JLPT Afterthoughts by a student…
I like to gather my thoughts for July’s 2018 JLPT N4 with an email, as this is too lengthy.
I must say…. This is the most emotional JLPT paper I ever did. I hid in a corner and cried a bit when the paper ended. And it’s a little weird to think about it now as I purposely did one level down of my usual level (N3). It was tears of relief and pride. Even when I told some of my Japanese sensei that I am taking N4 again, they laughed at me remarking people don’t care for the score, only pass or fail. That’s true to a certain extent, which explains why people chiong for N2. I did N4 back in July 2017 too, so I have the luxury to compare the experiences.
Vocabulary’s difficulty is normal, bordering towards the easy scale. It’s similar to the last year’s July N4. Vocab is my weakest section, especially for section 3 where it’s literally littered with all Hiragana and little kanji. Reading a lot of Hiragana is a nightmare to me. Thankfully, I tackled section 3 swiftly. Section 5 is another killer section as the kanji here is also almost non-existent. To do Section 5 well, a trick I apply is after doing section 1 and 2 (kanji), I will jump straight to section 5 and work backwards. I glance through the five words and quickly write the kanji besides the words. I have a quirk habit that I don’t do my paper in sequences during JLPT.
Somehow, I can always remember the last five vocabulary words in Section 5 vividly.
Yes! I can tell what they are in their Hiragana so I should be safe and sound for vocab.
Grammar is definitely the killer for July 2018’s N4. It was a magical feeling when I was sitting for this grammar paper and geeking over how well they set up this section. I didn’t remember seeing 敬語。そう・よう・らしい 、使役・受け身、あげます・もらいます・くれます all become the side characters while particles take the centre stage. No signs of 自動詞・ 他動詞。I couldn’t fathom that it’s possible to create a difficult grammar paper with N5 grammar, conjunctions and particles. This explains why this grammar paper created an illusion that it looks seemingly easy but it’s a cesspool of traps.
An example is the first question.
Meanwhile, I kept seeing this 「場所」に通います at least twice scattering around the grammar paper. I can imagine candidates falling for this trick and put に。I accidentally saw my neighbour’s answer and she put で。The right answer is 4)を . When the proctors were collecting the papers, I saw a lot of に. (Well, it’s the first question so it’s easier to peek…) “Oh dear, they already start to kill people with the first question…”, I thought to myself.
The most difficult questions are the stars questions. I was astonished as I typically find this section a walk in the park. Three out of five stars questions were tricky. I was smirking doing this section. “So evil, the JLPT organiser.” This section also unexpectedly took up 15 min when I can finish this in 5 min.
I even got stuck with this particular star question and decided to skip straight to the reading section first.
I can only get the pattern right after I was done with the reading. After inspecting it closer, I realised it’s a N5 grammar to my horror. I adore this star question so much that I shared this with my former Ikoma classmates who are in Pre-advanced. When a few told me they didn’t know what the question is saying, I was taken aback. Please share this question to your N5 students. This is a clear message that FOUNDATION IS IMPORTANT. Never underestimate N5 stuff. I observed many Japanese learners mocking how ridiculously easy N5 is. “What’s the point of doing N5?”, they would say. Show them this question. This will shut them up.
Reading to me is easy as this is my strength. If I stand in the perceptive of an average N4 candidate, the degree of difficulty is pretty high. Time management posed to be an issue as the grammar can drain up a lot of time if the candidate is not careful. My usual record for doing the grammar/reading section is 20 min but this paper, I broke my record for doing so slow that I finished it in 40 min. I could nap a bit in my July 2017’s N4 but over here, I was in the vigilant mode, taking some time to dissect and appreciate the art of setting a difficult grammar paper.
I went straight to the advert reading first, which is the last part. It’s an advert about ordering cakes, and oh boy, this is not easy. Another mischievous move by the JLPT organiser for ending the paper with a slightly more difficult advert. A trend I observe with the overall JLPT is how touching some of the readings are written. It’s a nice touch and a few readings got me emotional. The long passage is well-written, talking about how a foreigner making friend with her auntie neighbour who acts like another family member in a foreign land. I am sure the Japan candidates would appreciate this piece. Another of my favourite is a medium length piece–the writer tends to watch a movie alone as he/she cries easily in the cinema. So, if his/her crush initiates a movie date, he/she may reject as he/she doesn’t want to let her vulnerability to seen by others. Ah, the feel as I have the exact problem.
Listening: I won’t comment on it as it’s being watered down. I’m sure your N5 students can do this listening too.
A question in vocab hits my chord. ___________が上手になりたいために、毎日____勉強します。The answer is 「XXXXX」This is the theme I keep close to my heart since I first picked up Japanese in 2006. I spent 6 months preparing for this N4 and this has been the most hardworking time I have ever been to my Japanese studies. Even though all I have been doing is revising N5-N4 stuff, slowly but surely, I saw my gradual improvement. I cleaned up my dusty electronic dictionary and I can now able to use it on a daily basis after keeping it in the drawer for a year. When I bought the dictionary, I foolishly thought this would improve my Japanese. However, the words inside were too complex that I ended up google-translating the dictionary. I also recently pick up the habit of reading Japanese novels. I have bought some Japanese books, also foolishly thinking this would miraculously advance my Japanese by itself. They also sadly sat on my shelves for a year before I can appreciate them today.
One of the chapters of the book I am reading is 「結果 がすべて」から「過程を楽しむ」の生き方へ。The writer uses the metaphor of someone running with injuries, training for a marathon. Actually, the runner can still choose to nurse his wounds and has a stroll in the park, taking a break from marathon but still reaping the benefits at the end. “The process is more important than the goal” has never been so true for my situation. My goal for this N4 is a 180. I am not confident if I can ace even till now and would be disappointed if I have a 178. (Sorry I am that demanding) Nonetheless, what I should focus instead is how much I have worked hard up to this point and continue to enjoy the process of learning Japanese. I am also uncertain if I want to do N2 in July 2019. Well, we shall see…
Regardless of the result, I can now go around sharing with other Japanese learners why N5-N4 is so important, and why it’s better to score at least 160/180 in N4 before advancing to N3 onward. At my level, which is a high N4, I can enjoy manga, some magazines and light novels. I may be reading them painstakingly slow, but I know I am still progressing. I look forward to a day when I take my next JLPT and then jotting down my reflection in Japanese.