JLPT BC 137 | Bulking Up on Vocabulary

JLPT BC 137 | Bulking Up on Vocabulary post image

We are now moving into the final stretch before the July test.  I’ve switched a lot of fun studying into more aggressive drilling and practicing vocabulary and grammar.  I think it is important to get into that mindset of answering questions.  One of the necessary evils about a test is that the test makers have to work in a bag of tricks in order to really test what your level is.  So you need to readjust your thinking a little before the exam.

I’ve been making slow, but steady progress on Game of Thrones.  I took a break from it over the Golden Week holiday because I couldn’t find enough concentrated free time to study it.  So far it has been an enjoyable read.  I do like eBooks, but it can be a little difficult to read and take notes on them.  With my Japanese books, I like to mark them up and add notes where I can, especially if I bought it used.  That’s a little trickier with an eBook.

I also finally finished off watching and practicing Hanzawa Naoki.  Overall, it was an interesting series.  I can see why it was so popular in Japan.  There are a lot of people that would love to tell their boss off here I think. It didn’t have that much reusable vocabulary to be honest, but I hope it honed my guessing skills for listening.  It was at least a lot more fun than going back through my listening drills again, so I hope it boosts my listening score a little bit.

One of the biggest changes this time around for the test is my free time.  I really don’t have much of it.  I’ve taken on a few extra teaching gigs, and my wife has taken on some extra work as well, which means I’m doing more chores and things around the house.  It is a tough time to get a big block of concentrated time available.  So, I have turned to doing more listening and vocabulary drilling which can be done in those spare moments waiting for the train or during my daughter’s naps.

The Race is On

I finished off the short course I made a while back for N1 words that were giving me some trouble.  I’ve since moved on to a list of ~2000 words from one of the more popular vocabulary books for the N1.  I thought I would run into some new words that I hadn’t seen before, but about half the words are review, which is good and bad.  Good in the sense that I can review some things I know, bad in the sense that vocabulary was one of my weak points last test, so I need to learn some more words to pass that section.

I still recommend doing that course if you are taking the N1.  It has a lot of great vocabulary and the course creator has done a great job with making clean and clear definitions.  Users have also contributed a lot of mems with mnemonics and example sentences to help you get a good idea of how to use the word and remember it.

I’ve been on Memrise for quite awhile, and have managed to rack up an impressive point total, so it is often hard to find competitors.  Luckily, Memrise has a cool feature where it shows you the leaderboards for just points earned that week or month.  I’ve turning to that and trying to find some other users that have a good pace for me to race against.  I’ve managed to find two other users that are just ahead of where I usually am, so I have been following them closely, trying to keep one step ahead.  It has kept me going at a good pace.  I’m already over 10% done with the N1 course and I just started it a few weeks ago.

There is always a lot of talk in teaching circles about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.  Extrinsic motivation being some outside force that makes you do or study something, like your boss telling you to get a certain score on the test in order to get promoted.  While intrinsic motivation is something internal; you have the desire to learn the material because you are curious about it, or just like the challenge.  As teachers, encouraging intrinsic motivation is generally considered the best course of action because students that are learning for themselves are much more likely to go the extra mile and really focus on their studies.  Whereas extrinsically motivated students are just there to put their time in and go home.

Gaming learning, like what Memrise does, is a bit of both, and there have been mixed reports about whether gaming actually encourages real learning or not. However, I’ve found it can help you get out of bed and start studying on those days when you would rather just watch a movie or play the latest smartphone game to pass the time.  The tallying of points shouldn’t be your main focus, but it does help to stand back and see how much progress you have made.

This bulking up of vocabulary has helped with my ability to memorize and build mnemonics as well.  It is good sometimes to bulk up in a particular category and just drown in it for a while so that you can perfect your vocabulary (or reading, kanji, etc…) study skills.  I’ve gotten a lot more proficient at learning words at first glance, with only a few needing a little bit of extra reinforcement.

Started Reading

I pulled out my dusty old 一級 exams that I have been saving for a rainy day.  I haven’t gotten into them that much before because I was studying Kanzen Master and So-Matome reading books, but now I’m going to try to hone my comprehension skills over the next couple of months before the exam.  I’m especially bad at inference, even in English.  This has always been my nemesis, I have never really been able to find a cure for it, other than to read and read and then answer questions to double check my comprehension.

I’m practicing an old method I’ve used in the past with some success of reading a paragraph, stopping, trying to summarize it in my head, then continuing on with the passage.  This makes for some slow reading, so I usually change this strategy out with speed reading, to keep myself reading and skimming at an optimal speed.  The common problems keep popping up though.  Passages that have a topic I’m familiar with, I cut through like a hot knife through butter, but if the topic is unfamiliar to me, it’s more like a blunt butter knife through a baguette.

I haven’t done any serious timing of myself quite yet though.  I do want to get a good reading speed down before the main event.  That is usually the difference between having a little while to double check your answers and slamming your pencil down at the very last second.  You really need to be a good fast reader at the N1 and N2 levels.  That is one of the key differences between N3 and N2.

The only other problem is finding a good place to read.  I usually do my casual reading on the train, but reading and answer questions on multiple pages can get to be a little troublesome with a train that is rocking back and forth and limited lap space.  So, I need to get into the habit of doing some reading during my breakfast and lunch.  I’m not exactly a big fan of cutting into my lunch, but you have to do what you have to do.

Are you Ready for this?

The July test is just around the corner, how do you sharpen your sword in this final stretch?  Let me know in the comments below.

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Jude May 23, 2014, 11:34 pm

    Your comments about the difference between reading about familiar and unfamiliar topics caught my attention, since it seems to hold for in reading in one’s native language as well. Specifically, here in the States there’s a lot of emphasis these days on improving kid’s reading scores, and in most states, this means extra emphasis on vocabulary and mechanics. Here in Massachusetts they took a subject-matter approach, boosting the teaching of science and social studies and so forth as a way of simply increasing the kids’ knowledge of the world, and it seems to help, since the state is usually at the top of the reading rankings.

    The problem for adult students is figuring out specifically what to read to prepare for a test where it sounds like there are practically no restrictions on reading passage selections. Once you get that figured out, you can open your own chain of test-preparation schools, and probably become a millionaire and maybe get some humanitarian award of the year for restoring hope to despairing students.

    • Chad May 27, 2014, 8:09 am

      The JLPT can be tough to study for because the reading is nothing like what a foreigner living in Japan normally reads, nor needs to read.

      What DO we read? Well, in my case, my “non-study” reading breaks down as

      60%: Work-related items such as emails, reports, presentations, patents, product information, etc
      30%: Brochures, pamphlets, menus, instructions, signs, information-focused web pages, etc
      10%: News articles

      What is on the JLPT?

      90%: Rambling personal essays filled with unnecessarily complicated grammar
      10%: A single brochure or pamphlet of some type

      Needless to say, I always do the last, “pamphlet” question first.

      • Clayton MacKnight May 28, 2014, 2:38 pm

        Yeah, and the Kanzen Master Reading book has a section dedicated to reading work documents like business letters and such. I thought that section was a total joke, and hoped that the N1 would be a lot of that type of material but no luck. 🙁

        I’ve always heard the reasoning behind this is that a test should be more difficult than real life because then it proves you can handle anything in real life. I try to keep that in mind when I go to take the test.

    • Clayton MacKnight May 28, 2014, 2:29 pm

      You are right about the no restrictions. I’ve started to get an idea of what kinds of things generally pop up on the exam, but there are a few curve balls that come up every once in awhile. And I hate to say it, but no matter what I try to do, if there is a boring essay, my score suffers, I just have a hard time getting through stuff that I am not remotely interested in.

      I think the test takers have a difficult task in that they need to select well-written pieces that have common topics, but have an opinion or twist to them that is uncommon so that they test your comprehension. Those are hard to come by because, generally speaking, media tells the same story.

  • jessica May 26, 2014, 4:23 pm

    You say you read ebook (japanese i believe) in your tablet. Do you know if one can buy ebooks from rakuten and download them to their android kobo app on my tablet?

    • Clayton MacKnight May 28, 2014, 2:35 pm

      Actually, I bought it through Rakuten and I am reading it through the Kobo app. It really isn’t my first recommendation though. I recommend using Amazon instead, just because the app is a little more international friendly, and has more support for doing things like stripping DRM if that is your thing, (and legal wherever you are residing).

  • Jude May 27, 2014, 3:09 pm

    Would anyone here I wonder have taken the TOEFL or one of the EU language tests? I’m curious about how they compare, from a taker’s point of view.

    Or maybe, how does the JLPT compare to the college entrance exams that kids spend years cramming for? The more I learn about this test, the happier I am I’ll never have to take it.

    • Clayton MacKnight May 28, 2014, 2:41 pm

      I’ve prepped students for the TOEFL before and it is a beast. The main reason being that there is a speaking component to it that even native speakers would struggle with if they weren’t prepped for it. And then the grammar section of that test is a nightmare. Even someone who is somewhat well-versed in prescribed grammar (what is written down in books as the ‘correct’ way to speak) can have a hard time with it. I would say the TOEFL is more difficult than the JLPT, but I’ve never had to take the actual TOEFL before.

      • Jude May 28, 2014, 3:14 pm

        Strange, then (with the speaking component) how many foreign grad students come to the U.S. with teaching fellowships but can’t be understood by their American students. The universities should find some other way of supporting them for the first year of their stay other than instructing kids who may have never heard any foreign accent before.

  • Ed June 6, 2014, 9:54 am

    Hi Clayton

    Do you have many 1kyu or N1 past papers? I’ve tried to use that chines site that gets mentioned but I can’t make head nor tail of it! Is there anywhere to get a big bundle of old tests (preferably with the answers!).


    • Clayton MacKnight June 10, 2014, 2:49 pm

      I have a lot of the old papers, but they were bought at the book store. 🙂

      I’ve always heard mixed reports of the ones that fall off trucks so to speak. They usually have errors and some incorrect answers here and there. The legit ones are cheap enough that I don’t really bother. I just wish they would make all the old tests available again, at least printed copies. Although online copies would be amazing.

  • Ed June 16, 2014, 9:22 am

    Thanks Clayton

    Do you have a link in where to buy them from outside Japan? I’ve got the blue book that has two tests in it, but would love to get a few more – can’t seem to see more on amazon either here in the UK or Japan.

    Any help would be hugely appreciated!


  • Ed June 26, 2014, 10:06 am

    Just a quick thank you – there’s a load of practice papers on there, am all stocked up!

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