Have you studied Japanese for the past few months and now aiming for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)? Attending classes, reading textbooks and handouts, and answering some practice questions should be enough to pass the test with a good score, right?
Well, not necessarily.
In my article about JLPT test scores, I discussed extensively that the JLPT is a demanding test. You’ll need to do very well just to get a passing mark. Guessing the answers will not help, even if the JLPT is a multiple-choice test.
The key to passing the JLPT is practice. The adage, “Practice makes perfect,” still holds true. And one of the essential components of practice is a mock exam.
If you are serious about passing the JLPT, then I hope that this article will help you understand and appreciate mock exams. I highly recommend that you include them as part of your study regimen.
I say that with conviction because I’ve earned a percentile rank of above 99% in all the JLPTs I have taken so far. And YOU TOO can attain that level of performance if you are willing to put in hard work and approach your JLPT prep strategically.
With that, let’s aim to pass the JLPT with flying colors!
- What is a mock exam?
- What are the purposes and benefits of a mock exam?
- When should you take a mock exam?
- How should I take mock exams?
- I’m afraid of taking a mock exam. What should I do?
- Which books can I use to take mock exams?
What is a mock exam?
A mock exam is a full-length practice exam whose form, content, scope, and level of difficulty are designed to be as close as possible to the actual exam. In other words, it is a close imitation of the real exam.
Mock exams can be literally taken anywhere at any time. If you are attending language school, mock exams can be provided as part of the program curriculum, but usually, you do them on your own as part of your self-study prior to the JLPT.
In Japanese, mock exams are called mogi shiken (模擬試験 もぎしけん). They are also often abbreviated as moshi (模試 もし).
What are the purposes and benefits of a mock exam?
Mock exams, if used correctly, are powerful tools that can significantly improve your performance on test day. They serve different purposes depending on your current stage of preparation.
Here are five major reasons why you should consider taking a mock exam:
Measures your preparedness for the actual exam
Your score in a mock exam is a fair indicator of your likelihood to pass the JLPT. When you complete one, you can get a good feel of whether the actual exam will be easy or difficult for you.
Analyzes your strengths and weaknesses
Mock exams help you identify which areas you are already good at or which areas require more work and attention. They give you a bird’s eye view of your skill and ability in the context of the JLPT.
Identifies gaps in your test-taking strategies
Even with a good grasp of Japanese language concepts, you might find yourself having trouble during the exam because of a lack of familiarity with the test format, timing issues in answering problems, or the method of selecting answer choices. Mock exams can be used to revise and improve your test strategies.
Reduces stress and anxiety prior to the actual exam
Having a good idea of how a full exam would feel will strengthen your mental preparedness for the actual test. You’ll be more at ease (and at times, even confident) knowing that you won’t be going for the JLPT blindly or cluelessly.
Improves your stamina and concentration
Sitting through the entire duration of a full exam requires good stamina and full concentration. The JLPT usually takes two to three hours to complete, so taking a mock helps you become better prepared for a long and tiring actual exam.
When should you take a mock exam?
There are no set rules for how many mock exams you should take. You can take as many exams as you are comfortable with, considering your needs and preferences in studying.
Based on my personal experience, here is what I recommend:
You should take not one, not two, but THREE mock exams throughout your review.
The timing and purpose of each of these exams are enumerated below:
1. At the beginning of the review—as a diagnostic tool
“Wait, why should I take one right at the very beginning when I have not intensely studied for the JLPT yet?” I understand that this can be perplexing but let me explain.
The main reason for this is that this mock exam will be immensely helpful for you to craft a solid and realistic study plan. It gives you a clear picture of:
- How far (or how close) you are to the passing score; and
- Which areas require the most attention.
Don’t worry if you’ll flunk your first mock exam. It isn’t the real deal yet! The point of this exercise is for you to become self-aware of how much work you’ll need to do during the entire course of your review.
Are your scores extremely low? Given the time that you have left for the next JLPT, do you believe this period is sufficient for you to address your weak areas? If time is too short, you should double or triple your effort. Or maybe consider applying for a lower JLPT level instead.
But what if your scores are high? Then you probably won’t need intense preparation for the JLPT. Alternatively, you can take a mock exam of the next level, and if you have satisfactory results, you might be better off aiming for that higher level.
Again, you’ll be more efficient with your studies if you have a firm understanding of your current state.
2. Halfway through review—to track and measure your progress
If you’ve made significant progress in your studies after your diagnostic test, especially by utilizing practice drills, then it is time to take another mock exam to check your status.
Did your overall score improve? If that’s the case, your study plan might have been effective. If your score only slightly increased, then it’s best to find out and understand why your current study method isn’t working well.
On another note, did you notice another test section lagging behind? Perhaps you are devoting too much of your time to studying one or few areas only. You should probably shift your focus to weaker areas or apply a more holistic study approach.
Considering the above scenarios, I advise that you do not skip taking a mock exam at this phase of your review. You need this to reassess your ability level and revise your study plan accordingly.
Also, for this mock exam to have any positive impact, you should still have ample time left before the actual exam to revise or revisit your study plan. Thus, give yourself at least more than a month before the actual test to do this second mock exam.
3. Towards the end of the review—to polish your performance
This is the type of mock exam that most people are familiar with. Usually, they will complete this mock exam a few days or even the day before the actual exam.
However, I highly recommend that you do this exam at least one week before the JLPT. Again, the purpose is to sufficiently address your weaknesses. You can’t do that if you only have a day or less left.
Given the remaining short period before the exam, you might not have enough time to learn new concepts, so after this mock exam, you should focus more on polishing your test-taking strategies.
Do you feel that you are running out of time in completing a specific test section? Or do you think that your method of eliminating incorrect answer choices is lacking? Do you tend to lose concentration during the listening portion? Ask yourself similar questions on what makes you inefficient during the exam.
Then, after your reassessment, devote time to tackling your bad habits or shortcomings in test-taking. For instance, work on timing yourself while answering practice drills or accustom yourself to listening exercises to improve concentration.
If you followed the above-recommended mock exam timings and strategies, you’ll certainly feel more confident and ready to take the JLPT challenge!
How should I take mock exams?
Earlier in this article, I mentioned that mock exams are especially beneficial if they are used properly. To do that, try to imitate the real exam experience.
Each time you take a mock exam, observe these ten practices:
1. Complete the exam in one sitting.
You must take the exam from start to finish in one sitting, with short breaks in between sections, just as you would in an actual JLPT.
Mock exams also test your stamina and endurance, so don’t take different parts of the exam hours or even days apart. Otherwise, mock exams become less effective.
2. Follow the prescribed time allotment for each section.
Sometimes, when you encounter difficult problems or long reading passages, it is very tempting to take your sweet time to correctly answer them.
However, the JLPT is a timed test, so you won’t have that luxury. Therefore, you should get used to completing the exam within the time limit.
Set a timer when taking a mock exam. You can use your mobile phone’s stopwatch or timer function to do this.
3. Don’t take longer than necessary breaks.
After each test section, you are given 10-15 minutes to take a break. Don’t rest for a longer time and make the most out of your break by going to the toilet, eating a small snack, or drinking water.
In addition, don’t jump immediately to the next test section without taking a break. You’ll deplete your stamina much faster if you do so. The test committee is nice enough to allow you to take a breather, so make use of it!
4. Stay in a quiet environment without distractions.
In the JLPT, you’ll be taking the exam in a quiet classroom where devices of any kind are prohibited. This allows you to fully concentrate on the exam.
If you are taking a mock exam at home, stay in a quiet room where you have a table and a chair. Don’t answer the test while you’re on the bed or on the floor. Keep your mobile phone silent and put it away from you.
Also, you aren’t allowed to eat or drink during the exam, so it isn’t a good idea to take a mock exam at a cafe or restaurant. Who takes the JLPT while sipping coffee, right?
5. Take the exam as closely as possible to the actual test schedule.
The JLPT in the Philippines starts at exactly 1 pm. Thus, if you will take a mock exam, try to take it at 1 pm as well. If that’s not possible, at least take it in the afternoon.
Your energy level changes throughout the day, and your body condition affects how you’ll take the test. If you take it in the afternoon, you can train yourself to be awake and focused for the test at that time of day.
6. Print the answer sheets and use a pencil.
Since the JLPT is a paper-based test, it’s best that you print the answer sheets and use a pencil to shade your answers.
Don’t use your laptop or tablet in answering the exam. Similarly, don’t answer directly on the questionnaire only.
7. Refrain from looking up the answers before finishing the entire exam.
Even if you complete one test section, avoid looking at the answer key to check whether you are doing well so far. Save it for last when you’re already done (i.e. until the last problem for Listening Comprehension).
Until you finish the whole exam, don’t think about the previous sections and have faith in your own ability!
8. Identify which specific areas are the most difficult for you.
If you completed a mock exam, you’ll need to drill down further than your overall and sectional scores. Closely look at which specific test areas had the greatest number of mistakes.
For instance, if your lowest score is in the Language Knowledge section, you might notice that you do well in sentence composition grammar but poorly in kanji reading.
In that case, focus more on kanji rather than the entire scope of the Language Knowledge section.
9. Use different versions of mock exams.
If you plan to take a few or several mock exams for your review, don’t use the same material twice. Chances are, you’ll remember some familiar questions, so you’ll know how to answer them right away.
That will diminish the fairness and integrity of the mock exam. As a result, your score could become overstated.
10. Avoid taking a full mock exam the day before the actual test.
It takes a lot of energy to complete a full exam, and it takes time before you’ll be fully recharged to take another one. So save your energy for the real deal! You wouldn’t want to take the actual JLPT feeling tired.
In fact, the day before the exam, drop everything and rest. Don’t give in to the urge to cram because you probably won’t remember whatever you study at this point. If you really must study, limit it to light and short reviews, not exceeding two hours.
Which books can I use to take mock exams?
Here are some of my recommendations on JLPT books containing full mock exams.
For now, I won’t be writing detailed descriptions of each book in this section. But I have discussed some of them in my article about JLPT N5-N4 review books, so check that out as well.
Please note that all five levels of the JLPT are available in each of the book series I enumerated below.
Moshi to Taisaku（模試と対策）
I’m afraid of taking a mock exam. What should I do?
I’ve encountered a few people who avoid taking mock exams, even though they are aware of how beneficial it can be for their studies.
One significant factor for this behavior is that the results will strongly affect their mental state prior to the exam.
“If I get a high score, I might become overconfident.”
“If I get a low score, I will feel demoralized or demotivated.”
If such thoughts have crossed your mind, here is my personal advice for you: Don’t take a mock exam too close to the actual JLPT.
So, how close is “too close”? I would say that it would be two weeks or less from the actual exam. I’d like to emphasize this very important point once again: For a mock exam to be useful and impactful, you should have sufficient time left to revisit your study plan.
In the previous section where I enumerated my recommended timings of taking a mock exam, skip the third mock exam (the one used to polish your test performance) if you are easily affected by test results.
If you really must take just one mock exam, do the second mock exam (to track and measure your progress). But before that, make sure that you did some sort of preparation or study so that you can maximize its use.
Finally, I’d like to share this one last piece of advice: Don’t treat the actual JLPT as a mock exam. If you are taking the JLPT because “you want to know if you can pass it,” take a mock exam instead. You can take mock exams as many times as you’d like, so don’t waste the few chances that you can take the JLPT.
Most of the content in this article comes from my personal experiences. And because each of us has a different approach or style of studying, you do not have to follow every recommendation that I wrote here.
What is important is that you find the best study method that fits your preference, schedule, and ability.
Certainly, mock exams aren’t your only ticket to passing the JLPT. It is possible to pass even without taking a mock exam at all.
That is especially true for lower JLPT levels, N5 and N4, because they require less preparation. But if you are aiming for N3 and above, I highly recommend that you take mock exams.
Sometimes, mock exams can give you that extra bump to your overall score, especially if you failed the JLPT just a few points below the passing mark. Or, you can use them if you are aiming for the highest score you can get on the JLPT.
In any case, I sincerely hope that this article has helped you gain an appreciation of why mock exams are incredibly powerful for test preparation.
With that, good luck with preparing for the JLPT! Gambatte kudasai!