The Japanese Language Proficiency Test, for those of you who are not familiar with it is one of the most important qualifications you can get to get you into a job in Japan. Of course there are those jobs out there that do not require Japanese to get, but if you really want a job in Japan where you are doing the same work as your fellow Japanese colleagues, this is your ticket in. Japanese society puts a lot of importance on standardized tests – this is something you’d understand by looking at the fact that every university in Japan has its own humongous standardized test you need to determine if you are eligible to enter. The importance of test scores in Japan holds for foreigners as well. Those of you looking to get your 永住権 (eijuuken), permanent residence, having passed JLPT 1 will increase your chances. Not as in you will be favored more, you will actually receive 10 points in their point system to determine the eligibility of people for permanent residence. If we look at the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) we can understand more about the JLPT considering TOEIC is the main qualification you put on your resume when showing off your English ability in Japan.
Before we get into the tips, let’s talk a little bit more about the TOEIC. First of all, the TOEIC is a terrible measure of people’s aptitude to communicate effectively in English. Even though I have never taken the TOEIC test myself, I can say this because when I was working as an English teacher, I would run into several people who got into the very high scoring brackets of TOEIC yet still had trouble letting me know what they did the day before. With that said, those people with excellent communication ability in English would score well on the TOEIC, but sometimes not as well as those who oriented their studies specifically towards doing well on the TOEIC. With that said, I’m sorry to break it to you, but the JLPT is quite similar. By studying the JLPT 1, you will not improve your Japanese communication ability very much. Before I took the JLPT 1, it seemed like a golden trophy that only elite Japan-o-titans could acquire and whenever I met someone who had passed the test, I very much looked forward to hearing them converse in Japanese. Every once in a while I would be very disappointed and left wondering “how did they pass the master ultra boss that is JLPT 1???”
Tip #1) STOP learning how to write Kanji
The entire test is multiple choice. You do not need to write a single Kanji for this test unless maybe you have a Chinese name and you need to fill your name in Kanji on the first sheet. DO NOT waste your time on this. Actually, this is something I would recommend for anyone interested in getting into Japanese society. The last time I had to write a Kanji down from memory was when I needed to write my address on a form. THAT’S IT. That is me putting my hours and hours of Kanji writing to work. If you ever really need to write something out by hand, just type it out on your phone and then copy it down. I would recommend for beginners to learn stroke order and the method for writing Kanji down, but don’t learn how to write all the Kanji. If you’re one of those people who get a rush from Japanese people saying すごい！！漢字書けるんだね！ (Sugoi! Kanji kakerundane! – OMFG you can write kanji!) Then go ahead and learn 10 Kanji that you can whip out on the fly and impress every Japanese person out there
Tip #2) PRACTICE TESTS, start them NOW
Go out there and find as many practice tests as you can. Two hours spent taking a practice test and getting a feel for how the JLPT1 is structured is immensely more helpful than spending two hours learning words and phrases like 燕雀鴻鵠 (enjakukoukoku – Only a hero can understand a hero). The JLPT1 is tricky on purpose, and it should be, because it really tests whether you completely know the material. With that said, it can just be downright tricky. Getting a feel for the test and how everything is structured will make you much more comfortable and allow you to access information in your head much more effectively. You’ll pick up a bunch of important phrases, words and Kanji along the way too. Even if you only studied JLPT1 practice tests and nothing else, you would still have a great chance of passing the test.
Tip #3) LISTEN all the time
Listening is incredibly important when learning any language for any purpose. Not only will it help your brain recognize patterns, similarities and rhythms, your brain will that audio you heard for later use and access it when you are studying. For example: You may have heard this phrase Goran no suponsaa no teikyou de o okuri shimasu a million times but not quite know what it means. Then, when you’re studying and you learn the word 提供 (teikyou – supply), it clicks and sticks in your head a fraction of the time because you’ve heard it a million times and your brain can relate it to something. For this reason I would recommend listening to the same audio multiple times. Got a news podcast? Your Japanese isn’t quite good enough to understand but only 20% of it? Great. Listen to Monday’s podcast 8 times on Monday and Tuesday’s 8 times on Tuesday. Listening like this will directly prepare you for the listening portion of the JLPT1 and make everything else so much easier.
Tip #4) SENTENCES, not words
I know there are people out there who just absolutely love rote memorization of words. That’s fine, I used to memorize digits of pi during my high school math class. However, this won’t help you nearly as much as memorizing whole sentences for the test. This will put the target word in context, making it not only easier to remember but also easier to apply. At the same time you learn a bit of grammar. One thing that was very helpful for me when studying was to have my list of target grammar and list of target vocabulary words side by side and then make sentences with the two. Then I would memorize those sentences.
The JLPT1 is an excellent qualification to have on your resume and while it is hard, it is not out of reach. Once you get to know the test more, you start to understand exactly what skills are needed and you will then be able to know very confidently whether or not you will be able to pass before even stepping into the exam room. Make a road map for yourself of what skills you need to acquire and strengthen before you take the test and you’ll definitely do well. I can’t even write “Happy Birthday to you” down on a card without looking at my phone and I passed it. It’s not that hard. Good luck and happy studying.