JLPT N1 Thoughts (2014, Attempt 1)

My immediate reaction after the end of the first paper was: I am going to fail.

It was then I realised how truly unprepared I was to tackle the N1. I thought that since I’d passed the N2 relatively easily last year, N1 shouldn’t be too much of a wreck? I was wrong. In all my JLPT posts I’ve written about how large the gap between N1 and N2 is, and truly, it is, but I never really experienced it until I sat for the exam myself. I feel hopeless and lost, and being sick didn’t help as the white wall next to me would blur and go in and out of focus sometimes. All around me I heard the scratching of pencils and the flipping of pages as people flew through the early sections and there I was stuck, reading and wondering if I even knew Japanese at all.

Every page was echoes of “I don’t know what this is.”, “I’ve never seen this before.”, “I’ve seen this somewhere…crap I don’t know it.” and other variations ringing in my mind, though I had pictured such a scenario for grammar and vocabulary, my weakest points.

I didn’t have enough time. I take a while to properly read and understand the passages and there just wasn’t enough time. The level of the questions and the passages themselves felt so different and out of my league, and even though I’d been doing reading comprehensions every week it still wasn’t good enough. The passages weren’t about complicated things like economics and social issues but there were points where I wanted to just give up and fill in random answers. I didn’t, but I did end up rushing through just to finish. I was mentally exhausted and beyond demoralized.

Turning on my phone during the break, I saw messages of encouragement from friends on Facebook. “Ganbatte!” “Ganbare!” “Good luck!” and even that morning I’d gotten messages telling me I could do it, and I didn’t want to go down without a fight.

Listening was better than I thought it would be, I could breathe again. It was tricky, but I wasn’t floundering, and before I knew it, it was over. I knew that this would not be my last encounter with the JLPT, and told myself that no matter what happened, this was a great experience and I am going to learn from it. Till July, JLPT. This time I will be more ready for you.

Amidst the chaos in my mind, the walk back to the station was calming because of this:


Ahh, you could feel the ‘哀れ’, the subtleties of life with the hues of orange cast against grey-blue. I instantly felt better and had to take more photos. (Video footage starts at 4:10)

Between the N2 and N1, asides from the increased use of Kanji, it is increased use of complicated synonyms and idioms thrown together with advanced grammar that you wouldn’t encounter unless reading academic articles, newspapers, novels etc. There were of course, common terms found in everyday life and on TV (裏腹, urahara, for example, which I heard on a TV program earlier tonight) but it was so much more pertinent to have an extensive vocabulary.

In the N2, you could get by with a scathing vocabulary (I did) because the answer options would have the same keywords as the passage does. In N1, oh no, they paraphrase the answer options, sometimes even paraphrase words in the question. They also like to test your kanji by writing commonly hiragana-written words in kanji. Idioms and set phrases/expressions are also another way they make things difficult and due to my lack of diligence in remembering all of these important things, was one of the reasons of my undoing.

It seems straightforward but the normal approach toward learning Japanese doesn’t apply to N1 – being able to communicate in Japanese doesn’t mean you can do well for N1 (possibly N2 as well). For me, the goal was always to be able to communicate and understand Japanese and in a sense, I have achieved that. But the N1 goes far beyond that and improving your listening by watching shows, music, etc is not going to cut it.

I feel so naive, sometimes, thinking there was a possibility to pass the N1 and my lax revision and practices leading up to the exam. It’s not the end though.

My goal is to pass the N1 before I graduate and that means I have two more tries to achieve that – July and December 2015.


Leave a Reply