JLPT BC 87 | Misconceptions about the N1

JLPT BC 87 | Misconceptions about the N1 post image
JLPT July 2012 N1

I got stuck in the back this year.

This weekend I braved the pouring rain that was coming on and off all day to go take the N1 at Kyoto University.  For those of you who don’t know Japan has basically 5 seasons, the 4 normal seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter), but it also has one extra season – the rainy season, which usually comes around the middle of June and ends somewhere in July.  This seasons is then followed by a suffocatingly hot and humid summer.  As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of this season’s weather.

But that’s okay, because I spent most of the day indoors taking the test, which was actually a pretty good experience.  Even though I probably didn’t pass this time, I learned a lot about the test, and it got me mentally prepared for the final showdown in December.

My Original image of the N1

Back when I first started studying Japanese and I first learned about the JLPT, I thought that the N1 level (then called 一級) was an impossible achievement.  I had in head that it was meant for those that had gotten a masters in Japanese or at the very least mastered in Japanese in college.  Needless to say, I didn’t do either of those.

As a matter of fact, I only took a year of Japanese at a university before I left to come to Japan.  And those classes really didn’t teach me much.  It wasn’t that the teachers were bad, they were quite good. Well, actually, one of them was a total jerk, but for the most part 80% of them were amazing.  It’s just that, for whatever reason, I didn’t absorb the language that much before I came to Japan.

So, my idea of the N1 was that it was going to take a lot of studying for me to pass if I was ever going to pass it.  I mean, I spent a year in classes, and I could still just barely introduce myself and read hiragana and katakana.  How could I ever expect to pass the monolithic N1 with its 10,000 words, 2,000 kanji and some 500 or so grammar points?

And if you look at the study hours necessary to pass the N1, you will get a similar impression about the test because it looks like the jump from N2 to N1 is the same as a true beginner to N2.  But I feel like that just isn’t true, at least in my case.  Who knows, I might end of spending another 2 years trying to pass, so I don’t want to be too bold, but in general, I don’t think it takes that many hours to make the jump.

In Reality

Because in reality, the test is not that hard to study for.  The first thing I learned was that kanji doesn’t play as important as a role as it did in the lower levels.  It still plays a role mind you, but just not as big of one.  I was only about 33% or so through the N1 kanji in iKanji when I took the test, and I didn’t feel like I was handicapped in anyway.

The N1 does require a lot of studying I think, but it is easier to study for.  It is actually a lot of fun to study for and not as much hard work grinding through vocabulary like the other levels of the test can be.  That might sound a little strange so let me explain.

For the grammar, it mostly follows some familiar patterns but more nuances are added to a few things here and there.  For the most part though the concepts are fairly similar to N2 and N3 grammar, but they are just used in slightly more complicated ways.  So the grammar, in my opinion, was somewhat easy to learn.

The other reason it is a lot easier to study for is that you can use native materials now without many problems.  Anyone that has passed the N2, can pretty easily work their way through any novel or piece of literature that is available.  And I think that is one of the best ways to absorb and learn the vocabulary that is needed at this level.

The last reason the N1 is easier to study for is that since I’ve taken most of the tests leading up to the N1, it was a lot easier to actually take the test.  I know the tactics to use, and what kind of questions are going to come up and what to look out for.  I could easily finish the test on time and double check my answers.  Now, I’m sure I got a few questions wrong, but at least I didn’t feel like I was getting lost in the test as much as I have in the past.

My Plan Going Forward

From now until the test in December, I’m going to move my focus to doing more work with skills like reading and listening.  I’ll be drilling these as much as possibly can until about a month before the test before I’ll do a big massive review and patch up any weaknesses I might have.

My reasoning behind this is that I’ll be picking up a lot of vocabulary that I need to know for the test from the reading and listening exercises.  I can also review the grammar from doing the reading and practicing listening too.  I will most likely still pick up the New Kanzen Master N1 Grammar book if I can to go over the strategies they have for each of the grammar sections.

I will also be sticking to StickyStudy as a good backup of background words that I’ll need to know for general comprehension of listening and reading.  And for fun, I’ll keep working my way through Harry Potter.

Overall, I’m pretty optimistic that I will come close to passing in December.  Passing is never a sure thing for the N1 I think.  It kind of all depends on what kind of topics come up in the listening and reading.  Those types of things can really affect your score at this level I think.

What is your plan for the rest of the year?

I know a lot of you are preparing for the big test in December that is more widely available than the July test, so I’d like to know what are your game plans for the rest of the year in order to prepare for the big exam?  Let me know in the comments.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Liling July 5, 2012, 11:42 am

    Thanks for the detailed info on your exam experience, Mac!

    I also have that same first impression of N1 as you. So, it’s comforting to know that passing the N1 is not really a near-impossible goal.

    I passed N2 last December and I think I should try for N1 this Dec or next year. For my plan, I’ll start with increasing my vocabulary (using sticky study & memrise). Then, I’ll tackle the grammar part. For reading, I’ll take your advice and start to read more books too.

    And I do agree with you about learning the meaning of the kanji part. It’s really handy to know the meaning of that particular kanji so that you can at least guess the meaning of the word.

    Again, thanks for everything!

    • Mac July 8, 2012, 9:47 am

      I think you are going to do well. The biggest problem with N1 seems to be the vocabulary. There is just tons of vocabulary that you need to learn to get through all the sections of the exam. And learning vocabulary takes so much time because you have to absorb it over time. I can personally only learn about 30 or so words a day and that’s if I’m really pushing it and not taking too many breaks.

      I’m sure I’ll be spending a lot of time on memrise and with stickyStudy. One thing to look out for though is that it seems like StickyStudy uses the kanji whether not it is N1 or not, so there is a lot of really difficult kanji that is not going to appear on the test in the vocabulary for N1. That makes the N1 vocab deck a little difficult to work with at times.

      Anyway, best of luck!

  • Hilary July 6, 2012, 1:02 pm

    I love StickyStudy! I just reached 50% completion for the N3 vocabulary. 🙂

    I had the exact same thoughts about N1 when I was in university but your experiences make me think that it’s not as impossible as I once thought.

    • Mac July 8, 2012, 10:05 am

      I think the biggest hurdle is N2 actually, to pass that level you have to fine tune your reading and listening skills. You can’t be ‘lazy’ about them anymore. The one thing that really improved my score and got me a lot better at listening was simply learning how to take good notes 🙂 which I never learned to do in high school or college, haha. Good luck with your studies!

  • Ed July 18, 2013, 2:46 pm

    Would love to know how you got on. I sat N1 in July, having sat the old 1 Kyu in Dec 1999. I think it was easier the first time (where I narrowly failed!).

    My big impression was that it required almost native level reading speed for the reading and grammar sections. The more you read, books, newspapers, blogs etc, the easier you’ll find it.

    The listening wasn’t too bad at all.

    • Clayton MacKnight July 19, 2013, 12:43 am

      Yeah, I’ve found the listening to be pretty easy if you watch enough TV and just use the language on a regular basis. My problem with reading is comprehending at a fast speed. Sometimes I get so concerned about the individual sentences and parts that my brain doesn’t put the whole picture together quickly. I end up losing focus a lot of times.

  • Ed July 23, 2013, 3:42 pm

    Yep I hear you – when you study a piece in class or by yourslef, there’s no real time pressure, so you can intelligently decipher and the put back together what is going on. In an exam there just isn’t the time to do that and it made me flap. Especially when you throw in there will be some kanji that you don’t know, so you’re guessing from the context.

    I think one of the tricks with this is to read the questions really carefully first, before you pile into the text. That way you are only really looking for 3 or 4 points in a whole page of text.

    I did a past piece today in class (I’ve started again in case I failed!) and out of all four options, actually none of them were spot on. The question was ‘What’s the difference between passage A and B’ and none of them were correct. Only by eliminating three that definitely weren’t correct, could you get one answer that was well, sort of correct. My Japanese teacher was laughing because it was so damn aimai, as was I in a mixture of frustration and humour. That’s what we’re up against!

    • Clayton MacKnight July 27, 2013, 2:46 pm

      That’s so true for a lot of the questions, the problem is having the time to sort through the answers and guess accurately. I still have to master that skill. I always seem to narrow it down to 2 and then guess the wrong one each time. I’m trying to do a lot of reading this time around to just increase my general comfort level with speed reading.

Leave a Comment

JLPT Boot Camp - The Ultimate Study Guide to passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test