Source: Gaijin Pot
When I first came to Japan, I heard the rumors about how infamously difficult the N1 exam was. A common story going around the foreign community at the time was that the N1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), the highest level, was so difficult that even Japanese speakers would struggle with the questions and perhaps fail to get the 50 percent score needed to pass.
Surely that couldn’t be right, could it?
I didn’t really believe it until one day, trying to explain a grammar point to one of my younger students, I used the infamous (に)だに (even) grammar point from my N1 grammar cheat sheet to explain. At first, I got that look that Japanese people give when they are convinced that the speaker has made some fundamental error.
“Are you sure that’s Japanese?” she ventured.
I showed her example questions and she laughed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this,” she explained. “We’d use something like にも instead.” She’s actually right, I would later discover, as (に)だに is only really used in certain types of literature and にも is far more commonly used. However, it got me interested in seeing how Japanese people would actually do on the N1.
The guinea pigs for my experiment were a range of Japanese people. On separate days, using questions from the official materials for taking the exam, I interviewed businesswomen from a reputable firm who have a 短（たん）大（だい）or 4-year degree, students at a 専（せん）門（もん）学（がっ）校（こう） (specialist school), and some junior high school kids to keep things interesting.
Initially, the hypothesis that the test would be difficult for native speakers was blown out of the water as the first questions, which test kanji …continue reading