JLPT 2008 debriefing


I was out of town for a couple of days and returned at an unholy hour early this morning. With nearly every muscle in my body crying out in protest over a punishing eight-hour nighttime bus ride (sleep was impossible thanks to a lethal cocktail of boredom, onboard videoke equipment and rowdy travelling companions who fancied themselves singers), I half-dragged myself through the door and went upstairs towards my waiting bed.

But not before spying a brown paper envelope from the Japan Foundation containing my score report for the December 2008 Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

Here’s a long and mercilessly rambling account of the damage.


The short story: I sat Level 3 of the JLPT in December last year and the results have now been made available.

The long story: Several months ago, I was all set to apply to sit Level 4 of the JLPT. My qualifications at that point in time were best suited for that level, with approximately half of my school’s elementary Japanese course under my belt and the unit I was enrolled in about to cover the information I still lacked. But on the first day of class, our new instructor broached an interesting suggestion: since we were almost guaranteed to pass Level 4 anyway (by the end of that unit at least), we might as well go for broke and try for Level 3 instead.

Now that idea gave me some pause. Level 3 assumes a limited mastery of grammar, knowledge of approximately 300 kanji and an arsenal of about 1,500 words. In short, just a basic grasp of the fundamentals of the language – but the requirements were still much more than what I had at that point in time. After perusing some reference materials (including questions from previous exams), I decided that (a) I was definitely underqualified and (b) there wasn’t nearly enough time to thoroughly cover everything I had to know by December. On the other hand, it appeared that I could at least reduce the deficiency through a regimen of rigorous self-studying and extra research, and since I was only taking the JLPT as a form of self-assessment (not for a university application, career advancement or any other pressing need) – and also because I thought it would be an amusing exercise – a failing mark wasn’t something to be dreaded.

Throwing caution to the winds, I signed up for the higher level.

Then came the preparations. Our instructor very kindly helped us along, devoting a few extra minutes before each session to advanced studies and providing a wealth of useful reference material. Those of us who took her Level 3 suggestion had to do our bit of course, so I became a regular visitor at the Japan Foundation’s well-stocked research library in Makati, raiding their language shelves for books and other materials that would help me build a solid foundation for the JLPT. The best part was that they had copies of recent exam papers on hand (with official answer keys), together with complete recordings of the listening portion – all very useful for developing a good feel for the actual test.

I devoted as much time as possible to the endeavour, even hitting the books during free moments at work; thankfully, many of the people at the office (my superiors included) knew I was studying Japanese and didn’t seem to mind. A couple of months before the big day, I did a status reassessment and confirmed that I won’t be able to take in all I was supposed to know, but that I also had a real chance of at least squeaking through with a marginal pass. Towards the end of the study period, I diagnosed myself using the JLPT exam papers from 2006 and 2007, managing to rate a pass – although the exercise ended up contributing even more pre-exam stress by highlighting the gaps in my knowledge that still existed so near the big day.

7 December 2008. The day of wrath. Out of the expected coverage of the Level 3 exam, I had less than three-fifths through formal classroom studies; the rest I picked up (or at least tried to) through my personal cram school.

Fast forward to 11 March 2009. I opened the envelope, pulled out the paperwork and read the score report for my Level 3 test.


Writing/Vocabulary: 91/100 (91.00%). Better than expected. I had by that point learned more than the minimum number of kanji for Level 3, but by my reckoning I was still several dozen short of a set that would guarantee a satisfactory mark.

Listening: 96/100 (96.00%). I was very pleasantly surprised by the outcome, in view of past experience. The listening portion is where I normally trip up in the exams given at my language school.

Reading/Grammar: 176/200 (88.00%). Based on my pre-exam diagnostics, this was the biggest hole in my ship and the one most likely to sink the whole endeavour. No nasty surprises here; this less-than-stellar result was still better than my initial expectations.

Overall: 363/400 (90.75%) Hmm, so that’s why the score report came with a certificate. 😉


In practical terms, a Level 3 certification probably doesn’t mean very much. Sure, I can run linguistic rings around toddlers, but I imagine even Japanese first-graders can easily out-converse and out-write me until my nose squirts blood and my skin shrivels from excessive sweatdropping. On the other hand, it’s a great morale booster, a sound assessment tool for determining what I still need to brush up on, and lays a good foundation for future studies. Even though a substantial portion of what I tried to cram in during the hectic period before exam day has already leaked out, a lot has remained – certainly enough to make studying much easier when I cover the same ground again in the next few months, this time in greater depth and at a more leisurely pace. And that’s not even the best part.

The best part is that I’ve got a spiffy new certificate to hang on my wall. Heh heh.

8 Responses

  1. w00t!!! Congrats!!! I am amazed by your listening skillz. I forgot what my score in the listening section of JLPT3 was, but I know for sure it’s the lowest of them all. I could ace the vocab, and prolly reading/grammar, but listening… not a chance.

    You have a high chance of passing JLPT2 at this rate, just keep on reading moar stuff (for the lengthy reading comprehension essays), and familiarize yourself with the JLPT2 grammar stuff ^^

  2. @usagijen: Thanks! My knees are already quaking at the mere thought of “comprehension essays”, but it’s still full steam ahead for JLPT2!

  3. Oh god, you did way way better than I did at level 4. Since there’s going to be a new 3 now (between the 3 and 2 of now), you might as well go for broke and take level 2 😀

  4. Hell yeah, that’s a pretty great score you got there. Looks like you are well on your way wheee.

    Then again, I am pretty easy to impress, since I haven’t got formal learning of Japanese, or undertaken any JLPT testing.

  5. @Zeroblade: When classes ended in January, our instructor gave us an interesting parting gift: advanced study materials for Level 2. No reason why I should let those go to waste!

    In any case, I think Level 2 is the best next step for a current Level 3 passer. Even someone who wishes to take the “new” Level 3 would have to wait until 2010 for the revised test to be rolled out, which means that they’ll have more than a year to prepare – enough for them to complete the coverage for Level 2, I would imagine.

    @icie: Thanks. Level 3 isn’t far up the scale as Japanese proficiency goes, but it’s certainly a great start.

  6. I like your eloquent description 🙂

    Your scores were very high! Congratulations! 🙂

  7. @Kitsune: Thanks!

  8. What is a linguistic ring?

    It has now been 2 years since you took the jlpt level 3. I guess you have not taken or haven’t passed the level 2? What good did taking the jlpt 3 do you? I think it is worthless myself. The level 3 (now n4) is really remedial so people taking it get a false sense of accomplishment from it if they pass, wouldn’t you say? I think it is detrimental to get a false sense of proficiency or accomplishment. People would be better off without taking a test like that. I think people should only take a jlpt if it will help them get a job or get into school or such. The level 3 won’t do anything except impart a false pride.

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