JLPT N1: Swallowing a Bitter Pill

Despite some early signs of success, it’s become rapidly clear that if I take the N1 level of the JLPT exam this year, I will get crushed. My scores in taking the mock shorter-length essays were pretty good (hence my earlier confidence), but my scores in middle-length essays were not very good, and I got nearly 0 points when testing myself on the long essays. Coupled with continued difficulties with listening, it’s obvious that I would most likely get a poor score. Even if I did manage to pass, it would be a just barely, and hardly something to be proud of.

As you get to the higher levels of the JLPT exam, the amount of preparation time greatly increases, as the complexity of the language being tested also increases. In my past experience, I could pass the N3 with about 6-12 months of study, reading manga, etc. I passed the N2 in about a year after that, but just barely (it wasn’t a great score). By the time you get to the N1, you need about 3000 hours if starting from scratch, but even if you have prior language experience, it’s safe to assume you need a subset of this depending on your background.

For a working parent not living in Japan, I cannot always get 1 hour a day consistently, so that means my progress is slow. I have definitely made progress this year, as I can see that all the new vocabulary I learned is paying off, however, what really matters is whether you can read adult material at a near-natural speed, and if you can follow adult conversations without too much headache. The essays, especially the longer ones, require you to read a lengthy essay, sometimes philosophical, sometimes business related, and pick up the main points, and answer the questions in roughly 5-8 minutes. Doing this in your native language is hard enough, now do it in a foreign language.

Similarly, if you’re not able to keep up with adult conversation, adult podcasts or TV shows, you’ll have trouble keeping up with elaborate (sometimes artificial) dialog in the JLPT exams.

You cannot really cram for these things. Memorizing vocabulary is one thing, but actually comprehending a foreign language takes considerable time, and it’s obvious that for the N1, it will take years. I am proud of the progress I made, and I am proud for keeping my focus all these months, but unfortunately, it’s just not enough. I need more time.

So, regretfully, I will not be taking the N1 exam this year. Instead, I have a stack of Japanese books at home: manga, essays, history books, computer books, etc, that I plan to slowly read through over the next year, and I have a long list of Japanese language podcasts I use to keep up with my listening. If I don’t build up natural reading skills and listening skills, there’s just no point in taking the exam at this level.

Maybe next year will be a different story. I am worried about losing focus over the coming year, especially since I still dabble in learning Ukrainian, plus other projects, but I’ve been wanting to pass the JLPT for a long time, so I think that desire will carry me through. If not, I guess we’ll find out.

P.S. My supposed retreat hasn’t been going all that well in general either. More on that later. So much for taking a break from blogging.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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