I passed N3 of the Japanese Language Proficiency test!
How did I do it?
Well, the first time I took it in July 2011, I studied really hard. I didn't just use a textbook either. I read One Piece daily with a dictionary to look up every word I didn't recognize until I completed and now current with the series (60-something in total). I watched Japanese TV whether stupid game shows or the news. And of course, I studied from my N3 grammar book. Like a good student, I went to class every Tuesday for tutoring. I'd practice what I learned (my sober-Japanese) at taiko practices Monday and Wednesday (and practiced my buzzed-Japanese at izakayas afterwards).
I even took the time every weekend to study at my local Joyfull (like a Japanese Denny's). I would get brunch and drink bar (meaning all-you-can-drink soda and coffee...) while I took practice tests and graded them myself, all the while noting any questions that were particularly difficult so I could restudy them later.
And come July, I failed.
Not by a lot (10% or so), but failing's failing. I remember stepping out after taking that test and thinking to myself, "Well, damn. I tried. It wasn't good enough. I'll study more for the test in December and nail it." And a month later, I signed up for the December 2011 test.
Except this time around, I couldn't bring myself to study. Partly due to denial/anger about failing the first time, partly due to being busy, I just didn't study. I know I probably could have made time, but unlike first year when I didn't have a schedule or group of friends, the start of second year was much more hectic. With the near-weekly traveling, taiko practices and performances, marathon training almost daily, and other hobbies taking up my life, studying Japanese fell on the back burner.
My Japanese was good enough for everyday life. It's neither fluent nor academic, but that's just it--it's good enough. There wasn't the same urgent need to study and learn Japanese like when I first arrived.
And before I knew it, it was already December. The amount of studying I did since July was minimal at best (nonexistent is probably a better word... I didn't take a single practice test once). I still took the test. I had paid for it already and so there was nothing to lose.
But this time was different. After finishing this round, I couldn't help but think, "Man, I totally knew those answers... if I only remembered that '情報' wasn't 'じょうほ' and '過去' wasn't 'かこう'... I mean, there was kanji that I actually knew. If only I had studied even only a little..."
So I knew if I failed this time, it wouldn't be by much. If I failed, I'd only have myself to blame.
But even if I did, I was pleasantly surprised at how much my Japanese had improved passively in 6 months. I knew more kanji, the readings were comprehensible (or at least, I could make educated guesses). And the listening portion was, do I dare say it, it was easy?
Was it enough to pass, though? Had I improved a full 2 levels from last year, December 2010, when I took and passed N5?
The moral of the story: getting lucky > studying ?
And after receiving my certification in the mail yesterday, I can safely answer, "Yes, and yes." Which leaves me thinking...
N2 this July?