• 05 . 12 . 04
  • In which I sit the Japanese National Language Proficiency Test Level 3, and make weak football related puns.

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Proficiency, Or Lack Thereof

I’ve been studying Japanese for about 8 months now and it remains the hardest long-term challenge I’ve undertaken, including all of my formal education. I’m finally getting to grips with kanji and can finally think about beginning to read short paragraphs and having simple conversations. To motivate myself, I applied to take the Nihongo Nouryoko Shiken, or Japanese Language Proficiency Test, whose exam I sat today. The test has four levels and, knowing that I don’t study for anything if it’s easy, and also out of a desire to stretch myself, I opted for the more difficult 3rd grade instead of the 4th. This could yet turn out to be a mistake in terms of getting an official qualification, but to be honest, I don’t really care about all that. It was just an attempt to get myself studying again after a bit of a lull.

I’m not really sure how it went. Already, as with most of my exams, I can’t remember what the questions were, or what I answered. Actually, that’s not true. One question I canremember, if just for the fact that the answer was actually on the pre-printed answer sheet, and I only realised after they had been collected. I don’t remember if I chose the right answer…

What I do remember is having to sit in silence in each section for around 25 minutes after the papers had been handed out, waiting for the tape recorded schedule to decide that the exam could begin. The proctors were little more than puppets following recorded instructions. The fact that I was in a small classroom with maybe 40 others and the tape was clearly designed for facilitating rooms of four or five hundred didn’t seem to bother them, while we gaijin just sat around waiting, wondering what the hell was going on. When I write that everything here is done like clockwork, I really mean it.

Another thing I remember is the examination rules, which were clearly devised by a soccer fan. Minor infringements resulted in being showed a yellow card, literally. A second minor resulted in a second yellow, a red and being escorted from the room. Of course, a more major infraction, like outright cheating would lead to a straight red. As the test was divided into three sections, we were wondering if one yellow carried forward to the next round like the Champions League, but as it happened we never got to find out. Even though there were some blatant mobile phone violations and even some talking, the proctors seemed to turn a blind eye.

It’ll be a while before I get my results, which aren’t due until the end of February. The test was multiple choice throughout and will be marked by a machine, but there are thousands of people who take this test world-wide. Actually, maybe they’ll just wait 25 minutes before they insert each answer sheet into the marking machine, to let it recover. It wouldn’t surprise me in a country that closes its ATMs on national holidays, evenings and weekends…

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