Friday, February 5, 2010

JLPT 1 Results - and Pictures

It looks to become a yearly tradition, this: A year ago I took the JLPT 1, the Japanese proficiency exam, and failed it. This year I again took the JLPT 1 - and failed it.


A JLPT examinee in deep thoughts during the morning break between Vocabulary and Listening.

Failing it is fine by me, and I didn't expect otherwise. I had a vague idea that I'd start preparing for the JLPT a bit after last year, but I've since started a new job and a new project that's kept me rather busy. It's been a struggle just to keep to regular language lessons every two weeks; test preparation has been far from my mind.

JLPT Test Takers

A trio of fellow examinees, probably from India (check the bag on the left if you need convincing), taking the test somewhat more seriously than I did.

So how did I do? 196 points out of 400, or just about half. And all three parts - kanji and vocab, listening, and reading and grammar - individually reached the halfway mark too. If we do the (overly simplified, not-to-be-relied on) analysis I did last year, I "knew" 128 points worth of questions this year compared to 93 a year ago1. The improvement (if there actually was any) was completely in the reading section; that would make sense as most of my limited study time this year has been spent reading.

Next year I'm going to take the test for real. Not pass it, perhaps, but at least make a serious attempt. I'm going to ignore the listening, as I already listen to Japanese all day, every day, after all. I've begun reviewing the vocabulary and kanji2. My regular book habit on the train every morning should cover the reading. Soon I'll start going through the grammar as well; not a prospect that fills me with unalloyed joy, exactly, but there's no helping it I guess.

I don't have the time to really go through everything by December, but I should be able to get within shouting distance of a passing score. The big question for next year is the new test format. The JLPT is changing, with a new intermediate level and the new level 1 is reportedly going to be slightly more difficult. There's also rumours that the new test will require a passing score on each of the subsections, not just an overall pass. If that is true then it's a welcome change, but it would also make the test substantially harder. We'll see, I guess.


Practice makes perfect. A baseball team at Osaka International University, where the test was held this year.


Kayashima station, near the test site, is pretty cool. The line and platform is elevated, and there's a large tree growing right through the platform and up through the roof above. I like this area for this reason alone

#1 This is accurate only if you assume that I guessed exactly 1/4 of the unknown answers correctly. If we wanted to know if I really improved, we would need to take the expected random variation of answers into account and see if this improvement is likely to be due just to chance or not. That starts looking uncomfortably like work, however, so I happily leave it as an exercise for those who are interested.

#2 On the off chance that you intend to take any of the lower levels (n5 to n3) of the JLPT this year, here's a tip: when you study the kanji, take the time to memorize all the normal readings and meanings, not just the ones you need for your test level. You will thank yourself when you study for level 1 a couple of years down the road.

But you'll also find it immediately useful once you start reading real texts. They don't restrict themselves to the readings you learn for the JLPT, and there's few things as annoying as when you know the character but still have to stop and look up the reading. If you know the full range of readings it becomes much easier to start a reading habit and to pick up new vocabulary.


  1. The unknown nature of this year's level 1 is slightly disturbing. I have not taken the "old" one yet, so at least I do not have that frustration but I do have all of the old "Master Series" books for 1kyuu. I think I am just going to read novels. As much as I can. Then reevaluate in July.

    Best of luck, and be sure to update us on the progress/changes in strategy!

  2. Hi Janne,

    Congratulations on your improved test results!

    Do you use any kind of aid when reading Japanese texts (books or whatever), especially when you are away from a computer (like on a train..)? I've been thinking of finally getting a denshi-jishou but as you probably know they are primarily marketed to Japanese natives... How do you check up on the meaning(s) of a Kanji while on the train?

    thanks for any help you can provide,
    Parham M
    (still at ATR/NICT ;)

  3. sigma1, from what I've heard it's not going to be too different in level, and the format will stay much the same as today. I'm not worried, and on the upside, the new test is, well, new, so it will be the standard test for people from here on. I rather have a passing score on the new test ahtn on the old one.

    Parham, I use a denshi jisho :) I've used them almost since I came here; I got my first one before I started learning Japanese since I just like gadgets. As you say, they're made for Japanese to study other languages, but they work fairly well the other way aroudn too. For learning Japanese, especially in the beginning, you only need a few of the functions: english-japanese, japanese-english and kanji dictionary, and they are all fairly easy to figure out even if you can't read the on-screen instructions.

    I like the Casio Ex-Word series myself, as does my wife. We must have five or six different versions of them at home by now. They have a neat function SuperJump ("スーパージャンプ") that lets you select any word - english, japanese or kanji - on screen, and let you look it up in any of the dictionaries. Get one of the simpler, cheaper models, and don't bother with those that let you write kanji directly; it's not nearly as practical as it looks.

    The way I checked up an english word when I didn't know the kanji at all was: look up the word in one of the english dictionaries. Mark the resulting Japanese word (written in kanji of course), and look that up in the japanese-english dictionary. I'd get confirmation that the word has the meaning I was looking for, and it gives me the word written in hiragana.

    Checking up kanji on the Ex-Word is pretty easy, though it can take a bit of time. You can select by main component (give the number of strokes of the component), by the total number of strokes, by the pronounciation of the kanji, by the pronounciation of any of the components of it, and of any combination of the above. You learn to recognize the components fairly quickly, and also the standard way of writing characters, so you can figure out the stroke number and such easily. Whatever combination you use, it will give you a list of all characters that match.

    For instance, say you want to look up "know" - "知る". The left part - 矢 - is arrow ("や"), and the right part - 口 - is mouth ("くち"). So I could look it up by giving "や" and "くち", which gives me about 100 characters in a list which is fairly easy to look through. I could add the number of strokes (8), and the list becomes jsut seven characters. "Mouth" is really common, so if I just look for "や" and 8 strokes I get 34 characters to lok through. Or, if I happened to realize that "arrow" is the main component I could first pick it from the list of main components, and that gives me 8 characters total that has arrow as main.

    Think of it like a form of regular expression, where you can be as fuzzy or as precise as you want, depending on how many results you want to sift through at the end.

  4. Thanks for the detailed reply!

    I was actually considering one with the writing pad, thinking that if I come across a kanji I really don't know it would be easiest to just write it and sift through the OCR results... But you have now gone some way in persuading me that if I can specify kanji-parts or stroke-numbers then I should be able to just as easily make do with a non-writable-pad version.

    The super-jump function sounds good and I had heard of it before somewhere. I guess my next concern (after inputting the kanji you're looking for) was that all the ensuing definitions and explanations would be in nihongo, so that to look up just one word you would end up super-jumping around endlessly to find definitions of the definitions of the definitions... if you know what I mean. Anyway I shall just have to play around and see what I can achieve in practice (in fact I think my wife has an older-version Casio Ex-word too, so no excuses for me!).

    Thanks and cheers :)

  5. Hey Janne - I don't think I've ever posted on here, but I always enjoy reading your blog, and enjoy seeing someone write about the things I often see myself (I live in Kyoto) such as the big floating duck down in Nakanoshima!

    In my experience, the kanji section should be like free points, and it's the knowledge of the less common grammar and time management during the reading that will decide the final outcome on both JLPT 1 and 2. They are really beefing up the reading this time it seems.

    They released a ton of new info on the new test recently. Can you not copy links into the comments? Anyways, on their main site in the 実施案内 area, they mention that the passing "line" for N1 is about the same, but further down on point 6., they mention that there will be a minimum number of points (現在調整中... haha) set as a standard for *each section*. As in, if you bomb the reading but ace everything else you still fail. I believe this is new.

    Another big link (one of those annoying ones with furigana in brackets for every word) on their main page leads to a page with a whole whack of sample exam materials. I haven't looked through really any of it yet, but I'm planning on seeing how the new test is come July, so a few months down the road I'll give it closer look to be sure.

    By the way, have you ever taken what was formerly JETRO but now the Kanji Kentei association's Business Japanese test? You might find it a bit more gratifying, and it assuredly carries a lot of weight living and working here, though less universally known than JLPT.

  6. Hi Mashu,

    If they're focusing more on the reading then that's just fine with me. Kanji is hardly free points for me, but that's my own fault - I've never studied them systematically, but just what I've encountered in books and articles.

    The added per-section minimum score is really the only critical change for this year. You need 70% to pass JLPT1. If the per-section minimum score would be, say, 50%, then the difficulty really is no different from now. If they would set it at 70%, on the other hand, then that would mean a massive increase in the difficulty level (you'd need to aim for about 80% score). A per-section score around 60% would mean just a slight increase for people like us, westerners living in Japan, but would be a real increase in difficulty for chinese students and people studying japanese abroad.

    I've heard that there is a business japanese test but I have little interest in it. I don't work in business after all - I would have to practice business-related vocab and expressions in Swedish and English too. If there was a test in japanese for science and engineering I would be all over it. In any case, my only motivation for tests like these is to have a goal to work toward. I've never yet had any practical utility of my JLPT 2 result for instance.

    By the way, you can't post actual links - that keeps most spammers away - but you can post the link as text, and it's really easy for anybody to mark the text and paste into a new browser window. So feel free to repost those links here.

  7. Ah - thanks for the info on the links. I've always been more of a reader than a commenter.

    I have a few Chinese friends here who passed JLPT1 quite easily, but really could not speak or understand any Japanese in conversation (at the time they took the test in China). Their reading skills are superb, but outside of standardized testing, it's only one piece of the language. I think a change on individual section score minimums will result in FAR more well-balanced people passing the test, who have the right mix of listening and reading skills.

    I definitely agree on the tests. I've worked in project management and all my studies have been either economics or management-related, so the business test was enjoyable for me, and more than anything, great keigo/kenjougo practice. That said, I'm studying and doing research here at present, not working at a company, so I'm in the same boat as you, taking these tests simply as a rewarding objective to set for myself.

  8. Just a quick note... I have a Sharp 831SH phone designed for Softbank, and this sweet lady has a built-in OCR. Although its performance is significantly affected by lighting conditions, generally the recognition rate is not that terrible. I'm sure there are some other cellular phones with nice OCRs, which could eliminate the necessity to buy a "denshi jisho".

    And Janne... Cheers to your perseverance in this JLPT1 exam.

    - Taha


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