Preparing for Japanese exams – Reading and Writing

So, back to exam prep. In my last blog I went over the speaking and listening parts of my exam, but I had reading and the dreaded writing to contend with as well.

Reading

Reading is a funny one. A lot of the work I did for the other bits of the exam tricked me into reading at the same time.

It’s hard to find reading material that is an appropriate level, and looking at something that’s clearly beyond you (even though it says beginner!) can be a bit disheartening. So for this part of the test I relied on my class handouts and textbook.

One thing I did do was make flashcards. Sensei hinted that opposite words/concepts (e.g. hot/cold, new/old, expensive/cheap) might turn up, so I made a kind of pairs game to help my team practice those. This totally paid off, they were a big part of the test!

I’ve been making flashcards on and off the whole time I’ve been learning Japanese. A few people in my class swear by Anki, but I haven’t got the patience to make the cards, it is on my long, long to-do list – I will get round to it some day!

Writing

We were given the writing task beforehand, to create a short diary entry about our day. This was marked on accuracy, level of detail and presentation. My tactic here was to create a piece and practice to the point that it stuck in my brain before the test.

My biggest tip here is don’t rely on Google Translate.

Case in point:

Google Translate Screenshot
Source: Google Translate app

Now, clearly I was not trying to say “I woke up on a morning game.”  but Translate does not do well with hiragana/katakana. It does cope better with kanji, but I’m not quite there yet.

A much better resource is Hi Native where you can ask native speakers things like “does this sound natural?” or “how do you say this?”

I relied heavily on my wonderful classmates to proofread (I returned the favour of course) to check that my work made sense and I was using the right particles/tenses etc.

Once I’d decided the itinerary for my imaginary day, the next challenge of course was writing it. Unfortunately there’s nothing to do here except actually practice. If you took a look back at writing you did as a kid I’d bet it wasn’t too neat. You’ve honed it over years of practice (mine is still barely legible…). But you’re presumably not used to writing a completely different script. I know I’ve this put off, my あ’s aren’t what they should be!

There are tons of writing practice aids available, printable sheets like this one give you guidance on stroke order etc. Admittedly, it’s pretty boring to copy out the same character over and over again, so I favoured writing out sentences and doing the (long neglected) exercises in my textbook.

There was a common theme in my class; almost everyone thought that everyone else in the class knew more Japanese than them. Almost everyone panicked before the exam. Almost everyone came out saying ‘oh, that actually wasn’t horrible’. And guess what? We all passed! 

I hope these blogs help if you have exams coming up. Let me know what has worked for you and what hasn’t!

Kanpai!

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