N2 / 2Kyuu… 2Kyuu / N2… Nouryoku Shiken Shmouryouku Niken

Alright guys, I said I’d go into a little more detail about this year’s N2 (and why I thought it was so hard), so I guess now’s as good at time as any to do that.

Well, before I get started, let me preface this post by saying that I studied a lot. I didn’t just study “a lot” by the normal human definition of the term, I studied a lot even for my standards. I have an addictive personality, everyone I’ve ever known has always told me that. If I like an activity, I don’t just enjoy doing it every once in a while (or even regularly but with moderation). I do it obsessively. All day, every day, for weeks, months, maybe even years. I was like this from the moment I started learning Japanese five years ago. I was told by teachers, family members and friends that Japanese is the most difficult language on earth for American English speakers to learn, that it would take lots of hard work and grueling memorization, and that ultimately it was a waste of time for me to even try. Well, if you know me at all by this point you should be able to predict my reaction to this. As you can expect, I wasn’t turned off, it just made me want to learn Japanese even more. The more discouragement I encountered, the more I was determined to become fluent.

So, from day one I have studied two, three, four hours a day. I drill vocabulary relentlessly, I can’t find enough ways to use newly learned grammar (even when my Japanese friends laugh at me because no one, and I mean no one, uses some of that obscure grammar), and I watch Japanese television for hours every day. When I say that I watch Japanese TV, I don’t just mean Anime or Dramas, although I watch a lot of those. I also recently started paying for TV Japan (which is basically NHK… another post on that sometime soon, because NHK deserves a post all for itself), so I watch documentaries and news about all kinds of odd topics. Anyway, lets just say I have basically found a way to immerse myself in Japan without going there.

I don’t know if any of you guys reading this post now were following me way back a couple years ago (wow, it’s been a while…) when I was applying to go study abroad at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, since I was using a different blogging service back then. If you’re interested in those old posts, there’s a link to it on this blog somewhere. Anyway, I found out that for various reasons I couldn’t attend the study abroad program of my dreams, and not only that I had to take a couple years off school. I started working with my Dad and working Part time in a clothing store too. I was so… pissed (for lack of a better word)… that I couldn’t spend a year in Japan speaking no English (like some of my friends were about to do), that I vowed to make my time here in the states as valuable as I possibly could. I told my best friend “You better come back fluent. And you just watch me, I will be too, when you come back.” It was a challenge, and I meant it.  I studied voraciously, I spent tons of time with Japanese friends, and I pretty much flushed all the American pop culture out of my life completely.

Well, it’s been almost two years since that started, and almost five years since I started studying Japanese. I took 3Kyuu 2 years ago, and I took 2Kyuu for the first time last year (and failed by a very narrow margin). Needless to say, it put me in a bad mood. When I got home, I immediately picked up my text books and started studying again. How the hell was I going to go to sleep that night, having failed a test (something that I have never done before) without making some progress towards my next goal? I don’t fail things two times, and I don’t lose to the same person twice. That’s just my way. I’m like that.

So, I studied again, for the second whole year, getting ready for 2Kyuu for the second time. And I took it again, just a week ago today.

It was not the same 2Kyuu. It was harder. Much harder. But that’s to be expected, we all knew the test was getting a “reformatting”. For instance, instead of three sections (Kanji / Vocab ; Listening; Reading / Grammar), there were only two sections (Kanji / Vocab / Grammar / Reading ; and Listening). Also, instead of passing the test with an overall average score of 60%, you need 60% on all three sections (Kanji / Vocab ; Listening; Reading / Grammar), even though you take the reading and grammar sections bundled up with the vocab and kanji in the same time slot. I would complain about that, but it actually kind of helped me because I usually finish the vocab, Kanji and grammar sections quickly and need more time for the reading. This way I could budget my own time for what I find to be more difficult. What sucks about it though, is that before, if you got a 59% on one section, you could still pass the test. Not anymore.

Last year I felt like the reading section was super super hard. I read one essay and then just marked “C” for all the answers. This time I actually was able to read the essays, understand them, and attempt to answer the questions from a sound place of mind. So I’d say I did better on that section this year. BUT, was it a 60%? Who knows, if I got lucky with my guess work I could very well have passed. I feel much better this time, but for some reason, I don’t feel like my score will change. I also feel like the grammar, vocab and kanji sections got much harder as well. Let’s put it this way: I learned all of the kanji on the list for 2Kyuu. ALL OF THE KANJI. ALL 1024 of them. I can write them all from memory. That’s pretty good right? I think so. Well, the very first question on the test was about a kanji that I have never seen before. How is that fair? Well, it is fair because the administrators of this test announced last year that the official list of information for each level was no longer to be published or even consulted in constructing the five new tests (N5 – N1, N1 being the hardest).

So, there you have it. I studied an outdated list, and if i complained, someone would just say “hey buddy, we told you not to use that list”.

Here’s what my reasoning was: “Language is language right? even if the list is gone, how far can they really deviate from it? I mean, these 6000 vocabulary words and 1024 kanji are the meat and potatoes of advanced but not expert Japanese, right?”

“Well buddy, that is pretty much accurate, except for one small detail that you didn’t foresee (and you probably should have): the test is harder now than it was last year, so we can put stuff on it that would have previously been considered 1Kyuu level material. HAH.”

This conversation didn’t actually happen, it’s coming from a recurring nightmare that I’ve seen every night since the test.

Grammar wise, the test was hard. What a surprise. It also had grammar on it that was not on the list. I guess I should just burn my lists.

So, I basically feel like even though I’m way better at Japanese now than I was last year, I probably scored almost the same as I did last year. That’s not cool. Way to demoralize language learners. Let’s hope I’m not that weak minded though.

But wait a second, all this information has to come from somewhere right? I mean, these people who make the tests aren’t just pulling grammar and vocab out of thin air. There is a set number of words in the Japanese language, and there is a set number of grammar points, and there are only so many kanji (about 2000 if I want to be able to read a newspaper).

So, what’s my next course of action? First, I have to wait for my score to come out in February, but you better believe I’ll be studying before then. Second, they don’t let you take the test in the summer if you don’t live in Japan. That kind of sucks, but whatever, it’s not like I’d be ready for N1 next winter anyway. So here’s what I’ll do. I’ll retake N2 next year… for the THIRD time (I know I said I wouldn’t fail twice, but, well… you got me there… third time’s a charm). This time, I know what I’m up against. No reformatting. No tricks. They can’t trick with the unexpected if I’m expecting it to be tricky.

I’ll nail the basics into place for a quarter of a year (the basics being all the old 2Kyuu material) and then I’ll spend 9 months learning 1Kyuu material. I’ll learn 8000 vocab words (I already know a lot of them, so maybe 4000 are new), and I’ll learn the next 1000 Kanji. Then I’ll take N2.

Just try to F!@# me with 1Kyuu material on N2 next year. I’ll be ready.


Hope you liked this post. I’ll be back soon. Have a great Sunday.


8 responses

  1. Yeah that test really sucked. The desks were also small! Couldn’t even put the test and answer sheet next to each other. There was so much stuff I never saw. Back to the drawing board right?

    December 12, 2010 at 2:11 pm

  2. Elliott

    You know it! Are you ready to get crackin yet? I’m already working on next years test. lol

    December 12, 2010 at 4:09 pm

  3. Yes sir. It never stopped with me. Gonna work on some N1 stuff as well.

    December 13, 2010 at 11:46 am

  4. I took the test too 2 years ago (I just started out and needless to say it was way beyond my level at the time), but somehow I also feel like I did just slightly better on the test (and yes, it DID get a lot harder) even though my Japanese is way better than 2 years ago. If they scored it like before (old L2), then I would definitely pass, but this time I’m not sure if I got the needed 60% on the reading/grammar section. Oh well, at least, they started to give the test twice a year in Germany, so I can take it again soon (if I failed).

    December 14, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    • Elliott

      so you’ll be taking the test in the summer? I’m envious, if I wanted to do that I’d have to fly all the way to Japan… and let’s just say that if I went all the way there from Chicago, I wouldn’t want to waste all my energy worrying about a test. lol

      It seems like we’re about at the same level. If you study hard from now till summer, I’m sure you’ll pass!


      December 14, 2010 at 12:51 pm

      • Yeah, I heard they’re gonna start it next year (2011) by giving the test twice a year. Though I’m from The Netherlands, Germany is just a trainride away. But for now I’m just anxiously waiting for the results to come in.
        You could take it in Germany too, then you don’t have to go all the way to Japan (at least it would cut your travel time in half).
        Nice blog btw!

        December 15, 2010 at 6:22 am

  5. Can take it twice in Germany? Wow, I am jealous too. Why don’t they have that in the states.

    December 14, 2010 at 1:31 pm

  6. Elliott

    Thanks Starsquid! I’m always trying to make it better, but I don’t really know anything about web design, so it’s slow going as far as making this whole thing pretty. lol

    December 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm

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