Why my JLPT Fail was Still a Win

by Buddy Lindsey

Yesterday was JLPT day and I did fail it. Whether it is graded that way or not I am not sure. However, I failed it in my opinion. That being said I would not trade the experience for anything in the world. I am going to include some picture of the trip too so not so much reading all at once.

01 Breakfast

My World of Japanese
Lets look at my world of Japanese first. I take a class at local community college and am president of the Japanese Language Club there. On the side I go to our local city Japanese Language Club meetings once in a while. As for study I watch hours of J-Drama and anime along with trying to follow ajatt with SRS and generally having fun with learning. Also if you read here much you know I blog about the Japanese Language too, like grammar for example. I realize now how small my world is.

02 On the Way

My JLPT Experience

Kanji Section
This I found was more of a misnomer because only about 2/3 of the section was actually kanji, which I rocked it hard, it was my best section. The last 1/3 of that section was more vocab than kanji, which is why I call it a misnomer. My biggest problem was I didn’t understand the instructions to well so I had to guess at what was going on. Since I sat in front of the classroom I could watch while they organized all the test answers sheets and saw I guessed mostly right on the instructions. Unfortunately my old nemesis vocabulary stepped in and struck me down, I have a huge problem remembering words. At the end this was my best section and I didn’t do so hot on it I think.

03 Our Ride

Listening Section
I utterly failed this section. I have a problem because of my ADD when I hear too many words in a conversation I get bored and my mind drifts. Well while that didn’t happen per se. The listening section had WAY to many words.

Essentially the listening section was a recording and the instructions before they started the CD said “We are now going to start the test”. Well to me that means staring at number one. It took me about 2 minutes to realize they were starting on example 1. All words on the CD where in Japanese and probably only half of the CD by the end pertained to actual questions. So 3/4 of the way through that section I had heard to many words and couldn’t concentrate anymore. I now know a new problem to overcome.

I think this was an important section because it really re-enforces that there is a lot of Japanese to pay attention to listening wise.

07 Entering Test Town

Grammar Section
Grammar part was the second hardest part for me. What I found quite interesting was the grammar that I knew I am 90% sure I got right. However, there was a LOT of grammar I had never even seen before so it left some to be desired on my ability to answer these questions. I had to go with the best educated guess I could make.

12 Campus 05

What I learned

As I said before I failed this the JLPT in my opinion. However, it doesn’t bother because I had a great experience taking it. In my post “The JLPT CAN be Used to Measure Proficiency” I mentioned that it is all about the approach. I went in and didn’t take the test to pass it because it needed passing. I took it to measure skill passing didn’t matter all that much to me, would be nice though.

The biggest thing I learned is what I have been trying to avoid admitting to myself for a year now. That is I am using my Japanese class as a crutch to learning Japanese. I should be using it to compliment my learning Japanese. Instead I am putting my efforts into the class as my primary study method. I need to get back to AJATT and have class be secondary, but still pass the class.

I now realize more that I have a LONG way to go. In my little world I have seen a lot of Japanese, but have had no real effective gauge of exactly how much there is to learn. The book I use isn’t exactly the best at helping to show how dumbed down it is. Taking the JLPT has provided me a way to breakout of the normal day life and into another world of the Japanese language and prove to me I have a long ways to go still yet.

11 Campus 04

Final Thoughts and the Future

One thing I really enjoyed about the trip was getting to meet other people, in person, outside of my area that are learning Japanese too. It was a lot of fun to hear about there experiences, study techniques, and backgrounds. It was really cool to hear how many people were excited about Japanese, and to see how many nerds were there too, I include myself in that one.

I recommend everyone take the JLPT if you are learning no matter what level you take, just remember how you approach it. I’ll take the JLPT next year too, except i’ll go up one or 2 levels. My study habits need to change and will. And overall that is why the JLPT was a win for me because now I know how low on the skill level I really am where and what I need to improve. All is not lost and there is a bright future ahead in learning I am actually more energized after yesterday than anything else.

Have you taken the JLPT before and what was your experience like?

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 zonjineko December 7, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Nice article and well done on making it through your first attempt – best of luck for 2010 JLPT. I agree that the first test is a great learning experience and a real eye opener.


2 DumbOtaku December 7, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Yeah definitely leaves you a lot to think about. Next time shouldn't be so difficult since I have been through it once.


3 Jamaipanese December 7, 2009 at 2:17 pm

What level JLPT did you take?

Was good to read your experience and hopefully I can learn from it.


4 DumbOtaku December 7, 2009 at 2:21 pm

I took the JLPT 4 probably should have mentioned that. I hope someone is able to learn from my problems. :)


5 Yumeka December 7, 2009 at 5:16 pm

I've taken Levels 4 and 3. Did good on 4, barely passed 3. But I've taken a ton more Japanese classes since I took 3 in 2007 so I probably should try for 2 one of these days. The huge leap in difficulty from 3 to 2 kind of scares me though XD


6 gakusei January 11, 2010 at 3:13 pm

The new version of the test has five levels in order to bridge the huge gap formerly between 3 and 2, which are now levels 4 and 2, respetively. :)


7 attilam December 7, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience!

I'm thinking of taking JLPT next year (probably N5 for now), until then it's AJATT ;)


8 Jason H December 7, 2009 at 8:29 pm

I took my first JLPT a level below where I thought I should be just to get familiar with the test – how long each section is – how hard it is to follow the directions and listen to the CD, etc. It was good practice and I ended up just passing level 3 on my first try after living in Japan for just over a year. Level 2 looms as a difficult step up, so when I heard about a 2.5 test, I decided to wait and take that first perhaps.


9 Blue Shoe December 8, 2009 at 2:58 am

I took the Level 3 2 or 3 years ago and barely passed. I found the listening section especially tricky.

But yeah, I know what you mean…I'm studying for level 2 now (and there is a HUGE gap between levels 2 and 3, hence the 2010 revision) and the amount of new grammar is blowing my mind. Funny how learning new stuff can be simultaneously encouraging and frustrating.


10 percent20 December 8, 2009 at 3:41 am

It can be very frustrating at times. I understand that very well.


11 Ryan December 12, 2009 at 11:22 am

I wouldn’t beat yourself too much about the JLPT, you know, there’s always next year! Thing is, you never come out thinking that you’d done a great job, but you are sometimes surprised, so just take the experience on the chin.

I did 3 last year, and 2 this. I thought I’d cocked up 3, but it wasn’t the case, so there’s always hope at the end of the tunnel; just a shame our tunnel is all the way to March!


12 Gavin Veasey December 13, 2009 at 7:07 pm

Woo! The Waffle House!


13 Michael December 15, 2009 at 9:10 am


Good work taking the test. I know my comments about the JLPT1 being a small milestone sound harsh, but that's just from my perfectionist perspective and lucky position being able to work in Japan. Just remember that I was a beginner myself 7 years ago, starting with the konnichiwas and sayonaras. It's not impossible, but just make sure you don't trick yourself into thinking it's only going to take a few years. Be ready for the long haul and enjoy the process :)


14 Eido Inoue December 20, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Good job on taking the test. Just to get to the point where you're confident that you should be taking the JLPT is something to be proud of and separates you from the vast majority of those who learn Japanese.

And don't be so pessimistic: you don't know if you failed yet. IIRC, passing for level 4 is 60%. And the first two sections, which you said are weighted 25% each.

Quick notes: the first section is labeled 文字・語彙 {moji · goi}, which literally translates to "letters · vocabulary" and not "kanji." So technically the section name wasn't a misnomer if it included vocabulary. :) The third section is 読解・文法 {dokkai · bumpō}, which is "reading comprehension · grammar."

Next time on the listening comprehension, listen for the word 例 {rei}, which means "example."

Good luck on the brand new N4級 {en yon kyū} next year. It's been over ten years since I've taken the JLPT, and I heard that the N1級 {en ikkyū} will be harder than the old 1級 {ikkyū}, so I'll be taking it again after over a decade. I love a good challenge.


15 Eido Inoue December 20, 2009 at 1:30 pm

And yes, I'm aware there will now be a N5級. But I figure that by this time next year you'll be ready for the next level (or higher).


16 Squire Starsquid February 25, 2010 at 5:49 am

Yep, took JLPT (L2 then) after a year of study, though I wasn’t too sure of being capable of doing it (it can be doable in a year), my classmate who also wanted to take the test (actually he was aiming straight for L1 but couldn’t get a spot) told me to just take it, and like you said, even if it was a fail, you experience how the test goes etc etc. Takes away a lot of pressure for next time. So I took it and (not surprising) I flunked it. Yea I was incredibly bummed but nevertheless a really good experience. And yes, I also thought example 1 in the listening section was actually question 1 at first. Well, I’m gonna take the N2 this year (should’ve done that last year) or (hopefully) if I really have confidence (not to mention mad ass studying) I might take N1 (but honestly don’t see the happening heh).


17 kickem July 11, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Oh, lordie, the old passing the jlpt 2 after one year of study theory. Well, I’ve heard that sometimes 8 year olds can enroll at MIT and have doctorates before they hit puberty. It does happen on occasion so therefore it is a suitable goal for the regular person, or not.


18 Chris C. January 4, 2011 at 11:05 pm

I took the N3 in 2010. It was quite interesting. I’m not sure if I’ll pass or not. The vocabulary part wasn’t too bad but the reading part was quite difficult. I got the gist of what the readings said, but the questions were quite confusing. The listening on the other hand was a breeze. I think I’m going to actually study and try for N1 next year. Good luck to everyone planning to take it next year.


19 thesoulofjapan November 12, 2011 at 12:24 am

Honestly, I am more interested in that waffle house in the pic. You should of snapped up a few photos of what you ate there.


20 Nancy February 8, 2012 at 7:37 pm

My test result is coming soon (today, tomorrow or may be next Monday).
I think I couldn’t pass the new N2 one after only 1 year studying Japanese. The Kanji, vocabularies and grammars in the 2011 N2 test were what I HAD NEVER SEEN before!
But, Your article encouraged me. Thank you for sharing your experience.
I like the sentence you said “I took it to measure skill passing didn’t matter all that much to me, would be nice though.”


21 Buddy Lindsey February 8, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Good Luck. Please post back with how you did when you find out. I hope to take it again sometime.


22 krithika March 13, 2012 at 4:12 am

I took the jlpt l4 in 2009 … but failed very narrowly !!!

again want to take the test and clear jlpt n5 without attending classes.Any self help studying strategies plzz ?!!!!


23 jlpt December 2, 2012 at 10:39 pm

i feel very sad whenever i hear this word… :( failed n3 last year so i got even more resolved to do well, then this year i took n2 (and i’m so ashamed to say that 90% of the listening section were guesses to me… T_T)

i’m pretty sure i’d fail n2, (means failing twice in a row…) and i become super demoralised… :’(

however after reading your article, i was somewhat comforted by how my actions weren’t that meaningless after all… thanks very much, buddy lindsey! i guess that if i do fail n2 again, i’d retake again… best of luck for all the candidates of jlpt out there! :D


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