Monthly Archives: December 2013

Spaced repetition with iKnow!

I’ve recent­ly renewed my iKnow! sub­scrip­tion, with the aim of fin­ish­ing the Japan­ese Core 6000 series (the 6000 most com­mon­ly appear­ing Japan­ese words) once and for all. I’ve tried many dif­fer­ent meth­ods for vocab­u­lary build­ing and I’ve found iKnow! to be one of the most reli­able to date (if you put in the time!). After learn­ing some words in iKnow!, I seem to notice them ran­dom­ly when watch­ing TV shows, read­ing arti­cles, etc. which fur­ther rein­forces the words in my mem­o­ry. In con­junc­tion with gen­er­ous help­ings of nat­ur­al sources of Japan­ese, I am hop­ing iKnow! will help push me towards flu­en­cy in 2014.

iKnow! is an online, paid, learn­ing ser­vice based on spaced rep­e­ti­tion that can help you learn and remem­ber words. There are pre-built cours­es with exam­ple sen­tences, images and sounds, and your progress is saved online. iOS and Android apps are also avail­able (full dis­clo­sure: I used to work on the iKnow! Android app).

iKnow! welcome screen.

iKnow! wel­come screen.

Spaced rep­e­ti­tion is a learn­ing tech­nique where­by you increase the amount of time between sub­se­quent reviews to max­i­mize learn­ing effi­cien­cy. Intu­itive­ly, review­ing items too ear­ly (when you still remem­ber it) is wast­ed effort, and so to min­i­mize the amount of time study­ing you should only review just as you are about to for­get it. There are algo­rithms that exist to try to cal­cu­late this opti­mal time inter­val, one of which is imple­ment­ed by the iKnow! ser­vice. iKnow! also intro­duces the con­cept of ‘mas­ter­ing’, which is basi­cal­ly a thresh­old at which reten­tion is deemed suf­fi­cient­ly high.

Repeated reviewed items follow a different curve

Repeat­ed reviewed items fol­low a dif­fer­ent curve

There are sev­er­al free spaced rep­e­ti­tion apps avail­able too (e.g. Anki), but I’m choos­ing to use iKnow! for the pre-pack­aged con­tent, var­ied quiz types, tar­get setting/progress sys­tem, and reli­able sync­ing across dif­fer­ent apps/platforms. iKnow! repeats con­tent a lot more often dur­ing a ses­sion mak­ing reviews take a bit longer com­pared to Anki, but read­ing the exam­ple sen­tences again and again seems to help me with reten­tion.

Core 6000 is split up into 6 dif­fer­ent series (Core 1000 — Core 6000), each hav­ing 1000 words. In turn, each series has 10 cours­es, con­tain­ing 100 words each. The ini­tial cours­es have plen­ty of images and exam­ple sen­tences, but this degrades some­what as you progress (from around Core 3000 you only get one exam­ple sen­tence per word, and no images).

iKnow! study screen.

iKnow! study screen.

I start­ed on Core 1000 Step 1, and my most recent­ly mas­tered course was Core 4000 Step 5. Hav­ing cur­rent­ly put in 208 hours in total, the aver­age time for me to fin­ish a course is 6 hours. With some extrap­o­la­tion, and a study tar­get of 7 hours per week, it will me 150 hours (21.4 weeks) to fin­ish the remain­ing 25 cours­es. Main­tain­ing 1 hour per day may seem straight­for­ward, but with­out some basic plan­ning it is easy to slip up. This time round, I’m going to try to split up my ses­sions through­out the day to get through it a bit eas­i­er. Feel free to ask me about my iKnow! progress in 2014!

Current progress in iKnow!

Cur­rent progress in iKnow!

JLPT… We meet again!

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On Sun­day, I took the JLPT exam (Japan­ese Lan­guage Pro­fi­cien­cy Test) here in Tokyo. The JLPT has sev­er­al lev­els rang­ing from N5 (the least dif­fi­cult) to N1 (the most dif­fi­cult). Hav­ing recent­ly passed N3 in July, I decid­ed to give N2 a try this time round! N2 is gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered the min­i­mum lev­el required to live and work in a Japan­ese envi­ron­ment with­out major prob­lems. Improv­ing my Japan­ese will help me in all aspects of my life (as long as I remain in Japan) and so it only make sense to spend the time to study prop­er­ly. I think I sat this a bit pre­ma­ture­ly, but it gave me a con­crete tar­get to aim for and has helped to guide my study in the past few months. Pass or fail, I am hap­py some progress was made!

In Japan, you can take the exam up to twice a year. You apply for a par­tic­u­lar lev­el a few months in advance, pay­ing a nom­i­nal fee (5500 yen). The test loca­tion seems to be decid­ed based on your address — I was assigned to Tokyo City Uni­ver­si­ty — Seta­gaya cam­pus. The test site was 15 min­utes walk from the near­est train sta­tion. I was wor­ried the place might be hard to find, but there were many, many oth­er peo­ple (1000s?) also sit­ting the exam, and we formed a long line from the sta­tion all the way up to the test site. The oth­er can­di­dates seemed to be pre­dom­i­nate­ly Asian (Chi­nese, Viet­namese), but there were also peo­ple from many oth­er coun­tries too. Every­one seemed to be in their ear­ly 20s, and judg­ing from a few over­heard con­ver­sa­tions, most­ly uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents.

There were sev­er­al exam rooms across sev­er­al build­ings, with each room hav­ing about 100 stu­dents. They were extreme­ly strict on what was allowed and not allowed on your desk — in par­tic­u­lar, sev­er­al peo­ple were told off for hav­ing erasers still inside their cas­es. All of the instruc­tions from the exam­in­ers were in Japan­ese, but they gen­er­al­ly stuck to set phras­es and used sim­ple lan­guage. It was inter­est­ing to see how well (and not well) my fel­low stu­dents could under­stand the oral instruc­tions!

The N2 exam is bro­ken into two sec­tions, ‘Lan­guage Knowl­edge’ (vocab­u­lary, gram­mar, read­ing) and lis­ten­ing. The first sec­tion, includ­ing prep time, was about 2 hours, while the sec­ond last­ed about 1 hour. There was a gen­er­ous break (about 30 min­utes) in-between. Time man­age­ment was a bit of a prob­lem on the lan­guage knowl­edge sec­tion, but I man­aged to make it to half-way through the last ques­tion before time ran out. There were quite a few words I didn’t rec­og­nize in the vocab sec­tion, and it took me more than a while to read the long pas­sages in the read­ing sec­tion, but gram­mar went rea­son­ably well. I was feel­ing men­tal­ly drained going into the lis­ten­ing sec­tion, but had no choice but to keep as focused as I could through­out. Most ques­tions and key points are only men­tioned once, and so a brief slip in con­cen­tra­tion could spell dis­as­ter. I made many notes whilst lis­ten­ing, but still missed a few things when it came to answer­ing the ques­tions. If the audio was played twice, this would be be the eas­i­est sec­tion of the exam by far. But the extreme lev­el of con­cen­tra­tion required (along with being gen­er­al­ly tired after the lan­guage knowl­edge sec­tion) keeps this some­what chal­leng­ing.

The results will be announced in ear­ly Feb­ru­ary 2014(!), so I have quite a while to go before I find out how well I did. I will keep study­ing in the mean­time — hope­ful­ly 1 year from now I will be in a posi­tion to con­fi­dent­ly sit JLPT N1! Time to ramp up my study for 2014!

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