Only two weeks left before the JLPT of December! It might be too late to digest tons of vocabulary and grammar, but it is not too late to practise listening and reading.
Practise to improve your concentration
Contrary to the “language knowledge” section, there is something you need in order to beat the reading and listening section: the capacity to stay concentrated in Japanese during more than one hour for each section.
Strangely enough, this is something that is often overlooked during the preparation for the JLPT. We tend to focus on being able to understand written or spoken Japanese, but what is also difficult is to understand Japanese for one hour long.
I have taken enough real tests and practice tests to know that my concentration will not stay on top during the whole listening and reading section. When I reach half of each of these sections, I begin to feel tired and not only does my comprehension weaken, but I am also tempted to pick an answer randomly and be done with it.
Comprehension and concentration are two different things
I could spend the whole day reading detective novels in my mother tongue, but not in Japanese. I can read around 30 pages in a row, but then I start feeling tired. This has nothing to do with my capacity to understand Japanese because I can understand what I read without problems. But I feel exhausted. The story might be suspenseful, and yes I want to know what will happen next, but after 30 pages I disconnect, and I don’t want to read anymore.
This proves that the capacity to understand a text in a foreign language and the capacity to read in this language for long periods of time are two separate things. As a consequence, you need to work on both. Being able to understand what you read or hear does not guarantee that you will be able to do so for one hour. Reading in a foreign language or listening to something in a foreign language is exhausting. If you don’t work on your stamina, you will be so tired and fed up during the JLPT that everything will seem harder than it really is.
To sum up: 1) Keep learning new words and grammar points to be able to tackle difficult texts/audio. 2) Practise reading to improve your reading speed: if you read a lot, you will be able to read quicker and to make up for unknown words by guessing the meaning from the context. Practise listening to improve your capacity to recognise the words you learned and to be able to process information quicker. 3) Practise reading and listening for long periods of time to be able to go through the 12 texts (N1) and numerous audio of the JLPT. Concentration is a skill on its own, don’t neglect it!
How to practise?
To me, the best way to practise for the JLPT is to combine two different exercises:
- Short but intense practice: study a short passage of a text or audio to improve your comprehension.
- Train your concentration by reading or listening to Japanese for a fixed period of time.
The first exercise will improve your capacity to understand difficult texts or audio. Take any short text or audio and study it in depth. For example, you can:
- Written text: read it several times and try to understand, look up unknown words and check difficult grammar patterns, translate the text in your mother tongue.
- Audio: listen several times until you understand as much as you can without checking the script, then look up words with the script, listen again to the audio until you can identify every part of it. I would even go as far as to say: listen to it until you know it almost by heart.
If you don’t know where to find audio with scripts, I recommend checking the NHK Radio News website or podcasts. I am sure that a lot of Japanese learners know this podcast, but what you might not know is that journalists are often simply reading articles that you can find on NHK. They will sometimes omit a sentence or rephrase something, but most of what they say is the article unchanged (at least for the 7am broadcast, the only one I listen to). The easiest way to find matching articles is certainly to check the website in the morning. Listen to the first broadcast at 7am and check the website. You should find the articles read in the audio on the homepage or the section 新着ニュース一覧. If you check later in the day, the articles will be harder to find, and you will have to search for them using keywords.
To give you an example:
Another thing that you can do if you can afford it is to buy a book and its audiobook. You can find audiobooks on the website audiobook.jp. I recommend looking at non-fiction because it will be closer to what you will encounter during the JLPT. It might be expensive, but once you have the audio and the physical (or digital) versions of a book, you will be able to get a lot of practice out of it.
The second exercise that I mentioned above is here to train your stamina. The idea is to read or listen to Japanese for a fixed period of time. Start with a short period of time like 20 minutes and slowly increase the time you spend reading or listening. Aim at 1 hour.
You don’t need to study what you read or listen to, but you should definitely try to understand it. It is different from passive immersion. It will not do if you listen to Japanese for one hour while doing other tasks: what you want to train is your concentration, not your Japanese. Even if you are bored or want to stop before the time is out, force yourself to keep going until the end.
To sum up, make intense study sessions with short texts and audio to improve your reading and listening abilities in Japanese. The more you practise, the easier it will become to tackle difficult texts. At the same time, be sure that you can read or listen to Japanese for around one hour by training your concentration. The JLPT does not test you on your capacity to understand Japanese only, it also tests you on your ability to deal with Japanese material for a long time. Not only that, but you also have to answer questions and deal with time and stress during the test. All of this will be exhausting, so improve your concentration and focus before the test!
Practice with Korean mock tests (even if you don’t read Korean)
I live in Korea, which might be the best place in the world to buy JLPT textbooks!
The big majority of JLPT test takers are in Japan and China, but South Korea comes third, with 54,611 inscriptions and 41,972 actual test takers for the JLPT of December 2018. (source) As a result, publishers regularly come out with new textbooks.
You can use some of these Korean textbooks even if you don’t read Korean. Reading and listening textbooks especially are often collections of practice tests, so you can definitely use them without any knowledge of Korean.
I know that it is not easy to buy Korean books from other countries, but I found that some JLPT textbooks are available on the Google Play store as e-books.
I already mentioned them in a previous post, but I really think that these two textbooks are worth getting if you want to practice listening and reading with JLPT materials:
- To practice listening: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 청해
- To practice reading: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 독해
In the Google Play store, just copy-paste the title you are interested in (with the level you want). N4 and N5 are together in the same textbook. 청해 means “listening comprehension” and 독해 means “reading comprehension”. It is the only word that changes in the title of the textbook.
I have the physical copy of both for N1 and studied them entirely. These books are composed of practice tests only. They are very different from Japanese textbooks like Shin Kanzen or So-matome that have lessons and exercises.
This is the composition of each book:
Listening: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 청해
- Task-based comprehension = 9 tracks
- Comprehension of key points = 9 tracks
- Comprehension of general outline = 9 tracks
- Quick response = 29 tracks
- Integrated comprehension = 9 tracks
- Final test = 3 tests
Reading: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 독해
- Comprehension (short passages) = 12 texts
- Comprehension (mid-size passages) = 10 texts
- Comprehension (long passages) = 7 texts
- Integrated comprehension = 7 texts
- Thematic comprehension (long passages) = 6 texts
- Information retrieval = 7 texts
- Final test = 2 tests
“Final test” is the reading or listening section as it would appear in the real test.
In the reading book, the text and the questions are translated in Korean. There is also Japanese-Korean vocabulary. In the listening one, you will find the script of the audio in Japanese with furigana, its translation in Korean and again, some vocabulary Japanese-Korean.
I recommend checking the free sample of the reading textbook as it gives you access to a generous portion of the book (you can actually practise the whole 12 texts of the “Comprehension (short passages)” section and the 5 first texts of the “Comprehension (mid-size passages)” section).
As for the listening books, you can download the audio for free on the website. The only issue is that you will have to create an account to be able to download or listen to the mp3 from your computer, and this can be a hassle if you don’t read Korean. However, the good news is that you can listen to the mp3 files on the website without login in if you access them via your phone (at least, this is how it works with me). Just copy-paste the title you want on the website http://www.darakwon.co.kr/ and look for the “mp3” button. You could also just listen to the audio to practice your listening skills with JLPT material, without answering the questions (if you don’t have the textbook).
While I find that the language knowledge section (vocabulary and grammar) is very straightforward (either you know the answer or you don’t), I think that a lot of factors can lower your score at the reading and listening sections: have you slept enough the previous night? are you tired? are you focusing too much on the clock? Even if your Japanese level is high enough to pass the test, you could lose precious points just because you cannot stay concentrated until the end… Practice is key!