Elizabeth Lingard – Nikkei Europe
I’ve sat the JLPT Level 1 exam a grand total of 3 times, so I can tell you that it’s no walk in the park.
It involves a lot of Japanese that can only be found by reading a lot, and reading a wide range of subjects, and so you are unlikely to pass it with the sort of Japanese you can pick up in conversation.
The only way to pass it is to study hard and systematically, and have a good knowledge of what is likely to come up in the exam.
On my first two attempts at the JLPT 1 I was relying on my strong areas (listening, reading comprehension) to compensate for the areas where I was weaker (kanji and vocabulary).
This is quite a risky strategy as you need to get 70% overall to pass. In preparing for my 3rd attempt, I made a point of working on my weak areas and I believe that is what made the difference.
I would give anyone tackling the JLPT 1 the following advice:
- Get hold of as many past papers as you can find. Try a few of these and work out what your weakest points are. For me, it was Paper 1 as I had a very limited range of kanji and vocabulary.
- Familiarise yourself with the kind of questions that get asked. For example, Paper 1 is theŠ¿ŽšEŒêœb paper, but there are several different sections that test different skills. It’s not enough to learn a lot of kanji and vocab, you need to be able to use words and kanji correctly and in the right context.
- Really work on your weak areas. Even a few more questions right could make the difference between a pass and a fail overall.
- When learning kanji, learn lists of the kanji in various compounds.
- When learning vocabulary, note down example sentences. The examiners are not just looking at your understanding of the word’s meaning, but also how it is used and in what kind of setting.
- Get hold of a good grammar book that lists all the points covered in the exam and work through it systematically. The ‘Jitsuryoku Up’ books are great for this. Although the grammar seems quite unfamiliar initially (and Japanese friends will tell you that most of the JLPT 1 Japanese is not that common), I keep seeing a lot of these grammar patterns come up in Japanese novels, so it does eventually come in handy!
- Tips for listening practice would be to download some podcasts in Japanese (you can download them for free from Japanese iTunes), or watch some films or Japanese TV dramas without the subtitles. Pay attention to the nuances in people’s conversations and speech patterns. A lot of the listening questions won’t spell out the answer for you; you may have to work out the answer from what is implied.
- There’s always a few keigo questions, especially in Paper 3, so don’t forget to brush up on that.
- Keep preparing for the test by doing past papers. Above all, know what is expected of you at each stage of the test (e.g. how to fill in the answer sheet in Paper 2), and what kind of time you will have to complete it (Paper 3 is particularly difficult for the time constraints you have) and test day won’t be so daunting.
Finally, make sure you are well rested before the exam. It is quite a gruelling experience (3 papers in just over 4 hours), and involves a lot of concentration on the day, so take plenty of brain food with you to keep you going through it all, and stay positive even if you feel it not going as well as you thought.
Above all, the best advice I can give you is to be stubborn with it and don’t give up! The first two times I took the exam I failed by 1%.
By my third attempt I was even more determined and by focussing on my weak points I somehow managed to pass it quite comfortably, even though the exam itself felt like a nightmare!