This was originally written with the intention of being posted on koohii’s Kanken Chronicles thread. That is obviously not possible now, so in hopes that someone will find this useful (and maybe funny if anyone else shares my bizarre sense of humor - unlikely), I’m posting it here. I’ve edited it a bit since I originally referenced specific posts in the Kanken Chronicles thread a few times but I guess people won’t be able to see that thread much longer sadly. I’m happy to answer any questions about preparing for or taking the test that I haven’t answered below. I may not be checking this forum regularly, so you’re also welcome to send me a PM to ping me if I haven’t responded in the thread. No I will not be sharing the Anki deck I have.
This could definitely be organized way better and I might update it the post to read better at a later date, but I’m gonna be traveling to Japan in two days so I gotta pack for that!
Alright folks, here’s the text wall that no one asked for. Sorry for the remarkably bad formatting.
= Background =
Although there’s been expressed interest in me doing one, I’m not really a language log kinda person so this is the closest thing you’ll get. I’ll try to be as specific about my situation so whoever else is interested in pursuing this can try and predict what lays ahead for them. If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I talk about the questions, just go look at the sample questions on the official website. There hasn’t been a lot written here or elsewhere that I could find about taking this test in the US so I’ll write a little about that, specifically the one of the NJ locations.
Just to preface this text wall, I think a lot less highly than others do about this test and how meaningful it is, but don’t let that stop you if you’re interested in trying it out. It’s a pretty low time investment to try a couple of sample questions to get a feel and figure out if this is really something you want to spend time on.
I did RTK1 but not RTK3 a long time ago for reference, although I think it was barely relevant at this stage of my Japaneseing compared to my general vocab knowledge. I actually wrote down my reps on paper when I did RTK1. If you’re actually interested in being able to write kanji, air-writing it does not suffice because you won’t actually have any feeling for things like how close radicals should be to each other, or how large they should be relative to each other. I’ll be the first to admit that my handwriting isn’t great with regards to the above aspects, and it’s really clearly 外人っぽい. Well, writing rigidly in 楷書 style tends to be a giveaway for this kind of thing.
I’ve messed around with the Kanken Training 3DS game in the past, the first time being back in the summer of 2014. After my pal erlog passed he asked me if I wanted his Kanken study books (Step series 五Ｑ～ＱＱ and カバー ＱＱ), I said something like “sure I guess,” as I happened to be in Japan that summer. Back then I had no intention of taking this exam and I wasn’t particularly interested in ever taking it. Purely through messing around with the 3DS game I took myself to a single borderline passing score on 三Ｑ but it felt like a lot of brute forced memorization at that point without really understanding the vocabulary. Pretty sure I probably only passed 三Ｑ once or twice because I had just gotten enough repeat questions I’d seen before. It was way too early in my Japaneseing journey and I lost interest at that point. I probably switched over to playing Ace Attorney instead.
Since then I pretty much just let those books sit on my shelf and didn’t do anything related to Kanken. It wasn’t until Zgarbas’ study log in November 2017, where I decided on a whim to try out seeing which tests on the 3DS game I could pass with pretty much almost no writing practice since then. Actually, I technically did a very small amount from my Anki cards, but it amounted to writing at most around 20 words a day on paper. Basically for whatever new vocab in my recognition cards I was doing in Anki I would write it down in my practice book for only the first review and never again after that; said vocab was not related to Kanken. I actually hadn’t added any new cards for probably a year or so at this point though, so I really wasn’t getting much regular practice. There might be something to be said about doing a minimal amount of writing practice instead of none at all, but I can’t say for sure. I can tell you that it’s really frustrating to not be able to recall the really basic Kanji that come up on these lower level tests. Anywho, I was able to borderline pass 4Ｑ once before putting the game away again.
At this point I still had no interest in ever taking this test. I started my first full time job in 2018 (not related to Japanese at all), so I wanted to make sure I adjusted to the day job life before planning out what I would tackle next. My intention was to start doing pitch accent study. However, something else happened which made me change my mind. I started regularly taking a certain kind of medication (not for anything life-threatening or dire thankfully). This medicine causes a ton of side effects but the most relevant one to this experience is brain fog. It feels similar, but worse, than the keto flu if anyone knows what that is like. In short, it severely cripples your ability to concentrate. I didn’t even have the energy to read recreationally anymore because I’d just lose focus so quickly.
So it begged the question, what could I study mindlessly while on low energy? That’s when I thought about Kanken but I still didn’t really care that much. I am of the opinion that unless you either 1) really want to be able to phsyically write from memory or 2) really want to impress Japanese people via the cert, there are so many other things you could be doing instead. I didn’t care at all about the latter, and I didn’t care much about the former. The thing that actually changed my mind was realizing I had a great opportunity to prank my long time friend erlog and secretly send him a copy of my Kanken cert without him expecting it (it’s a dumb inside joke between us where I’d keep bothering him to send me his JLPT certs so I could use those instead of taking the test). I personally really don’t find that much value in having these certifications nor do I care that much about numerical evaluations of my proficiency. To me, wanting to see a number go higher feels like a psychological trick so it doesn’t really motivate me to go study more. No matter what the number is, there’s still more Japanese out there that I don’t know and could learn. That being said, I get that these things help a lot of people form more regimented or diligent study habits so I don’t actually judge people for this mindset. Do whatever enables you to get better at Japanese than the day before.
Anyway, once I figured out the rough outlines of what I could do to execute the prank, I was immediately on board. At this point you may be thinking, you’d have to be insane to put in the effort involved to pass 漢検ＱＱ primarily for the purpose of a dumb inside joke. I am here to tell you that why indeed, yes I am that insane. So much so that I mapped it out like this:
- Pass ＱＱ and get the fancy schmancy cert
- Print a copy of the cert
- Reach out to erlog and make up a story about how my friend is giving away his old PS4 games and find out what game he wants
- Buy game and then open it, fold up the cert copy and put it inside
- Buy some tiny pet bells to put inside of the game case so it makes an audible noise when picked up or moved to get him to open it up instead of immediately shelving it
- Send carefully prepared PS4 game to erlog and wait for the reaction
I actually did a similar thing with another friend with JLPT N1 (without actually sending anything; I just discreetly made a post on the koohii thread for this other friend to find and interrogate me about as he took it at the same time) in 2018, which I also wasn’t particularly interested in for any of the usual reasons learners take that test. That was so worth it for the reaction, and was only like maybe 2-3 months of studying material specific for the test or getting used to the format. I say “only” as though that’s not a long amount of time for something so dumb but compared to how long Kanken ＱＱ took it wasn’t much.
= Studying Journey =
I had the Kanken step books and also a lot of cards already made in Anki so I wouldn’t have to spend as much time typing up the content from the Step books. I decided that if I could pass in 1.5 years this would be worth doing. I chose that timeframe based on the previous experiences in this thread.
And so I started officially starting serious study in late February / Early March of 2018, starting at a point where I was barely able to pass 五Ｑ and 四Ｑ after being very out of practice. In retrospect, given that I could borderline pass 五Ｑ and 四Ｑ already, I way overestimated how long it would take me to get to ＱＱ. By September I managed my first (borderline) ＱＱ 合格 in Kanken Training 2 3DS. By mid-October I was able to consistently pass in the game, so I was quite well ahead of schedule. That was a pleasant surprise. I felt pretty confident that I’d be able to pass if I could take the test in November, but I didn’t feel like flying over to California just to take it (the only place you can do CBT in the US), so I had to wait until January for the next test slot. I just kept doing practice consistently and daily until then.
It should be noted that the way this game presents the tests is not quite the same as taking the test on paper (more on this later). I was shooting for getting around 90% in the game to account for harsher grading on the actual test. I’m not really the kinda person that just keeps throwing money at tests and hopes for a borderline pass. I only want to bother with the actual test if I think I’ll actually pass. I also don’t find borderline passes that satisfying and plus, what matters more to me is actually having absorbed most to all of the material well.
As far as the acutal studying journey, I’m surprised I managed to keep it up because work actually got quite stresseful and I actually ended up looking for and transitioning to another job elsewhere. I did take September off between jobs, so I had plenty of time then to do Kanken among actual Japaneseing. That being said, the amount of time I spent daily on Kanken pretty much the same regardless of what was happening in my professional life. Throughout the journey, at minimum I spent at least 1.5 hours a day in Anki (most of which was Kanken cards), and on average I probably spent 2 hours a day on Kanken study (including Anki). I was doing 40 new Kanken cards a day, using the default unmodified scheduler (not the new Anki 2.1 experimental one). On November 17th I switched to 20 new cards a day until I ran out, as I was reaching the end of the material I had set out to cover in Anki. I also wanted to gradually reduce my daily Anki load. I tried to do as much of the Anki review as I could while on commutes to and from work, or while I was watching stuff. As many of you are aware I do the dumb jokes about spending all your time in Anki instead of doing real Japanese, but as far as studying for a test like Kanken, Anki is very well suited for it. The writing cards seriously bump up your review time by a lot though and that sucks.
For the initial levels I just blasted through 十Ｑ through 六Ｑ using the game, moving onto the next level when I got my first perfect score. By 五Ｑ I started doing Anki cards (comprised of content from the Step books), while also doing the game. Again, moving onto the next level after a perfect score (and also moving onto the next level’s Anki cards). This meant I didn’t bother covering all the material for each level in Anki cards. By 三Ｑ I decided to move onto 準ＱＱ, and from 準ＱＱ to ＱＱ after consistently getting above 90% because I felt like the arbitrariness of forcing myself to get one perfect score was unnecessary and annoying. Although, with 準ＱＱ I made sure I went through all the Anki cards I had (excluding 読み and 部首), before moving onto ＱＱ study. Around passing 三Ｑ I stopped playing the game daily.
So I think one thing I can say for certain is that for ＱＱ, the corresponding Step book is insufficient to pass (for the lower levels it should suffice). I typed up some extra Anki cards from the パワーアップ section of the ＱＱ Step book, this site, and the カバー ＱＱ book I had (the book basically, groups tested questions by frequency so you can optimize your study - there’s a lot of different books that do this and any one of them should be fine). The パワーアップ section for those that don’t own the ＱＱ Step book is just a section with a bunch of practice questions, after the normal chapters that cover a group of kanji at a time. I only bothered to type up things I got wrong or felt somewhat unsure about. The カバー book was particularly useful for more 四字熟語, since the Step books were a bit light on that content. For any words that I didn’t have covered in the Anki cards from the above resources, if I failed those questions in Kanken Training 2 3DS, then I added the card in Anki. This was a very small portion of the cards though. Actually later on since I was just looking for more resources to cover more ground, and I didn’t want to just go buy other books, I did find http://genbunsha.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/kan2b.pdf which has two unofficial practice tests, although those questions are more slanted towards covering the kanji unique to ＱＱ.
You can really feel the jump from 準ＱＱ to ＱＱ in terms of difficulty. Sometimes you get thrown a 書き取り question that is basically filling in kanji for a proverb, some of which would be impossible to guess without having seen the proverb before. It wasn’t until I went through all the ＱＱ cards I had (again, excluding 読み and 部首), and then on top of that some extra practice in the 3DS game, that I was able to scrape out my first pass in the game in September. I had also finished my aforementioned treatment early in late August, so my concentration capacities came back by mid September. Then I decided to go through all my 部首 cards for both 準ＱＱ and ＱＱ. In the game they give you 4 different choices per question, but this is too much of a hint. On the actual test, you have to just write down the correct radical from memory.
At first the 誤字訂正 section felt like one of the scariest ones but it’s actually not too bad. I found that when I improved my abilities in the other sections like 書き取り and 送り仮名 that 誤字訂正 got naturally easier without me going out of my way to practice that. Of course, I’d still recommend doing practice for this section somewhat regularly through the game, even if it’s just 5 of those questions a day (there are 5 of those questions per full length test).
Reading the previous posts the Kanken chronicles thread you might get the impression that the levels are all independent from each other. In fact, the same is said in the 5ch Kanken threads. This is mostly true, or true enough such it won’t make passing noticeably harder, up until probably 三Ｑ. On ＱＱ, some 準ＱＱ content can pop up, and even some 三Ｑ content can pop up. Especially with the 四字熟語 section, there’s 4 character compounds that can appear (according to the カバー analysis of past tests) that are listed on https://yoji.jitenon.jp corresponding as far down as 五Ｑ. I would say those are actually the more difficult ones to recall on ＱＱ. Also, from 十Ｑ through 四Ｑ you can answer most of the 書き取り and 送り仮名 questions without really bothering to read the whole sentence, but by 三Ｑ it gets noticeably harder to answer the questions without reading the full sentence due to the larger number of homophones.
Additional things to keep in mind about the game versus the actual test. In the game, the kanji you write down is interpreted and recognized by the game before you hit “submit”. This allows for being sloppy with hooks, or missing minor strokes, which would count as incorrect on the actual test. On the first 四字熟語 section in the game, you have to fill in either the first half or the second half of a set of 10 四字熟語. On the second 四字熟語 section in the game, it shows you a different random set of 10 四字熟語, 5 of which you need to match with a definition given. On the actual ＱＱ test, the 10 四字熟語 you had to answer in the first section are also used in the succeeding section which have to be matched to definitions. That being said, the game can actually be harder than the real test for some sections like 四字熟語 and 対義語・類義語 because you only get to see one question at a time before being graded on your answer being correct or wrong, whereas you get to see all the questions at the same time on the actual test. Being to able actually see all the questions at the same time helps for eliminating choices. Starting October 13th I decided to take at least one ＱＱ test in the game daily. Side note, this game will really make you hate writing 壌、譲、or 醸.
= Registration =
Registration for the January test opened up in October. The schedule for overseas offerings of the test isn’t the same as it is in Japan, in case anyone is wondering (see https://www.kanken.or.jp/kanken/group/overseas.html ). I sent a (poorly-worded) e-mail (in Japanese) to the Kanken administrator affiliated with this school (also listed as an official testing location on the Kanken website) to clarify how I was supposed to fill out the form. She replied back with my arch-nemesis: business keigo. In Japan of course you fill out your name in the order of last -> first, but since this was a Japanese school located in America I didn’t know what order I should fill it in. So for anyone who is interested in taking it at any of the affiliated campuses with this school, it’s last name -> first name. Then there’s also a bunch of other questions like what grade are you and what school are you affiliated with (所属部門、外部生、日本式の学年), none of which applied to me since I wasn’t even a student anywhere anymore (except at the well accredited Anki Addicts Anonymous University). The Kanken administrator told me I could just write nothing for those sections on the application. I also asked how long it would take to actually get the results by mail and she said to expect about 5 weeks given that there’s mail being shuffled between the US and Japan. She actually mentioned that after about 3 weeks the results are actually made available to the Kanken administrators, so if I really wanted to know earlier then I could contact her.
= Test Day =
So it turned out that there’s a Kinokuniya near the school where I was taking the test, and they had Kanken study books so I was just looking through them to kill time and do last minute practice for 30 minutes before I actually went over to the school to take the test. Lucky me I suppose, but I was already plenty overprepared as I described earlier.
So on test day I was the only adult test taker in a classroom with like nine other elementary or middle school kids. I expcted this based on what others have said about taking these tests outside of Japan. It would have been a pretty hilarious scene for anyone to observe since I had to sit at a tiny desk with a tiny chair. I did think there would be more kids taking the test, but I guess the school it took place at wasn’t that big. Another difference which I expected was how much larger (physically) the actual question and answer sheets were compared to the answer sheet I printed out for practice ( See “答案用紙 PDF” on https://www.kanken.or.jp/kanken/textbook/past.html ). My handwriting is pretty messy in general so I had to keep erasing and redrawing characters carefully on actual test day, even though I did practice more carefully closer to testing day to be more disciplined. All in all no huge surprises, although I was slightly miffed that they happened to put a 四字熟語 on there I hadn’t seen before (it was 報怨以徳) since I specifically put a lot of time aside to cover a lot of those and in practice tests I had those nailed down almost perfectly. But honestly, it didn’t matter since I knew from all my practice there was just about no way I was going to fail unless I got too many points docked due to my lousy handwriting.
I did confirm via e-mail after the 3 week mark that I had passed. It took longer (~7 weeks after taking the test) for the actual certificate and results packet to arrive at my mailbox.
= Ending Remarks =
Well I finally caught up to my “sempai”, and now I’m passing the baton onto Jay (gaiaslastlife) who has now inherited the aforementioned Kanken step books. Here’s to hoping that the strangely longish legacy of studying through these books continues on.
I don’t personally feel like the ＱＱ certificate is actually that great of an achievement, not to knock anyone who is proud of having the certificate because it really does take a lot of effort to pass as a non-native speaker. If you look at the statistics, you’ll see the passing rate for ＱＱ hovers a bit above 20%, but most of these test takers likely don’t go out of their way to study for this test and most of these test takers are probably high schoolers. While Japanese adults might not necessarily be able to pass right off the bat, if you do some googling it becomes apparently very quickly that the amount of studying Japanese adults would have to do is much less (probably 1-2 months tops, likely doable in less time). I mean, this is to be expected, and sure it depends on the education level of the person. However, since day one of doing any Japanese study I’ve always compared myself to adult, native speakers. “Adult native speakers” is grossly simplifying it but let’s leave it at that.
Actually I looked through some Kanken threads on 5ch. By and large, people seemed to be most concerned about the 四字熟語, which is fair because that probably is the hardest section. You get the least context compared to any other section and have to figure out which two characters to write.
As a side effect, my listening ability has definitely improved since the kana -> kanji conversion is much easier. Really though if your primary goal is to get better at listening, trying to pass a vocab writing test is probably not the best use of your time.
Apologies for conveying probably very little useful information in far too many words and in a roundabout fashion, but hey that’s kind of a Japanese way to do it so I guess I’m still on-brand. I’m happy to give tips or suggestions to the people who’re already committed to this path, even if I’d suggest otherwise. I don’t really know what it is people want to know about this test.
If I have one thing to say to people who talk about Kanken who’ve never taken it, please actually look at literally any level’s sample questions to get an idea of what it actually tests. Seriously people, this test is not the JLPT; a brief glance at the sample questions for any level will make this really obvious.
I think the most important thing I learned from this experience is that while other people are motivated by some kind of magic appeal of Japanese culture, or are fascinated by the beauty of Chinese characters (personally I’m not a calligraphy person), or have some extreme yellow fever, what really motivates me to study Japanese is to mess with my friends. Can’t say I’ve come by a more inspiring reason than that.
Anyway brb showing off to all the Japanesesers by naturally dropping it in conversation.
Some excerpts from the day my PS4 game gift arrived…
[21:26:09] <erlog> Holy ***ing ****
[21:26:11] <erlog> god dammit
[21:26:12] <austin> ?
[21:26:37] <erlog> My wife was like, "oh wow, this American dude just sends you a game, what about shipping? Damn, American people are ***ing suckers"
[21:26:54] <austin> They really are
[21:27:00] <erlog> and as I was opening it, "I was like, oh yeah, Austin is just a real solid dood you know"
[21:27:17] <erlog> And then I opened the letter, and, I ignored it to look at the rest of the pages
[21:27:20] <erlog> and you ****ing ***er
[21:27:26] <austin> ? What are you talking about?
[21:27:31] <erlog> sent your god damn 2kyuu cert
[21:27:38] <austin> 2kyuu? like JLPT N2?
[21:27:38] <erlog> for kanken
[21:27:44] <austin> What's a kanken
[21:27:46] <erlog> No, my wife made that same mistake actually
[21:27:56] <erlog> ****ing kanji kentei insane ****
[21:28:22] <austin> That's weird how did someone's 2kyuu kanken cert get stuck inside the game box
[21:28:30] <erlog> and you got a higher score
[21:32:48] <erlog> I have been so owned by this, and god damn. This may not have been like 3x or 4x the work of the N1 cert, but god damn, this is some legendary prank shenanigans
[22:17:47] <erlog> So the thing that actually is really ****ing me up right now
[22:17:57] <erlog> is your friend that got rid of his PS4 even real?
[22:18:17] <austin> erlog: No I completely made that up
[22:18:21] <austin> LOL
[22:18:36] <erlog> damn
[22:18:41] <erlog> that is some dedication