Think like a JLPT Writer

Think like a JLPT Writer post image

We are getting close to the big test on December 1st and hopefully you have gone through one of the practice tests for your level so that you are at least familiar with the different sections of the test and the flow of it all. If not, they are some practice tests that are freely available at the links below:

JLPT N5 Practice Test
JLPT N4 Practice Test
JLPT N3 Practice Test
JLPT N2 Practice Test
JLPT N1 Practice Test

This basic familiarity with what is on the test can boost your score a lot. Especially since with the new test the make up of each level of the test is a little different. Each level has added sections and some sections that are removed.

One thing that you should keep in mind when you take the test, too, is that there is a human being behind it. Actually, a committee of humans that make decisions on what kind of things are going to appear on the test, what kind of questions will be asked, and so on. These test makers are the reason why the level of the test seems to fluctuate between the different times it is administered.

These test makers have obvious goals that they would like to see test takers hit in order to pass a certain level. They are looking more for your ability to think at a higher-level instead of just memorizing information.

The new test reflects this focus on a higher-level of thought. In a lot of ways this forces you to be a more well-rounded learner of Japanese and makes you practice and become pretty good at skills that you might normally ignore. The reading and listening sections have undergone some serious changes to make them better for learners and not just memorizers.

The Old Test

The old test involved a lot of memorizing, or at least it tested over memorizing. Especially for the kanji section. When I was preparing for N2, I took a few 二級 (old N2) tests and I easily aced the kanji and vocab sections simply because it really just tested your raw knowledge. There were usage questions as well, but there were so many kanji and vocab questions that you could get a lot of points on them and outweigh your bad scores on other sections of the exam.

This is probably why you now must have a minimal passing score in all areas to pass the whole test. I have a feeling with the old system you could do a lot of memorizing and squeak by with a pass.

I feel the reading section has gone largely unchanged. The old test seemed to ask a ridiculous amount of questions for the same passage though. I’m guessing this led to a lot of problems where if the particular essay was on a subject you weren’t familiar with you would lose a lot of points.

The old listening section was pretty simple. You had to essentially listen for one point in the passage, and there was another section that asked you to answer a question about the whole passage. These two types of questions have carried over to the new exam. They are now the 1st 2 sections for every level.

The New Test

In 2010, JEES started administering the N-series of tests. They made a significant amount of changes to the format, scoring and overall goals of the test. In my opinion, a lot of this was to make it more practical and encourage students to learn more useful language skills as well as in a more natural manner (as opposed to just milling through old test papers). They’ve done a pretty good job making it more practical and it shows in the increased number of people taking the test.

Of course, they didn’t really come about this change on their own. There is another Japanese test, the J-test, which was/is starting to gain more popularity and is administered more often. It was more practical and JEES had to do something to compete obviously.

So How Did the Goals of the JLPT Change?

Well, 1st off, it seems the test makers are placing significantly less emphasis on kanji and vocabulary. These sections are a lot smaller. And the vocabulary section has some added types of questions. One interesting addition is the section of the N2 where it asks you to form a word. It can be quite difficult to answer these questions, especially since it is difficult to study for.

The reading also includes a more realistic information retrieval question on the old test, depending on the level, there were some different kinds of questions like the famous graph question on the 二級, but there were also small, medium, and long passages. On the new test, the information retrieval questions are still pretty easy but a lot more realistic.

There is also the addition of the reading exercise where you are asked to compare two or three passages. These force you to do higher level thinking as you have to reorganize and summarize the information in order to answer the questions.

And don’t forget the tricky listening question on N1 and N2. The last question in the listening section involves you listening to some information and then a conversation between two people based on that. The test takers really want you to be able to use previous knowledge to answer the questions. This question and some other questions in the listening section force you take good notes. On the older tests you could probably get away with keeping track of most things in your head.

Be a Good Student

The moral of the story here is that drilling will only take you so far. It does help to practice how the test questions will be asked and how to look at things a little differently, but the test makers have gone out of their way to make this test more difficult to pass by brute force and concentrating on only the JLPT. You have to be well-rounded with your studies for the new tests.

That means more native materials, more exploring and finding words on your own rather than sticking to the regular lists. (Although, admittedly for N5 and N4 you should be okay if you drill the lists well) In general, you need to learn Japanese in a natural way and be able to use it. I think they have made the test a lot better measurement of one’s skills. Unfortunately, they made it generally harder for N2 and N1, but that just makes the victory so much more sweeter.

This is just an excerpt from the JLPT Study Kit. Inside the kit, you’ll also find:

  • how to get more out of your practice tests
  • exercises on how to get inside the head of a test maker
  • how to stay confident before the big test
  • and more…

If you haven’t picked up the kit, why not give it a try? It has a 90 day money back guarantee, so you have nothing to lose!

Photo by Dan McKay

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Victoria November 21, 2013, 3:01 am

    Glad it’s not just me who thinks N2 and N1 are harder than old 2-kyu used to be… N3 is certainly easier than old 2-kyu, and was also easier than I’d expected it to be, but there is still a very large gap between N3 and N2 (which was, if I remember correctly, one of the main things the revision was supposed to address).

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