For people that don’t take tests all day, which is hopefully the vast majority of you, the JLPT can be intimidating at first. If you have taken an organic, natural approach to learning Japanese, trying to answer questions about the grammar can be a bit daunting. Maybe you are perfectly capable of communicating the main points in conversation, but still mix up some of the finer points of the grammar points.
That’s where taking practice tests can really come in handy. Answering questions about grammar, vocabulary, and kanji is very different from just using it. You have to think about it from different angles. You can make use of the short but free practice test and the pretty much full-sized workbook (also free). But, after that, where do you go? You might want some extra practice or you may want to work through the workbook at first just to check your level, but want to double check your studying right before the test. So, where do you go?
Well, J-Research has just the book for you. They publish a book with practice tests that you can work through in order for you to get a good picture of where you stand before the test.
The textbook starts with an overview of the different sections of the test as well as what kinds of questions you can expect to see in each section of the exam. If you have never seen the test, or are not familiar with the different kinds of questions, this is a good place to start. A few times I have seen test takers ask the proctors about how to answer the questions during the actual test. Save yourself the headache and make sure you have a firm understanding of the types of questions, and specifically, WHAT the questions are asking for and testing for.
This is something that often gets overlooked. For instance, the listening section of the N5 has 4 parts. The first two parts might seem very similar, but they are actually asking for different kinds of information. The first section is more focused on what will happen next and often requires you to understand most of the conversation. The second section focus more on understanding key points, like certain facts. Even though there is some crossover, generally speaking, the kinds of questions are different and the style of the questions tend to be different.
After going over each section of the test, there are, strangely enough, the answers to the practice tests. They include the scripts to all the listening so you can potentially review and maybe do some speaking practice as well as explanations for some of the keywords in the questions and scripts.
And before the actual practice tests, there are lists of the kanji, vocabulary, and grammar used on the test. This is useful for if you forget a kanji or a particular word, you can go back and look it up fairly quickly. And at the end of this first half of the book is a place where you can add up your scores for each section and calculate your percentages.
The back half of the book is devoted to the 3 practice tests, which follow the standard JLPT format. The book is actually split in two with a thicker page, so that you can fairly easily flip to the practice tests and get going.
Unlike some other N5 practice tests that are available, these practice tests seem to be right on level. They don’t use a lot of difficult vocabulary and stick to the grammar that is generally considered to be covered on the test. This should give you a good idea of what the real test is like and the score you can expect to get.
The illustrations and format of each section match the official style as well. The speakers even seem to be the exact same ones used to record the listening on the real test. This will all help you get comfortable with what to expect and reduce some test anxiety I think.
The book also provides fairly good answer explanations as well. They don’t go into too much detail, but probably enough for most people taking the test. If you are working with a tutor you should be all right and if not, a little searching on the Internet should be enough to get the answers you are looking for.
It’s great that they went the extra mile and listed up all the grammar points for the N5. Unfortunately for some odd reason they are all listed in katakana. I’m not exactly sure why this is. My guess is that they thought it would be easier for leaners to read? However, I think it could potentially confuse a lot of people, especially if this is the first time you have been exposed to these grammar points. And some people might not be familiar with some of the rarely used katakana like ヲ for を.
This isn’t really mission critical or anything, but seems quite odd that they put the answers in the front of the book along with the explanations of each section of the test. I’m not sure how you are suppose to make your way through this. Do they actually expect you to read the explanation section and then skip over all the answers and go to the practice tests? I’m baffled as to why they didn’t simply put the answers and reference lists in the back like pretty much every single test book does.
The audio for all the practice tests is on 3 audio CDs so if you are without a CD player, which are becoming increasingly rare these days, you’re stuck. I would have really liked to see an extra MP3 CD or possibly some kind of download link for those of us without a CD player.
If you get test anxiety, even a little bit, this is a sound investment. The extra practice with the layout of the test could be the difference between passing and failing and having to wait another 6 months or a year to take it again. Also with 3 tests it gives the time to space them out and see your progress over time. Each test will help point out potential weak points that you can patch up before the big day.
If you do decide to take a practice test, remember to take it like a real test. Some people will take it piecemeal when they have time, or worse, answering one question at a time and checking them one after another. You are missing out on a prime opportunity to practice your time management skills as well as just overall test-taking stamina. Sitting in one place for 2+ hours taking a test in another language is taxing if you are not used to it. It takes practice to get used to.
Another thing to keep in mind is to listen to the audio over speakers in order to mimic true test taking conditions. Some people might find the echoing and generally poorer sound reproduction that speakers have distracting compared to listening on headphones. For bonus points, you might want to open a window or leave the TV on low volume in order to create random background noises to help with your concentration even more. It might sound ridiculous but if you easily lose your focus it might be good practice for you.
Finally, after you have taken the test, tally up your points. Since the real test is graded on a complicated curve, it’s difficult to say with any certainty what a passing score is. However, generally speaking, if you score 80%+ in a section you should consider a strength, and probably don’t need to focus too much attention on it. 50%~80% is a minor weak point that you should spend more time on. You might still be able to pass that section on the real test, but you wouldn’t want to risk it. If you score below 50%, you should consider this a critical weak point. You will need to focus more on this point in order to pass the test.
And that’s it! How about you? Did you use this book to get ready for the N5? Let us know about it in the comments. How well did it prepare you? Was it useful? I’d love to hear about it.