How I passed the JLPT 2kyuu using SuperMemo

Using SuperMemo, I was able to pass the 日本語能力試験 (Japanese Language Proficiency Test 2kyuu) by studying for about four hours a day from August 20, 2007 until December 1, 2007 (the day before the test). Prior to this, I had studied Japanese for two and a half years in college and spent four months in Japan, but I had not studied the language seriously and the two and a half years of study were spread over a period of four years, meaning I had a lot of time to forget what I had learned.

Before we go any further, please note: I now recommend Mnemosyne, free software that works very similar to SuperMemo, instead of SuperMemo itself. (Find out why.)

Of the four hours per day, on average two hours were spent doing repetitions (testing myself with flashcards) in SuperMemo, one hour was spent adding material to SuperMemo, and one hour was spent studying in the traditional way. I only missed two days of study during this period, both because of SuperMemo crashes (warning-- I'm serious when I say back up your data!).

I used five books, four of which are published by UNICOM and make a complete set of books to study for the 2kyuu. The other book, どんな時どう使う, is a grammar book that includes all of the grammar points on all of the JLPT tests. It includes a very brief explanation of the point in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean, followed by a few example sentences. There's not much per point but for many of the points that's all I needed.

Here are the books:

Here's what I did: for the first month (mid-August to late September), I used the vocab book and entered all of the vocabulary and example sentences. The UNICOM book includes a few thousand words, and the entire book is divided into two-page lessons. On one page there is a list of vocabulary grouped by kanji. The kanji are grouped by reading, so you learn all the し (shi) readings together, which makes the memorization process much faster. Then, on the opposite page, there is an example sentence for each vocabulary word.

I entered all of this data into SuperMemo. First, I made a flashcard with the kanji and reading as the question and the English meaning as the answer. Then I made a second flashcard with the kanji and English meaning as the question and the Japanese reading as the answer. Then I added the example sentence as the question with the reading as the answer. I added furigana (using parentheses) behind any words I didn't know that were also in the example sentence. Over time, as I learned those words, I cut and pasted the furigana from the question to the answer (SuperMemo allows you to edit questions even as you answer them).

For the second month (late September to late October), I used the two grammar books together and typed in the grammar points, explanations, and example sentences. I added these as articles rather than question-and-answer flashcards because I figured I would be able to just absorb the grammar if I read it enough times. Using SuperMemo's incremental reading feature (more about this later), I read each sentence several times over the weeks before the test. But because I needed to make sure I learned the grammar, I also typed in the example questions in the UNICOM book as question-and-answer flashcards.

Finally, I was ready to do reading practice. From late October until late November, I worked my way through the UNICOM reading book. I added words in SuperMemo only when I found new words I didn't know. Since I had some extra time, I also downloaded a list of all the 2kyuu vocabulary from Peter's site and made flashcards using incremental reading. In retrospect, Peter's list is not the best way to do this (I would use the Kanji in Context books if doing it again), but it did help me. The main problem with Peter's list is that there are no example sentences so words with ambiguous meanings are hard to understand (for example, if the definition is "range", is it like "range of a gunshot", "mountain range", "home on the range", etc.).

In SuperMemo's "incremental reading," you take something normally impossible to read, like a giant list of vocab, and read a little bit each day. As you read, you mark each part you want to learn (say, each kanji compound-reading-definition pair). Each time you mark a part of the text, it creates a new flashcard. Then, when you are ready to quiz yourself, you simply mark which part of the flashcard SuperMemo should quiz you on, and it will.

After all of this, I managed to pass the 2kyuu on December 2, 2007. As you can see, it's not easy. But here's the kicker-- as I write this today, it's nearly three months later and I'm still retaining 90% of the material I learned for the 2kyuu. That's the advantage of SuperMemo-- as long as you continue using it, you keep about 90% of the material in your head. Also, if you're not using it to learn new things, the amount of work you have to do each day will gradually be reduced over time, meaning you have less time to spend with SuperMemo and more time that you can spend actually using your Japanese.

Comments

Great article! I'm in the process of using this to study for the JLPT 2 exam right now. However, you don't mention anything about how you practiced listening. Did you just do this during your traditional studying?

I didn't practice in particular for the listening section. The UNICOM book was enough for me. I think most people find that listening is the easiest section.


That said, if you're having trouble, just watching Japanese TV (or listening to podcasts if you're not in Japan) should help out.

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