Last Minute JLPT Advice

Last Minute JLPT Advice post image

Ok, this Sunday is the test.  And last week, I shared a few things you can do in these last couple of days.  And hopefully, you’ve been making use of those over the last week.  I’ve got a few more last minute pointers before you head off to the test.  It’s important to realize that this is a test, and even if your Japanese level is where it should be, if you don’t take a little time to prepare for it, you might lose out on some points.  So this week, I want to go over some basic test taking strategies that will help you get those extra points.

Become a Test-taking Machine

The JLPT is a great test of your Japanese skill, especially after it was reformulated in 2010.  But, it still has its physical limitations.  Because grading writing and speaking is pretty costly, the test is limited to only reading and listening skills.  On top of that, everything has to be answered with a standard mark sheet.  In other words, complicated grammar points are reduced to a choice between 4 options.  You would think this would make things easier for you.  And in some ways it does.

But it also forces you to think about the language in a slightly different way.  As a matter of fact, a long time ago, when I was studying for the 三級さんきゅう (old N4) I was cramming and drilling test questions a few weeks before the test day.  One Sunday, I spent the whole day answering and going over test questions.  That night, I went out drinking with some Japanese friends and could hardly put a sentence together in Japanese.  I was so used to responding and answering with multiple choice.

On test day, I had to wake up very early and ride a few different trains to get to the test center on time.  I arrived just in time, but hadn’t eaten breakfast of packed a lunch.  I had figured wrongly that there would be one of those omnipresent convenience stores close to the campus, but for some reason there was an anti-convenience store force field around this particular school.  So I just ended up being starved and tired, and it was rainy and cold that day too, just in case I wasn’t suffering enough.

Luckily, I passed the 三級さんきゅう that time on my first try.  I think it was mostly because i was so used to answering test questions automatically without that much thought.  I had become a test taking machine.  Was this a particular useful skill outside of taking the JLPT?  Honestly, not really, but it does help you get the score you deserve, instead of falling short and having to do the whole thing over again next year.

And that is what you need to do in this final stretch.  You need to become a test question answering machine.  The more you get comfortable with these test questions the less you’ll have to think about it on test day, which will give you more time to think over and revise your answers.  There are a few sources of test questions you can turn to.  There are the official workbooks that I referred to in last week’s post of course:

JLPT N3 Workbook
JLPT N4 Workbook
JLPT N5 Workbook

The Workbooks for N2 and N1 are only available on due to copyright restrictions.

Or, if you haven’t gone through a practice book in a while, you can go back and go through the questions.  Usually if you haven’t looked at the questions for about 4 months, you’ll probably have forgotten most of the answers.  You’ll also pick up on more details the second time around and become more familiar with how certain particles are used.  Answering questions about grammar will be a little less awkward and more natural if you just put in a little practice.

You will also become very familiar with test format.  One time I was taking the test and noticed that one of the other test takers stopped one of the proctors to ask about how to answer the ‘scrambled sentence’ questions.  You don’t want to be wasting valuable test taking time trying to figure out the instructions.  The official workbooks and practice tests are available for free online.  Be sure to read them over.  If you don’t understand any of the directions ask before you get into the test room.

Look for the Best Possible Answer

In the reading and listening sections of the test, there will be a lot of questions with answers that are very similar to each other.  More than one answer might be true in a general sense, but only one is true because of evidence or clues presented in the listening or reading passage.  Don’t get lured into a false answer just because it seems true.  Double check to see if the passage supports the answer before choosing it.

The JLPT test makers are always going to sneak in a small clue to point you in the right direction.  One example of this is a grammar question that has more than one sentence.  Take a look at this one from the N5 Practice Test:


A「つぎの かどを みぎ (   ) まがって ください。」


1 が   2 や   3 か   4 に

Thanks to the extra context (the first line about the taxi, and the response), you can answer this a lot more easily.  You should be automatically suspicious when you see a question like this.  Slow down and read through the details so you can answer it correctly.

Be Prepared for Adverse Conditions

You could be blessed by the mighty JLPT gods and take the test in a perfectly sound-proofed room with a superior sound system on test day.  But more likely than not, you will probably have at the very best a decent PA system and at worst you might be stuck with a sad-looking little boombox CD player.  It could also be blasting out the audio, washing out all the variations of the speakers.  Thankfully, it it’s too soft, you are given an opportunity to ask the proctors to turn it up, but if it’s booming because someone in the back is hard of hearing, you are out of luck.

If you have been preparing for the test with headphones you might want to take a little time to practice in a room with bad acoustics and speakers to get used to the reverb.  On test day, you might be nervous and that annoying reverb or washed out audio could distract you enough that  you lost out on some key information.  Be prepared for the worst.

Climate control seems to be an advance science for a lot of Japanese building engineers.  I’m not certain why, but the heating and cooling of large indoor areas has been a difficult skill for the Japanese to master.  I’ve been to flaming infernos in the dead of winter and blustery blizzards in the dead of summer.  The hallways will most likely not be heated either.

Be prepared by dressing in layers, so that you can peel off or pile on clothes to adjust the temperature yourself.  Proctors are generally pretty good about attempting to keep the room hospitable, but they are limited by the tools they are given, which apparently aren’t very accurate.  Be aware, however,  that things like pocket warmers may not be allowed to be used during the test.

Good Luck

Good luck to everyone on the test.  I hope all your hard work pays off.  Be sure to check back here on test day for all the reactions.  Looking forward to hearing from you all!

Photo by OiMax

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Paul December 3, 2016, 3:10 pm

    Hello! Thanks for all the resources!!

    Do you know if it’s okay to bring ear plugs to the JLPT test?


  • Francisco December 5, 2016, 2:24 am

    Just took the JLPT level 3 in Los Angeles after missing the deadline last year. I had had previously passed the 4 and 5 so I knew what to expect but I think I failed it or barely passed it. The listening and reading were the hardest sections for me. I focused too much on vocabulary and kanji learning but was still surprised to see words I’ve never seen before on the test like 慰め. I’d be surprised if I passed the listening section since my study consisted of watching anime with subtitles and taking a few practice tests on Youtube. Lol. A lot of the time I avoided what sounded like the obvious answer because I thought it was a trick.

    • Clayton MacKnight December 6, 2016, 12:52 am

      慰める doesn’t seem like an N3 word to be honest. I guess it goes to show that you need to diversify your studying with some native materials and hope for the best. For N3, it might be good to invest in some study books that focus on the exam. It is kind of weird test where native material is still a little too high, but most study material is too low. It’s just right there in the middle.

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