So, a long time ago I passed the N2. It has actually been awhile since I’ve taken the JLPT because to be honest, I had reached the level I need to be at in order to do what I need to do. At the N2 level, you can understand most reading materials and the majority of situations that you might find yourself in. I tried the N1 a few times and did okay, but didn’t pass, and with my free time becoming increasingly more scarce, I decided to move on to other things.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve been slacking off. On the contrary, without a countdown to a test to worry about, I’ve been able to do more experimenting with my studies and to see what works and what doesn’t. And I’ve been working on projects that require me to use and interact with Japanese on a daily basis, so I’ve gotten a lot of real world experience with it as well. I would like to go back to taking the test sometime in the future, but I’m not sure when that will be.
In the mean time, I’ve been asked to take part in a large project for N5 test takers. The sheer volume of work that needs to be done for it will keep me busy for a good amount of time. I’ll be working my way through all the N5 material I can get my hands on. I think the prospect of doing all that would make most people bored sick, but for me it should be a lot of fun to really delve into all the small intricate details of all the grammar points. Over the next few months, you’ll most likely see a few articles on my thoughts on N5 as I burying myself in the research.
Mastering N5 seems like a ridiculously easy task for someone who has been using the language for well over 10 years and it is in a way. I think the average person with concentrated regular studying could pass the test in 9 months. If they were really determined, you might be able to shorten that to 6 months or if you want to go about it in a more leisurely pace around a year. But mastering a test, knowing the content well enough to easily get a perfect score, 満点, is a little something else entirely. And that is going to be my goal over the next few months.
Amazingly, with just a few tools to work with, the N5 test writers can come up with a good number of devilish questions to test your knowledge of particles, and other grammar points. You can even see the beginnings of what the higher levels will look like. There are listening exercises that twist and turn. There are questions that seem to test your ability to do mental arithmetic, and there are a few nuances you need to be familiar with.
And yes, I am in fact learning and picking up small details here and there. For instance, I never really realized all the uses of the を particle. Of course, you can use it to mark the object. But, you can also use it to mark the thing you are ‘passing through’ like the following:
I guess I knew this on some level, but I always thought of it as you were doing the ‘leaving’ to the ‘house’ and so you would use the を particle. It made sense at the time I guess, but knowing all the meanings has allowed me to use it more easily, with a variety of situations.
Going back to the Basics
Reading the Dictionaries of Japanese Grammar back to back without doing a lot of real world practice would probably be one of the most boring things you could do for yourself. And would probably be a waste of time anyway because there is no way you can simply retain all that information and use it. Your brain needs at least some practice in order for it to all settle in.
but it does pay off to be extremely curious and try to see as many examples as you can of a particular grammar point, especially if it isn’t something immediately obvious to you. What makes a good learner a lot of times is the ability to ask the right questions and be curious about something. I feel like learning something that you are not actually curious or interested in leads to the new knowledge simply bouncing off and not really sticking with you.
This is why it can be quite tough to pass the higher levels (N3+) if you simply just study the published grammar books that geared toward the test. Those kinds of books tend to not create as much curiosity as reading a good book for example. You want to understand the book, so you can get into the story, but you can’t really say that about the grammar book.
I think it’s important to keep asking yourself questions about the grammar, even the grammar that you think you have mastered. This is especially true at the higher levels where obscure use starts to come into play. There are, in fact, questions on the N1 that cover the use of は and が because some of the more difficult usage only comes into play with rather long and complicated sentences that you can’t write at the lower levels.
Keep Moving Forward
This isn’t to say that you should linger in the past. The best way to learn a language is to learn what you are going to use, or what is important for you. So, if reviewing a particular grammar point is important to you at this moment, take the time to go back and read up on it. The Dictionaries of Japanese Grammar I mentioned earlier are perfect for that. They are well-organized and lay out all the uses of a particular point with some clear examples.
A common question I get is about test takers that have just passed or just failed the test and are wondering if they should try the next level, or try to get a perfect score. I really don’t believe in mastering a particular level before jumping to the next. In my opinion, you should keep moving to the top and then try to fill in the holes later. It’s more valuable to have an N2 or N1 then to have a perfect N3 score. However, if you have the time, a slow steady pace could be a good option.
How about you?
How are your studies going? Did you change something after taking the test? Let me know in the comments.
Photo by Ruko Fotografie