Japanese, long noted for its high level of difficulty, has become increasingly difficult to master this year with the onset of the new Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) format.
In the past as is the case still today, the JLPT was divided up into several sections based on reading, grammar, and listening. However, whereas in the past your passing score was based on your overall score, this year’s test-takers will need to pass every single section in order to be awarded proficiency in that level of Japanese. What this means is that in order to pass the exam one must be proficient in all levels of Japanese (except speaking). In other words you may be a fantastic reader and have a high level of kanji-recognition, scoring high in the first section; but should your ear be green and unaccustomed to spoken Japanese then your chances for passing are slim. Slim still are your chances should the opposite be true.
Another change that has been made this year is the addition of a new level between the old level 1 (the most difficult level) and 2. This change means that the JLPT now offers 5 levels of proficiency examination.
This year I have had the privilege of being in South Korea for the summer where the test is offered twice a year (as opposed to only once a year in the United States). My aim was 一級 (ikkyuu), the highest level of Japanese proficiency. Note: Ikkyuu is now known as N1.
My preparation for this exam was as follows:
- University major in Japanese: Books studied included An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese [中級の日本語」 by Akira Miura and Naomi Hanaoka McGloin.
- Homestay in Nagoya Japan (4.5months)
- Advanced Japanese summer program in Kyoto: KCJS (1.5months)
- Individual study: Novel: 風が強く吹いている、Magazine: Newsweek: Japanese Ed., Grammar: どんな時どう使う日本語表現文型５００ (500 Essential Japanese Expressions ) and 완전마스터 1급 일본어 능력시험 문법문제대책(Level 1 JLPT Grammar Guide English version), Vocabulary (N2 Level), listening: NHK Online Radio
*Total time of study 3.5 years*
To cut to the chase, there is no doubt in my mind that this exam (N1: the highest level offered in the JLPT) is extremely difficult to all but the very talented and motivated of foreigners. To say that my scores will be below passing in one of the two sections (most likely to be the listening section) is a safe bet. Still, the exam was fair and exciting and an overall pleasurable experience. Even with my meager study habits, it seemed within my grasp to pass, leaving little question that someone with their heart set on conquering this exam can do so even if they think they are far from ready at this point.
That being said, I offer here two crucial, valuable, absolutely pivotal points/warnings that you MUST heed should you have any intention whatsoever of passing the test:
Kanji will save your life. Study, review, review, study, write, memorize, review, and study kanji at all costs. Why? Knowing the On/Kun reading as well as the meaning of at least 1500 kanji will not only prepare you for the how-do-you-read-this-kanji section but it will make the reading section a piece of cake. Even extrapolating meaning through the identification of kanji radicals will prove to be a huge asset to you during the exam. Knowledge of kanji at this level is essential! Do not think otherwise!
Buy a text that focuses on listening.
One such book would be this one. Never mind that the page is in Korean, what you want is this book. Besides, if you are indeed at a level of proficiency to take the N1 exam then you should not have any trouble handling this (for it is predominantly in Japanese). It comes with a CD and answers are in the back so you can check your progress. What’s more, there is indeed a large section devoted to the grammar and reading that you will find in the exam. Believe me, a book like this will tasukaru you.
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If you are considering taking any level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, please take a few minutes to look at the links to the right, visit the official JLPT website, purchase one of the books I listed above, or get the opinions of other motivated bloggers such as NihongoBenkyou who is dedicated to giving you the best advice for your time.
Please feel free to comment. I look forward to your feedback and especially feedback concerning textbooks that are geared towards N2 and N3 listening.
Honestly though, if you are serious about passing N1, I strongly recommend this guide. (The literal translation of this title is “Expecting to Hit” The Japanese Language Proficiency Test Study Guide 新 N1)