Analyze and Conquer

Analyze and Conquer post image

We are about a month and a half away from the test. You’ve probably been doing some general studying of Japanese. Maybe you have class or self-study, but what can you do now, so close to the test day? Can you turn the tide and get those extra points you need with a little elbow grease? Well, we’ll see what we can do.

I should say that this is also a way to reboot your studying if you have found yourself in a rut lately. So, even if you aren’t gearing up for the big exam, you might find going through these steps pretty useful.

The first thing you’ll want to do is a practice test. This will give you a snapshot of what you need to work on. Fortunately, there are actually a few practice tests that are freely available online, as matter fact, I host a few here on the site:

JLPT Practice Tests – N5 N4 N3 N2 N1
JLPT Official Workbooks – N5 N4 N3 N2-N1

If you have worked your way through those there are some paid mock tests available as well:

JLPT Mock Tests – N5 N4 N3 N2 N1

They generally contain more details about why a particular question is wrong and how to score higher on particular sections.

What can you Realistically Improve?

December 1st is just around the corner, and language learning generally takes a good healthy investment of time, so what can you realistically improve in such a short amount of time?

Vocabulary and kanji need to be practiced over time, reviewed regularly, and are hard to cram into your head last minute. Especially, since you have to consider that you need to know usage as well as the meaning for a lot of the words. You can however, practice and reinforce what you know by doing a lot of reading at your level before the exam. This will give you a better idea of how to use the word as well as the meaning.

Grammar is a tricky thing. Sometimes, you can learn a particular point and think you have it mastered until you encounter a use of it that you hadn’t thought of or seen. There are also a lot of little rules to remember about some points, but I think if you work your way through some drill books you will start to notice what points are going to give you headaches and you can spend a little extra time on those before you head into the exam.

Reading and listening are two big skills that you can improve upon a lot in the final days before the test. Reviewing reading and listening exercises also has the added benefit of practicing grammar and vocabulary that you have learned and getting more familiar with it.

Spend some time with some reading passages that were giving you some trouble and forcing yourself to read through them again at a faster speed. Make it uncomfortable for yourself. You want to pressure yourself to go too fast, so that when you take the test you can take it at a comfortable pace.

Listening is also another area you can practice. You’ll want to get used to the style of the questions and how they ask the questions. For the higher levels, New Kanzen Master is great for this (N3 N2 N1). For N5 and N4, there isn’t too much available that goes over listening strategies specifically, but there are plenty of good listening drill books for N5 and N4.

Divide and Conquer

I’ve always been a big advocate of doing and reviewing reading and listening material just before the exam. I think it helps you review a lot of the important points you need before the big test as long as it is appropriate to your level. Judging by some of the scores I see, it is also a place where it seems a lot of neglect to practice.

Also, the reading and listening sections force you to look at the passages in a different way that you might not be used to if you are simply reading or listening for fun. You’ll need a lot more focus than what you are used to.

With grammar, you might need to perform a bit of triage. Look for the points that seem to be giving you the most trouble and focus on those over the next few weeks. Ditto for vocabulary. Have you noticed a few words that you seem to keep getting wrong? Separate them out and do a little extra work with them.

I always try to divide up what I can realistically get done before the exam and schedule out week by week what I’m going to try to cover, leaving the final week for general review of any points that you still keep having trouble with.

This systematic approach seems to keep me paced and not rushed. It is really tempting to do some all night cramming, but slow and steady wins the race for language learning.

How are you Faring?

Are you ready for the test? What are you doing to prepare? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo by Arjan Richter

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Kay October 20, 2013, 11:26 pm

    After getting a near perfect on the N2 last year, I am going for N1 this year. I bought a few shin kanzen master books for it when I was studying abroad in Japan, but I’ve only gotten through grammar and half of reading(started in mid august). Instead, I’m focusing a lot of my time on college applications XD

    • Clayton MacKnight October 24, 2013, 11:37 pm

      You’d be surprised how well you’ll do I think. If you had a really good score on N2, you have the basic skills, just need to fill in the vocabulary really.

  • Chad October 21, 2013, 9:04 am

    Grammar. After that more grammar. When it comes to brute force short term memorizing, nothing comes close to grammar with respect to the high ratio of points on the test vs points you need to memorize. Outside of 20 minutes a day of SRS, the only formal “studying” I do now is grammar anyway. The rest is just reading (translating what I don’t know), watching TV, and hanging out with Japanese. Grammar seems to be the one beast you can’t just nail on the fly.

    • Clayton MacKnight October 24, 2013, 11:40 pm

      Grammar is really critical I think for most of the levels. For N1, they test you more over structure and actually nuances of some of the grammar you learned before. There is usually one or two particle questions that use more complex structures. It is a beast to study for in my opinion. Right now I’m building and writing the N5 guide for the site here and in a way that is really helpful because I have to do a lot of extra research and understand the points on a deeper level than I did before, which in turn helps me puzzle out the more advanced structures.

      • Chad October 25, 2013, 9:03 am

        The kicker with grammar on the JLPT (especially 2 and 1) is that you *really* need to know the grammar points well. Many of the incorrect answers will be similar but subtlely incorrect in meaning, or you will have to know exactly how to append the structure to a verb or which particle to use, etc. Just knowing the meaning of the grammar point is insufficient on many of the grammar questions.

  • Paul October 28, 2013, 9:46 pm

    I’m re-taking N4 (yes it is possible to fail it!)

    I don’t think I’m going to do any revision (it didn’t help last time), instead I’m going to relax, watch the kyushu basho on TV, and ok I’ll go through the N4 and N5 vocab lists in Anki.


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