J is for JLPT

I hate tests.  Wait, do I need to say that?  Who likes tests?  It would be the equivalent of somebody proclaiming their love of having their feet dragged across hot coals.

So it would go without saying that I have no love for the JLPT beyond it being a necessary evil.  For those of you who aren’t in the know, the JLPT is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, a test administered in various venues worldwide twice a year, with five varying levels of difficulty to take (Level 5 being the easiest, and Level 1 being so arse-achingly hard that even a native Japanese would shout whatever the Japanese equivalent of ‘WTF!?’ is at it).

Which incidentally is one of the questions.

The sexy among you who follow my blog regularly will remember my blog going on hiatus last year as I prepared for this test.  While I’m not the kind guy to go around bragging whether or not I PASSED SO AWESOMELY AND EPICALLY IT MADE THE EXAMINER CRY TEARS OF JOY, the insight into the test itself and what it means is fascinating.

First of all, the JLPT tests a very limited scope of your skill.  It is all reading and listening: not once will you speak a word of Japanese during the test.  Neither will you write any Japanese: it is all done through a multiple choice where you choose 1 answer out of a possible 3 or 4, so in theory of you score less than 25% you are just plain unlucky.

And that is one of the staggering flaws of multiple choice, particularly when it comes to showing your language aptitude.  Picture the scenario: you’re given a chunk of language to listen to or read, then given a set of 4 answers to choose from, one of which is right.  In what does this simulate real language?  And that’s the other thing: you cannot think your way around a problem.  Language is synonymous with expression, which means flexibility, context and multiple solutions to the same problem, all of which are right.  In a test like the JLPT, there is no human to reason with.  You’re either absolutely right or completely wrong.  You could be as proficient in Japanese as the most articulate native, but if you don’t know the answer…well, tough.

This is compounded by the fact that many job postings in Japan for foreigners place so much weight on the JLPT.  If you’re to make any kind of decent money, having JLPT level 1 or 2 is almost always expected.  Am I saying that the JLPT was no weight or worth?  Of course not, but I have met people who have passed level 1 and can barely utter a lick of Japanese, and people who speak fluent ‘street’ Japanese who don’t have a hope of passing JLPT.

But in the end, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.  This is Japan, after all – land of the standardized test.  And improvements have been made recently: you have to get a decent score in every section now, whereas before you could blitz one section and it would prop up your abysmal performance for the rest of the test.

Let’s just hope the next step is for this language test to include, y’know, speaking.


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