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, month 7, and month 8 before continuing.
In the past, when I prepared for the JLPT, I always kept simply doing what I was doing until the final day before the test. I didn’t really see a need to change up my study routine that much before the big day. After all, what could you possible change that would make a difference a few months before the big exam?
Well, working with and talking to a couple of test takers has given me a few tips of what you can do in this final stretch that will really hammer some things in before the big day.
Before we get started though, make sure you have double checked the previous months of this study guide. Have you done everything? Have you taken a practice test or two to get a feel for the test? Do you have a good vocabulary practice routine in place? Did you get a conversation partner to chat with so you feel more comfortable with the language? If not, take the time now to go back over those sections of the guide to help you.
I would say for these next months it is important to keep up your vocabulary studying. With SRS, you really need to keep that beast fed every day or else you tend to get behind, which may cause you to get sloppy or just rush through the words without really that much focus. So, by all means, keep the vocabulary drilling up, however, try not to add too many more words. You want to keep this manageable. You don’t want it to dominate your final months before the test. This is because you’ll want more free time so that you can focus on your weak points in order to shore them up before the big test.
You should be winding down your grammar practice as well. If you are at the N4 and N5 level, hopefully you have had enough time to digest all the major grammar points. You will probably need to continue to review them and do a few practice questions with a book like Mon 500 in order to fish out your weaknesses before the test. However, in general you should be at least familiar with and be able to understand all of the grammar points. It is a bonus if you are able to use them of course.
For N3 and above, if you have followed this study guide so far, you should be on track with knowing and reviewing the phrases and expressions you need to learn for the test. Did you remember to mark the grammar points that you had trouble with? Now is the time to go back and really drill those points in so that they become really natural for you.
In general though, we are going to tone down your grammar and vocabulary drilling, and push to practice more of the skills you will need to pass the test. If you have followed a more natural way of studying for the test up until now (just chatting and picking up things here and there), now is the time to turn your focus on some of the skills that you will need for the test like answering grammar questions, taking notes during the listening, and reading for comprehension.
With just two months to go, I often get a lot of frantic emails from readers asking me what they could possibly do in these last couple of days to increase their score. And it can be a bit of stressful situation because some people can only take the test once a year, and they need to show results this time because they want to keep their motivation up, they need it for a job, or some other reason.
When time is not a constraint it is okay to experiment and see what works for you in terms of language learning, but what happens if you don’t have that time. What can you do to maximize these final months?
Well, for starters, you should be absolutely certain of the tests format and how to answer the different kinds of questions. If you have been with us so far, you have hopefully already done that by taking a practice test or gone through one of the official workbooks. I encourage you to take at least one practice test with the exact time limits for each section that the real test has. This will not only give you a feel for the questions, but also how fast you need to move through the test.
The other thing to do is to build on the foundation you have already laid so far. Over the last few months, you have learned a lot of vocabulary and grammar. For some of you, you probably wolfed down 1000, 2000 or possibly more vocabulary words, tried to cram 100 or so grammar points into your head, and I don’t even have to mention all those kanji that have probably given you a lot of fits as well.
So, now it is time to build something pretty solid on that foundation of knowledge. You may know that meaning of all the vocabulary, kanji, and grammar points, but if you have only been drilling them chances are, you are probably at least a little hazy about how to use each one. For instance, you might not be sure what context you should use certain points or words. Or, the different readings of kanji in different compounds.
This ability is called usage. How do you use what you learned? How can you drive it home, so that you know it well enough to sail through the test? How can you fortify what you already learned without drudging through some more drill books, or worse yet, shelling out a few yen to pick up more drill books?
Double Down on Reading
Well, I believe that a lot of good reading practice can really help you before the big test. Reading of appropriate level materials can help you review grammar, vocabulary, and kanji in context and in a meaningful way. So instead of taking these parts separate in drill books, you can combine it all and get some reading comprehension practice as well.
I should start by saying that this strategy is most effective for those preparing for the higher levels (N3+). If you are at the lower levels of the test, (N5~N3), it might be more effective to do a lot of chatting with natives and getting some good feedback as to what you are using wrong. This instant feedback will give you a good feel for how the language is used.
Reading a lot of materials on the other hand will give you a lot more exposure to the written language which is in fact different from the spoken language. Spoken language gets even more complicated when you think about dialects and accents. It is a lot more alive, and to be honest, a truer form of communication because you can use facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice to convey a lot of meaning whereas written communication has none of that.
Written materials are generally more standardized, especially in Japan where education is standardized across the whole country. Everybody uses the same books, same syllabus, the whole nine, so everybody tends to use the same language patterns when writing because that is what is graded and checked by teachers. Speaking of course is not really checked at all. Students don’t even make any kind of presentations until usually college.
So, doing a lot of reading of good appropriate level materials can be a huge boost to your score in this final stretch. Not only will it help with comprehension skills, it will also boost your overall reading speed, which can help in all sections of the test. And rereading materials will make things very automatic and comfortable for you so you don’t have to worry about test anxiety creeping in and taking some points away.
Double down on listening
The same kinds of things can be said about doing some listening practice. You may know a lot of words, but can you recognize them in a spoken sentence? Can you break apart complicated statements easily and automatically. Doing some work to boost your listening comprehension now can mean a couple of extra points where you need them on the test.
Practicing listening is especially important if you live outside of Japan. Living in Japan, you are simply exposed to so much more listening opportunities just by being here and living life. If you talk to a lot of test takers living in Japan, they will often tell you that they hardly study for the listening section at all, just because we are constantly bombarded by listening opportunities. Unless you choose to only watch imported American TV shows and stay in your house all day, you are bound to get some listening practice in.
But if you live out of the country, you don’t have that. So, you’ll need to supplement it with a variety of listening and practice to fill in the gaps. I recommend trying a couple of different approaches to see what works best for you. You might want to listen to some Japanese music, some Japanese learning podcasts (like jpod101), or even native Japanese podcasts.
What you choose should depend on your level. At the N4 and N5 levels it is probably a little too soon to jump into native podcasts. When I was at this stage, I relied heavily on jpod101 to give me some easily digestible little bits of Japanese. They simply have one of the largest libraries of listening material and it was easy to listen and listen and get a ton of exposure to it.
Once I got into the N2 level, I switched to doing more native listening with Japanese podcasts occasionally as well as some jDramas. Simple jDramas can be pretty effective because the plots are generally easy enough to understand and you can guess a lot from what is going on in the show.
How about you?
Are you double-down on reading and listening? What are you doing to change your strategy during these final couple of months? Let me know in the comments.
This is just an excerpt from the JLPT Study Kit. Inside the kit, you’ll also find:
- How to maximize your reading speed
- How fast you need to read for each level of the test
- What two skills you need to be a great listener
- 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!