Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The No-Good, Very Hard Test... and the People who Take It.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, The Mister and I recently sat for a test which assessed our Japanese Language proficiency.  While there are no direct consequences of passing or failing this exam for either of us, we had decided back in March that it would be a good goal to study toward, it cost a pretty decent bit of money to sit for, and a certified pass is a fairly impressive line on a resume.  Plus/ also/ in addition; I don't fail tests.*  I just don't.

{I felt I needed to give some background on this test. If that is not interesting, feel free to skip down to the context picture}

Though it is the lowest test level of language proficiency, the JLPT N5 is written entirely in Japanese; meaning the directions on how to properly answer the questions are in Japanese, and The Mister and I realized the frustration early on of having not just a "suggested vocabulary to know" list for this exam, but also a supplementary list of words that would allow us to just understand what the test instructions wanted us to do.  
Here's a sample question.  It wants you to select
the correct spelling of the kanji for this sentence about a new car.**
I could go into great detail with examples of how frustrating the set-up for the N5 was for me, but that would be unfun to read, unrelatable for anyone who has not taken the exam, and unfair to those who have successfully taken the test.  So I'll cap my griping.

For the purposes of everyone here, passing the N5 level test signifies that I am able to read Hirigana (Japanese alphabet), Katakana (secondary alphabet that is used to spell words which are not natively Japanese, like "grapefruit" - "グレープフルツ") and around 100 common kanji (Japanese characters which symbolize entire words - aka what most people think of when you think of the language.  There are thousands of them).  I am also supposed to be able to listen to/ understand basic conversations when spoken slowly.

Alrighty, so now that there's context, let's back-peddle to that whole "I don't fail tests" bit.  If I may toot my own horn for a second, I am a phenomenal standardized test taker.  Example: I took my first ACT in 6th grade (because that is something my parents and I deemed a fun-weekend activity -ahem- NERD).  I scored pretty decently, from what I remember.  I have always seemed to understand the proper way to go through a list of questions with efficiency, ruling out the least likely answers even if I wasn't 100% sure on a response.  Also, hi, I'm a middle-class, native english-speaking, white gal.  I AM what every standardized test in this country is normalized to accommodate.  Point being, back in March when our Japanese tutor said something to the effect of:
"I believe you have a mind for languages.  I think you would be successful at the N5 at the end of the year.  You should consider it."  
My ego was all
"of COURSE I would do well with a test for which I have 7 months to study.  Bring it on."
Being all cocky and confident means that I have set myself up to be required to pass this thing.  Have you ever bragged about your sureness of something only to be proven wrong and then you feel like a total doof? I suspect that's what I'm afraid of more than failing the exam.  Like, there's no consequence to me for failing other than having to turn to everyone I know and love, who I've talked to about this test and say "I was wrong, and I bombed."  It's an overwhelming amount of humiliation
to me.  This is particularly true because the JLPT N5 needs only a 40% score for a pass.

All that said, I legitimately *may* have failed this test.  I won't know for sure until February.  So that's fun.

We studied like CRAZY beforehand, and one day, should anyone be interested, perhaps I will compile a list of the fantastic cheap to free resources we utilized to prepare.  Unfortunately, timing worked against us because between holidays, The Mister's Navy drill weekends, and a small visa snafu (now rectified), the only dates we could travel to Japan for our exploratory trip was the week immediately preceding this exam.  As finding a house for the next three years is kind of important, The Mister and I decided the only viable option was to roll the jet-lag dice and hope that we weren't too out of it when we took the exam a mere 24 hours after landing back in the states.
Thus we found ourselves that day downing coffee in a precarious balance of "enough to keep us alert" versus "not enough to make us have to poop during the exam."

How do you prepare for a big test?  Tell me in the comments!

I'm just gonna leave this here.

5 hours later (it was a long test!), The Mister and I were finally done.  As we clamored into the car for our drive home, I found myself spouting a litany of thoughts about all the other people in the exam room.  Apparently the lowest level standardized test for Japanese Language proficiency can attract some interesting folks. Friends, I wish to share some of them with you here.

The Awkward Zack Galifiniakis Clone.From his faux-vintage-hipster sweater to his beard, shoulder bag, and awkward social skills, I don't believe this man could have been anything other than a clone from between two ferns.  Also he asked to borrow a pencil for the proctor.  Who does this.  I ended that without a question mark because it should not exist as a question.  It's a scantron test. You bring a pencil to feed Scangrade so he can take over the world!

The Lady Giving Legitimacy to Her Ability to Watch Anime Un-Dubbed.She had Sailor Moon hair buns, a Full Metal Alchemist Sweatshirt, and all of her approximately 50 scantron-approved number 2 pencils featured Sanrio characters.  I heard her in the hallway saying that she's self-taught from watching movies and reading comics.  Which is sort of impressive, but she didn't have any discernible reason to be taking the exam... And she was SO excited to be there.

The Child Who Really Shouldn't Have Been There. I was seated next to a kid, maybe 10-11 years old.  Having BEEN a kid in adult-type standardized tests before, originally I was interested and impressed with this dude.  About 10 minutes into his volleying between nervous actions of clicking a clicky pencil, tapping his foot and kicking the foot of the table we were sharing, I was totally over any feelings of admiration.  He was wildly distracting.  But more distracting, was about 5 minutes into the first section of the test when one of the room's proctors made a point to stand in-between myself and him.  The little brat was trying to look off my score sheet!  He did it again during the second section of the exam and the proctor again stationed herself inside my personal space bubble to try and curb his wandering eyes.  Then, before the listening section began, they literally moved him to a different table all by himself.  He started crying during that portion.  I know he's a little kid and I should be sympathetic, but he tried to cheat off me, and darn it, I'm trying to listen to the recording, I need you to stop audibly sniffling, kid!

The Quarter Mullet-Man Who Showed Up So Late I'm STILL Legitimately Mad They Allowed Him To Stay.  If you are unfamiliar with standardized test set-ups, let me give you the context that they usually have a very strict set up of rules.  If you are unfamiliar with Japanese cultural points, let me give you the context that they are, as a people, very strictly adhered to rules***.  Point being, if you are sitting for a Standardized exam in Japanese, the rules are LAW.  You show up EARLY.  You bring at least 2, sharpened, number 2 pencils. You leave your cell phone in the car.  Everything else better be stowed below your desk for the entirety of the exam.  This dude had the audacity to just waltz into the room 3 minutes after the proctors had actually begun to read the instructions to us, then flopped down and asked to borrow a pencil.
...who comes late to an internationally recognized, standardized exam (which btw, sent every participant a 5 page instructional mailing on what to bring when), and roll in with a giant bag that contains not a single pencil?
Were I a proctor, I'd have kicked his ass out of the room, though keep in mind I was at an inferno-irate level of jet-lagged.  But also worth noting was this man's haircut:  The top was a bowl cut.  Then behind both ears there was a 3 inch section of mullet that went about halfway down his back.  I... want to meet the hair-dresser that  heard his instructions at the salon and was like "oh sure, I'll cut your hair that way."

The Woman Who Was Shedding Her Summer Coat.The woman who sat directly in front of me had thick mop of blonde hair on her head, which she had loosely piled into one of those very trendy messy buns of college campuses everywhere (who am I kidding, I have my hair in one right now).  I would estimate around 300 strands of that hair decided to revolt against the bun that morning, and so she shed them to lay in weird patterns across the back of her navy blue sweatshirt.  It was mesmerizing and infuriating to my overtired neat-freak self.  Before each section, while the proctor was reading, I would find myself staring, needing to employ an inner mantra of "don't pick the stray hairs off the strange woman's back.  don't pick the stray hairs off the strange woman's back.  don't pick the stray hairs off the strange woman's back.  don't pick the stray hairs off the strange woman's back...."  If I would have had a lint roller in my bag I probably would have been arrested that day for assaulting her with it.

The Jet-Lagged Woman Who Was Overly Prepared and Hated Everyone.  Like More than Grumpy Cat.  I had ten pre sharpened, new, number 2 pencils.  I had a fresh, large, pink eraser just in case of mistakes (I used it once), and I had a small personal pencil sharpener all laid out carefully in front of me.  I had also upped my resting bitch face to such a level that when the first dude who didn't bring his own pencil turned to see my surplus, he also saw my rage face and decided not to ask me to borrow one.  I'm not going to pretend that I wasn't happy when no one bothered me in the hallway or asked me questions between sections.

What was the last test you took?  
Any great test taking observations?  
Tell me in the comments!

*except my first driver's exam.  I failed that SO hard.  That was soul crushing enough that I just decided to pass every test from there on out.

**The answer is 1, if you were curious.

***example of rule adherence: while we were in Japan, we actually witnessed people walking to cross the street - when the "walk signal changed to "do not walk" they were about 50 feet into the street, and they immediately BACKED UP to the curb to re-wait for the intersection lights to change again.

1 comment:

Scoobykara said...

Last test I took was a re-taking of the GRE in 2010 (which just made me realize that it is going to expire soon, I think blah!). It was all computer based and made me miss scantron's and #2 pencils. I didn't really study because the whole "I should start work on my doctorate" was a total whim (probably why I haven't taken a class in a year and have no current plans to resume). I took an ACT prep class in high school which was how I studied for that. I know I took the GRE the first time, but have absolutely zero recollection of it (I blame senioritis).