Sunday December 7th, 2008, a day that shall live in infamy. Another JLPT has come and gone. A lot of interesting things transpired leading up to and during the test. Here are a few observations.
Let’s start with good stuff. Last year the registration forms did not include an option for Mie Prefecture (三重県). I checked Aichi Prefecture (愛知県) on the hopes that the Aichi site would be in Nagoya (名古屋), so I could get to the test site in less than two hours. Facing the prospect of having to leave for the test at 6am, I was excited when they put the test at Mie University (三重大学), a short bike ride from here. This year’s registration forms included a Mie option, so I was assuming the same site. We all know what happens when we assume things… the test was down in Ise (伊勢市) at Kogakkan University (皇學館大学). At first, the distant train ride seemed a hassle, further, the lack of nearby convenience stores was less than ideal; however, the rooms were large and heated, and the furniture was spacious and comfortable. Overall a good facility, I won’t mind if it is there next year.
My Japanese teacher was surprised that my test facility was in Mie because she knew students who had to go all the way to Kyoto (京都) for their tests. Chatting with some colleagues on the train, I discovered that at least one person had accidentally checked the Kinki region (近畿日本). It is a common misconception that we are part of the Kinki region: having Kinki Nippon Tetsudo (近畿日本鉄道) as our main rail provider only promotes this idea. If you are registering for the test next year, check your region carefully. The forms are awkward in that sometimes they list cities, sometimes prefectures, and sometimes regions. I would much prefer that they just list cities and leave it up to us to check a map and figure out which is closest.
People taking the Level 2 JLPT are assumed to be at a high level; however, there was a major screw-up in my testing room. Our answer sheets (解答用紙) and test booklets (問題用紙) had been laid on our tables and we were awaiting the signal to open the books. The main proctor announced, “The test will begin in about one minute.” (後１分程試験が始まります。), and suddenly, more than half of the test takers opened their booklets. I nervously sucked air through my teeth in very Japanese fashion, wondering the whole time how level 2 students could have misunderstood that… perhaps there’s a reason the ‘listening’ portion of the test is the lowest scored every year. One person seemed to actually be writing answers on their sheet. Technically, they could have been thrown out of the test at that point and the rules are pretty strict; yet, no action was taken. My only guess is that they had about six red cards to hand out and would have needed about 60. When the second section started the message changed to, “In about two or three minutes the test will begin. Please wait as you are until then.” (A few people opened at that time.)
Meanwhile in the level 3 room, someone asked a question out loud as the tests were being passed out and they immediately received a red card. Waste of 5000 yen and a years worth of study.
Understanding is only skin deep! Every year, the reading comprehension and grammar (読解・文法) section of the level 2 test has six subsections. The second section is a short (less than one page) casual essay followed by roughly five questions. Imagine my joy when I could grasp the whole story and read through it several times faster than the other reading problems. Now imagine my despair when I couldn’t grasp what they wanted for answers on the questions. Two others, who seemed prepared for the test, reported similar problems. Clearly, I need to work on my reading comprehension skills. My work and lifestyle have included excessive conversation, so my language strength lies in speaking and listening. By the way, the story was about a couple finding a penguin in a back alley in Roppongi (六本木). What a surprise… or was it a penguin at all?
At least a third of our room was Chinese students. They know thousands of kanji before they come to Japan, so the first section of the test could be done in their sleep. It was disconcerting to hear people flipping two pages forward before I finished a half page. Since the test is not on a curve, and I was expecting to have ample time, I quickly forgot about them. Strangely, when I finished, everyone else seemed to be working furiously. Did I miss a section? Or was I fast because I was uncertain on so many and just chose quickly from the answers I couldn’t eliminate?
My idea to handle the Reading/Grammar section out of order also seemed to help me and a couple people to whom I explained my theory. My recommendation was to do the subsections in the order 4, 5, 6, 3, 2, 1 or 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3. When I eventually write up my testing recommendations and preparation recommendations, I will include my reasons for the order and might adjust it a bit.
Anxiety is a funny thing. A friend passed a sample test at their home with an 80 percent score, yet insisted they weren’t ready. 60 percent is required to pass. After the test they were still concerned. I’m guessing she’ll be fine in February when her passing (合格) grade comes back.
That’s enough for now…