This year’s December JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Exam) session is finally over. I can’t believe that it has already passed! When I started this journey leading me to N3, I had almost a year till the exam date. I remember I was afraid that I might have to postpone my exam yet again since I had to start with previous levels’ revision – after all, I hadn’t studied Japanese for about 4 years before last January. It’s such a long time that in case of learning a language, you will forget things. Sometimes even lots of things.
So with such fear in my heart, I decided to give it a try regardless. There was still half a year before the registration for the exam (it’s usually in the second half of August for December session), after all, so I put off the final decision for that time. The beginning was rough and off-putting. I don’t want to write much about it here as I want to delve into the topic more in my 2019 studies summary post, but I have to admit that there were moments over the course of this year when I did not believe I would be able to pull it off and take JLPT as planned.
However, a quick thought always put me in place and motivated me for greater work despite all the struggle – if not this December, then December 2020. Because July does not work for me – even though we have it available in Poland, I have work and summer is high season for my company, so there’s no way I could take a weekend off, leave everything alone and go.
But there were other reasons why I didn’t want to postpone the exam. One is that July was out of the question and waiting an extra year felt like more time than necessary to achieve N3 and I would be circling in place at some point, revising the same stuff until the examination. So, if I put it off, it would make more sense to forgo N3 and strive for N2 (this way I wouldn’t have to do that circling thing), but in 2021 or even 2022.
Moreover, there were two more reasons why I couldn’t wait for that 2021/2022. First is that I collect JLPTs, I already have the N5 and the N4 ones under my belt and I want that N3 in my collection as much as I want that N2 and finally N1 in a few years. The last reason is that I’m turning 30 next year and I wanted to get one more JLPT level before that happens so that I can leave the advanced tier of JLPT for my thirties.
Luckily, everything worked out, although it was not a clear and easy path, but more of a rugged one. And there was lots of stuff I’d done last minute, too. Well, let’s not worry about that, what is done is done and now all we can do is to wait for the results.
How do I really feel about my performance, though?
Pretty good, but not super good. I mean, I feel I did better on mock exams. Still, I’m pretty confident I did my best and I should pass the bottom line at least and pass the exam on the whole. That’s what my gut tells me.
KANJI AND VOCABULARY
The first part of the JLPT exam on N3 level tests your knowledge of kanji and vocabulary. As for kanji, they check whether you’re able to choose a proper kanji for a particular reading and the other way around – you have to choose the correct kanji spelling for the word given. Kanji is one of my strong suits, I love kanji and I love acquiring new ones. Kanji practice is usually my go-to task when I feel down and don’t feel like studying at all since I can practice it with some kind of a show, podcast or audiobook playing in the background. That doesn’t mean that I perceive kanji as a way to study more leisurely, no – I’ve always liked writing, I’ve always worked on my penmanship and continue to do so till this day. So I genuinely enjoy those endless writing practices I do in my kanji notebook – it feels so good when you nail a kanji (writing-wise).
The kanji I’d got on the exam were alright and quite easy for me although I did make a mistake with two words (almost three! but I followed my gut on the third one and it turned out to be correct). As a result, 印象（いんしょう; impression）is going to haunt me till the end of my days (I chose いんそう for the reading EVEN THOUGH I marked いんしょう initially! God, how many times I have to remind myself to TRUST MY INSTINCTS!).
As for vocabulary, I felt insecure about it before I opened the exam paper. The truth is that I was so inconsequent about learning new words and making new flashcards that it came back to bite me in the ass. I’d noticed that problem way before, around May, but still wasn’t able to overcome the fact that even though I enjoy learning from flashcards I make, I am weak in will when it comes to sitting down and making them, as they’re quite rich in content and thus take more time to prepare (even though making flashcards still counts as studying to me and not only; there are studies which show that making a cheat sheet or flashcards helps you remember words). As a result, I’ve turned only around half of the N3 words into flashcards. I did finish the whole vocabulary prep book, though, half of the words from that book just didn’t make it to my flashcard pile in time.
Consequently, I was over the moon when I saw the examples they’d prepared for the exam paper. I knew all of them! I was especially glad to see the examples in the last task, where you’re given a word and you’re supposed to choose one sentence where this word is used correctly in a given context. I knew all of them AND I perfectly knew what contexts they work in, so I had no doubts which answer to pick. This mattered to me a lot – because on the mock exams there were examples where I THOUGHT I knew the meaning and its usual context, but I mistook it for a similar word or found out that I cannot use some word in the context I’d chosen. And of course, you can get the most points for each example in this task, so the more reason why I was relieved that the last task went smoothly.
GRAMMAR AND READING
My attitude towards grammar is neutral. I see its importance, I’d definitely noticed how important studying it is when I saw it used on the tv shows I’ve watched raw this year, but generally, I don’t like to study grammar. I mean, I don’t like to sit down and study it from a textbook. I much prefer to pick up grammar from what I consume, like tv shows, games, mangas and other media. That’s how I picked up English, after all, and it worked well.
However, I did notice how much more I am able to understand now THANKS TO the time I’d put into grammar prep books this year. It’s just amazing and I will continue to study grammar from my favourite sources on the advanced levels in order to help me understand and know more.
Yet, when I opened the exam paper, I was surprised because grammar this year was mostly word-based in my opinion. If you’ve ever done any mock questions for JLPT, you know that they like to provide answers that sound similar or that examinees tend to mix up. For example, in N3 prep books, there were multiple questions where you had to choose between によって、による、によると and so on. Not to mention the fact that some structures have multiple meanings and they want to check if you, for example, remember that のために not only means “for (somebody, something)”, but also “because of (some reason)”. I was baffled when I saw that double meaning for the first time, actually, and it took me quite a while to remember that.
However, this year they used words. For instance, in a text with gaps where you’re supposed to choose what structure fits in the gap, they asked for words like “firstly” or “even” rather than typical structures. It wasn’t a bad set of questions, but for me, it felt repetitive after I’d just taken the vocabulary part even if they used different types of tasks to test your grammar.
Some people are probably curious about how I handle the “star” task. For people who are not familiar with JLPT format, this is what sample question looks like:
I currently don’t have any problems with those, but it used to be different in the past. When I first encountered this type of task, I struggled as most people do. But when I put my puzzle-solving and sudoku love into this task, it became much easier and I mostly do it without errors. On the exam itself, though, I think I might have done 1 example wrong unless I guessed the meaning of some words correctly. We will see.
Reading passages were quite fun, to tell the truth. I really enjoyed reading all of them and I thought it was quite easy to understand the general idea behind each text. However, I do believe that the questions were very logic-based and required greater focus to actually understand what they were really asking of an examinee such as myself. So my reading results might be a hit or miss, depending on how well I understood the intentions behind the questions.
And here comes the fun part.
They are my forte, they’re something I feel very confident at in any language I decide to learn. Such is my ability – I don’t want to brag, but that is the truth. With any language, at some point, I reach a level where I can hear EVERYTHING. Grasping it is another thing, of course, but I also reach that level at some, later, point as well. And I won’t deny that it is because I do a hella lot of passive listening – basically every day, sometimes for multiple hours. And yes, it works wonders. I cannot recommend doing that enough.
So why the fun part?
Because this year the JLPT examiners decided to butcher everybody with the listening part. And this wasn’t only my own impression, but other examinees’ I kept in touch with as well.
Heck, when they played the CD, my first thought was “Did the examiner push the fast forward button on accident or something?” because the people were speaking super fast. It took me like 3 recordings to adjust to that speed – as I’ve mentioned before, I listen to tons of native material, so I’m pretty used to their natural speed.
But even with that, when you had done a certain number of mock test and got used to the general N3 speed – you will be thrown off for a second. And that’s what happened to me.
After I put myself together and started to HEAR what was being said again, I calmed down, but in later tasks, I also had a moment or two when my mind got stuck processing the previous example when the next one had already started playing.
Overall, it was a good listening, but it definitely wasn’t the best performance I can usually manage.
From what I’ve gathered from other people, their impressions were similar in regard to N3 listening exam. What’s more, that fact didn’t apply to N3 exclusively – I’d contacted people writing N5, N4 and N2 levels and all of them told me that the listening went so bad that they’re worried if they’re going to pass the exam at all. And for most levels, the pace of speech in the recordings was faster than normal, too.
After I came back home and thought about it, it kind of made sense why they increased the level of the listening part. Actually, they could’ve done so about any other part, but they chose listening. Why? I personally think I might have the answer to that. That’s just my theory, though, so nothing’s set in stone here.
About a month prior to JLPT, I received an email from my examination centre that they’re going to prepare an extra examination site just for N1 examinees. I found it odd, but it didn’t concern me, an N3 candidate, so I just ignored it. I was supposed to write in the standard examination centre and that mattered.
But maybe I should’ve read deeper and discover what that little email meant.
If they had to prepare an extra place – and mind you, they rent an entire SCHOOL with MULTIPLE classrooms for the exam in Poland, so there’s always enough space to fit everybody. In my JLPT experience, it has never happened that there was another place rented for an entire JLPT level. What does it mean? Of course, there were so many people taking the exam this year that they run out of space. And it could be true for other countries as well.
As it is with entrance exams, if there are too many candidates, the university has to raise the bar. I think a similar thing might’ve happened with this session’s JLPT. Too many people are eager to get a certificate – let’s prepare a harder exam so that fewer people pass. Simple as that.
Well, I hope my gut feeling is right and I will pass. I’m about to start my N2 preparations, after all. I might not take N2 next year, but I’m definitely aiming for December 2021 or 2022. It really depends on the pace of my preparations and I can already tell you that I don’t want to go as crazy with them as I did with my N3. It was a bumpy – as well as awesome – rollercoaster ride with many first times but also with many lessons learnt. So I’m gonna derive from those and slow down with my love. After all, it should reach a new stage like with any love relationship does – first, you’re infatuated and do crazy things, wanting everything there and now and then you get smarter and enjoy the bond you have. ゆっくり、so “slowly”.
And I intend to enjoy my tender bond with Japanese so, so much.