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The 日本語能力試験 (Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken, Japanese-Language Proficiency Test), colloquially referred to as the JLPT, will be held Dec. 6 — the first time in a year since the summer exam was canceled due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

For many 受験者 (jukensha, examinees), a good result on the 日本語能力試験 is a ticket to work and a comfortable life in Japan. With 10 days to go, however, the question remains as to how you can make the most of your time.

Hopefully, you’ve made studying a part of your weekly routine, but there are still things you can do when it comes to the days before the exam. Koji Takada is a Japanese teacher who works as an editor of Japanese-language textbooks for The Japan Times Publishing and he suggests prioritizing 模擬試験 (mogi shiken, trial exams) in the run-up to Dec. 6.

Much like the actual JLPT, 模擬試験 generally consist of three sections: 文字 (moji, letters) and 語彙 (goi, vocabulary), which includes 漢字 (kanji, kanji); 文法 (bunpō, grammar) and 読解 (dokkai, reading comprehension); and 聴解 (chōkai, listening). Takada considers 読解 to be the most time-consuming element, so focusing your efforts on reading comprehension in the practice exams will give you an idea of how fast you need to work to cover all the exam questions in a limited time. In his words, “試験は時間との闘い” (shiken wa jikan to no tatakai, the exam is a fight against time).

A common question Takada gets as the test approaches is, “新しい問題集を解くべきですか?” (Atarashii mondaishū o toku beki desu ka, Should I try some new workbook?) However, he says it’s better to focus on 復習 (fukushū, review) rather than trying out new workbooks and attempting to memorize new words. The repetition involved with 復習 will help to improve your memory of idioms and 語彙 that you faintly remember — which in turn will contribute a little bit more to your test score.

If you haven’t already, carry around a 単語帳 (tangochō, vocabulary book) and jot down all the new words you come across. Then, at times like these, you can simply review what you’ve already done. Takada refers to this period of studying as a time for “記憶力の定着” (kiokuryoku no teichaku, stabilizing your memory).

Reading practice and vocabulary review, these two steps may help frame your week ahead. However, Takada finds two elements on the 日本語能力試験 to be particularly tricky for many 受験者, resulting in wrong answers that could likely have been avoided: 接続詞 (setsuzokushi, conjunctions) and 外来語 (gairaigo, foreign loan words).

The reason 接続詞 can be tricky is that you need to understand not just the meaning of the words themselves, but the relationship they serve in connecting two sentences. For example, the N3 level of the exam includes the following 接続詞: そのうえ (sono ue, in addition), しかし (shikashi, but), 実は(jitsu wa, actually) and それに (sore ni, besides). With those in mind, how best can you connect these two sentences: 予想よりも山の道を歩くのは大変で、足も痛かったです (yosō yori mo yama no michi o aruku no wa taihen de, ashi mo itakatta desu) and 朝日を見たら、それまでの疲れが消えていきました (asahi o mitara, sore made no tsukare ga kiete ikimashita).

While the first sentence states, “Climbing the mountain was tougher than I expected, it hurt my feet,” the second one says, “The fatigue went away after having seen the morning sunrise.”

The two sentences provide conflicting facts, so “しかし” is the right answer in this case.

外来語 may seem like they’d be easy for any English speaker to tackle as many of them are derived from the English language. However, Takada points out that 外来語 can be surprisingly problematic as the pronunciation of some of them are slightly different from the originals. For the 2018 JLPT N1 exam, there were questions that asked about the usage of four 外来語: データーベース (dētābēsu, database), ベテラン (beteran, veteran/expert), ライフワーク (raifuwāku, life’s work) and ノウハウ (nouhau, know-how).

Finally, Takada suggests that if you have left things to the last minute then you should give the “JLPT日本語能力試験 ベスト模試” (JLPT Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken Besuto Moshi, The Best Practice for Japanese-Language Proficiency Test) a try. It was a book he himself was involved in writing and editing, and there are five versions that each focus on a different level of the 日本語能力試験. Japan Times Publishing has also issued a new edition of its popular “げんき” (Genki) textbook series for N4- and N5-level learners, in case you’re too late to take the Dec. 6 exam and want to focus on next summer’s instead. Takada says that learning Japanese may be a long journey, but the results are worth it. 諦めずに頑張って! (Akiramezu ni ganbatte!, Never give up, and do your best!)

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