and past papers. I’m confident of passing in December. Even if I don’t I still have a valid JLPT certificate. (Certification is valid for two years)

    NOTE: Past tests will NO longer be made available so some of us may be forced to rely on mock tests. But do use past tests for practising and preaparing if possible although I don’t know how good a purpose the listening section will serve. It’s definitely worth for the other sections though, because they haven’t undergone radical changes. There’s only one additional integrated comprehension and info retrival question and new grammar sentential composition and a grammar questions; but the rest are virtually the same.

    Gambatte, ne. If you’re still reading this ultra long post, then a heartfelt arigatou gozaimasu.

    • Mac September 21, 2011, 3:53 pm

      This is an incredible comment packed with some excellent advice!

      I need to remember to review periodically. Sometimes I go through a grammar drill book and file it away thinking that I’ve learned it all, but that really isn’t the case. You need to review on a pretty regular basis to keep all that in your brain.

      I also agree that exclusive use of drill books will only get you half way. You need a lot more things like natural reading and exposure to the language as it is actually used.

      Right now though I need something that will keep me from making careless mistakes, which seems to be my biggest fault at the moment. Oh well, back to review.

      Thanks for the comment and the kind words!

  • Azanea September 21, 2011, 12:25 pm

    The cheat sheet is an outstanding idea. I use cheat sheets all the time – I have about 40 by now and they’re my own personalised trouble-shooters!

    • Mac September 21, 2011, 3:55 pm

      Yeah, I’ve started making a lot of little cheat sheets here and there, digitally and old-fashioned. I feel like even the act of consciously making the decision that the item is important enough to write down on the sheet is enough to help you remember it more.

  • vivzilla September 22, 2011, 11:14 pm

    I picked up a cornell style notebook recently and am thinking of converting it into a review book as the setup looks easier to cover up answers so I don’t cheat.

    Haven’t quite worked out what I’m going to put where, so if anyone has any ideas I would love to hear them.

    Oh, thats what the notebook looks like.

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