Before I took the placement test myself, I remember searching the Internet, almost desperately, for some kind of information about what I should expect and how I should prepare. But even after going through, like, twenty or thirty pages of Google, I ended up finding only two or three blog posts on the topic. So that’s why I decided to write a post about the Japanese placement test at Doshisha University myself – just to put some more information out there, and to hopefully help out some future Doshisha exchange students at least a little bit by doing so.
Doshisha University has nine levels of Japanese language classes that form a spectrum in terms of difficulty
(lol what am I even writing).
- Levels 1 and 2 are the easiest levels, targetted towards people that have either never studied Japanese prior to coming to Doshisha, or who only know the basics.
- Levels 3 and 4 are for more advanced beginners or pre-intermediate learners.
- Levels 5 and 6 are for intermediate and pre-advanced Japanese learners.
- Levels 7,8 and 9 are designed for people that are most likely (close to being) fluent in Japanese, and are either preparing for or have already passed the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, N1.
People who make it into level 3 or 4 are also able to enroll for a few extra classes held in Japanese – such as for example an ikebana (flower arrangement) class. Generally, however, you need to make it to at least level 5 to be able to take (more serious) Japanese-taught lectures, like culture or politics classes. I did hear though that sometimes exceptions can be made in certain situations, allowing level 4 students to take a lecture requiring Japanese level 5 and upwards.
Part One: Written Exam
There were two parts to the placement test, where the first part was a multiple choice exam consisting of three sections. The first section was supposed to be the easiest, covering grammar, vocabulary and Kanji points that are taught at the JLPT N5 and N4 levels, the easiest levels. In our case, the first section had 75 questions. The second section covered grammar, vocabulary and Kanji questions at the JLPT N3 and N2 level, and, in our case, had 30 questions. The third and final section dealt with grammar, vocabulary and Kanji at the JLPT N1 level – the highest level – and, like the second section, contained 30 questions.
We were given 70 minutes to finish the test, but we weren’t actually expected or forced to answer all the questions. The teachers told us that total beginners could pretty much just answer a handful of questions, then turn in the exam and leave the room early. For questions we weren’t sure about, we could just skip them. Also, we didn’t even have to go through and look at all the sections.
So, for that reason, if I can give any prospective Doshisha exchange student any advice, it would be to not force yourself and try to guess yourself through the placement test
(although I kind of did that at times throughout the test, if I’m honest). If you know for sure that you’re not N2 or N1 level, there is no real point in looking at the last section and attempting those questions. Maybe just try to focus on the material that you already studied and that seems familiar to you, and do your best to answer those questions correctly.
Also, don’t let the placement test discourage you in any way. The teachers told us that the first section would cover the very basics and be made of N5 and N4 material, but when I opened the test booklet and looked at the questions, I found most of the questions to be at the N4 level, with only a handful being as easy as N5. The first question already confused me a lot, and I’m actually pretty sure that I got that one wrong. I think I even had a mini panic attack around the tenth question because the first few questions were just way more difficult than I had anticipated. But yeah, all in all, I feel like the test was a lot harder than the teachers actually made it out to be. So don’t feel discouraged while taking it or afterwards, and don’t lose faith in your own Japanese skills or anything like that. Just try to answer everything as best as you can, and trust the teachers to assign you to the appropriate level. If you are really unhappy with your results afterwards, or if your home university requires you to be in a certain level and you cannot make it, go talk to the teachers as soon as possible, and they will probably do their best to find a solution.
Part Two: Interview
The second part of the placement test was an interview. Some people were interviewed in groups of three people, some people had to go in alone. In my case, I had my interview with two other people – a girl from South Korea, and a boy from Hawaii (who were both much better at Japanese than me). We were interviewed by three teachers – two women and one man. We first had to introduce ourselves briefly, and then were asked to talk about where and for how long we had been studying Japanese. After that, the teachers asked us about what we wanted to achieve during our time abroad at Doshisha University in terms of Japanese skills.
At this point my own interview experience became somewhat different from that of my friends, because it turned out that the girl from South Korea was expected by her teachers at her Korean university to take regular Japanese lectures and classes, which apparently was problematic because her level was not sufficient according to her written placement test and the interviewing teachers’ judgement (which was a little ridiculous if you ask me, because that girl was pretty much fluent at Japanese). So they ended up talking and discussing about that for more than five minutes, which didn’t leave a lot of time for me or the Hawaiian guy to speak.
(Though, deep down, I was actually super relieved and happy about that, heh.)
We had nearly run out of time when the issue was finally somewhat resolved
(the teachers had totally forgotten that the Hawaiian guy and I were still in the room, I think), so the teachers quickly made us read some Kanji as an ending to the interview. One of the female teachers came up to us and showed us a white sheet of paper on which there were three rows of Kanji, with each row consisting of three Kanji. I had to read the first row – 普及（ふ・きゅう, fukyuu）, 現像（げん・ぞう, genzou）and 代表（だい・ひょう, daihyou) (no idea what they mean, roflcopter) – and I messed up a little because I forgot how to read the first Kanji. At least I guessed remembered the other two. But anyway, after that, we were free to go.
I talked to many people afterwards, and it seemed like everyone’s interview experience had been very different. One of my friends was interviewed by herself by only one or two teachers. A few other friends said that they had to read a little next or just one sentence instead of Kanji. Some of my friends were even directly questioned about their placement test: a friend of mine that had had her interview right after mine told me that the teachers directly told her that she had done not so well on the first section, but had aced the second section. Another friend was even told her result during the interview, almost an entire week before we were actually supposed to know.
So yeah, the interview was a very different process and experience for each and everyone of us. But I guess that generally you could say that the interview was a great chance to let the teachers know about our own ambitions and background – what we wanted to get out of studying Japanese at Doshisha University and whether our respective home university had any requirements that needed to be paid attention to. So, my piece of advice would be to make good use of this interview, and to view it as an important opportunity. Also, I feel that, if you think about the interview in that way, it seems a little less scary overall.
As I hinted at a little earlier, the results of the placement test were announced a little less than a week – five or six days – later. We couldn’t check the results online or anything; instead, we had to physically go to the campus and check a list on the message board, where everyone’s name and Japanese level was written down. To my surprise, I made it into level V, the intermediate/pre-advanced level. I have no idea how I managed to do that, especially because I thought that I had messed up horribly on the written part. Still, I was really happy and relieved. Many of my friends were also assigned to level 5, which was also really awesome.
But yeah, that was essentially all I have to say about the placement test at Doshisha University. Sorry to all of my friends who are reading this blog, I know this post is probably not really interesting to you at all; I wanted to write it anyway, though, because I felt like this might be useful for prospective exchange students at Doshisha University. If you are a prospective exchange student, and you are reading this and have more questions, please feel free to comment and ask away! I’ll try my best to be helpful. But anyway … yeah. That’s it. Until next time, tschüüüüüüüüüssi
(my German way of saying BAIAIAIAIAI)