Is your Sword Sharp?

Is your Sword Sharp? post image
sharpen sword

Prepare for the Main Event

We are exactly month away from the December JLPT on December 2nd.  Hopefully at this stage you have spent a lot of time studying a lot of the vocabulary and grammar that you need to pass the level of the test you are going for.

This foundation of Japanese knowledge forms the sword or the body of what you need to pass the test.  If you are anything like me, you have being shoveling in vocabulary and grammar as fast as you can learn it.  And all of that is kind of floating there in your brain at the moment.

However, the test restricts you to answering questions in a quick and confident way.  In real use, you can take some time to think or ask someone to correct you, but on the test you have no help, no dictionaries, and you are under a time constraint.  So, you need to make sure you have quick access to that information.

You need to sharpen the sword.  You need to file it away neatly so that you can retrieve it quickly and smoothly.

Romance your Vocabulary and Grammar

When I work with my students (that are studying English), a lot of them want to keep learning new things, new grammar, new vocabulary, and new phrases.  And I think this is a natural reaction when you first start learning something.  There is a strong desire to keep running after the shiny new objects.

But, if you take a step back and spend a little time with a few grammar points and vocabulary words, you’ll find that the more you get to know them, the better off you are.  Don’t just take them to a cheap dinner and call it a night.  Take them out on the town and make a night of it.

Knowing vocabulary and grammar is lot like dating someone.  When you first start learning vocabulary you usually just give it a quick look and think nothing more of it.  In other words, a short cheap date.  And when you first start learning vocabulary, this is generally pretty adequate.

But, as the words and grammar get more and more complex, you learn that you need to spend a little more time with it.  Not in one big marathon session either.  You wouldn’t ask someone out on 9 hour first date would you?  No, of course not.  You have a lunch, then maybe a dinner, then a movie and some dinner, after that perhaps a home-cooked meal at your place.

You need multiple exposure to a particular grammar point or vocabulary word, and you need to see it in different places and in different ways.  If you always went to the same Italian restaurant for all of your dates, you wouldn’t be very popular.  You need to spice it up a bit.  Use the grammar and vocabulary, read a lot, listen to a lot, speak a lot, write a lot.

If you build this connection to the grammar and vocabulary, it will cement itself in your mind and make you bulletproof for the test.

Don’t be Afraid to ‘Die’

The samurai lived life believing that they were in a dream and death was an awakening.  They already lived as if they were dead so they didn’t have a fear of dying. This allowed them to serve out their duties to their masters to the death if necessary.

It also allowed them to take more risks and live a freer life because they didn’t fear the end.  They didn’t waste time and energy trying to keep themselves alive, but instead faced dangers head on.

The same can be said about taking the test.  No, you aren’t going to die if you don’t pass, but the principal still holds true.  If you are afraid of failing you can’t do your best.  Test anxiety is a real factor for some people and can even subconsciously sabotage your test-taking.  Ever since I stopped putting a lot of stress on myself about whether I pass or not, I think I’ve started to score better.

It’s not that I don’t want to pass, I do.  It’s just that if I don’t pass this time, I have a higher chance of passing next time.  And in the meantime, I know what to work on.

It also just makes the test fun, and for a lot of people that don’t have to take the test.  Why get so stressed out over something that is just suppose to motivate you and tell you your level?

Now, I’m not saying to completely not care at all, obviously you do want to know your score.  But don’t let that override everything else.  Come to play the game and enjoy it for what it is, not to just win.

Are you Ready for the Main Event?

Have you sharpened your sword?  Are you planning on doing some review this last month?  Let me know in the comments.

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Andrew November 4, 2012, 4:28 am

    1 month left!


    • Mac November 7, 2012, 11:58 pm

      Yeah, tell me about it! This last month of cramming/reviewing is a little tough. I definitely need some time off to relax 🙂

  • BlazingFX November 4, 2012, 11:41 pm

    Studying for N2:

    I went through the Shin Kanzen Master Grammar and Reading; the reading I found relatively easy, so hopefully it’ll go that way on the test. Spending this last month reviewing the grammar and kanji. (Just need minimum passing for both these sections and I’ll pass, since I have absolute confidence in listening, though of course higher the better).

  • Hannah November 5, 2012, 1:46 am

    I don’t really expect to pass N1 this December, but the past two months I’ve been studying aggressively to see how close I can get. I was focusing on grammar and reading, with Read the Kanji for, well, kanji. lol For listening, I just watch TV everyday. But your post about Memrise inspired me to start focusing on my weakest point — vocab.
    So I think this last month will be spent studying vocabulary at home and grammar and possibly continuing reading while commuting.

    I hope the test goes well, though. I’d really like to focus more on business Japanese and reading for enjoyment than continue all this cramming next year. :/

  • Enrico November 8, 2012, 6:20 pm

    I’m not currently studying for the JLPT, because I’d like to reach a few personal milestones first; so that when I actually do take the test, it will be for N1 and I’ll be very confident I’ll pass it. =)

    But your advice about “romancing” vocabulary and grammar is very sound. Just looking at something once means you’ll forget it in five minutes’ time (well, maybe not so fast, but you get the drift), and sadly there are several students doing just that… and then complaining about stuff not sticking in their heads.

    If you ask me, the best way to learn things is to keep it slow and steady — which goes very well with your dating analogy! Frequent and calm review is the way to go; cramming might help you pass an exam, but it’s too much too fast, and you’ll be forgetting things very soon. Study for the exam, but mainly for yourself! =D

    • Mac November 14, 2012, 3:07 pm

      Yeah, you can’t really rush things and think about why you are studying and going for the exam. I do like the challenge of the exam, and I think if it didn’t exist, I wouldn’t push myself as hard as I do to get my reading and listening comprehension up to a good level. I have seen noticeable improvements in my ability to understand the language, so it is really paying off.

      Anyway, good luck with your studies!

  • Barbara November 9, 2012, 4:43 pm

    Well I’m doing the N4. I’ve done a few practice tests but I still have to do a timed 50min grammar one. My problem is it takes me a bit of time to get my eye and ear ready for Japanese. After a few listening questions I really start to ‘hear’ the conversation. So, I’ll be having my iPod with me so I can listen before going into that one. It’s weird with the vocab because out f context (listening to it in the car or sometimes when I do Memrise) I don’t always know it but in a reading passage it becomes clearer. Well, I have another week after this with my books then I’m doing practical things after that – greater emersion and testing. Glad when the drills are over. Hope everyone does well.
    See you on the other side 🙂

    • Mac November 18, 2012, 3:10 am

      Good luck Barbara!

      I need to warm up sometimes, too. At work, staff will often switch between English and Japanese, so it is hard sometimes to know what to expect. I think this is something that slowly fades away as you get more comfortable with the language. I’ll be doing the same as you after the exam, probably reviewing grammar and vocabulary, but going back to doing some practical things. For example, I’m thinking about buying house here in Japan and need to do some research so I know what I am doing. 🙂 very practical practice!

      I’ll try to do more research and write some useful tools for the kit and site for practicing practical skills like speaking and conversation for you.

  • Alexandra November 10, 2012, 3:06 pm

    Thanks very much for this article. I can say it’s exactly what I needed to hear before taking the exam!

    • Mac November 18, 2012, 3:11 am

      Great to hear! I wish you luck on the exam!

  • Usha November 12, 2012, 5:40 am

    Yes ready to fight hard…to write N5.

    • Mac November 18, 2012, 3:12 am

      You can do it Usha! Good luck!

  • Vlada November 20, 2012, 1:51 pm

    I am getting ready for JLPT N4.

    I cross the fingers and practice my kanjis every day… we’ll see the result.

    Ideally, I would like to offer myself 4 weeks of intensive japanese classes in Kyoto in April to have the possibility to practice (I live in France and have a few japanese friends here but do not practice japanese every day). Do you have any idea of a good valuable language school? Any suggestion will be welcomed!


    • Mac November 25, 2012, 2:04 pm

      The YMCA is considered a pretty good school here in Kansai, but that is Osaka. I actually don’t have much experience with Japanese language schools in Kyoto, sorry 🙁

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