It’s okay to Fail

fail the JLPTIn school, everything seems to start out pretty peachy. We get to play games and sing songs and there is story time and no one is really graded on anything. The idea is to just get used to coming to school and not eating the glue. Basic stuff really.

But then, we are introduced to the red pen. It seems innocent enough, simply something to call our attention to something on the page. But shortly after its introduction we learn to loath the red pen. It becomes our worst enemy to be avoided at all costs.

The reason for this is quite clear. The more red on your sheet the lower your grade and the lower your grade the dumber you look among your fellow compatriots at school. And peer pressure being what it is, you definitely don’t want to be that dummy that gets an F on his test. Grades also have an effect on what university we go to as well.

So, it is no wonder that we start to equate getting something wrong on a test and seeing red marks as a bad thing. But, I’m here to tell you that it is actually a good thing. It’s actually good to get stuff wrong and fail a test. You might think I’m crazy, but here me out on this one.

Learn to Love Red

If you take a test and get all the answers right, you actually don’t get any real benefits from that. Sure, there is the reward of being able to tack it up on your wall and pat yourself on the back. But beyond that did you actually learn anything from taking the test?

On the other hand, if you do get a lot of red back on your test, you’ve learned what you need to review. What you need to take another look at so that you know it for the future. This way you can refine your review process down to what you don’t know.

My students always look up at me with such a sad face when I hand back a sheet with a lot of red on it. But, I always try to leave them a little note that the red on the paper just let’s them know what they need to practice. After all, none of my students are being graded per se, and most of them are studying English because they want to, not because they have to.

Challenge Yourself

The other thing about having a perfect score on a test is that it might be a sign that you are not challenging yourself enough. If you are always passing tests without much effort, then you might want to challenge yourself by doing something a little harder.

These extra challenges can be the thing that pushes you past a plateau in your learning and allow you to improve your language skills. All you have to do is set your sights a little higher to accomplish those goals. By doing so, you will be able to smash through that plateau a lot easier.

That’s one reason why I’m planning on taking the N1 in July. I’m pretty sure I’m going to fail, but setting this impossible goal for myself helps me to put some extra effort into my studies instead of simply lazily going about my studies as I kind of did for the N2 level.

Are you Afraid of Failure?

Have you ever back down from a test because you knew you were going to fail? Have you ever taken a level of the test, but still knew you were going to fail?

Photo by Dagny Scott

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Hilary April 15, 2012, 1:12 pm

    I suffer from test anxiety and had major meltdowns during exam season in university (which were compounded by an extremely …difficult professor of mine). It’s only now that I’ve started to study Japanese on my own, going for the JLPT, that my test anxiety and general fear of failure is being challenged.

    I studied for the old 4 kyu test for 2009 but suffered from panic attacks just trying to get through the textbook. After they changed the test, I decided to give it another go but this time, I started with N5. I did this because I realized while studying for 4 kyu, my Japanese foundation had some serious cracks in it that needed to be repaired. Took the exam and passed, same with N4 last December.

    Even though the idea of the exam still makes the breath catch in my chest, I’m finding that the more I prepare myself, ie, having a studying plan, sticking to it and following through with my own study goals, the better I feel about the exam itself.

    I did have a panic attack when I wrote N4, but I managed to get myself under control (with the help of some anti-anxiety medication) and pass the exam. I think that it taught me that even if I hit a wall, I can still get through it and a rebound is just another chance to succeed.

    I’m going for N3 in December with hopes that I’ll pass so I can attempt N2 in July 2013. Here’s hoping!

    • Mac April 17, 2012, 2:37 pm

      Wow, thanks for sharing your story. I’ve never really completely freaked out when I took the test, although the first time I took N2 thinking it was identical to 二級 I freaked, but beyond that I’ve just kind of gone in with the feeling of if I make it that’s great, but if I don’t make it, I’ll know what to work on for next time, so I win either way.

      Of course, now that I’m blogging about the whole experience, I’m more motivated and I have more pressure 🙂 But, a little pressure is a good thing. I’m kind of looking forward to taking the N1 in July because I don’t feel like I should pass, so whatever I score, I score 🙂 haha. Sticking to the plan is solid advice though!

  • Samantha July 6, 2012, 10:15 am

    I took the JLPT N5 test two years ago in 2010 after studying for about a year and a half. After so many classes and books I went through I felt confident, but as the test date came closer I grew more restless and fill with anxiety. Of course having graduated from High School the year before means I am used to feeling that way for my exams and thought nothing of it. On the test day when I arrive at the test location to see hundreds of people planning to take the test I started hyperventilating and opening my course’s textbook to read as much as possible in the hour before the test begun. This I think is probably a mistake since when the exam actually started my mind went blank. Unlike everyone else there I seem to be the only one taking the test without a friend, so during the break between the two parts I ended up listening to others talking about the test and realising I made a whole lot of mistakes, it probably went down hill from there as the listening part of the exam I could barely understand it and struggled to keep up. By then I already knew that I would fail but I still did my best in hopes that I may just pass with luck.

    When I received the results I was dismay to find out I ended up failing by a mere 6 mark. Due to being constantly laugh at by my older siblings when failing to do something, I kept this a secret from my family and did not took the July exam the following year, I actually planned on taking the December exam of 2011 but ended up thinking I will fail badly and put off studying and then not taking the exam. Two months ago I though I would take this year’s exam and decided to check my knowledge with a practice test from online. Having not take the exam or study anything except by listening solely to japanese music and only watching Jdramas and Jmovies I realize that my reading skills had dropped and I could barely read hiragana and completely forgotten katagana and most of the kanji I learned. Which means this year I could not take the July exam and have to start learning all over again. I am planning to take this December’s test and hopefully pass it this time because I am actually planning to stay in Japan in future.

    • Mac July 8, 2012, 10:00 am

      Thanks for sharing the story Samantha. I sometimes get a little worked up about the exam as well and I think I’ve always taken it by myself :), but here in Japan the majority of people taking the test speak a lot of different languages – a lot of Chinese and Korean but there are some romance languages and southeast asians taking the test as well, so I have no idea what they are talking about 🙂 I think my best advice for staving off test anxiety is take a little mini vacation the 24 hours before. If I study a lot before a big exam I start thinking about it too much and that doesn’t get anybody anywhere.

      Also, if you find yourself in that type of situation again, take a 5 second break during the test and take a few deep breaths, look away from the test booklet and focus on something else for a bit then throw yourself back into it.

      In the end, it is only a test, meant to judge your level and give you feedback on your weaknesses as well as possibly getting you a job and if you fail, you fail. Granted it is a little tougher with your family mocking you though 🙂

      Anyway, good luck on the test this December. You can definitely do it if you put your mind to it!

  • mira August 29, 2019, 11:05 pm

    i also would like to share my story and would like to seek your advice too.
    so i failed in jlpt n2 thrice. i started in 2018 july , where i appeared for the first time in jlpt n2.
    preparation was less and i knew that i had not put all the efforts so i might fail. i scored 65/180.
    results came in august, 2018 i thought not to appear for or the exam but due the exam but due to peer pressure end up filling the form . i was under stress and pain and but i gave the exam and end up scoring 87/180. then results came in i was gob-smacked as i thought this time i will pass the exam.
    i thought may be due pressure i end up failing so let me give it a one more try . i had put my all but during last 2 months before the exam , circumstances keep worsen at my job but i never let it to be another obstacle in my exam again. i was desperate to pass no matter what. i end up scoring 86/180 2019, july.
    i wonder where do i lack?i wonder am i not the right person?! . till date it hurts me and just unable to find a reason behind my failure. i won’t be appearing for the exam now.

    • Clayton MacKnight August 29, 2019, 11:26 pm

      For the N1 and N2 exams, your score has a little to do with luck. Sometimes, the topics on the test will match up with what you know and you can get a high score. Other times, the topics of the listening and reading are on things you have never heard of before and you get a weaker score. The reason you didn’t pass could be for a variety of reasons. It’s important to look at your weaknesses and try something different. If you have just been studying with books, maybe it’s best to get a tutor and do more talking. If you have trouble with the reading, maybe you can try some writing. You’ll need to switch it up somehow.

      Good luck with your studies and remember it’s only a test!

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