Whether you are sitting NCEA Japanese Level 1, or taking on the NCEA Japanese Scholarship level, the key to getting good marks is consistency. This means you need to develop an understanding of Japanese that allows you to answer exam questions clearly with few errors.

One of the hardest things for new learners to realise is that a fluent speaker will understand their poor language attempts. If you are a fluent English speaker, are you able to read the beginning story attempts of a 6-year-old? While you may make some monumental mistakes, chances are high that you misspeak in English as well.

So, the key is to just keep trying. The more you speak and write Japanese, the easier it will be, and the faster you will achieve fluency. In class, your teacher wants you to focus on correct pronunciation and grammar. However, out of school, you should be practising writing and speaking as often as you can and worry about correcting yourself later.

How does this help you pass your NCEA Japanese Exams? By building your confidence in using the language you are improving your ability to communicate in Japanese. You are also reducing the stress students put themselves under worrying about sitting exams.

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Look at past NCEA Japanese Exams

The New Zealand Ministry of Education provides all past exams for current topics. This means that whatever unit you are taking, at any NCEA level, you will have access to all the exams, including recordings and transcripts. You can head over to the NZQA NCEA Japanese Resources to access all of these.

In addition, there is a list of the vocabulary that you are expected to know at each level. Using flashcards or a free flashcard app such as AnkiApp or Quizlet, you can use repetition to help you master all the words in the vocabulary list for your NCEA level.

For example, in NCEA Japanese Level 1, you will need to recognise and use 55 Kanji. While that may seem a lot, particularly alongside other work, the reality is that these are commonly used. The first nine, in fact, are:

一  二  三  四  五  六 七 八  九  十

Which are simply the numbers 1-9. The others include days of the week, directions, and identifiers such as child, mother and boy. When you start to look at the requirements for what you will need to know and think about how you would use your new Japanese vocabulary in a sentence, it becomes easier to remember.

Using the expected vocabulary for your NCEA level, are you able to work out how to write short sentences that describe your family, your age, or your interests?

Create a personal dictionary

Are there words that you want to use all the time or words and phrases that you can never seem to remember? Put them on a post-it note and place them where you will see them often.

As you are reading or listening to something in Japanese, write down any new or interesting words. In this way, you create your own personal dictionary of words that you want to use and refer to. It is also in this way that you increase your vocabulary – which will enable you to impress your Japanese exam assessors.

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Answering NCEA Japanese Exam Questions

Questions are asked in both English and Japanese - try to read the Japanese first. Partially because this provides a better example of the nuance expected and partially because this helps jump-start your brain into thinking in Japanese.

You will be required to read a range of different texts and then write an essay answering questions. This is a comprehension question, so read the question first, then write notes as you read the texts that can help you form your answer.

Remember, you can always ask for more paper – so use the space you need to be clear with your thoughts. Make sure that you are very clear – and don’t forget to put each question number in the margin.

Have a look at this example question from the NCEA 2020 Scholarship Japanese (93002) exam. Notice the very subtle differences between the language variants.

Schools in both Japan and New Zealand have opportunities to learn outside the classroom. Explain the similarities and differences between these opportunities. Which system do you prefer, and why? Support your own opinion by considering other views, as well as those in the passage. Develop a structured and well-considered argument.

日本の学校でもニュージーランドの学校でも教室外 がくしゅう のチャンスがあります。会話の内容 ないよう に触 れながら、2つの国の類似点 るいじてん と相違点 そういてん について説明 せつめい し、どちらの国 の教室外 がくしゅう の方がいいか、また、なぜそう思うかについて、日本語でエッセイを書いてください。 ほか の人の意見 いけん と会話で示 しめ された意見 いけん を踏 まえて、自分 じぶん の意見 いけん をサポートし、よく かんが えた内容 ないよう と構成 こうせい のエッセイにしてください。

Making errors will not necessarily reduce your mark, as long as your answer can be understood and you use suitable vocabulary.

Practice Your Timing

One of the most challenging aspects of any language exam is running out of time. In NCEA Japanese exam, you will need to write an essay. You will likely have had quite a lot of practice both reading and writing Japanese during your classes.

Go through a few practice exams and answer the questions – but time yourself. The compulsion to look up and see how long you’ve been working not only distracts your train of thought but wastes time! Ensure that the timer is not making a noise (so no loud ticking clocks) and is not visible to you.

The reading and writing component of past NCEA Japanese exams allows for two hours. If you are taking significantly less time than this, go through what you have written carefully and see where you could improve. This is the perfect time to bring in a tutor to help you develop further.

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When to bring in a Japanese Tutor

The two main reasons to seek out a tutor to help with NCEA Japanese are either because you are struggling to understand or think you’re doing really well but need an extra push to reach Excellence level.

When you’re looking at engaging a tutor to help you with your exam work, whether they are a Superprof tutor with experience in NCEA and teaching Japanese or someone you’ve found on Facebook, there are several resources available to help them help you.

When you first meet with your Japanese tutor, whether in person or online, show them your practice exams to understand where you are and talk with them about what you want to improve on. Also, ask for their suggestions on areas you could work on.

If your Japanese tutor has limited experience with NCEA, you can suggest they look at the NZQA website for the teaching resources, and there is also a wealth of NCEA Japanese information for tutors, teachers and assessors to be found on TKI, the Ministry of Educations teaching resource website.

Create as much immersion experience as possible

If you’ve made learning a series of dreary repetitions, you won’t learn as well. Things that you find interesting and engaging are much easier to recall. Luckily, Japan has a rich culture with a vast range of native resources. For example, if you are fascinated with ancient history, cartoons, or food, there will be something Japanese you will find engaging.

If you are watching your favourite show, is there a Japanese dub version of it? Can you put Japanese subtitles on while listening to Japanese audio? You will often find that you pick up what is being said faster, and whatever you do, avoid putting on English subtitles. You’ll find that you end up reading whatever you are watching rather than trying to understand the audio.

Can you read books, manga or blogs in Japanese? Start with short texts, and manga or comics are good for this.

Being proficient in your native language can make it frustrating to slow down to understand your target language. But just as you learned to speak as a toddler and learned to read as a child, you will master communicating in Japanese – as long as you keep practising and using the language wherever you can.

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Alison