N5 and N4 Sentential Questions in All their Glory

scrambled sentences

I can totally untangle that.

Sentential questions, I bet you didn’t even know the word sentential existed before reading about the JLPT. I definitely didn’t. These questions are a major pain to deal with. Who knew you could come up with such a demented way to test sentence structure?

These questions are also new to the post-2010 tests so you don’t have any past tests to fall back on in order to help you study and prepare for this level. This makes a lot of older materials obsolete and narrows your practicing material sources.

Anybody taking the test is going to want to at least look at a few of these practice test questions before going into the exam. Otherwise you are likely to freak out at the sight of them. I know I definitely did.

Back in the summer of 2010, I thought I was totally going to ace the test. I walked in after having prepped the week before with an old practice test for the 二級 test. It was like getting smacked in the face when I opened the test booklet and looked at the new types of questions. I was pretty stupid to be honest.

But, you, luckily, don’t have to be stupid. You are in fact probably quite smart. I mean, anyone that is reading my blog has to be at least a cut above the rest, don’t you think?

How these Questions Work

For those of you that aren’t familiar with these sentential questions, they are sentences that are all scrambled up.  On the test they will give you a sentence with four pieces missing.  You must unscramble the pieces they give you in the answers below the question.

Once you’ve unscrambled the questions, you need to mark the part of the sentence that goes in the space marked with an asterisk *.  This is the answer that goes on your answer sheet.  You don’t have to actually do any writing.

Outsmarting these Questions

At different levels, you are going to be dealing with different things they will be testing you on. N5 will test you on particles basically, and then you will slowly move up to N1 which will be testing you more on phrases and structures that you should have picked up in your studies.

Let’s just take a short tour through all of them, shall we?

Sentential questions for N5

JEES has kindly made a shortened practice test available to the general public. You can pick up a copy of the N5 Practice test for yourself if you want to see the whole thing, but for our purposes today, I’m just going to take one question from the sentential questions:

これは きょねん わたし __ __ _*_ __ しゃしんです。

1 が  2 で  3  とった  4 海(うみ)

As you can see, they are really testing your knowledge of how to use が and で. が should be used as the topic marker in this sentence for わたし and then で should be used to mark where you took the picture, うみ (the beach/sea). Finally, とった describes the しゃしん making it a ‘taken picture’. So the final sentence all together would read:

これは きょねん わたしが 海で とった しゃしん です。

(This is a picture I took at the beach last year.)

So, the answer to this question would be 2 for で. Be sure to review your particles, and watch out for the tricky は vs. が and で vs. に dilemmas.

Sentential questions for N4

N4 will test you over more of the same, but with more particles to deal with. They will start to introduce more sentence patterns that you must be familiar with as well. Don’t let the phrases being sliced apart fool you. Try to quickly combine the parts to see if you can find a matching pattern.

山田さんは __ _*_ __ __ です。

1 上手  2 ギターも  3 ひけるし  4 歌も

Here is a good example of using clues to ‘glue’ some pieces of the puzzle together one by one. First, ひける means ‘to play a stringed instrument’ usually a piano or guitar, but can be a violin. We can attach that to ギターも because that is what you do with a guitar. Then, 上手 belongs at the end because it has no particles (like に or な) so it isn’t modifying anything and can’t attach itself to an action or noun.

As a quick side note, the test makers seem to be in love with ひける meaning to play guitar or piano.  I seem to see it a lot in practice tests and pre-2010 tests for the N4 level.  Something to look out for definitely.

That just leaves 歌も. Where does it go? Well, since the particle し at the end of ひける is a particle that notes one of several reasons for something, it can’t be used at the end of a phrase. It needs to be used in the middle. In other words, it requires something after it because it sort of means ‘and ~’. So, we have to put 歌も after ひけるし. If we do that, we have:

山田さんは ギターも ひけるし 歌も 上手 です。

(Mr. Yamada is skilled/good at playing guitar and singing.)

The answer to this would then be 3 for ひけるし. This gluing of words together will become more and more handy as you go up in levels and the questions get increasingly more difficult to untangle.

That is it for this week. I’ll be back next week to talk about N3 and N2. I might try to tackle N1 if I’m brave enough, but no promises.

Does this Stuff make your Head Hurt?

What particles drive you nuts? What helps you remember the differences? Let me know in the comments below.

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Photo by fifikins

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Leslie November 29, 2011, 9:42 pm

    cheers man, so for that star, is that our answer we select?

    • Mac November 30, 2011, 3:55 pm

      Yeah, that is the number you mark on the sheet. A little strange when you first encounter them.

  • Nicky December 7, 2011, 8:06 pm

    I just took the N4 this past weekend, I gotta tell you even though I was prepared and I knew these questions would be on it…it was still threw me for a loop…especially when one of the questions was literally: Watashi…………*………..desu. :O

    • Mac December 7, 2011, 11:12 pm

      Ouch, that sounds a bit tricky. At least for N2, they give you a little more context. They still try to trick you of course.

  • Alvin B. January 8, 2012, 1:39 am

    Interesting to know the format, at least. I’m shooting for N5 or N4 level by next year… Picking things up pretty rapidly at the moment, but I could run into road blocks…

    Do they require written output of Kanji at any point or just recognition?

    • Mac January 8, 2012, 11:19 am

      They just require recognition. You don’t have to do any writing at all on the test (or speaking). It is purely a receptive/input test and not about output. Have you taken a JLPT N5 Practice Test?

  • Katrina P April 7, 2012, 10:37 am

    Wow, I was already terrified of the JLPT N5 before I came to this site because I don’t feel sure that I will be ready for July, but this has scared me even more! I will have to look over the practice paper and see how I deal with that. I signed up for JLPT summer prep classes at SOAS too, so with any luck I will actually pass… we shall see.

    • Mac April 10, 2012, 3:26 pm

      I wouldn’t get too terrified. The N5 is pretty do-able with a little elbow grease. There aren’t really too many tricks at this level of the test, just the basics. I’m sure you’ll be fine!

  • craig May 6, 2012, 3:51 am

    really dont get the n5 question there, doesnt look to be just a question of slotting in de, there’s a tonne of gaps between watashi and photo. No mention of beaches or anything. Do you have to complete the sentence yourself?…but…that would be writing which isn’t meant to be on the test….

    And another hard point of n5 illustrated there- the use of pure kana where logically kanji would be used. Took a lot of thinking looking at kyonen to realise what it meant. If the kanji had been used would have realised right away.

    • Mac May 6, 2012, 4:43 am

      Basically you have to take the answers and unscramble them and put them in the blanks. The answer that goes in the blank marked with an asterisk is the one you mark on your answer sheet. A little confusing at first.

      And yes, one of the hardest things for me when I was taking the N4 was actually reading the kana, because I had studied the words with the kanji. Just one of those limitations of the test I guess.

  • Crystal October 20, 2012, 10:05 pm

    Im still having trouble with N5 sentential questions. I can’t seem to grasp how to put the sentence together.

    • Mac October 21, 2012, 3:09 am

      These do take a good amount of practice, and I think some good knowledge of all the basic particles for the N5 level. If you can master the nuances of particles, then these are pretty simple. Or they will at least get simpler. 🙂

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