Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Japanese Language Proficiency Test N1 July 2012

Last July 1 (Sunday) was my third time to challenge the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) or "日本語能力試験". This time I took N1, the most difficult level, since I already passed N2 last December 2011.

Unlike the lower levels, which have definite coverage, N1 covers everything under the sun. N1 assumes that you are almost as familiar with Nihongo as the average Japanese. For N1, the passing grade is 100 points, with 19 points above for every section.

Now, to prepare for the exam, I bought the whole set of Nihongo Somatome N1 Level. There are 5 books in total: Kanji (漢字), Vocabulary (語彙), Grammar (文法), Reading Comprehension (読解), and Listening (聴解). The whole set cost me less than 10,000yen so I think it was rather cheap. I had to study all of these books in order to improve my Nihongo skills and increase my chances of passing the exam. We were also provided some drill books and mock exam compilations by our company and I am very thankful for that.

Preparing for the exam was very difficult and challenging. First of all, I was very busy with work during the months before the exam. I barely had sleep and I even had to go to work on weekends. There's that, and we also had a lot of company and personal activities which ate a lot of the time  I was supposed to devote to studying. Finally, everything is self-study. We were no longer taught by our Japanese teacher. It was very difficult because Sensei wasn't there anymore to explain further and/or give us tips. Anyway, I did my best to finish the Somatome books and all the books provided by the company and I guess they did help a lot. Without those, the chance of passing is ZERO - unless of course you've been living in Japan for several years already.

However, the most frustrating thing is probably the fact that I pushed myself really hard to study and try to memorize everything, but when I took the exam, I think I can easily count the things I studied that came out with my fingers. Well, that's N1 for you.

As with any level, the most difficult part for me is still the reading comprehension. And it is the most worrisome part because it is graded separately, thus, there's nothing else to pull your score up. I am also a little worried about the Kanji, Vocabulary, and Grammar section because N1 vocabulary and grammar is very tricky. A single word has a lot of meanings and it changes depending on the situation. A single Kanji can also be used in hundreds of words that have almost identical meanings. But, as with the other levels, I am pretty confident in the Listening section. That was the only part of the exam that I did not really study seriously for. I think the skill just comes with experience and interaction with the Japanese.

After the exam, I felt so drained of energy. The reading comprehension part required the most time, energy and concentration. My biggest frustration about this part is that if I were told to read a passage, then I can confidently say that I understand the general idea. But if I'm asked one by one for the details, then that's where the problem begins.

Moving on to my reflections, which I will present by part.
1. Kanji, Vocabulary, and Grammar
   - I cannot really say that this section was very difficult. The words were all familiar to me meaning-wise, but the problem is in their usage. Like I said, a single word can have different meanings, in the same way that a situation can be expressed in different ways by different words.
2. Reading Comprehension
    - Wow. What else do I have to say about this? During the exam, I was able to go through my answers in this part 3 times - I had a lot of time left when I finished answering everything. The problem with this part is that when I answer, I feel very confident that I had understood and that my answers are correct. But when I find out the answers (like during mock exams), they sometimes turn out to be very different from what I was expecting, hence, a lot of mistakes. I also don't know of a way to improve "understanding" because even if I read a lot of materials written in Japanese, all I'm improving is my vocabulary. I can never know if I truly understood what I read because there's no test to find that out.
     - Also, in N1, just looking for the answer choices with the same kanji as the passage does not work anymore. Reading comprehension in this level is really that - comprehension. You have to really understand the passage and not just look for patterns when answering.
3. Listening
     - This is my all-time favorite part. This is the part that I find the easiest because it doesn't require a lot of studying - just experience and a lot of exposure to actual Japanese conversations. For some this is perhaps a difficult part but for me, I am confident to say that I can still answer even if I wasn't really concentrating. When I take mock exams at home, I usually walk around, do some cleaning, while listening. And even then, I can answer correctly, so this part is really not a problem.

Anyway, the exam is over and all that's left now is to patiently wait for the results to come out. The results will be out in early September, according to our proctor. Until then, there's nothing else to do but wait and relax.

To be honest, I really want to pass N1 this time. I don't want to have to take it again this December because that would be so exhausting. I want to enjoy my remaining 1 and a half years here Japan, without worrying about having to pass the exam. But perhaps my biggest reason for wanting to pass on my first try is that I have a lot of factors working against me - overtime, fatigue, activities here and there - and I want to prove that in spite of those, I can still pass N1.

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