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.


  1. hey good luck with the results! I found your blog some time back while searching for JET information, can I ask you some questions via email about teaching in japan?

  2. Hello. Thanks for your comment. Please feel free to post any questions you may have here. I'm happy to answer.

  3. Thanks for replying, sorry i just checked now! I wanted to know why you decided to go the eikaiwa route rather being an ALT? i depart next week from the UK to work as an ALT. I'm also worried about how long i should teach english in Japan, do you know any teaching veterans out there? What's the longest they been there? Is tefl a long term thing for you? I studied a social science and im worried about a long term career... Do you have any advice on what to bring/general etc? I'll be in kyushu. Oh, im asian too, do japanese prefer white foreigners in your experience?

    1. Hello again. Welcome to Japan from next week. I can honestly say that so far, it's been an awesome experience.

      When I applied for my first company, I didn't discriminate between Eikaiwa work and ALT work; I simply wanted to gain some experience teaching and wanted to teach in Japan. When I applied for my second job however, I chose it based on the fact that I would get to teach adults as well as children. I wanted to gain that experience.

      With regards to how long you decide to stay in Japan, don't let anyone else influence you. Stay for as a long as what is right for you. Most of my current company is made up of veterans (10+ years) who are married and who intend to permanently reside in Japan. I've been here nearly two years and I really like it; I dunno if it'll be permanent for me but I've not set an end date yet.

      I also studied a social science - Psychology - and wanted to go down this route but here I am teaching English and I must say that I do enjoy it. Sometimes things change however; you have to see what works for you.

      There are many blog posts/Youtube videos online that suggest what to bring. As a black woman, I bought my own cosmetics because that stuff if hard to come by here - this included deodorant - and I also bought my own medicine because that stuff isn't particularly strong here.

      I used to live nearby Kyushu and visited a few times.I really liked Fukuoka as it was like a smaller scale Tokyo without the crazy that is Tokyo.

      I'm not sure what kind of Asian you are, but if you are East Asian looking, there might be the automatic assumption that you are Japanese. Maybe have a look at this blog entry if you haven't already: . If you are distinctively another type of Asian however, then try not to look at is as "Japanese prefer one type of race". The Japanese view all foreigners irrespective of race as "foreign". There have been instances where even white people have experienced feeling like an "other" but don't let that sway you. Just remember that Japan is over 98% Japanese so a lot of the time, it's ignorance more than anything else.

      Enjoy Japan.

    2. Thanks for your detailed reply! If i have time, i might try and get part time eikaiwa work to try it out :) thank you for the vote of confidence, if i never try ill never know! I actually asked to be put in kyushu, cause i heard people are friendler than in tokyo etc, is there any truth to that? Im brown, so dark skin but round eyed! Please keep posting, i enjoy your blog.

    3. Yeah. It's often said the Kanto folk are a lot less friendly but it's usually people in the Kansai region that are considered the friendliest. That said, coming from the UK, the level of supposed "coldness" is something you could equate to a few of the major cities there. But it really depends. I live in Kanto at the moment and just this morning, an old man said "good morning" to me.

      Anyway thanks for reading my blog. I should hopefully have another entry up soon.

  4. Hi Melissa, Thanks for sharing your JLPT first test day in Japan. I am going to take JLPT in December, I have a question on the test site. I have selected test site in Kanto, and wondering where exactly the test will be. May I know if you have selected Kanto too and if it is the same, which university and what is the nearest station? Thank you much. Good luck and enjoy your journey ^_^

    1. Hi Carol. Thanks for reading. I also selected Kanto but I believe it purely depends on where you live. As I live in Kanagawa, my test site was at a university in Sagamihara. If you're in Tokyo, I suspect it might be somewhere different.
      Good luck for December.