The Ultimate Study Guide for the JLPT show

The Ultimate Study Guide for the JLPT

Summary: The JLPT Boot Camp podcast covers tips and tricks for the JLPT or Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Every week I go over a different aspect of how to study and what to do for the test. I cover all the tests, N5, N4, N3, N2, and N1.


 JLPT BC 97 | The Geisha Misconception | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 15:05

The word geisha tends to conjure up a certain image.  A lot of people have the misconception that geisha are professional prostitutes, but that actually really isn't the case.  They have a pretty long history that doesn't involve the world's oldest profession. In fact, the word geisha is written with two kanji, 芸 and 者.  The first kanji, 芸, has a basic meaning of art or artistic skill. And the second kanji, 者, is a kanji that is often used as a suffix to mean 'a professional who does ~'  So together, the word geisha, has the literal translation of a professional art doer or more simply, artist. Training And their profession requires a significant amount of training that can take several years and a lot of money.  Originally, girls started training to be geisha at the age of 4.  This was obviously more of a choice of the parents than what the girls really wanted. In modern Japan, the decision to become a geisha is a personal choice made by girls that want to go into the profession.  They can start geisha training after middle school, high school, or college. The training involves learning a lot of the traditional arts like playing the shamisen, shakuhachi, and drums.  They also learn other traditional arts like calligraphy, dances and tea ceremony. A Rare Sight The number of geisha used to be around 80,000 in the 1920s, but that number has significantly dwindled.  There are no reliable statistics,but the number is general believed to be between 1,000 and 2,000 geisha today. You'll sometimes see 'geisha' in the Gion district or around Kyoto in general.  These 'geisha' are usually just tourists that have paid to dress up like geisha.  There are a few places in Kyoto where they will dress up like geisha or if you are guy, a samurai, so that you can walk around in style. The Business Geisha now perform at tea houses, called お茶屋 in Japanese, or traditional Japanese restaurants called  料亭.  They are paid by the number of incense sticks that burn during their performance and different geisha have different 線香代 or incense stick fee that patrons pay. There have been a few non-Japanese geisha.  The most notable westerner is Fiona Graham from Australia.  She trained to become a geisha as part of an anthropological study.  She was unfortunately disaffiliated by the Asakusa Geisha association, apparently because they didn't believe she was going to be a full-time geisha. Geisha = prostitutes? So, you might be wondering where this misconception of geisha being prostitutes comes from.  Well, during the occupation of Japan after World War II, very few geisha were working because no one could really afford geisha in a time of reconstruction. And also during this time, prostitution was still legal in Japan, so there were professional prostitutes that fashioned themselves as 'geisha girls'.  And that is how, unfortunately, geisha became synonymous with prostitution. What do you think? Would you want to be a geisha?  Do you think it is a dying art that should be preserved?  Let me know in the comments below. Do you like Pretty Pictures? Then check out the video version of this podcast below:

 JLPT BC 96 | Moving Toward Comprehension | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 13:52

The hot, sweaty, humid days of summer are almost over.  We just have to make it through the typhoon season and we are into probably the best season in Japan, fall.  Time for barbecues and hikes and getting out of the house before we have to hide out again in winter. I hope I can get out of the house as much I can.  I'll most likely be incredibly busy over the next few months though.  Now that I have my results back from the July test, I have a general idea of what I need to work on in order to bring my score up enough to pass the test in December. Moving Away from Lists I think when you first start studying for a particular level, it is important to devote a good chunk of time to learning the new vocabulary.  I usually try to go through the lists for the particular level as much as I can to start off, learning as much of the new vocabulary as I can.  But, there comes a point where you can do too much 'list-studying'. I feel like I've reached that point.  When I was taking the test, I knew the vocabulary pretty well.  I could recognize most the words on the test and there weren't too many words that I drew a blank on.  There were plenty of words that I was a little foggy about, but I had still seen before.  But for the most part I had a vague understanding of most of the words. But when it came to gluing all those words together to form a complete thought, I was a little stumped.  I couldn't really comprehend a lot of the passages and make a summary of the ideas.  This is part grammar problem and part phrasing problem.  I'll be working hard to try to build up my skeleton making skills over the next few months. Building Comprehension In addition to hitting the reading drill books hard, I'll be reviewing a lot of the listening I did in July and August.  I'll be walking back through a lot of the listening in order to build up my comprehension skills for both reading and listening.  I personally think listening is one of the easiest things to study for because it is so portable these days. Reading is going to be more difficult though.  In order to review reading you generally have to be sitting down and in a relatively quiet room.  Even studying on the train can be a bit difficult at times, but I'll try to squeeze in as much practice as I can, and pouring back over difficult passages to extract the vocabulary and phrasing. Keep it Fun This is probably the most important thing to concentrate on for me!  I have an incredibly busy and hectic schedule and it will be very easy to burn out while studying, blogging, podcasting, working, and raising the little one.  So, I also recognize the need to keep it light. I'll be finishing off Harry Potter here pretty soon, I hope by the end of next month, but it might take a little longer.  Right now I'm currently on page 350 of 457, so it will be close.  It has become a real fun book to read after the initial hurdle of difficult vocabulary. After I finish off Harry Potter, I'll be moving on to a book about buying houses in Japan.  Yes, that's right, I'm keeping it fun by reading about real estate, but I'm thinking about buying a house sometime next year I need to do the research.  Anyway, it is exciting to go house shopping, even if it is a little complicated. High Speed Reading Update Another thing that I'm going to practice a little bit during my reading months is to increase my reading speed.  I have a pretty good speed, but I'd like to crank it up a little faster so that I have time to do the test than go back and double-check or adjust answers. I recently accidentally discovered a new technique of how to force yourself to read faster. It is a method using audio to force yourself to read faster.  I've started to use it and it has helped to train my mind to focus on the reading so that I can increase my speed. I go over step by step how to do it in a new update to the JLPT Study Guide Kit.  You can do it with simple,

 JLPT BC 95 | The Train Culture of Japan | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 16:39

Growing up in the countryside in America, I never really got that much exposure to the big city.  The only time we saw any kind of mass transportation was a large cargo train that was carrying grain or coal across the country.  I got to ride a few trains when I was younger, but it was more for nostalgia than for actual utility. Trains in America are slow, expensive, and just generally not all that common. Not like Japan though.  Trains are absolutely everywhere in Japan.  They are a huge part of the culture.  There was a recent jDrama about Train Man or 電車の男 that was really popular, and last year there was a pretty popular movie about the fictional lives of a few people that live along the Hankyu railway. I didn't really realize that trains were such a huge part of the culture until I came here and saw that you pretty much have to use a train to do just about anything in Japan.  Some people ride on a train for an hour, 2 hours or even 3 hours one way just to get to work. If you spend that much time on a train, you can start to see why people in Japan have an infatuation with them. Several Train Lines It isn't just one system either.  There used to be a national railway called JR that was a public company that connected the entire country together as well as the shinkansen system (bullet train).  This company broke off into several private companies with very imaginative names like JR West, JR Central, etc... This JR system is the main railway, the only railway you can use your rail pass on if you get one when you visit Japan.  Residents of Japan (like me) can't pick up those handy passes unfortunately, so we are stuck paying full price like everybody else, but if you happen to be visiting Japan rail passes are pretty cheap way to see the whole country as long as you keep moving. JR trains are also notorious for being late.  I know I had a co-worker that was inevitably late to work 2 or 3 times a year because the train was delayed. In addition to JR, you have other train companies with their separate systems.  Here in Kansai we have Hankyu, Keihan, Kintestu, Hanshin and Sanyo.  Each of them has their own distinct way of doing business. Hankyu is generally considered to be the upper class railway, mostly because the Hankyu department store is one of the classier department stores in Japan.  And then Keihan and Kintetsu usually tie for the middle class while Hanshin is considered the working man's railway. These train systems are not only train stops and rails though.  At each major stop there are all sorts of railway owned ventures from high-rise apartments to mega malls.  Hankyu just recently finished a massive mall that is rumored to be one of the largest in Japan.  Meanwhile Keihan has its own amusement park, Hirakata Park. Types of Cars Each train system also has its unique system of train cars.  Most trains have a women only car that is reserved for just women for all or part of the day.  There has even been talk of a men only car, although, I don't think it has really been taken all that seriously to be honest. During the summer months, some cars are marked as 'mild air conditioning' so that you don't get blasted with super cold AC on your ride.  Hankyu also experimented with a manner car that you could not use any kind of electronic devices in, complete with polite train staff with white gloves telling you to shut off your phones and be quite. Keihan has also done its best to spice things up a bit by adding some special cars to its express line of trains.  The have a TV car where you can watch TV on your way home.  There is a single-seater train that has single seats on one side of the train so you can sit by yourself if you'd like.  And the best car of all is the double decker. I personally think there should be a bar car, where you can belly up and have a few drinks on your way home.  It could switch to a coffee bar in the morning :) What kind of train car would you like?

 JLPT BC 94 | Obstacles Ahead | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 17:27

I've been sticking stubbornly to the 5 month plan I laid out a few weeks ago.  I've made some good progress with New Kanzen Master N1 Listening book.  It looks like I'm almost half way through it and still going strong.  Overall, I think it is going to...

 JLPT BC 93 | What Gets Measured Gets Managed | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 16:41

I finished up So-Matome N1 Listening in 3 weeks. I'm currently going back through it and reviewing all the difficult dialogs that I couldn't listen to completely, but for the most part I'm finishing up with it and have already started on the New Kanzen Master N1 Listening book. Overall, I felt like it was a pretty challenging book. I consistently got about half the questions right, but amazingly only got about 3 wrong on most of the final test. For some reason I completely bombed the quick response section; I only got 3 out of 7 right during that part. I think I've just gotten a lot better at guessing and test taking strategies because I only partially understood a lot of the listening. I kind of feel like the listening for the N1 is relatively easy, at least for someone that is living in Japan. I'm not saying it is a cakewalk, you still need to have good listening skills, but if you worked hard to improve them for N2, then N1 is just a small little jump up (in my opinion). I'll be doing a full review of the So-Matome N1 Listening book in a blog post, so be sure to check that article out if you are interested in picking it up. I have also been keeping up my relentless learning of vocabulary. I'm trying to average around 100 words a week between StickyStudy and Memrise. That almost seems completely ridiculous, but it is what you have to do to learn all the vocab for the N1. What Gets Measured Gets Managed I'm a fairly analytical person. I liked numbers growing up. For example, I was a lot better at math than English when I was in high school. Now, I happen to teach English so I've gotten a little bit better at it, but I'm still a numbers man at heart. This is why I especially get into using memrise to learn vocabulary. I love the fact that I can see how many words I've learned, how many points I've earned, and what rank I am. And even before I started using memrise, I was using Anki with its full suite of stats to keep track of absolutely everything. And I think a lot of people that are taking the JLPT have pretty much the same mindset. The JLPT pretty much lends itself to it as a matter of fact. I mean, it gives you a solid concrete goal to aim for and it is pretty obvious whether you have reached that goal or not. Not Everything is Measurable So, memrise and Anki can easily keep track of how many words you've learned; you can go through a grammar drill book and check off all the grammar points you know; and you can cross off the kanji you've mastered on your giant wall chart, but what about reading and listening? It can be a real problem trying to get a grasp on whether or not you have weak listening and reading skills or if you have improved them or not. The problem comes from the fact that I lot of things can affect your reading comprehension. For example, if the essay is about a topic you are not familiar with you are not going to be able to understand it as well as one that you are familiar with. Even the actual test itself is a bit of crap shoot. I've heard from several people that they have passed the reading tests they took before the exam, only to walk into the exam and fail the reading so they have to take it again. Supposedly the new test has a waited grading system that is suppose to prevent something like this from happening, but it still does. And reading and listening are definitely vital skills for the test and for real life use. It is also good to just get solid feedback on whether what you are doing is effective or not. After all, if you are doing drills every day and they aren't improving your reading skills then what is the use? How to Measure the Un-measurable So how can you measure your listening and reading skills? Taking different practice tests isn't the best indicator because you run into the problem of having material with different topics that you are not familiar with. Even the actual test can vary a lot in this respect.

 JLPT BC 92 | Are We There Yet? | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 16:49

Rainy season has officially ended here in Japan, and now it is time to enjoy the free sauna that is the Japanese summer. If you are not familiar with the summers here, I would advise you to avoid them. It is incredibly hot and humid. It's a great time to stay indoors and crack a book or two (or head to the beach). I'm still rolling through Harry Potter. I've hit a bit of a rough spot in the middle of the book where there is less dialog and more descriptions of scenes. This makes it a bit tougher to read, but still pretty manageable. I'm pretty darn close to finally making it to halfway with StickyStudy. I'm finding it more of a useful app to get some exposure to key vocabulary than actually learning it, at least at the N1 level. I feel like the review algorithm is a little off. Lately, after it has shown me the new cards for the day it will show me one card that I have mastered. More often than not I can hardly recall the word that I supposedly 'mastered'. I wish it reviewed these more often. I don't think this is too much of a problem for the smaller decks, but for the large (3300+ words) N1 deck it doesn't work so well. The other thing I've been working my through is So-Matome N1 Listening Comprehension. This book contains some really tough listening exercises. Sometimes I feel they are tougher than the actual exam, which is a very good thing. It has turned out to be a lot better practice than I thought it would be. I've found that sometimes I will listen to a piece and have no clue what they are talking about or only a faint guess, but when I read the script I can answer the questions somewhat easily. This is big indicator that my listening skills aren't up to the level they should be. My reading and vocabulary is pretty good, but I need to improve listening if I'm going to pass. Are we There Yet? We've all heard this question right? Or we might have even asked it ourselves on one of those long road trips where you've managed to go through all your video games, movies on your iPad and have simply used up all the topics of conversation that you managed to think of. I used to ask myself this question about Japanese a lot. Am I done studying all the material I need to know for 三級 (old N4)? Do I really need that extra book to practice grammar and vocabulary? Is it really necessary? One of the most common questions I get from readers by email is if I do book X, Y, and Z, do you think I will be ready for the N4 in December? What book do I absolutely need to pass the test? These are all very valid questions. After all, it is important to have a goal, and know when you have achieved that goal (or when you are ready to try to achieve that goal by taking the test). That is the whole reason why you set SMART goals to begin with right? Well, there are two different approaches to studying Japanese as I see it. And both have their advantages and disadvantages. The first one I'll call 'language hacking' and the second one, let's call that one 'mastering the language'. Language Hacking Japanese This is the approach that I used to follow in my early days. I used to study everything, but only review the things that I missed or I needed to know to get by. Essentially I focused on essential grammar structures and key vocabulary that I needed to know and didn't bother trying to learn absolutely everything. This saved me a lot of time with studying, and I was able to start speaking and having somewhat decent conversations with the language. I made a tremendous amount of mistakes, and I still wonder how I managed to pass 三級 but I did. The important thing was that I was usually understood (after a few tries) and so it didn't really bother me that much. The only problem with having all these mistakes was that when I got a more strict teacher here in Osaka. She was constantly correcting me, and I realized I wasn't exactly as well-spoken as I once day-dreamed I was.

 JLPT BC 91 | Are Women better at Learning a Language? | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 19:36

The So-Matome N1 Listening book has been giving me a bit of beating. I guess I deserve it to be honest, I would like to take my listening to the next level and be able to at least have a decent understanding of TV shows. But, ouch, what a beating. I'm going to be reviewing on an extremely regular basis. My progress through StickyStudy has been moving right along as well. One thing that has been annoying me about this particular app though is that they use the kanji for the prompt of the flashcard whether or not that kanji is often used or not. There have been plenty of times when I've had to spend a little time trying to remember a kanji that I know is not on the test and not regularly used. I don't think this is a problem for the lower level decks, but N1 has some issues. Luckily you can edit the decks pretty easily if this gets on your nerves. I'm personally a little intrigued by the challenge of learning the rare kanji so I'm keeping them in for now. We'll see how far that goes come test time. Another thing I've started is to really heap on the kanji. I throw in kanji practice now whenever I have a free moment. I'm only about 700 kanji into the 1800 or so that are in N1 and N2 (I'm reviewing a little bit). I'd like to get close to knowing around 75% come test time. Are Women better at Learning Languages than Men? Being an English teacher in Japan, I've always had this itching question that I can't seem to answer. It is an observation that I've slowly pieced together over the last couple of years of language teaching. And that is, Are women better language learners? As evidence of this, most (95%) of my language-teaching Japanese co-workers are women. All of them are generally pretty good communicators. Most of the students that excel in class and have obtained a higher level of fluency are women. Most of the students that score higher on the TOEIC (a standardized test of English) are women. And I've been told by a lot of women that majored in English that the men at their college were few and far between. But, those are just my general, non-empirical, unscientific observations that can't really be used to prove anything. They are just my mindless meanderings about the subject. So, is there any Real Proof? Well, not really. Although this seems like the kind of thing that would be heavily researched, it really isn't that much. Scientists generally agree that women are better communicators, but they haven't really been able to pinpoint why that is. Language is after all a very difficult subject to do research for because there are such a vast number of factors that could affect it. However, there was one major study that was done with some boys and girls in elementary school. By monitoring which parts of the brain lit up while learning language scientists could get a picture of how girls and boys learn language. They discovered that girls learn a language in a more abstract way. They don't necessarily need to see a word written down and spoken aloud to grasp its meaning. Boys on the other hand were more visual and auditory learners using those parts of the brain to learn a language. Furthermore, the centers of the brain responsible for spelling and grammar were more active in girls than boys. It should be noted that the study was generally considered inconclusive because we don't know if this difference was due to the fact that girls mature faster than boys or not. So, we can't be entirely sure if this information holds true for adults or not. Also, some people say that this learning difference could be caused by nurture and not nature. For example, since girls tend to play with dolls more they might be better communicators. Observations of Learning Styles I talked to a few teachers about this subject before and one thing that they tend to point out is that the way men and women behave in class also factors into how well they learn. Generally speaking,

 JLPT BC 90 | Realities of Setsuden | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 21:30

I have finally started to go through the So-Matome N1 Listening Comprehension book.  So far the first couple chapters are incredibly difficult.  I was surprised actually.  I felt like there was a lot of really challenging stuff to get you ready for the...

 JLPT BC 89 | I’m not Good at Languages | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 19:25

I've started a regular 'rinse, wash, and repeat' review of N1 grammar.  I'm able to understand it all, in context, but I'm a little shaky about being able to choose which grammar point would fit in a particular sentence.  And, of course, that is what you need to be pretty confident with on the test.  My current strategy with it is to kill it dead.  I want to completely over-learn it to the point that I can whip out an N1 grammar point at any time day or night. I've started to increase my listening exposure though.  I've started on So-Matome's N1 Listening Comprehension book.  This book is more designed to ease you into the level of listening that is required at the N1 level.  If the New Kanzen Master N1 book is anything like the N2 book, I have a feeling that it will be a lot more difficult. I'm also continuing my race through Harry Potter.  This book has turned reading into a bit of a treat at the end of the day.  I guess you have to be a bit of a Harry Potter fan, but it is a lot of fun to go through.  I'm currently at page 100, and getting about 5 pages read a day.  I've noticed the translator has changed a lot of the writing and some of the speech patterns of the characters to match who they are.  This makes it a little more difficult for anyone at a lower level (N3, N2), but fairly good practice for some one at the N1 level. I'm just not Good at Languages You've probably heard this phrase a lot, or you might have actually said it yourself.  I was born and raised in the States, which is, for the most part, monolingual.  You could argue that some parts of the States are in fact quite diverse, like Miami for example.  But in the heartland, let's face it, we are pretty much monolingual. I don't even think I was exposed to someone from a different country until I was maybe 16 and that was a brief encounter with some exchange students from Japan.  I didn't travel overseas at all, like most Americans.  In fact, the first time I was overseas was when I landed in Kansai airport to start my job teaching English here about 7 years ago. I almost flunked out of Spanish.  I ended up switching to German last minute to avoid completely ruining my high school GPA. I spent two years with both languages and I can hardly say a sentence in either.  My Spanish is a little better, but mostly because I spent 5 weeks in Spain, not because of class.  This whole experience left me with the feeling that I was just not good at languages. What makes us an Outlier Do you ever wonder what separates us normal people from the 'special' people.  What makes someone an outlier?  Are they born with it?  Were they raised the right way by their parents?  Is there just something magical about it? Well, not exactly, I recently read a book by Malcolm Gladwell called 'Outliers'.   In it, he details what it takes to become an outlier.  He goes over some of the biggest success stories of our era from the Beatles to Bill Gates.  And in a lot of cases, there isn't anything really all that special or magically about being an outlier. He hypothesizes that what separates us normal folk from the outliers is one simple rule.  It's a pretty simple one and easy to remember. If you spend about 10,000 hours doing something, you will most likely master it. That's it, that's what separates the outliers from everybody else.  Of course, you have to have the passion or the access to do that, but in general, it takes about 10,000 hours. It's not all Perspiration Though I would add one small thing to that though. It isn't all about perspiration.  Or at least, it doesn't have to be all about the perspiration.  And it doesn't have to take 10,000 hours to master Japanese.  It takes a lot less time than that, but not just 3 or 4 months despite what others might try to sell you. You have to learn how to learn as well.  Learning is something that is different for every body.  Some things work like magic for some,

 JLPT BC 88 | 5 Month Plan | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 13:48

After the initial pages of Harry Potter: The Philosopher's Stone (or sometimes called Sorcerer's Stone), it has gotten a little bit easier. I still think I'm looking up a good 4 or 5 words a page, but, I can pretty much understand everything from simply reading it. It is a very easy book to visualize and I think that is why it is a good book to learn from. I have slowly been changing my play lists over on my iPhone to include a lot more listening practice. Right now I'm loading up on old practice questions from 二級 tests and N2 mock tests. This is essentially review, but I'm basically doing the listening practice to build up stamina and point comprehension. I'm going to start worrying about N1 specific things to look out for over the next couple months. I'm starting to feel fairly confident with my grammar. I'm hoping I passed that section for the July test, but my vocabulary knowledge might have prevented me from doing that. I'll have to do more reading and memrise work to get over that. My 5 Month Plan A few weeks ago, I went over a few myths about setting goals. I talked about what worked and what was just a bunch of fluff. And while I was doing the research for that particular episode, I realized that I had made a mistake. You see I'm a pretty goal-oriented guy. I like to set goals and work hard to meet them, but well, I'm not exactly the most organized guy in the world, as most of those people that I interact with on a daily basis will happily tell you. I've always wanted to just roll with the punches because, you know, stuff just comes up? And how can you plan for that? Or at least, that was my excuse. I guess now, I could also claim that my life is so hectic with a 2 month-old in the house that making a written down plan would be pretty worthless. But, I am in fact not going to make any of those excuses. I am going to, for one of the first times in my life, make a written down plan and since I'm posting it here in front of thousands of readers, I have no choice but to at least attempt to follow it. So, here goes... July and August During these two months, my main focus will be listening. I will still be spending a lot of time with vocabulary, which will basically be me moderating and drilling words at memrise as well as continuing with StickyStudy. However, what I'll be spending most of time doing is drilling listening. The main reason for this is that I can review the listening later while I'm walking to work or just doing some house chores by listening to it with my iPhone. So, I can keep reviewing listening while adding in reading practice later. I'm going to work my way through So-Matome's N1 Listening book. Then, I'll move on to Kanzen Master's Listening book. I'm going to do that mostly because I'm guessing that the So-Matome book is going to be easier than the Kanzen Master. So, if I take the easier one first, I can ease into listening. If I have some extra time, I'll try to go through the listening for the two old 一級 tests that have. Although the test was in a different format before 2010, I feel like the listening exercises are still good practice because you still have to listen for the main points. I'll also be slowly working my way through Kanzen Master N1 Grammar as review. I'll probably be using it mostly for the back section of the book that goes over strategies for the different grammar sections of the exam though. September and October These will be my reading months. I'll be trying to do as much reading as I possibly can. I'll also be reviewing the listening that I did in July and August as well. I hope by this stage, I'll have studied enough vocabulary and mastered the grammar well enough to just focus on increase my reading speed and comprehension. Again, with the drill books I'll probably go with the So-Matome/Kanzen Master combo. I'll also be supplementing that with a lot of reading from old pre-2010 tests that I have, too.

 JLPT BC 87 | Misconceptions about the N1 | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 18:44

This weekend I braved the pouring rain that was coming on and off all day to go take the N1 at Kyoto University.  For those of you who don't know Japan has basically 5 seasons, the 4 normal seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter), but it also has one extra season – the rainy season, which usually comes around the middle of June and ends somewhere in July.  This seasons is then followed by a suffocatingly hot and humid summer.  As you can tell, I'm not a big fan of this season's weather. But that's okay, because I spent most of the day indoors taking the test, which was actually a pretty good experience.  Even though I probably didn't pass this time, I learned a lot about the test, and it got me mentally prepared for the final showdown in December. My Original image of the N1 Back when I first started studying Japanese and I first learned about the JLPT, I thought that the N1 level (then called 一級) was an impossible achievement.  I had in head that it was meant for those that had gotten a masters in Japanese or at the very least mastered in Japanese in college.  Needless to say, I didn't do either of those. As a matter of fact, I only took a year of Japanese at a university before I left to come to Japan.  And those classes really didn't teach me much.  It wasn't that the teachers were bad, they were quite good. Well, actually, one of them was a total jerk, but for the most part 80% of them were amazing.  It's just that, for whatever reason, I didn't absorb the language that much before I came to Japan. So, my idea of the N1 was that it was going to take a lot of studying for me to pass if I was ever going to pass it.  I mean, I spent a year in classes, and I could still just barely introduce myself and read hiragana and katakana.  How could I ever expect to pass the monolithic N1 with its 10,000 words, 2,000 kanji and some 500 or so grammar points? And if you look at the study hours necessary to pass the N1, you will get a similar impression about the test because it looks like the jump from N2 to N1 is the same as a true beginner to N2.  But I feel like that just isn't true, at least in my case.  Who knows, I might end of spending another 2 years trying to pass, so I don't want to be too bold, but in general, I don't think it takes that many hours to make the jump. In Reality Because in reality, the test is not that hard to study for.  The first thing I learned was that kanji doesn't play as important as a role as it did in the lower levels.  It still plays a role mind you, but just not as big of one.  I was only about 33% or so through the N1 kanji in iKanji when I took the test, and I didn't feel like I was handicapped in anyway. The N1 does require a lot of studying I think, but it is easier to study for.  It is actually a lot of fun to study for and not as much hard work grinding through vocabulary like the other levels of the test can be.  That might sound a little strange so let me explain. For the grammar, it mostly follows some familiar patterns but more nuances are added to a few things here and there.  For the most part though the concepts are fairly similar to N2 and N3 grammar, but they are just used in slightly more complicated ways.  So the grammar, in my opinion, was somewhat easy to learn. The other reason it is a lot easier to study for is that you can use native materials now without many problems.  Anyone that has passed the N2, can pretty easily work their way through any novel or piece of literature that is available.  And I think that is one of the best ways to absorb and learn the vocabulary that is needed at this level. The last reason the N1 is easier to study for is that since I've taken most of the tests leading up to the N1, it was a lot easier to actually take the test.  I know the tactics to use, and what kind of questions are going to come up and what to look out for.  I could easily finish the test on time and double check my answers.  Now,

 JLPT BC 86 | Pre-Test Ritual | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 13:38

I have completely flown through the So-Matome N1 Grammar book. My goal this test is to at least get a passing score in the grammar section of the exam. That might not be possible because I don't enough vocabulary to actually choose the right grammar that should be used, but I'm going to try my best. I've tried a little different approach this time to studying the So-Matome drill book. I've been going through on the first pass and just studying the vocabulary and then going back and doing the questions. This way there is a little bit of spacing between when I'm first exposed to the grammar and when I'm tested it on it for the first time. I'm finally starting to get memrise under control. I have locked myself down to just doing 45 minutes in the morning every day. This limits my ability to learn new words. I'm down to learning about 40 or 50 words a week instead of 140 or so that I was doing before, but hopefully that will start to pick up. One problem I'm running into with memrise is that the decks aren't completely 'clean' yet, at least at the N2 level. A lot of the words have several definitions which makes it harder to remember and also easier to confuse the words. I've been putting in a little extra work to clean up the N2 deck as much as possible. Hopefully that will start to pay off soon. I'm still squeezing in every minute of study time I can possibly find. I've almost become a little fanatical with my iPhone lately trying to work my way through sets of kanji and vocabulary. I guess every little bit counts toward the end goal. My Pre-Test Ritual For those lucky enough to have it, this weekend is the July JLPT. I still haven't gotten my voucher for it yet (I'm recording this about 2 and half weeks early), but I'm taking a big guess that I'll be heading back up to Kyoto University to take it. Although I'm pretty sure I have no chance of passing this time around, I'm still glad I signed up for the test because I think if I didn't I would have just gotten lazy about my studying and not made as much progress as I did. Granted, I just started studying grammar about a month ago, so I'm still dragging my feet a little bit, but better than if I hadn't done anything at all. My goal this time around is focus on grammar and simply just get used to the test. You can always take practice tests at home, but there is something different about actually going and taking the test. I want to get as much experience with it as possible. I know more than a few people who have spent 2 or 3 years trying to pass the exam, so I think I might be in it for the long haul. If you are taking the test I wish you the best of luck. I hope that you can pass it and move on to the next level if that is your goal. To give you the best possible opportunity to pass the test, I thought I'd go over my general pre-test ritual. Right after Work Yes, believe it or not I work on Saturdays, so I usually get home around 7 or 8. Of course, I never go out a night before the test. I just try to take it easy as much as possible. I think of it as a little vacation of the mind if you will. I don't try to do anything that might end up stressing me out. Typically this means completely vegging out in front of the TV or just chatting with my wife over dinner. I don't want to crack too many books because I kind of figure that if I don't know it now, then I just won't know it. I also try to eat a light healthy meal that is free of too much fat or loaded down with anything remotely hard to digest. I don't want to wait until the night before the exam to try some spicy Thai food. I go into more detail about a good meal plan in my 5 Biggest Mistakes People Make on the JLPT eBook, if you are interested in learning more. Right before Bed I try to make it to bed at a regular hour and make sure everything is cleared out. I want everything sorted before I lay down for the night. Make sure all the bills are paid, the trash is taken out,

 JLPT BC 85 | Myths about Goals | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 24:16

So, I'm really starting to get into Harry Potter.  As I said before there is a lot of imagery even in the first couple scenes.  I've also been spotting a lot of N1 grammar points that I learned, too.  That was one thing that I was a little surprised about.  I've always been told that N1 grammar is not used so often, but in fact some of it is used in fairly casual writing. With my new, crazy schedule that I have thanks to my new bundle of joy, I've found myself squeezing in study sessions as much as I can whenever I can.  Even if I have a few spare moments, I'll have my iPhone out drilling through a few words to try to get them down pat.  It looks like I have to absorb about 20 or 30 words a day to be on track to pass the test in December, so I'm doing as much drilling as I possible can. On top of all this I caught I cold, so I had to take a step back and restrain myself a little bit.  As strange as it sounds, I find it really hard to just relax and sleep for 8 hours.  Even when I'm sick I seem to be wide awake 6 hours after I go to sleep.  I've had to really try to calm down and take it easy this week. Goals Gone Wrong As a podcaster, I happen to listen to a lot of other podcasts on a usual basis.  One of my most favorite podcasts is the 'Stuff You Should Know' podcast, which I highly recommend you give a listen to.  They cover all sorts of crazy conversational tidbits to feed your brain with. One of their more recent episodes was about goals and how Western society is sometimes fixated on making and achieving goals.  But, sometimes goals our good for you and important, and other times goals can be a bit harmful.  They actually went into a lot of detail in the podcast, so I encourage you to check it out if you have time. I think goals are something that are always on your mind if you are studying for the JLPT because the test is pretty much built for goals.  It is divided out into levels so you can go through them step by step and see your progress, there are groups of words divided out by each level to help you see your progress as well.  One of the greatest advantages of taking the test actually is that the tests form solid achievable goals for you to follow. So, it is important to know what can help you move toward those goals and what will lead you away from those goals.  There are actually a lot of common myths out there about goals that I was actually unaware of before I listened to the SYSK podcast.  I thought I'd go over a few, to keep you from sabotaging yourself as you study for the test. A Handful of Goal Myths One myth that I have heard before about goals is to focus on someone that you admire that has achieved that goal.  This doesn't seem to work actually.  My guess is that if you are focusing on someone else you might start to think that they can do it, but you can't possible do it. Thinking about all the negative things that will happen if you don't make your goal can also have a negative effect.  This seems to make pretty good sense to me.  If you are focused on all the negative stuff, you might end up putting too much pressure on yourself and getting stressed out. Another thing that negatively impacted people achieving goals is to supress negative thoughts or unhelpful thoughts.  I personally think it is better to confront those negative thoughts and find out why you are having them in the first place instead of just plain trying to supress them. One big myth that goes around a lot is that you can rely on willpower alone.  There is a bit of movement at the moment that if you can visualize something, you can make it a reality.  Although it is important to have good willpower, that alone is not going to get you through to your goal. The last one that they mentioned was over-fantasizing about what it will be like when you achieve your goal.  It is easy to get carried away with what you can achieve with your goals.  You can achieve a lot but you still need to be realistic.

 JLPT BC 84 | Sleeping your way to a Better Score | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 22:17

So, as I said last week. I finished off ほぼ日 and now I'm moving on to some Harry Potter. Specifically, I'm working my way through Harry Potter : The Sorcerer's Stone, in other words the first Harry Potter book. I listened to the English audio book so I have a general idea of the story and what the characters are like. This book is turning out to be a little bit harder than a thought, but a fun challenge. I've only been through about 10 pages and all ready I've added 70 new words to my word list. All of it is new descriptive words though that are pretty easy to understand without too much work. I'll probably eventually put up an entire list of the more difficult vocabulary on memrise for everyone, once I get deeper into the book. Speaking of vocabulary, I'm afraid I might have to tone down my vocabulary learning. My lightening speed of trying to absorb 20-30 words a day is starting to catch up with me and my busy schedule. The words that I have to review on memrise is getting to be a little too much for me in one morning session and I've had to start doing two sessions, which I really don't have time for. Sleeping your way to a Higher Score on the JLPT Lately, as you can probably imagine, I've had a pretty hard time getting a good night's sleep. My daughter loves to get up at random times in the night and serenade me with her screams. I know, deep down inside, she just wants to tell me about her day, but alas she is only 2 months old. So, I've been waking up in the middle of the night, partially waking up, and taking naps when I can. I've also just been plain busy of late with the growth of the popularity of the site, which by the way is perfectly fine with me. But, all this craziness means less shut eye for me. I'm starting to feel a bit like a machine that is starting to get a bit worn out. Things are not sticking in my head as well as they used to. And I know a lot of you get stuck in this same predicament as well, so I figured I do a little research into sleep. Sleeping = Good It turns out that not a whole lot of people know a lot about sleep. We all apparently do it, but no one is completely sure why or what happens. However, most scientists believe that sleep helps you consolidate your thoughts. In some recent studies, scientists discovered that getting a healthy amount of sleep can help you build connections in your head and improve your creativity in a subconscious way. Also, it is generally believed that if you study something or are exposed something right before sleep you'll dream about it. This, in turn, helps reinforce the knowledge in your head. So, you know all those difficult grammar points you are trying to remember? How about giving them a read through once before you turn in for the night. Overall, scientists don't exactly know what process during sleep helps you do this, but they pretty unanimous about one thing. That is that sleep is good for you. (I know, a big shocker there, right?) Get Good Sleep All right, so you should get good sleep, but how do you go about doing that if you are burning the candle at both ends or if you are like me and have a baby that loves to keep you up? You always hear about the fact that you should try to get 8 hours in, and that is great and all, but that is for normal people, right? Well, there are a few tricks you can pull to trick your mind into being more awake. First of all, if you have the ability to do so, I highly recommend a siesta. Yes, those Spanish folk are not lazy, they are actually on to something. Taking a 15 minute snoozer in the middle of the day (around 2 or 3 pm) can help boost your brain power. An added benefit is that if you are doing a study marathon all day, taking a short little nap in the middle will help to break it up and improve your memory because the day won't seem like just one big blur. If you want to add a little kick to this routine, down a cup of coffee before you lay down for the nap.

 JLPT BC 83 | Making Use of What you Got | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 24:18

I finally, finally, finished ほぼ日!  Overall, it was a pretty good book.  I think if you were interested in the web and especially about how the internet is used in Japan, it is a pretty good read.  Overall, Itoi talks about how he built up the ほぼ日 websi...


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