“Have you ever taken the JLPT?” or “What level are you?” These are common questions when Japanese learners meet for the first time. The JLPT is a convenient way to judge a learner’s ability, but how reliable is it? Can a multiple choice test without a speaking component effectively measure someone’s grasp of nihongo?
Despite taking a year to prep specifically for the N1, I felt my Japanese ability deteriorate during these efforts. How ironic is that? I was learning grammar, words, and expressions in my N1 textbooks that I’d never seen nor heard in native Japanese. Not surprisingly, when using these new expressions from textbooks around Japanese people, they often looked confused, saying “We usually don’t say that.” That’s not something you want to hear after you’ve reviewed an awkward expression hundreds of times on Anki.
I thought long and hard about the necessity of an N1 credential. I talked with several friends and coworkers about it. Everyone gave me similar versions of the same advice, “You don’t need it,” or “Don’t bother.” My mind was made up before I asked, but this made me feel better about my decision. I decided to walk away from the JLPT.
Have I given up on Japanese? Not at all. I’m enjoying Japanese literature, movies, TV shows, and video games natively … full of motivation to continue learning. I make a note of the words and expressions I don’t know. Once a week, I add them to an Anki deck. I review the deck in five to ten minute blocks (timeboxing) at least once a day. I feel a huge weight lifted off my shoulders not having to think about the JLPT anymore. Will I take the JLPT N1 again in the future? Probably not.