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!