Sunday, 5 July 2015

JLPT - The First

Today marks another first for me, folks. It's the day I took my very first test since arriving in Japan. And not just any test, but the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) - potentially the most well-known Japanese language test ever. Since moving to Odawara and starting with a new company, the necessity for Japanese has increased but I know myself and I know that when it comes to study, I lack severe discipline. So I decided that in order to force myself into action, I was going put money on it. So back in April, I paid the ¥5,500 and booked myself in for this test. I opted for the lowest level - N5 - as I knew deep down that even attempting the N4 would certainly result in failure.

My test was scheduled for 12.30pm so I woke up around 8.30am. As rainy season is still way in effect, I had the pleasure of riding to my local station in the rain, picking up some goodies from a convenience store and "train"ing my way to my test location. I arrived at around 11.30pm to a mass of foreigners from all over the world. It was unreal hearing so many different language outside of English and Japanese but I suppose I couldn't be too surprised. Kanagawa possesses one of the highest concentrations of foreigners in Japan so clearly I wasn't going to be walking in there alone. I even managed to encounter some familiar faces as I followed the stream of language learning hopefuls onto a university campus.

As soon as 12 o clock struck, we were urged to head to our designated buildings. I recall that in front of mine, there only seemed to be one guy who was directing people to line up dependent on which floor they would be taking their test. I remember thinking that the whole thing was poorly organised. If they had signposted everything accordingly and asked first, second and third floor candidates to line-up in designated areas, I'm sure said man would not have been as overwhelmed as he was. There must have been a least a thousand odd people there that day and this test occurs twice a year. Surely they should have had a better system than that.

With that said, I finally did make it into the building and I managed to locate my room. A small lecture room's worth of people were taking the test with me and I was suddenly reminded of university tests of old. I had two invigilators - a man and a woman. The woman would continuously state the rules and regulations. I know that the Japanese tend to be rather thorough; I know why they need to be thorough but I honestly thought that by the tenth time she had reinstated the rules and regulations, it was a little bit much. That said though, initially, a lot of us didn't understand certain things. For example, it was unclear that we were to put our phones in the envelope provided and the girl sitting next to me didn't even know the meaning of the word "romaji". It made me think that this level was just right for me as we were all making mistakes.

What particularly unnerved me however was that the room had no clock. Now, on my test voucher, it had actually specified to bring a watch of some sort but my brain was thinking that it was optional. So when I walked in and saw blank walls, my heart sank. This would be my first time taking a test without any sense of time. So a warning to those taking the JLPT in Japan - if the test voucher says to bring a watch - bring a watch.

The first test was vocabulary. We had twenty-five minutes. As I had no clock, I had promised myself that I would rip through it. And I dd. I'm pretty sure I finished it in about fifteen minutes. I took some time to go over my answers for potentially another five. And I still had a few minutes towards the end to stare off into space. There were four sections in total and for the first two sections, I didn't feel it necessary to read the full sentences of each problem. It literally was identifying kanji and meaning. The third section required inserting the correct word and the last section required identifying sentences with similar meaning to the original. I felt extremely confident with that one so it was a great start.

Insert a thirty minute break, plus more invigilator jargon and we'd started the grammar test. We had fifty-minutes for this one. This one was not as easy as the last. I distinctly recall skipping two questions in favour of getting to the end before going back to those problems and trying to work them out. The first section of this test was particles - one of my biggest weaknesses where grammar is concerned. The next sentence required knowledge of sentence structure. The third section was another "insert-the-correct-word" while the last one required problem solving. I then proceeded to check my answers and about halfway through this, the invigilator called time and I recall thinking to myself that it had to be the quickest fifty minutes I'd ever experienced. Note to self; bring a watch.

A sandwich and a melon pan later, I was back into that test room for the final time to take the dreaded listening test. Of everything I have ever done with regards to Japanese, listening and speaking are by far my weakest areas. When it comes to listening, I nearly always miss something but on the second try, I tend to pick it up. Unfortunately for me, there would not be a second chance to hear the CD player. I was just going to have to try my best. So I turned my ear to the CD player and gave it a go. I'm very sure I mucked up a couple of questions on the first three sections but I feel fairly okay about the last one. In this particular test, each section usually has a bunch of pictures or a choice of four answers but in the last section, there are no pictures and you simply have to listen to the CD for both question and answers. I'm sure I cocked up somewhere but I've managed to get it all back to front somehow.

That said, as we were leaving the room, I have to say that I felt pretty neutral about the whole thing overall which is how I've always liked to feel after an exam. I never like to feel too over-confident lest my test results show me something dyer, and I never like to feel horrified lest I worry myself stupid. It was an interesting experience however and I'm grateful I did it. My test results will surface in September so I've got that to look forward to, and providing I pass, I will be looking at taking the N4 this time next year. I could take it in December if I wanted to, but I'd rather be better safe, then sorry.