JLPT N1 Revisited

2013 First Try

I took the JLPT N1 for the first time in the summer of 2013. I hadn’t prepared much for it. A few weeks before the test I bought an N1 prep textbook … I started using it a few days before the test. Though I studied vocabulary with Anki and read Japanese material regularly, I often struggled with newspaper articles or longer specific materials.

On the practice test included with the prep guide, I scored poorly on the general knowledge and reading parts (under 50%), but quite high on the listening part (over 90%). N1 grammar was really hard for me. Despite reading in Japanese every day, watching a lot of Japanese TV, and interacting with a variety of Japanese people on daily basis—there were  so many grammatical forms I had never seen before. Ironically, asking Japanese people for help with these structures was often fruitless. Some Japanese people had trouble with these structures. Luckily, I felt the listening part was too easy. It didn’t match the difficulty of the rest of the test. I wasn’t expecting to pass the real test, but I wanted to test the waters.

I was assigned to take N1 at Seijoh University in Aichi, a university at the top of a mountain with no place to buy food or snacks in sight, so bring something light to snack on or something to drink for halftime. I was in a room with about 60 heads. Fifty of those heads looked and sounded Han Chinese. The rest was a mix of Middle Eastern women, South East Asian, and one British-looking guy.

My feeling after the real test was the same after the practice test. “I think I did poorly on the general knowledge and reading, but I’m pretty sure I aced the listening.” I was confident about all of my answers except for one on the listening. I didn’t think my high listening score expectations would compensate for my poorly done first half though. A pass would be possible, but I was expecting a fail.

The results, however, were the opposite of what I expected. I did reasonably better than I expected on the first half, and much worse than I expected on the second half. What’s up with that? Did I fill in the answers in the wrong place? Most likely no, because I’m OCD careful, especially with things like this. Still to this present day, I wonder what happened. I failed the test but didn’t even flinch after my results of failure. I was ready to try again.

2014 Second Try

I started prepping for my second try not long after my first try. I felt my biggest weekest was N1 grammar so I started looking for help online. My most used resource was Nihongonomori.com. I put all of their N1 grammar video points into an Anki grammar deck. I reviewed this until I mastered it. My next step was to buy an N1 vocabulary book and to add all of its content into an Anki vocabulary deck. In addition, I also read a lot of online material and saved all of the words I didn’t understand into my vocabulary deck. I tried to review this deck as much as possible. It will be a forever ongoing process. Though I continued to read a lot in Japanese as usual, I decided to get a reading comprehension textbook, specifically for the JLPT N1. I used this to get used to the format of the reading section. After about one year of prep, this time I felt a lot more prepared for the test.

Like before, I was assigned to take the test at Seijoh University. I was happy I wouldn’t have to worry about finding an unfamiliar location, but disappointed because it’s troublesome to get there and there are no local amenities. The journey was worth it though. I took the N1 in a room filled with girls that could have all been models. The majority were from China and South Korea, but there were also beauties from India, the Middle East, and South East Asia as well. Before the test began, I couldn’t help but look around. I had never been in a room with such a high ratio of beautiful women. Maybe they were in Japan on a modeling visa? On to the test….

The JLPT organization has been upgrading its security procedures recently. Not only are we told not to bring food or drinks to the test site, but this time, examinees were required to roll up their sleeves and show their arms. Were you expecting us to write 5,000 vocabulary entries onto our forearms? And if there’s a clock in the room, why do you cover it up with a sheet of paper? The examinees who didn’t bring a watch had to ask the examiners directly if they wanted to know the time. Don’t cover up the clock! I understand trying to prevent cheating, but is this really going to help? Also, we had to put our mobile phones in an envelope then put that on the desk. If it rings or vibrates during the test, you get a red card and you’re out!

My biggest problem this time was not the actual test though. I was fighting a different battle. The day before the test (and the day of), I had considerably less calories than usual. Not for any reason in particular, but just due to circumstance. The morning of the test, I had a regular breakfast, i.e., bacon and eggs with leafy vegetables on the side. For lunch though, at the test site with no amenities, I decided just to wing it and not eat anything. I was performing normally for the first half, but when I got to the end of the second half, I lost my ability to concentrate. The last two listening questions were noise to me. I didn’t want to hear the dialogs. I found myself thinking about why the wedding reception I attended last night didn’t have much food. I was planning to pig out, but these mini dishes of pastas and salads were not what I wanted. Ding! Select the correct answer a), b), c), or d). I didn’t even hear the question! Let this be a lesson to you. Make sure you have some brain food with you for halftime. Don’t bring anything too heavy though. You don’t want your body putting all its energy into digestion when you’re trying to take a listening test.

2014 Final Thoughts

Despite very little of the grammar I studied so hard was not on the test, nor were the thousands of Anki vocabulary cards I reviewed, the general knowledge part went well. I’m thinking I got at least 50% but no more than 70%. The reading part caused me a little trouble because I didn’t manage my time well. For one of the longer passages, I just chose the four answers I thought fitted best, without actually reading the passage. The last two questions (about a credit card application?), I just chose the answers without even looking at the questions. The examiners told us to stop as I just started reading this part. However, I was focused and felt confident about the rest of the reading section. I predict (hope for) a 50–70% on the reading part. The listening part felt easy for me, except for the last part due to my loss of concentration. I’ve always felt in comparison to the general knowledge and especially the reading, that the listening part is generously easy. A few other people have told me the same. I’m expecting at least 70% for the listening. Though who knows what’ll happen. Last time my predictions were terribly off. We’ll see at the end of August. I’m happy that I can just read, enjoy, and learn Japanese naturally now without having to think of the JLPT.

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