JLPT N1 Thoughts (2015, Attempt 2)

Update: I failed the N1 again, yikes. I did slightly better for the weak areas I identified, but my reading comprehension and listening was just pretty terrible this year. I still haven’t thought of retaking it again. Maybe someday.

Last year’s N1 attempt was a disaster. I really was such a wreck in the exam room, filled with panic and self doubt that nothing on the page made sense.

A year later, December 2015, and it’s time for attempt number 2. Perhaps I’d been too bruised by that first attempt that July just didn’t seem like a good time to try again, and while an added excuse, scheduling and being in two different countries at the time made it difficult to apply, plan and pay for the JLPT.

So fast forward to the months before the JLPT. I bought my N1 textbooks, the 日本語総まとめ Nihongo So-matome series. It’s pretty good! They divide the topics into days and weeks so you study about 2 or so pages each day and complete the textbook in 8 weeks.

My first goal for this exam was to stay calm. I was sure there would be things I wouldn’t know again, but if I remained calm, there was a 25% chance I could luck out the correct answer. While it was somewhat of a repeat of “woah what is this?” but it felt less starkly foreign than it did a year ago. I knew it was the N1, what I was getting myself into and while it was still terrifying and I felt the possibility of passing was bleak, I was quite satisfied with how I kept level headed during the exam.

Funny Story: As the invigilators made their rounds, they stopped at the row behind me to ask someone to remove their keshigomu (eraser) case and was met with dumbfoundment. !?!?! The invigilator had to raise the eraser of another candidate before they got it and…removed the PLASTIC SHEET that covered the casing. “No, one more!” cried the invigilator and finally the case was removed. I was quite bemused since you should at least know what keshigomu is and be able to understand those simple instructions, being at, well, supposed near native proficiency level?

Time management was much better this time round, though I could have finished the grammar/vocab much faster to give myself more time to ponder over the reading section. I skipped ahead to the easiest passage right at the end – the information gathering one where you read a leaflet or a notice and then choose the answer based on which option would be most beneficial etc.

This year it was about membership to a museum and the perks as well as the system of how to apply. You had to help X-san, whose membership was expiring on the 20th but had a ticket to a show on the 21st what was the cheapest and best option to renew his membership. Fun!

Another Funny Story: We got a young invigilator (and possibly a rookie as well) in our room and when she was reading the instructions about what to do with our mobile phones, it went something like this.

“Please place your mobile phones into the provided envelope, hold the envelope in your ha-

Cutting herself off, she reached over to pick up the envelope and show it to us and I chuckled because she’d read the instructions to her out loud. That calmed me down more.

What somewhat caught me off guard this year was the listening because I knew it was my strong suit, and believed it to be the easiest section of all. My complacency may have cost me because damn, was it tricky this year! I don’t remember having such a hard time in 2014!

My least favourite section was where they would say a phrase or sentence that was part of a conversation had to choose the most appropriate response. In N2 it was really straightforward because some responses were just completely wack and ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND!? so you could tell which was the answer fairly quickly and painlessly. But in the N1 it was more subtle than that and I was constantly scratching my head as to which of the two options were more correct. It’s also super fast so you barely have enough time to think it through before the next question starts.

It was over really fast and then a sigh of relief but there was also some nagging dread since I really don’t think I will pass, but I do hope for some improvement from last year.

Till the end of January when the results are out.

Did you take the JLPT this year too? How was it? What are your JLPT goals?


Attempting JLPT N1 Again (I am too lazy for my own good)

Last December I took the JLPT N1 and failed terribly. I did prepare, by doing reading comprehension exercises but I am not the biggest fan of studying and did not work on my weak points – vocabulary and grammar. I wasn’t very focused on the day itself and so many things went wrong. I stressed myself out, I made mistakes and overall that amounted to failing by 12 points.

For the N1, you need a score of 100/180 to pass, but of that 100 points, you must get at least 19 in each category if not you will fail. This means that if you get 60 for Listening, but only 15 for Grammar/Vocab and 30 for Reading, even though you get 105 overall, you still fail.

This was my score:
Vocab/Grammar: 17/60, C and B respectively
Reading: 19/60
Listening: 42/60

It’s terrible isn’t it? So here is some public shaming so I will constantly be reminded of how atrociously I did. A reminder of what a failure I am.

I was quite a wreck last year.

I borrowed a digital watch from a friend since I don’t own any watches, but didn’t know that it beeped every hour. Which is not allowed and doing something against the rules could get me kicked out. It happened the first time which made me all ?!?!? and the invigilator looked in my direction and I panicked. So I made sure that before the next hour, I smothered the watch with my hands/sweater sleeve so the sound wouldn’t come out.

I just couldn’t focus either. I heard the pages getting flip, flip, flipped so fast and yet I was stuck there on page one and I felt useless. I tried reading the passages but I couldn’t understand anything, I couldn’t even read one paragraph without feeling like the words were melding together. The room felt like it was spinning and it was too warm.

Excuses, excuse. I just wasn’t properly prepared and I thought I was going to fail.

Yet this year isn’t any better. I’ve barely studied (never opened any textbooks) this year, I have no more Japanese classes, I don’t even have people to actively and regularly converse in Japanese with anymore. I fumble and make the smallest mistakes in conversation.

I can’t translate lyrics, I can’t translate articles. I do a crap job at interpreting. I feel so useless and stagnant with Japanese.

People write blog posts in Japanese, make YouTube videos in Japanese but I stopped trying, didn’t start trying. Why? Because it’s more difficult, requires more effort and because I am a fundamentally lazy person. Too lazy.

Me: I want to get N1 before I graduate university!
Me: but studying is hard
Me: I don’t like studyinggggggg
Me: can I give up

I have no motivation.

Me: I want to lose weight!
Me: But exercising is hard
Me: I give up

I opened my grammar textbook, which I bought months ago, for the first time, and after the first page I closed it and went whining on FB and twitter. Oh, and now here too.

I watched a couple of Jenny Silver’s Japanese IRL vocabulary videos. But that’s not enough.

I feel like my progress with Japanese has become stagnant. Worse, it’s going in the opposite direction. I was doing good back in 2013. In 2014 I kept blaming my school for sticking me in a class too easy for me but there is always self studying and I did none of it.

It’s 2015 and the situation is even worse.

It’s going to be 4 years since I started learning Japanese and I have squat to show for it.

How do the people who learn the language in a year and take classes in it cope? I wish I’d forced myself out of my comfort zone more.

All those regrets. I am so lazy and I should be studying now but I don’t want to so I wrote this post instead.

I am the worst.

Hopefully I at least study so I won’t fare worse than last year this time.


My Experience Taking The JLPT N2

This post originally appeared on Cute-Pop.com in 2014

The JLPT is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and you’ve probably heard about it if you’re learning Japanese. There are now 5 levels – N1 to N5, with 1 being the most difficult, and 5 being the easiest.

It’s held twice a year in Japan and some other countries, once in July and once in December. You sign up a few months in advance, and it costs 5000yen. There are four main components – Grammar, Vocabulary, Reading and Listening. Listening is a separate paper, which you’ll take after the first one. The passing requirements differ based on the level, so check them out here.

I took the JLPT N2 level in December 2013, kind of on a whim (and then later the N1 in 2014); I’d planned to take N3 but my friend talked me into N2 so I thought “YOLO” and went for it.

This is what happened.

Signing up online took a few tries. You need a ‘My JLPT’ account which can be created in advance. The website was iffy and the connection was pretty bad, I assume because the server was backed up due to high traffic. It finally went through, and then I paid for it through the handy dandy conbini.

A course ‘package’ came in the mail – basically just the test card which lists your examinee number, test venue, time etc. The test center will be assigned to you based on level and where you live. I was lucky enough to get my university as the test center!

Then comes the studying – but how?

There are many textbooks specialized just for the JLPT in different levels and you can easily find them in any bookstore in Japan (I think Kinokuniya in Singapore will stock them too). Or, you can do practice papers and use resources from the internet.

Grammar and Vocabulary are always wildcards. Usually only a small percentage of what is covered in textbooks actually comes out, and they’re random so there is no sure way of knowing what will come out. Revising them is great, but don’t kill yourself over it.

Reading is very important. The reading comprehension section is at the end of the paper and it’s pretty long. Try and improve your reading speed. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the yomikata for the words, understanding what the passage says is the most important.

Listening is where you should score points. It’s the easiest section and it is very possible to score full marks for it (myself, and a few friends did). To practice, listen to a lot of Japanese at fast/normal speaking speeds. In dramas and movies, the speech is usually slower than usual, so listening to fast music or variety/game shows would be best. Or, watch your favourite shows on x2 speed. You should also do all the sample listening comprehension exercises from the JLPT site.


Watch (non-digital; in Japan for some reason test venues do not have clocks & they will NOT update the time on the board)
Good eraser

Tips (this is based on my N2 experience, other levels may differ):

    • It’s more important to finish the entire paper so if you’re stuck at the early parts, just make a note and skip ahead.
    • If all else fails and there is no more time – colour in the blanks. You have a 1 in 4 chance of getting the correct answer anyway.
    • Listening. Is. Very. Important. Do NOT lose focus or drift off. Drink coffee or an energy drink or do something to get into the right frame of mind because it would be a waste to lose easy points!
    • Please, please, please have a watch. I didn’t and I spent the paper half panicking thinking I had no time, causing me to rush through to finish everything.
    • Sleep early the night before. I didn’t and I regret it because I was drifting off to sleep and losing focus while doing the paper. Bad idea.
    • Do not panic if you see vocabulary or grammar you have never seen before. The questions are very specific and the answers tend to be tricky (well for N2 anyway). Just choose what you think is right, don’t sweat it, and continue to the next question.
    • Familiarize yourself with the format of the exam. It saves 5 minutes of frantically trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do. The practice papers are online for a reason.
    • Prepare everything in advance. Get your test card, pencils, watch etc. all ready before hand so you don’t have a mini panic attack the night before, or, the morning of.
    • The listening format sometimes causes you to have to listen to a lot of dialogue and then choose the correct option, usually the one the people in the dialogue chose in the end. Sometimes you have to infer as it is not directly said. What I do is scribble each option on the question booklet. They give you a LOT of blank space – USE IT!
    • You have a lot of time from when you sign up to the actual exam so consistent practice is key! Last minute cramming will get you nowhere.

    After the exam, just remember that what is past is past and you can’t change your answers. I personally don’t mind talking about it with peers but if it makes you more nervous just forget about it and go home and relax.

    It takes about almost 2 months before the results are out. You can check them online or wait for the certificate to arrive, which takes even longer. For the December exam, results were out late January and certificates were mailed out in February.

    To everyone taking the JLPT, GOOD LUCK!!!!

JLPT Results

I had woken up, groggy from lack of sleep due to a messed up sleep cycle, and started my daily routine of checking my phone for notifications, casually scrolling through Facebook to see if there was anything of interest. It was the first status, my friend had posted about the JLPT results and I jumped out of bed in panic. Already? I wasn’t ready, I thought I had a few more days to face the reality of a result I had anticipated.

I pressed the power button and watched my laptop flicker to life, the sounds of it powering up made me uneasy and on edge. As I typed the characters into the address bar, each press of the key resounded each wish I was making for a miracle. Each click was leading me closer and anxiously I scrolled down.

FAILED” it said, in bold block letters and I let out the breath I’d been holding. I knew it, I murmured, and even though I had expected it, a part of me still wished to see a magical passing grade. Oh well.

Having placed my hopes in luck and my terrible performance the day of the exam itself had already been the answer and the month long wait was merely the confirmation of my prediction. Amidst all the celebratory statuses on social media, mine was the minority and I wondered what people actually thought behind all the reassuring messages.

“Hah, of course she failed, what was she thinking? Pfft, N1.”
“I guess someone isn’t as smart as she thinks she is”

I constructed these in the voices of others when they were actually personal wake up calls, feelings addressed toward myself to chide my constant complacency. The results reflected the effort I had put in.

75% of the time I was panicking about the exam, and the remaining 25% was confined to in-class preparations where I mainly did reading comprehension practices and neglected memorizing new vocabulary. Meh, I’ll manage, somehow. Like I always do. was always at the back of my head because hey, that’s what I did last time and it worked, didn’t it?

Wrong. Things had fallen easily into place, too easily, and I stopped taking things as seriously as I should have.

But on the other hand, I was also scared. I had always been scared of the N1. I had been scared of the N2 as well, thinking I had made a mistake signing up for it, resigning myself to failure. This time it was worse, I had wasted away more than a semester learning nothing new, barely practicing Japanese at the level required (I’d like to argue that it’s mainly the fault of my school’s horrible language program system which placed people of different levels together merely because we were all Juniors – UGH – but that’s an excuse).

The first paper scared me, I felt defeated, and the results reflected it. I did horribly for it but redeemed myself on the Listening, though not as well as I’d have hoped (but even if I’d scored full marks for listening I still wouldn’t have passed). It was clear where my weaknesses were, and what I needed to improve on. It was a good experience, understanding and experiencing it under proper exam conditions, having to deal with the pressure of needing to do well. It was something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time.

I could go on and on about why but that’s for a different post.

To everyone that passed the JLPT, Congratulations!!!!!!!!!

If you didn’t, don’t worry about it, don’t get too disheartened. There is always another chance to take it again, and it should be the fuel that pushes you to work harder. Exams are not what learning a language is all about, it’s just some words and numbers on a piece of paper that don’t necessarily mean anything. It isn’t a true indicator of proficiency – language is about communication. I had a friend whose level of Japanese was below mine and yet, she was able to communicate in Japanese better than I ever could. I have friends who have native level Japanese but refuse to take the JLPT, who believe instead of proving proficiency through their actions and experiences.

For me, my goal is to pass the N1 before I graduate, which leaves me two more chances. Looks like I’ll be taking it again in July. To everyone else who will be doing so too, Good luck and let’s work hard towards it together!!

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.

T-minus 3 days to JLPT

I’m taking part in Vlogmas this year, and also my body decided the best time to fall sick is THREE DAYS BEFORE THE JLPT. Thanks. I’m taking meds and vitamins and hoping that I’ll get more sleep.

In this anxious time, here are some essentials you will need for the test, and some final tips! Watch in video form or scroll down for text!

1. Don’t forget your Test Voucher 

It contains all the details of where your exam venue is and the rules so it’s a good idea to at least read it once. You’ll also need it for visual verification that you’re the person who registered.

2. Have a working wristwatch

Because the invigilators will not give you updates on the time and there may not be a wall clock in the venue (which I personally think is ridiculous). Last year I didn’t have a watch so I rushed my way through the entire paper. It was fine, but it’s less stressful to know how much time you have left and have the ability to plan your time.

3. Bring pencils (and a good eraser)

This seems like a no-brainer but just in case. The machine that marks the answer sheets can’t read pen ink! Mechanical or not, as long as it’s a pencil it’s fine. No lead specifications so HB, 2B whatever B, bring some extra. Of course you’ll need a good eraser to get rid of pencil marks in the answer sheet!  


  • Do a mock paper to familiarize yourself with the test format
  • Go to the exam venue early in case you get lost
  • Pack your bag the night before
  • Bring mints/something to help you focus (eat before the exam/during the break)
  • Get lots of sleep

For more tips specifically for the JLPT N2, refer to this post instead.
Click here for all my posts about the JLPT.


JLPT Resources

These are the books and online resources I used/am using to study for the JLPT.

For N2:

日本語総まとめN2 語彙 (Nihongo So Matome N2 Vocabulary by ask Publishing)



I didn’t actually use this textbook much, but my friends who have the Grammar edition by the same publisher say it’s pretty good.

日本語能力試験 N2完全攻略・テキスト&実践問題集 (from the インターカルト日本語学校)
日本語能力試験 総合テキストN2 (日本語能力試験対策教本シリーズ) (by Jリサーチ出版)


To be honest, I only used the first textbook, N2完全攻略・テキスト&実践問題集 (the book on the right, blue cover), mainly because I didn’t have time to go through both of them. It is a rather comprehensive guide which includes lessons, practices and tests for all the JLPT N2 sections.


I used it mainly for the vocab explanations and barely touched the rest of the book. I loved how it had English explanations!

If you’re not sure what textbooks to buy, スリーエーネットワーク is a known and reputed publisher that has good textbooks and good language guides. They are recommended and used in schools. In addition, there are official JLPT practice papers on sale so those will do for good practice!

For N1:

日本語能力試験問題集 N1 読解 & 語彙 & 文法 スピードマスター (by Jリサーチ出版) for Reading, Vocab and Grammar



I am currently doing exercises every week from this series of books.


I have finished the Reading Comprehension exercises and am left with the mock paper. That is 10 short passages (内容理解短文), 6 medium length passages (内容理解中文), 5 long passages (内容理解長文), 3 comparison passages (統合理解) and 3 information gathering passages (情報検索) completed.

I haven’t made much progress with Vocab/Grammar as I’ve been focusing on reading. I like how it indicates the amount of time you should take to complete each passage. As you continue with the practices, you’ll notice some very common vocab in N1 which are critical in understanding the passages. I’ll write more about this & other tips in another post!

For the Vocabulary, while there are English translations, I don’t quite like them because they are written in a phrase/short sentence and you do not get the actual meaning of the phrase/word you are trying to learn. However, this means in the exercises, you have to think more and learn by familiarizing yourself with different usages of the term. They also include similar terms which are used differently depending on context!


The Grammar explanations are rather detailed and there are practice questions for each section. There are no English explanations though. I find that some of the grammar overlaps with what I have learnt in Japanese lessons/N2 study. The N1 grammar tends to focus more on grammar used in written Japanese (aka how newspaper articles/essays would be written).

完全マスター漢字日本語能力試験1級レベル (Kanji)
完全マスター1級 日本語能力試験 文法問題対策 (Grammar)
完全マスター1級 日本語能力試験 読解問題対策 (Reading Comprehension)

all by スリーエーネットワーク



In addition, I also have this set of books/practices I received from a friend. I have yet to start using them so I can’t compare to the スピードマスター books. I will do so once I’ve used it though!

The grammar book also does not have English explanations.

 Online resources:

1. JLPT Official Site (Eng; Test format, FAQ etc)

2. JLPT Official Site – Sample JLPT Questions , Passing Criteria

3. JLPT Official Site – Resources/Textbooks

4. JGram – Lists of JLPT Grammar

5. 100 Top Resources to Learning Japanese (LinguaLift Blog)

6. JLPT Study Page (N5 to N2 Resources)

I highly suggest doing at least 1 practice paper before taking the exam to familiarize yourself with the exam format!

Read my JLPT N2 Tips here, and follow my study diary toward the JLPT N1 here.

If you have any questions, or resources/books to recommend, leave a comment, tweet me or drop me an email at bernadette.lyf@gmail.com! & Good luck!