Oh yes, the season of the Japanese Language Proficiency test is upon us once again. Yesterday was the first time I took the new, redesigned test. I no longer fail 1-kyuu; I now fail N1 instead. Same level, different name.
And different test. It's still a multiple-choice exam, and the overall questions are quite similar but there the similarity ends. The old test had three parts: vocabulary and kanji; listening; and reading and grammar. The new test puts vocabulary, kanji, reading and grammar into one section, with listening as the other one.
The test is, I believe, a fair bit shorter than before. It now starts after lunch and takes only four hours including a half-hour break. The listening section is as long as before, and possibly a bit more difficult. The picture questions are gone, instead there's a fast section with single sentences followed by possible responses. It's really more a test of knowing your expressions and reading tone than of simple comprehension. There are a few longer, more involved passages that really tax your ability to remember who is saying what (I failed miserably; I just can't keep long passages straight in my head).
The reading is as long as before, or longer. There must have been a dozen texts of various lengths, with questions both on the overall meaning and of specific expressions. The texts seemed to be "real" writing, without much editing for the test; overall a little easier than the Asahi Shinbun articles I try to read in the mornings but not by much. The last question was a page from an application form for financial grants to foreign post-graduate students, and you had to figure out which of a set of candidates would be eligible to receive the money, and what a specific candidate had to do before they could apply. I really suck at administrativia like this in any language so I'm pretty sure I messed this one up as well.
What has become shorter is grammar and vocabulary, to some extent, and especially kanji. There were none of the puzzle-like questions of the older test ("Select the answer sentence that has an underlined compound kanji word with the same pronunciation as the underlined compound word in the question sentence"), and there were overall fewer simple knowledge questions. Of course, the reading and listening parts all make heavy demand on kanji, vocabulary and grammar so it's still tested a lot, just not as much in isolation.
Overall, I think the new test is much better balanced. The focus (at least at level N1) is properly on comprehension and use of real-life Japanese, with less focus on memorizing facts for their own sake. If there is anything still missing, it would be a test of actual language production. Many language tests do have an essay-writing section or a live interview, but that would probably increase the cost too much to be realistic.
For my test, I did feel I know this a bit better than last year, but the test also seems a bit harder. The scoring system has completely changed, though, so I really have no idea how well I'll do. I did fail, but I don't know how badly. Anyway, I think it's time for me to try it for real next time around. I'll get an exam practice book and start studying for the test once my workload drops a little, then try to pass the thing next December.