JLPT N1 #2: December 2019

One of my language goals for 2019 was to take and pass the JLPT N1 in December. Midway, I took the test of July to evaluate my level and… I passed! This completely upset my plans for the second half of the year. I had planned to work on reading and listening between July and December (as I had focused on vocabulary and grammar from January to July), but I must admit that I haven’t studied a lot after I got my results of the July test 😅

I decided to take the December test anyway as a reminder that learning a language is a continual and steady process, that reaching a milestone does not mean I am allowed to drop my efforts.

I thought that the JLPT of December would be a disaster, but the test of December happened to be easier than the test of July.

July vs December

As I mentioned before, I haven’t made huge progress between July and December, and I am absolutely not saying that I did well during the test. However, I could perceive that the topics chosen were easier than those of July.

First of all, I found the vocabulary and grammar part a tiny bit easier than in July, but it is hard to tell and it is very subjective. What struck me as noticeably easier are the reading and listening sections.

First of all, the reading in N1 is tough and the questions are as tricky as ever. But, in July, there was at least one text that I could not understand no matter what. And if I remember correctly there were one or two others that were really difficult. In December however, I was able to understand every text. Of course, this does not mean that I answered correctly because answering these tricky JLPT questions falls under a completely different skill. But if the test asked us to translate or to explain what the texts are about, then I would without a doubt get a better score in December than in July.

But the most obvious change of level was the listening section. Once again, my listening level is very low so I always have a hard time answering the questions. However, I can always say what the audio is about. In July, I found that there were almost only office related discussions, professional situations, or worse, topics that involved technical vocabulary.

In December, on the contrary, I found a lot of casual/every day/friends and family kind of discussions that you practise a lot in JLPT textbooks. Some audios and questions were actually easy for a N1 level. Contrary to July, I know for sure that I answered right at least some of them. What I found hard was the pace of the audio and the fact that if you miss one vital information, you won’t be able to answer correctly.

My conclusion is that some tests are tougher than others. It seems obvious that they cannot produce tests that are the exact same level every time. Of course, the appreciation of the level is also very subjective. If you are working in Japan, maybe those office/work discussions will sound easy and familiar. As for me, it was a relief to see that the topics chosen fell in my comfort zone.

How thinking I had 10 minutes more (than I actually had) helped me during the reading section

During the test of December, I did the worst thing you can do: I messed up with time. I knew we had until 15:20 to complete the first part of the test, it was written on the board and I had memorised it, but still, during the whole reading section, I thought I had until 15:30…

And I was very proud of myself to notice, after each text, that I had quite a comfortable amount of remaining time. As a result, I took my time to read the texts slowly, and re-read all the passages that contained the keys to the questions. I even took time to breathe between the texts, haha.

When I reached the last text (where you have to find information in a notice), I thought I had ample time (15 minutes!) to answer it and go back to some of the grammar questions I wasn’t sure of. Suddenly there was an announcement saying that were only 5 minutes remaining 😱. 5 minutes should be enough to read the whole notice and answer the two questions, but I completely panicked! 🤯

I may have failed the last question, but overall, thinking that I had more time than I actually had helped me perform better on the whole reading section. This proves how far stress can affect our performance. I am not really stressed by the JLPT because I am doing it for fun, and nothing bad will happen if I don’t pass. But still, knowing that there are only 10 minutes left and seeing that we still have that ultra-long and difficult text to read… this is stressful! When you are stressed because you know that you don’t have enough time, you want to read faster. But if you read too fast, you will not understand what you read, which will stress you even more until you are not capable to concentrate on what you are reading and you just try to pick up bits of information here and there.

This is what happened to me during the last question, when I realised I only had 5 minutes left, and not 15 as I thought. But for the rest, I was able to keep a cool head and read everything pretty calmly, which improved my capacity to understand the texts.

Strategy for reading

In my blissful illusion that I had 10 extra minutes to finish the test, I managed to follow a strategy for reading that, hopefully, will prove to be efficient.

First of all, I read the text once and slowly without looking at the questions. Usually, I understand what the text is about and what the author wants to say.

Then I read the questions and what happens is this: one answer is obviously wrong and the three other answers are obviously right. This is a phenomenon I noticed in July too. I didn’t have this problem when I took N2. For N2, I would be able to pick the right answer without returning to the text or re-read passages.

But for N1, three or at least two answers looked very similar. In July, I flustered a bit and chose the answer that I thought was the best. I relied more on my perception of the text than the text itself.

On Sunday (December), as I thought I had ample time, I was able to go back to the text calmly and find the paragraph where I would find the answer. I was also able to closely compare the answers that look similar or “could” be right. I tried to note in what way they differ in order to find concrete clues in the text that would show which answer is the correct one. Sometimes I even found evidence that the correct answer was not the one I would have picked “by feeling”.


This post is all about me saying how December was easier than July and how I found a good strategy for the reading section and so on… haha, if I don’t pass or if I end up with lower scores than in July what will people think of me? 😳😅

But compared to my apprehension before the test (due to my lack of serious study during the second half of the year), things went… not so bad.

If you took the JLPT in december, how did it go? Have a nice end of the year!

10 thoughts on “JLPT N1 #2: December 2019

  1. I took N1 this December as well, and it went awful. Listening is usually my strongest section by far. When I did sample tests I got 80-90% right on them, but during the actual test I spaced out right in the beginning and then panicked because I hadn’t paid attention at all which was the begging of an end for my listening section. I simply couldn’t put myself together🤦‍♀️
    The vocabulary and reading sections didn’t seem too difficult, so I hope that maybe they can pull me through somehow🤷‍♀️

    1. Oh yes, I had an awful beginning too! I remember that the first question was supposed to be super easy (a man that had damaged a book from the library I think), I was sure I could answer it right because it was an easy topic, but somehow I missed the information and was so angry at myself I could not fully concentrate on the next ones!

      But you have certainly done better than you think! I hope that you’ll pass!!

  2. I actually messed up time-wise in the reading section too (the clock in the classroom was 10 minutes forward and we had to start and finish the test according to it), and did the last reading task rather panicked. ^^” I found some of the texts and the kanji section quite challenging, which comes to show that I still have a lot of room for improvement. It’s really helpful to see your comparison with the July test, though! I wish you good luck in your results!

    1. Oh this is so strange! It must have been confusing for those who checked the time on their own watch! 😮
      I didn’t mention it in my post, but there were a lot of words I didn’t know in the vocabulary/kanji section, I also have room for improvement…
      I really hope you will pass! ☺️ Let’s enjoy the the end of the year while waiting for the results.

  3. Wow! Congratulations on passing the N1. I somehow managed to pass mine too. It feels so strange to be able to manage such a long and relatively difficult test knowing that it would have been completely impossible just a few years earlier. I agree with your thoughts on stress, it makes such a big difference when you’re taking the test as a hobby versus taking it for a job or during university.

    I’ve heard a lot of different pet theories about people who think the December test is easier. I didn’t get to take the July test in 2019, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who write the exam were to accidentally make the exam easier or harder when they tried to change all the subject matter. Do you think you’ll take it again in 2020? I’m thinking I probably should, but it’s not a cheap test ><

    1. Thank you very much! And congratulations on passing N1!! Haha yes, I remember the time when N1 test takers looked like some kinds of Japanese experts to me. Now that I got N1 myself, I realise how much I still have to learn… 😅

      I didn’t know that people tend to find December easier than July, that’s interesting! I’m still debating whether I should take the test in 2020… on the one hand, I’d like to enjoy a year without test, but on the other hand, I know that I make huge progress when I prepare for the JLPT 🤔

  4. Hello In-hae san,

    I enjoyed your blog a lot over the past couple of days (since that’s the time i discovered and started going through your entries). I am a fellow Japanese language student currently studying for July JLPT N1 2020. I just cleared N2 in December 2019(Score – 130 ). I am really looking forward to your JLPT related entries especially. I also work full time so I can’t dedicate as much time as I would like to although I do really want to study for the July attempt. The long months of dedicated study and concentration requires a lot of motivation and your blog seems to be doing just that for me – どうもありがとうございます 🙂

    1. Thank you very much for your comment! And congratulations on passing N2! 

      Good luck for your N1 preparation. Half a year is not much, especially with a full-time job, but your N2 score is well over the passing score, so I think that your level is close to N1 anyway 🙂

      Unfortunately, I will not post much about the JLPT this year, because I mainly focus on reading books…

      Thank you again, and good luck!

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