The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) has come and gone and that means I have some free time to actually write and do fun stuff! The reason June was so scarce was because I spend almost every free minute studying for the damn thing. I passed the N4 last winter so I decided to take on the N3 this summer. In terms of difficulty, the N3 is in the middle—and it’s also the newest level; it was introduced only a couple of years ago. The JLPT can only be taken twice a year and is pretty expensive so if you decide to take it, you better actually try to pass it.
One of my regrets was not preparing earlier for it. I figured if I started studying it a month in advance I would have a good chance in passing it. So, I ended up buying a couple of textbooks specifically for the N3. The way these textbooks are made is for you to study a section every day. At the end of the week, you are quizzed on what you learned. I bought the kanji and grammar books as I knew these were my two main weaknesses. It wasn’t too bad to follow along at first but it got more and more difficult as the weeks went on. The biggest problem is trying to remember everything you had studied to that point. I had remembered the current week’s information but had almost forgotten everything from the first week. You also cram a lot of stuff, especially grammar. Some days you study 5 different grammar points! I got up to the end of week 4. So I would say I have studied 80 or so different pieces of grammar in a matter of a month and still had two weeks that I couldn’t finish in time. How can one possibly remember all of that?
Needless to say, I gave up on trying to finish the whole thing and started to review what I had already learned. My tutor also helped immensely because the explanation of the books weren’t exactly great. What really broke my spirit though was on the week before the test, I took a couple of practice tests. Needless to say, I did far from well—my tutor just simply said “Please do your best” at the end of our final meeting before the test…I could tell we both knew it was going to be a long shot.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the day of the test surprisingly had a lot of drama. I was sitting with some of the most idiotic people. In the test room, you’re only allowed to have some pencils, eraser and a watch on your desk. Like in a soccer game, the staff has yellow and red cards. Yellow cards mean a warning—these are given if you open your test booklet before being notified, a phone going off during instructions, etc. Red cards mean you are instantly disqualified and things like having something go off during the listening part or clearly trying to cheat causes this. Getting two yellow cards is the equivalent of a red card.
So basically turn off your phones, make sure your alarm isn’t set and follow instructions. Common sense, right? Well, apparently this was too difficult for my room. At least five people got warnings for opening their books too early, even though the lady was clearly saying “Don’t open your books” constantly after the first person did it. My guess is that at least a few people were trying to cheat. During the first part of the test, I heard a few phones and some beeps going off around me. Somehow, the staff didn’t really notice it. Whatever.
The most frustrating part was the second section of the test—reading. This is my Achille’s heel so I was already not very hopeful. However, before the test began, I heard a watch going off yet again…I’m pretty sure it was directly behind me. At this point, one of the staff walked by us and said “I just heard a beeping noise..whose watch was that?” Before anyone had a chance to reply, the guy next to me pointed at me and said “It was his.” What the fuck? I clearly made sure my alarm was off as well as the sound so I protested this. The staff wasn’t really buying it though and told me “Well, since the test hasn’t started yet, you aren’t going to get a warning but if it does go off during the test..you’re out.” I shot an angry look at the guy next to me—he had some fucking nerve to accuse me when it was somebody else. Of course, who’s going to admit to that? Needless to say, this shook me up a bit because I began to doubt myself…what if it was my watch? What if my alarm goes off during the test? What if I get kicked out? I got really paranoid and nervous for the first quarter of the reading section…it really wasn’t good. Eventually, I snapped out of it and tried my best. I don’t think it was enough though.
As if this wasn’t enough, a cell phone was vibrating again. I figured the person who had it would be smart enough to turn it off during the second section, but I guess not. This time, the staff clearly heard it and were walking around our area, trying to determine the origin. I couldn’t tell at first and I was honestly too busy worried about my own problems.
When the staff were collecting the papers, we heard yet another watch beep. This time, I knew it wasn’t me for sure. Regardless, people were still looking at me. Luckily, it went off after the test so no one was penalized. The guy next to me was about to make some snarky comment when the cell phone went off again. This time, we all knew it was coming from his bag. He tried to play it off like a mistake and just shrugged after he pulled it out. No one was buying it though. Karma, bitch!
At this point, the entire staff was suspicious at our end. One guy kept looking at me whenever comments about watch alarms going off and asking me “You sure you’re alright?” I felt like he was trying to look out for me as opposed to judging me, which was a relief. I overheard a comment about them going to do something before the final section of the test. Out of sheer paranoia, I threw my ghetto watch into the trash during the break. There was no way I was going to take a risk; even just having a digital watch on my desk would look bad.
At the beginning of the third section, the staff asked for all of us to put our cell phones on our desks. Now I knew some serious shit was going down. Each staff member inspected our phones to make sure they were off. After that, we were once again warned about the beeps of a digital watch. When they hovered around us, I noticed that no one no longer had a watch on their desk anymore. The staff came to us and asked us if we would be okay with our watches. I simply said I was fine and was happy they didn’t ask me where did my watch go—if I said I threw it away, it would probably look very suspicious. After being repeated the same question a few times, they finally gave up and we continued the test with no problem. One annoying thing was the asshole next to me kept saying “Yep, we’re fine. We’re okay” in the most annoying tone.
I can’t believe how much outside factors affected me during this summer’s JLPT. I thought it was bullshit and I really wish people could have more common sense to prevent this shit from happening. And if they were trying to cheat, there is no reason why everyone else should take the fall. I could tell I was only a few steps away from being red carded. I hope next time I take this thing, it’s uneventful.