JLPT BC 159 | Analog vs. Digital

JLPT BC 159 | Analog vs. Digital post image

I’ve been taking it pretty easy with my studies recently due to some re-prioritizing of my time. I’m chugging away on Hirugao and Harry Potter but I’m giving myself a little more time to digest things. I felt a bit rushed of late trying to get through study sessions and I’m finding that is not the way to go.

In addition to toning down my reading and watching, I’m trying to get my vocab binging under control. I just feel like I have a hard time with long term retention of vocabulary when I practice it purely through SRS. I’m trying to shift my studies a little bit in order to fix that problem.

There is a lot of new research out there that is starting to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of using electronics in order to study and retain material. It turns out that it isn’t quite time to throw out all your dusty drill books quite yet.

With all the things on my plate recently, a new assignment, along with being busy helping my family, I’m going to have to make a change to my priorities. Something is going to have to go. But, don’t worry the posts will keep coming.

Current Studying

So, as I wrote last month, I’ve been watching Hirugao, a scandalous jDrama about two housewives and their adventures into having affairs. It has some interesting and somewhat poetic lines of dialog at times. Overall, the language they use is pretty common (not limited to a certain industry or certain age group).

I haven’t really spent much time or effort writing down and reviewing new words. I already have too many word lists to chew through, so I’m treating it as more of a fun side project. I think it helps to keep your ear ‘tuned’ to Japanese, so that it is that much easier to focus.

I’ve also been taking it more slowly with Harry Potter and taking the time to go back and review the material until it is automatic for me to understand. The audiobook is absolutely priceless in the sense that I can practice while I’m walking or doing the dishes or something. It’s great to go back now to the first few chapters and be able to listen to the audiobook at double the speed and not have any real issues with understanding.

Another reason why I’ve slowed down with Harry Potter is that my vocab bulking had been getting out of control. I finished off the first stage of Harry Potter that I had created. And now I just want to get my study time under control. I think it is a bad sign when you are consistently beating your friends on the leaderboards by a significant amount. It’s great to be competitive, but when you are studying twice as much as the average, it’s a bit overkill.

So, I switched to simply reviewing vocabulary and building up mems as much as I can to keep everything from spiraling out of control with Memrise. If SRS makes up more than about 10 to 15% of your overall studying, it can lead to an unhealthy balance. You really need to get out there and use it (writing or speaking) or consume words in context (reading or listening).

Pondering a Switch to Analog

Electronics and the digital revolution is amazing. To be able to hold literally thousands of books on your tablet and be able to read them anywhere you go at anytime, that is incredible power and convenience. And programs like Memrise and Anki make memorizing things a cinch with their proven learning algorithms, cool graphs of stats, and points to make you feel like you are in a game.

But new research is finding that digital is not always better, especially when it comes to retention. According to a recent study, writing notes out is better for long term retention.  The study basically concluded that when taking notes on laptop you are more likely to take notes verbatim instead of critically thinking about them.

As if that wasn’t enough bad news for digital, there is another study that focused on overall retention using paper books and digital books using tablets. The study focused on plot reconstruction and not vocabulary retention, but it does give us a glimpse into some of the problems that can arise if you rely too much on digital.

I’ve tried note taking before, but found it to be a bit cumbersome for me to keep and maintain. I also had a hard time scheduling reviewing and keeping things sorted. But, lately I’ve had some serious issues retaining abstract words that I’ve been studying off a particularly popular N1 Memrise list. My list of Harry Potter words is a lot easier because I had context and I review the material on a regular basis, and the words aren’t quite as abstract and more colorful.

So, I’m going to try to develop a new note taking system that provides a better experience and something that I can keep up with instead of letting it just drift away. I’m not a particularly well-organized person so I need to make something fairly fail-safe and doable. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on what I come up with.

My Future Studies

Currently, I have 4 forces pulling me in different directions for my time – my family, my new position, JLPT Boot Camp, and my goal of passing N1. All of these are things I’d like to achieve and would be useful for me to achieve. However, 4 is just too many things to keep managing.

My family is in need of my time more than ever. My new position is taking up more of my time as I learn the ropes and try to get everything organized. Not to mention that I need to put in a few more hours to keep up on all my new responsibilities. JLPT Boot Camp has been growing by leaps and bounds and so has Memrise, which is great. I’ve gotten so much great feedback, as well as great questions and suggestions on what to do and improve.

And the thing is, I love building courses and doing research about Japanese and making it easier for people to learn the language. And I’m a bit disappointed in myself for not being able to keep up and help everyone out. So many people are asking for updates and help and I love trying my best to deliver that (and learn a lot in the process).

What about N1? Well, I really don’t need it as much these days. I got the position I wanted to get without it. And yes it is good to have for job security but what is more important is making sure I do my current job well, which will help my job security. And that, at the moment, doesn’t depend on me taking the test. So I’ll be taking a break from it for a little while.

This means more support for Boot Camp and less stress for me, which should be good news for everyone. I’ll be gaining enough real world practice with Japanese in the future, that when I do turn my focus back to the test it should be a lot easier and I’ll be a lot more comfortable with it.

Anyway, I look forward to writing and creating more for you all. And organizing what I have done already so it is easier to access. I hope to get some upgrades out to you as soon as I can.

How about you?

Do you prefer digital to analog? Do you still use a notebook? If you are studying for the test, be sure to check out Month 4 of the JLPT Study Guide to help you with what you need to do to prepare.

Photo by Terry Madeley

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Andy April 30, 2015, 10:09 am

    Hi Mac,

    It was interesting to read that paper books could still be more useful when it comes to long term memory. As for me I am somewhat traditional when I study so I prefer books that I can hold in my hands, make notes and write things down in a notebook. I actually do that with all new words, kanjis and even grammar points. I try to write examples and it does seem to help with vocab retention, even if I don’t really use those particular words. It’s funny that some time ago my brother bought an iPad for reading and in the end he has been using it for all other things except reading 🙂

    I do use Memrise and Anki as well, though lately have only been using Memrise as I found that some of the decks with audio and pictures are really helpful (I am taking N3 in july btw).
    I agree that cramming is never good. It’s great if you study every day diligently but don’t make it become a nuisance. And if you want to do many things at the same time, everything will become kind of a nuisance. As for me I have always been big fan of sports, so mormally I would exercise everyday, but as I decided that passing the JLPT should be my first prio now I cut down on sporting, and I feel like the study-sport in my life is more balanced. Doing exercise evey now and then also helps with studies (it’s a mind-body thing, right?), so I do want to keep doing it.

    I think I had read in one of your earlier posts that the best way is to combine studying grammar, vocab, kanjis, reading etc. and not just focus on one until you complete the required curriculum for the specific level. I completely agree, I always switch when I feel that I got bored of one area, let’s say after two days of only focusing on kanjis I do a bit of grammar, so it has more time to sink in as well.

    Finally I wan to give hint to people who might find it useful: the NHK news web has a page where the Japanese news are written in a bit more simplified language, with difficult words explained, so you can practice your reading. Of course this is more handy for people who are around intermediate level and not business or so. You can also watch the video of the original news and listen to the text. I always find it difficult to find proper texts for my level (they are either too easy or too difficult) so I though this might come in handy for some people. At the end of the day here you also read about actual news 🙂
    And good luck with your work and family Mac!

  • Nathaniel May 2, 2015, 1:10 am

    I use a combination of Anki, textbooks and note taking. Lately, I have been getting a bit fruturated with SRS, so I’ve been leaning more towards writing words down as I go through them. I’ve also been speaking and listening more, although with both I find it hard to understand TV shows and sometimes when speaking to people, because my vocabulary isnt there yet. I’ve been studying for a year, and I think I might be able to pass JLPT 3 this summer.

    Of course, now I am also learning front-end web development, and some Mandarin.

  • Jared May 8, 2015, 10:44 pm

    Good morning. I’m a recent user of your website and have been looking around through some of your past blog posts and following some of the recent ones. The end of this post is disheartening because you’ve decided not to take the JLPT this time around. You run a website and even sell a package to help pass the JLPT but you’ve decided that N1 isn’t really necessary for you. I apologize for being blunt, and I know you’ve tried a few times in the past, but as someone with recent interest, I was a little sad to see the motivation towards the test take a dive. Though I am quite impressed with your motivation towards study in general.

    I passed 2-kyu back in 2008 and decided 1-kyu wasn’t possible/necessary at that time. Then years and years went by and now it’s less-necessary than ever with no requirement in my job for such a qualification. But now for personal growth reasons, I’ve decided to hit N1 this July. I don’t have any friends who will be taking JLPT this summer so I was looking forward to an ally, if even just website such as this, to follow and keep me motivated. So that’s why I post now. I understand and respect your reasons–just tell me you’ll try again someday. I’d hate to see all these tips and tricks you offer fall short in your own studies. Don’t give up!

    • Clayton MacKnight May 11, 2015, 1:28 pm

      I will definitely be taking it and passing it in the future. Just at the moment, I have had a lot of people like yourself email me for advice and comment on the blog, that I would like to help. And I kind of had to decided whether to focus my efforts on myself, which arguably wouldn’t change anything (I already got the job) or help and encourage others which could possibly make a big impact. It’s great to have a community of such eager studiers because every day I’m teaching people English, and I would say only a small percentage are truly motivated to get to the next level. I mean they are learning English for some reason (work, travel, or just to meet friends), but they really don’t put the effort into it that they need to, so it is refreshing to hear from people like you. And that motivates me to study harder.

      And actually, through teaching N5 grammar and now N4 grammar, I’ve had to do a lot of extra research and I’ve refined my understanding of all these little small parts of the language. And I think that will make the test that much easier. I already feel that my Japanese is a little more effortless for me to use.

      Anyway, I wish you luck, and I will not be giving up. I just think N1 needs a little more focus to pass than what I am capable of at the moment. I mean, I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do in order to pass, but the time and focus I need to accomplish that is not in the cards at the moment. Maybe when my kiddo is a little older. I wish you luck Jared, and I’ll try my best to help you.

      • Jared May 11, 2015, 11:22 pm

        Well, good luck with your own studies and the community needs a place like this for support. The English language support system for the JLPT and Japanese studies in general is pretty lacking in good resources. I wish a site like this existed back when I was first taking the tests.

        Have a good day!

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