New Zealanders are increasingly embracing a multilingual world. The number of students taking languages at NCEA level highlights this way of thinking. The NCEA Japanese exams are challenging, particularly as students learn to communicate in a new writing system but taking the time to review past NCEA exam papers and develop an excellent revision strategy can make all the difference.
An assessment from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority reporting on an NCEA Japanese scholarship exam highlighted that: candidates who were awarded Scholarship with Outstanding Performance commonly:
- demonstrated a clear and deep understanding of the texts
- drew perceptive conclusions from the texts
- integrated their own ideas throughout their response
- worked consistently over the three questions to a high level.
Students want to know how to reach this level of understanding to pass NCEA Japanese so well.
Learning written Japanese for NCEA Level exams
Remember, with written Japanese, you have three language systems.
Hiragana and Katakana both use symbols that represent a syllable. This is a system you are used to in English. Each has a limited number of sounds to memorise, and once you can understand the sounds, it is easier to decode the word. You will need to read and write this to translate and communicate effectively in your exam.
Looking at this example from the NCEA Level 1 Japanese 2020 (Unit 90896 Demonstrate understanding of a variety of Japanese texts on areas of most immediate relevance), the first thing to notice is that there is help!
There is no expectation that you should be completely fluent at this level, so certain words and phrases are given to you. The “glossed vocabulary” helps to provide a clear guideline for context.
As you are reading, if there are unfamiliar words, underline them and move on. Getting the general idea of what the text is about will give you more confidence to translate fully.
When responding to questions that relate to the particular text, are you able to correctly include the glossed vocabulary words in your response? If you fully understand the text, you will find writing an engaging and interesting answer easier.
Kanji is a logographic written language, which means that every character represents a word. With over 50,000 characters, it can be an incredibly overwhelming language to learn, but you only need around 2,000 to communicate effectively. In English, we have logograms as well. Think of the symbols @ and %, our written numbers, or text language such as “lol”.
All of these are random symbols that we know and understand to mean a word or phrase. So before you start despairing that you will never understand Kanji, remember that you already have experience memorising the meaning behind symbols. With NCEA Japanese, you need to remember less than 50 symbols for each level – that’s less than one a week!
Accessing Japanese Past Exam Papers and Audio Recordings
Teachers working with NCEA Japanese students will usually provide printed copies of past exams to allow students time to practice working through exam questions. However, anyone can also assess a wealth of resources on the NZQA website.
As well as past exams, including audio recordings and transcripts, the NZQA provides a range of exemplars. These are the exams submitted and marked for that year, so you can see the student’s working. They are provided as examples of the quality of work required to get a passing NCEA grade of different levels.
You will be able to access different examples of exams that have been returned as Excellence, Merit, and Achievement. Along with seeing how a previous student completed the exam, you can also see the assessor’s comments, which can be invaluable when you are working on reviewing your own test exam practice.
Learning Japanese to see Tokyo at night. Image by Binmassam from Pixabay
Study Tips for Reading Japanese
NCEA Japanese exams try to use authentic texts rather than texts created explicitly for the exam. This means that you might be looking at a newspaper article, an advertisement for a magazine, a travel blog, or a note between friends. This all means that one of the best study tips for passing your Japanese exam is to increase your exposure!
Most media is online, so if your interest is in learning Japanese via fashion tips, mastering Japanese business skills, or skimming through Famitsu to practice reading Japanese before a twitch stream, it is not too hard to find a way to create a total immersion Japanese experience in New Zealand.
Study Tips for Understanding Spoken Japanese
As with reading Japanese, the best way to understand spoken Japanese is to listen to it! Also, like reading and writing Japanese, you can find a range of listening resources online.
For beginners, you can find audio and video that are spoken slowly. While generally it is recommended to use resources that are spoken at a native speed, when you are first learning a language, it can be helpful to listen to the spoken language a little slower to help build confidence. News in slow spoken Japanese provides current affairs. At the same time, YouTube has a range of stories and conversations on various topics spoken in relaxed, clear Japanese.
The possibilities are endless for intermediate or advanced Japanese students heading into NCEA level 2 or NCEA level 3. From Japanese movies (try putting Japanese subtitles on for an extra boost) to live-streamed gaming on Twitch and a massive range of Japanese music.
While JPop is often what people think about when they think about Japanese music, there is also a robust heavy metal scene in Japan. Traditional music, Gagaku, classical music, and country music all have strong followings throughout Japan, so you will find music to suit your tastes either on YouTube or through an OnDemand radio station.
Listening Tips in NCEA Languages
While you’re listening, write down any new words you learn. Keeping a note of new words, phrases, and even the resources you use will provide you with excellent revision material.
Try to listen within a theme. This can help reinforce the vocabulary you hear and allow you to hear vocabulary within different contexts and accents.
Finding A Japanese Tutor
Often students will bring in a tutor when they are struggling. However, a tutor can be helpful to ensure that you are creating a revision schedule that works for you – and that you are revising the right areas.
Before engaging a tutor to help you through NCEA Japanese, consider:
- What experience do they have with NCEA Japanese? This could be teaching it, tutoring students at this level, or even a previous student who achieved high marks at NCEA level.
- What are their strengths and weaknesses regarding Japanese? Even native speakers have areas where they are more proficient. You can ask if a potential tutor can help you develop your reading and writing ability or work with you to improve your conversational listening skills.
- What are interests or topics that they are particularly passionate about? Finding a tutor who has areas of interest that align with yours will make developing a repour easier, of course. Still, it also makes it more likely that you will find it easier to build your fluency if you can communicate about topics you are genuinely interested in. They may also have some great resources to help you create a fuller immersion experience.
- Do they have a good reputation? This is where you either get a word-of-mouth recommendation or, better yet, work through the online reviews. Websites dedicated to finding a great tutor like Superprof allow students to work with a local tutor based on reviews, expertise, location, and even price.
NCEA Japanese Marking
When markers are going through your exam, they are looking for your excellence! To show that you understand Japanese at an excellent level, you need to demonstrate a thorough understanding. Make sure you think about what you are writing or speaking. Communicate clearly and stretch yourself.
If you can show that your work reaches the requirements expected of an “Excellence” grade, that is the mark you will receive for that question. Following a “top down” marking system, the markers aren’t looking to fail you; they are looking first for all the requirements of an excellence; if these aren’t showing, then they will look for the markers that your answer fits all the evidence to reach a “Merit”, then down to “Achievement”.
Go through the Excellence exemplar’s available on the NZQA website to ensure you know what is expected of you. These are not perfect examples but actual answers that were submitted for the exam. When you look through them, can you see how you would improve on the solution?
Fall in love with Japanese
No matter what your reasons were for initially choosing to study Japanese at the NCEA level, it is a fantastic language with a rich history you could spend a lifetime exploring. With exam tips, guidance for Japanese revision, and suggestions on where to find resources, you are well on your way to not only passing your NCEA Japanese exams with flying colours but falling in love with the language and culture.
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