Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)

Jul 04,2011

I try my luck at the JLPT Level 1 about once a year, either out of tradition or compulsion. After passing Level 2 several years ago I started trying for the top almost immediately, in spite of the yawning chasm between the levels. Normally, for those of us who live out in shinkansen-free Tottori, that means trekking out to Okayama Science University, either on the earliest morning train possible, which is what I did last time, or staying at a hotel the night before, which is what I did this time. I can't honestly say which is the worse strategy.

As usual, I was the only caucasian in the room. For Level 2, there were at least two others plus a few token Koreans, but for Level 1 testing everyone except me tends to be Chinese. This makes me wonder if everyone who endeavors to be an interpreter or translator of Japanese, or write a thesis in it, just happens to be Chinese, or if they are the only people who know they have a fighting chance of passing themselves off as natives should they succeed. (For the record, I did see a man who looked South Asian going in, but he was likely the token non-Chinese for some other classroom.)

The classroom was overheated, and my sweat on the answer sheet was smudging my markings. Drinking water isn't allowed, either--I tried it, and one of the proctors came over to scold me. I was probably lucky she didn't flash me the yellow card, which is what they do if you break one of the official rules, like looking at your test book before they tell you to, or letting your mobile telephone vibrate. I thought about asking what to do if I collapse from heat stroke, but I decided arguing mightn't be productive. What I really wanted to do was squirt it all over my face. I couldn't help wondering if Japanese students are also forced to take tests in such conditions, or if they figure, perhaps correctly, that the Chinese are simply used to working hard in unhospitable environments. For my part, I tried to keep my concentration, but the headache and dizziness eventually got the best of me, and I probably didn't come much closer to success than I did in years previous.

Ironically, on the train back I ran into a woman who took level 4 and told me her classroom was actually cold. Why couldn't we have had that one? Perhaps I'll do better in December. Perhaps not. It'll largely depend on whether or not I know enough words by that time.

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