This is a continuing series going over a sample JLPT study guide. If you are just joining the discussion, you might want to check out month 1, month 2, month 3, month 4, month 5, month 6 and month 7 before continuing.
If you were lucky enough to take the July test this year, you have probably received your results by now, or are going to pretty soon. This will give you a good benchmark of what you will need to be studying for if you are taking the test in December. If you are retaking the exam, due to failing it this time around or to get a better score, you will have an excellent idea of what you need to focus on to take it to get up and over that hill.
If you are moving on to the next level because you passed, or just don’t want to take the lower level again, you might have to do a little reinterpreting of these results in order to get an idea of what you will need to pass the next level. Going from N5 to N4, there really isn’t that difference in the format of the test. For example, if you were weak at listening at the N5 level, you will probably need to shore it for N4.
Moving from N4 to N3, you will see a little jump in the reading portion of the test. Even if you scored pretty high in this section for the N4, you will probably need to do some work with it to pass N3 level. Also, vocabulary starts to get a little more difficult at the N3 level. You can’t simply study the lists anymore and expect every word from them to be on the test. You will have to journey away from JLPT textbooks and take in some Japanese from a variety of different sources, like native children or young adult books, free resources like Tae Kim’s lessons, or paid resources like JapanesePod101. These alternative resources will cover all sorts of different vocab and situations which will start to broaden your ability to communicate.
From N3 to N2, expect to increase your reading speed. If you had a hard time finishing the N3 exam, you will need to really get that speed up in order to pass N2. The best way to do that is to do a lot of reading. I highly recommend picking up some young adult books to read and just work your way through them. Ones that I have recommended time and time again are the Disney movie adaptions that you can get for incredibly cheap used. Vocabulary and kanji will also jump significantly from N3, so you will need to spend a little more time on that.
For N1, you will need to be getting your hands dirty will a lot of native material, all the time. JLPT books will help you get an idea of what skills you need in order to pass the test, but not all of the vocabulary or reading practice you will need. The difference in reading speed is actually relatively small between N2 and N1, so you don’t need to worry about bumping your speed up that much. Your biggest worry should be to speed up your recognition and understanding of the new vocabulary that you will see at this level.
For more information about resources you can use to study for the next level of the test, you can check back with Month 1 of this study guide. There you will also find links to free practice tests and workbooks that I have commented on as well.
What we are going to focus on this month is overhauling your whole study routine so that you can bear down on your weaknesses in these final few months before the December test. For some of you, this might be your only test you can take until next year rolls around, so you want to put all your muscle into it to make sure your efforts until now haven’t been for waste. I’ll go over some quick tips on how to diagnose some common problems that might have come up on the July test or on a practice test that you took.
But, before we dig into that, how is your motivation? Are you still ready to take on this test? We still have a few more months, so be sure to pace yourself for the final stretch and don’t burn yourself out. In the end, this race to pass the tests is only against yourself, so don’t overdue it and end up hating Japanese for the rest of your life. We are going to go over some great strategies that you should put in use to patch up those weaknesses, but remember to have a little fun with it whenever you can.
Diagnosing Kanji and Vocabulary Problems
Now the easy answer to solving kanji and vocabulary problems is to just do more drilling, probably SRS like Anki or Memrise. You have probably heard this from a lot of reputable sources as the way to study the language. And for the most part, SRS will do a lot of the heavy lifting of memorizing new words. However, in order to really know a word, you will need to know how it is used and where. It also might be useful to know its connotation (is it negative or positive?) as well. And although you can drill of this stuff in your standard flashcards or SRS, doing that can get pretty dull pretty fast.
So, reading can really help you to build up your vocabulary as well as reinforce the vocabulary that you already have so that you don’t have to review it. Also reading has several other benefits like increasing your reading speed, which is something that is very necessary for the test. It is also just a lot more interesting than drilling a bunch of words that are not very relevant to you and what you want to do with Japanese, but you have to study anyway because they are on the test.
It is my belief that you can not pass the N2 without doing at least a little reading of native materials. I suppose it is possible, but just not very probable. You have to get a good idea of what real language use is in order to make it through the test and come out with a good score.
Knew the word but couldn’t use it right
Did you know the core meaning of the word, but weren’t sure how to use it in a sentence? Let me give you an example for the N1 test I just took. In the usage section (last section of the vocabulary part of the test) they had the word しがみつく, which means ‘to cling’. Simple right? Well, and I can’t remember the exact wording of the sentences, but they gave 4 sentences that you could actually use the word cling in, in English. So, one sentence was something like ‘It was a hot day, so the shirt he was wearing clung to him.”, and another one was something like ‘The magnet clung to the fridge.” and yet another was “The little boy clung to his mom’s leg, terrified.”
Now, I’m paraphrasing a lot here, because the sentences were a little more complicated than that, but you get the idea. If you knew the core meaning of the word ‘to cling’, but were not able to use the word properly, you would have a hard time answering this question. This is why SRS, which only pairs the Japanese word to an English definition, can be a little limiting. This is also why a lot of people recommend using Japanese to Japanese dictionaries when you study because a JtoJ dictionary would have these kinds of nuances in the definition that the JtoE one wouldn’t.
There are a couple of solutions to this problem. First of all, you can start studying with Japanese to Japanese flashcards or SRS. That is, you can prompt yourself with a definition in Japanese, and try to come up with a Japanese word that matches it. This is a very good solution and a lot of language learners swear by it, because you can do twice as much studying in the same amount of time. Think about it. If one side of the flashcard is in English, and the other is in Japanese, you are spending half of your time reading English. Why not spend all of your time reading Japanese? That is what you are trying to learn right?
But, alas, this method is a bit hard to get into the habit of doing, and can be a little discouraging to start with. I wouldn’t recommend using it until you have passed N4 to be honest, and passing N3 wouldn’t really hurt either. There have been some recent studies that have shown that actually using two languages, for beginners, is better and faster way to study at first anyway. The efficiency of learning using your native languages tends to level off at around threshold point. This is the point where you start to carry over your 1st language skills into the 2nd language. I’m talking about things like conversation skills, comprehension skills, etc… This is the point where you stop using the language as some kind of external ‘tool’ and instead start to internalize it and use it to communicate.
It can be difficult to practice with Japanese to Japanese flashcards, but if you are brave enough and very motivated you can start off on day one.
If, however, you are not quite at the level that you feel comfortable using Japanese to Japanese or you feel like it is more work than what it is worth, then at the very least question yourself when you are drilling or you come across a new word. Take a few moments to look at it in a few example sentences. Some words, like nouns, are extremely straightforward and don’t require any extra work. I mean a cat is a cat. You can really be ambiguous there, but for other words, especially more abstract things like ‘there’ and ‘discussion’ you will need to look a little deeper.
The other way to combat usage problems is what I recommended above, do more reading.
A common problem in the grammar section is being able to choose the correct grammar point out of all the options in the first part of the grammar section of the test. Even at the lower levels, there are a few grammar points that have similar uses, but can not be used interchangeably. For example, に and へ can both mark a location but they have different ways of being used. The test will prey on these minute differences.
This can be particularly frustrating because you probably know the meaning of each of the grammar points. If you were to see them in a sentence you could understand them without any real issues. You may even be able to use them conversation with a fair degree of accuracy. But for the test you will need to pick out the fine points between each one. Luckily, there is a pretty easy solution.
The first solution is try to do some writing with every grammar point you learn. When you are writing, try to test the boundaries of what is right and wrong. Don’t just mimic example sentences that you have, but try more complex ones so that you can really get a feel for how it is used. Ask a native friend, a tutor, or a service like lang-8.com to help you with corrections.
Another solution is simply more drilling, which can get a little dull, but it will pull out what problems you have. My personal favorites for grammar drill books are the Nihongo 500 Mon books for N5-N4, N3, N2 and N1. They have drill questions for vocabulary, kanji, and grammar, so they pack a little more than just grammar. However, they have pretty good questions that are up to level and excellent explanations of each answer, so they are great for self-studiers.
Scrambled sentences, which show up in the second part of the grammar section, can be a real nightmare as well. These essentially involve putting sentences in order. They can be very challenging at first because it is not how you normally look at making sentences. You will have to try out a few of these before you can really get a swing of how to answer them. The Shin Kanzen Master series of books (N3, N2, N1) have a specific section that goes over common patterns and things to be on the lookout for and the questions in that section are up to level as well.
The final part of the grammar section, the text grammar part, can lead to some headaches as well. If you tripped up in this section, the best thing to do is more reading and try to be more aware of key grammar points as you do so. For example, if you come across a connector like しかし or それも, take a look around and try to see the whole flow of the conversation. Overall comprehension skills usually don’t transfer over from your native language until you are at about the intermediate level. Until you reach that point, you will have to fake it until you make it by forcing yourself to look at the whole passage more instead of just the sentence you are trying to answer the question for.
How about you?
What weaknesses have cropped up from the July test or from a practice test you took? Let me know in the comments below.
This is just an excerpt from the JLPT Study Kit. Inside the kit, you’ll also find:
- Different kinds of activities to use to study Japanese
- How to diagnose listening problems
- How to diagnose reading problems
- a PDF checklist of what to do each month
- 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!