“Have you ever taken the JLPT?” or “What level are you?” These are common questions when Japanese learners meet another of their kind 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 measure someone’s grasp of nihongo?
Despite taking a year to prep specifically for the N1, I felt my Japanese ability deteriorate during the year. I was studying grammar, words, and expressions in my N1 textbooks. I had never seen nor heard them in native Japanese resources or media before. 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 reviewing 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 take a break from the JLPT.
Have I given up on Japanese? Not at all. I’m enjoying Japanese literature, movies, TV shows, and video games natively. I’m full of motivation to continue learning and improving. 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 almost every day. I feel a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I hated studying for the JLPT. The resources were so boring. I felt a lot of the content was unusable, too.
Goodbye for now, JLPT N1. Will we meet again? Probably not.