Yesterday was my JLPT (Japanese language proficiency test) N3. The highest level is N1 and the lowest level is N5. N5 is basically survival Japanese. You only know enough to ask where the toilet is, yet don’t know enough to understand the directions given to you. N4 is conversational Japanese. It errs more on the basic side and you are only able to talk about topics you know much about or like due to lack of vocabulary. N3 is getting into more abstract conversations and you are able to complain or problem solve in Japanese. N2 is introductory level into to translating official documents for businesses and such. Fluency starts to take shape in this level and the speaker/learner is able to read books without much difficulty (lots of kanji in books). N1 is near native level of competency though everyone I have met who has passed N1 believes their own competency to be at least N3. Yet they are able to interpret (which is nearly impossible to do from English to Japanese as the sentence structure is completely backwards) and they are able to translate for the government. Now that you have a background in understanding the levels, you kind of have an idea of where I am at with Japanese. So here is my recount of yesterday. Or as my husband would call it, Story time with Jeny.
My test was scheduled to be at 1230 but the doors opened at 12. Since this is Japan, that basically means to be there by 12. So I left my house around 1100 to catch the 1113 train and be on my way to the bus stop in Takasaki. I hadn’t had any breakfast so I stopped by the conbini along the way to purchase something to eat for breakfast as well as for lunch, as I was going to be there for the entire day. I also bought a little candy for myself for after the test.
The bus stop was actually easy to find because there were people there directing where we needed to go. I was not expecting that. After our 20 minute bus ride, and arrival, I quickly realized that out of the hundreds of gaijin testing that day, I was the only one who was American. I felt like a gaijin among the gaijin. I was so freaking nervous for this test, that I had to force myself to eat my waffle I bought. I felt like I was going to vomit, but still I forced that over sugared waffle down.
The first section of the test was surprisingly easy. Afterwards, I did realize the mistakes I made on some of the questions by hearing other people talk about them, but there was nothing I could then! My bubble answer sheet had already been collected. I just hope that I go enough answers correct to be able to at least pass that first section. It felt oddly easy. At times, I would look up just to see if other people were in the same ballpark as me in their answers, and this one guy had none of the same answers. Either he was very off, or I was. To determine this, I peaked at his answer for one that I was very sure of and he got it very very wrong. I looked at another person, and they got that same answer also wrong. Either that word is really hard for them, or I was thinking that it meant something else. But after looking it up afterwards, I was totally right. So I guess they were wrong?
After the first section I started studying grammar for the next section. My worst section. I downloaded an app that is basically an online flashcard so I can study anywhere and not have a pile of useless flashcards that I have to hand write myself, when there is a plethora of flashcards already made to choose from. They even have a JLPT folder. The app is called Study Blue. I highly recommend it for studying a foreign language. I digress. I ate half of my sandwich and got back to the test.
The first part was pretty easy, the second part, was awful, the third was not bad, but then all the other sections after that were all the same format. I have no idea why they bothered to call it a separate section complete with sample questions and directions. It was all the same. It was basically, read this, and answer the comprehension questions. All of the other 3 sections were just like that. No difference.
I finished that test really fast, but that was on purpose. I quickly answer questions then mark them on my answer sheet, so that when I finish answering everything, I will use my left over time to brew over each question I marked. Otherwise, I would be wasting my time and quite possibly not finish, which is what sadly happened to the guy in front of me as well as one of my friends. I looked up to the guy in front of me and saw that he still had an entire section of uncolored in bubbles and there were only 5 minutes left. I wanted to tell him to just start coloring bubbles! Any answer is better than no answer.
That section was supposed to have lasted 70 minutes, but it totally felt like 40. I don’t know where the other 30 minutes went, but we didn’t use them to take the test, that much is for certain.
We had another break, and I used it to eat the rest of my lunch and talk to my friends in English. The next section was listening so there was nothing you can really prepare for. If you didn’t get the vocab or grammar before, then there is no hope for you at that point.
It was also at this point, that I surprised myself with my candy I had completely forgotten I purchased for myself. It was a pleasant surprise that I used to eat just about all of them. Brain sugar. I stood just right outside my testing room eating my candy when the Japanese monitors were telling us to get back into our rooms because we had 10 minutes left. He really insisted that I sit down now because taking 10 steps was just going to take at least 60 seconds for each step. A little ridiculous. I stood there until my candy was gone.
The next section I was totally awake for, then after the stupid break of 1 minute piano music, I just couldn’t get my brain to focus right. I completely screwed up the 3 section of the listening part because up until that point, we had been turning the page after the example questions, for some reason, there was no page turning. We needed to use that page to take notes. It took me all of 3 questions to figure this out. There were only 3 questions for that section too. So totally failed that part. The 4th part was a bit of a redemption for me because it was pretty easy for the most part. Then the last section came. Consisting of 5 questions. I had been testing for 4 hours, and my brain just decided it had had enough of Japanese and shut off, right around question 3. I started thinking, “Hmm, what should I do with JD after this?”…….”WAIT! What was the question?!” They don’t replay things for you either. I tried to make my brain focus by telling myself to focus, then I heard them say, “number 5.” “Wait! What happened to question 4?” I looked at other people’s test and they had a bubble filled in for 4, I had totally missed it! I didn’t even hear it! In my shock for missing number 4 I missed number 5. DANG IT!!!!! I frantically started looking at what other people were answering, the guy in front of me apparently gave up as there were no bubbles filled in, the guy next to me had very different answers than I did, but the guy on the other side of me, had about the same answers, so I copied his 3, 4, 5, and 6 for good measure. 7, 8, and, 9 were incomprehensible to be, as my mind had shut itself down. It basically was, “well, those people sound like they had a nice conversation. I haven’t filled a number 3 in a while, I choose 3.” Or, “You know, 1 sounds like something I have heard before. I’ll choose that one.” I totally failed this test.
After 4 and a half hours of torture, my mind literally hurt. I came home, and my eye was throbbing because my head hurt so bad. Which literally happens to second language users. Your brain will actually hurt and shut off because it cannot stand straining itself anymore. When that happens, there is nothing you can do to stop it. You can try all you want, but even easy phrases that you have always known, will just leave you. Your mind is forcing the break.
Good luck language learners! May your brain strength never fail you!