Memorization ≠ Passing the JLPT

Memorization ≠ Passing the JLPT post image

Memorizing everything doesn’t mean you’ll pass the JLPT. This may seem obvious, but if you look around you’ll find a lot of different lists to work with. Lists for vocabulary, lists for grammar, lists of kanji. After seeing all these lists you might be under the impression that it is just a question of memorizing everything, and then you’re done.

It also doesn’t help that you have all sorts of tools to make memorizing easier, SRS and fun things like Even for grammar there are giant (and not so giant) books full of big words used to describe in intricate detail each grammar point, as well. And these all serve as great guides to help you understand the language, but all that memorizing is, well, boring, and sometimes not as useful as you might imagine.

For example, you can’t memorize reading and listening material which are two critical sections of the test. You can memorize all the reading passages in the world and that really isn’t going to help you.

Memorizing things, as it turns out, is just one step in the whole process of learning a language (and pretty much anything else). You need to get a little higher to be truly successful with language learning though. And as luck would have it, some guy named Bloom created a whole pyramid that explains what higher-level thinking looks like.

Bloom’s Higher-order of Thinking

A guy by the name of Benjamin Bloom has laid out a taxonomy of higher-level thinking that starts with memorizing or raw knowledge. This forms the solid base of the pyramid and is needed to build a strong foundation to put everything else on. It takes a lot of time to practice and study the vocabulary and grammar you need, but it is necessary to go up the scale.

You also need understanding of course. You may notice that if you read things word for word you’ll have a pretty hard time understanding the whole passage. Different words have different meanings depending on the context. This is where just practicing English to Japanese flashcards can cause serious headaches for you.

Application of the knowledge you have is the actual use of phrases and expressions of the language. Are you able to produce it? Or just understand it? Note that, in most situations, you really don’t need to be able to apply everything you can understand. A good solid set of conversation skills and the ability to comprehend 95% of the material out there is enough.

Analysis involves the ability to look at a text and with a quick scan, be able to come up with the main topic as well as be able to know what kind of style the passage is written in.

At the top of the scale, we have evaluating and creating. Evaluating involves being able to hypothesize and make educated guesses at what you read. For example, being able to make an accurate guess at a word’s meaning based on the kanji that it contains and where it is in the sentence. Or, reading over a few examples of a new grammar point and forming a hypothesis as to what function the grammar point serves, instead of just reading the rule.

Evaluating can be a really valuable skill to practice, because at a higher level, you will always be bumping into new words and phrases you have never seen before. Sharpening this skill can boost your ability to learn more things naturally.

The last and most important level of course is creating. This is where you are truly using the words and phrases you have learned in a natural way and not in a stilted, book-sounding way. It can be a little difficult to reach this level, where things become automatic, but it is a lot of fun.

Go Higher Up the Tree

It’s quite easy to bury yourself in lists and fun little tools that measure your progress by telling you how many words you know. There are truly powerful tools that should be used regularly, but don’t forget that you’ll need to journey outside of them in order to master a language.

You really need to use the higher levels of thinking to be good and that involves getting your hands dirty and making mistakes. There are easily measurable systems to guide you in this department just some guidelines.

Take some time during your studies to think about what you can be doing to reach a higher level of thought instead of just memorizing. Can you write a few sample sentences instead of drilling vocab? Can practice talking to yourself using a particular grammar point instead of reviewing grammar rules?

How do you Get high? (I mean with thinking)

How do you take it beyond just memorizing? Let me know in the comments below.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Lukas Frank November 2, 2013, 9:45 pm

    Hello Mac,

    I’m preparing for N2 at the moment. I’m watching anime and in between I read over the kanji and vocabulary (I think it is a great help and motivation if you notice how the words or grammar you just repeated are used in anime). And I’m answering to a Japanese friend on facebook.
    Tomorrow I want to do the same with grammar. I also want to try reading texts slightly over N2 level. I take a class at university in which we read texts dealing with “gender” in Japan so I should prepare them anyway. I also started listening to podcasts and it seems my listening has improved recently.
    Overall I don’t know if my reading and listening skills will be sufficient to pass the test but I’ll try my best. Those are the sections I fear the most. I think you’re perfectly right. At the beginning I thought: “Remember words and grammar and the reading will be easy.” But that’s really not the case.


    • Clayton MacKnight November 4, 2013, 1:09 pm

      Sounds like you are in pretty good shape. Just need to do some comprehension practice. Try to go through a few reading books before the big test. Good luck!

  • Tony November 7, 2013, 12:27 am

    I agree. Have been studying Japanese for awhile now and all the memorization is boring and tedious. Helpful but tedious.

    I’d have to start thinking on how to get around the corners on this.
    Memorizing vocab is my greatest weakness.
    I can hover a word and know its meaning but 20 seconds later completely forget about it.
    There’s no science behind learning but a gut feeling it seems, jaja.

    Thanks for the good tips.
    Read the page every day.

    • Clayton MacKnight November 9, 2013, 11:47 pm

      Well, there are things that can make memorizing easier like mnemonics and memorization tricks. has a lot of this built into it to help you, but you can apply it to anything really.

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