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A Guide of Questionable Quality to VCE Japanese SL
« on: December 18, 2019, 07:06:56 pm »
Please note that all advice in this guide is simply what worked for me. If you find that something doesn’t work for you, don’t do it!

In general:

•   Listen to your teacher; they have a lot more experience than I do and are actually qualified to teach this
•   Listen to yourself; you are the one who can best judge your own progress and learning
•   Check your understanding by consulting your teacher. Show them your work, ask them for clarification, and learn

That being said, by all means, please take what you can from this guide and others out there on the internet. I hope this will prove helpful to future students. Each section includes a summary so if you’re in a hurry, you can get the essentials out of this quickly.

Self-Introduction: I started learning Japanese in year 10, as someone from a non-Japanese background, with no knowledge of kanji, and my only exposure to the language being anime and songs. My VCE Japanese experience was somewhat rough, with teachers changing three times (for a total of four across two years, one of whom was unfortunately unable to teach at all for practically the entirety of Term 3 in Year 12). At the end of 2019, I managed a raw 45, and passed the JLPT N2. Hopefully, the following will help you achieve the best you can, regardless of what you think you’re capable of!

General Language Learning
This part does not include exam/SAC advice, and is more geared to outlining ways in which to learn Japanese as a whole. For exam-specific techniques, please scroll a bit further down.

Section Summary:
•   Use flashcards/Quizlets/look-cover-write check if you’re pressed for time
•   Consume a bunch of media and hopefully see a word you’re learning pop up for long-term memorisation
•   Recommend learning vocab based on the VCE Vocab List (https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/vce/japanese2nd/japanesevocab.pdf)
•   Check your understanding of the nuances and understanding of the words are correct by consulting your teacher or anyone else who is otherwise sufficiently well-versed in Japanese

If you want to learn lots of new words quickly, look no further than Quizlet. Bring up a set and fire away. Or perhaps even do the good old look-cover-write-check with a vocab list your teacher has given you. You’ll be crammed with words in no time.

Incidentally, this is also the best away to forget words quickly. Personally, I found that nothing quite shoves vocab out of your mind like a deluge of even more vocab, coming in hot not even an hour after my brain has finished processing the last batch. For short-term memorisation, flashcards and Quizlet sets are the way to go. Don’t think that this is a purely bad thing, however. Given the workload of VCE, especially year 12, it is absolutely possible that you will be in a position where you desperately need a top-up of knowledge for use in that one SAC, or test, or what-have-you—and you really don’t have time to spare, because the Chemistry faculty has decided they want in on your time, and so has the Maths department. A simple Quizlet grind will serve you very well here, albeit inefficiently in the long-term.

Long-term memorisation is a bit trickier. A simple key I found was to have some sort of strong association or memory linked to the words you’re learning. This can be a mnemonic, but what worked best for me was coming across the words actually being used. Not in a study environment, where I expect it to come up, but in say, a song, or a show, or a teacher’s explanation, or a joke my friend made. I personally learnt best through songs. For example, I learnt 満足 (satisfaction), 税金 (tax money), 快晴 (clear skies), and even 二酸化炭素 (carbon dioxide) from songs, just to name a few.

(Side note, I do think that what best sticks out for you depends on person to person. Asking your teacher for an example sentence (or searching up the word + 例文 if you’re shy) could probably be enough for some people. If your brain is a bit troublesome like mine, though…)

This, as you can imagine, is not really all that controllable. You can simply expose yourself to what media you can (e.g. podcasts, NHK Web Easy articles, songs, etc.) and if you’re lucky, you’ll hear a word you recognise and it your memory will solidify. A bonus benefit to this is that you’ll have an example sentence sitting right there in your lap.

Your best bet, however, would be to combine the two and ideally both learn a lot of words by rote while also exposing yourself to a lot of actual Japanese. Even better, you can make your learning more precise by going through the VCE Vocab List so you’re not going around blindly looking for words in JLPT sets (three guesses as to who did this, first two don’t count and the answer is this guy right here). Of course, if you want to learn further vocabulary to have a more fleshed out response in your Part Bs and essay, do feel free to venture out with various JLPT sets.

Finally, you should ensure you understand how a word is used by asking your teacher about it. There are a lot of nuances involved with each word, and you don’t want to be the one saying 述べる(to describe) when you should be using 表現する (to express) (again, three guesses as to who did this). Googling it can also help, as well as using language exchange apps, but I’ll discuss the latter a bit later.   

Section Summary:
•   Learn grammar as you need to (i.e. when you want to say something but can’t)
•   I used https://www.learn-japanese-adventure.com/, https://japanesetest4you.com/, http://maggiesensei.com/.
•   Check with your teacher to make sure you’re not suddenly incoherent whenever you learn a new grammar pattern

There is a VCE Japanese SL grammar list. It has, ostensibly, all the grammar you need to know in it.
I didn’t use it.

This is my own opinion, but I think that limiting your Japanese to what is simply listed as essential need-to-knows, as one might do for science subjects with the study design, is a mistake. Using the vocab list is fine because you’ll have your dictionary to fill in any gaps, but if you want to say something in Japanese but can’t find the right grammar pattern to do so, you’re on your own. You do not want to waste time trying to rework what you want to say into what’s on the grammar list.

On the other hand, going absolutely all-in with learning as much grammar as you can is also a mistake, because you’ll get confused. This is especially so if you’ve recently learnt a grammar pattern that seems really similar to another.

A neat solution is to simply carry on your merry way, learning in grammar in class and doing writing tasks, and learning new grammar when you want to say something you can’t right now. You’ll naturally find grammar patterns that you’ll need and probably use later because well, you need it right now, and you won’t get too confused by flooding yourself. The site I primarily used to learn grammar at first was https://www.learn-japanese-adventure.com/, but later on I used https://japanesetest4you.com/ more. Another useful one is http://maggiesensei.com/. My school textbook was Wakatta, but I barely ever used it.

Section Summary:
•   Write out a bunch of kanji on some paper and put it in a place where you’ll see it often (for me, the shower)
•   Learn the VCE kanji (found on the study design) ASAP to free up your time to do other things

Learning kanji is something I think gets easier as time goes on. It seems incredibly daunting at first, but is really an afterthought as you do it more and more. While many textbooks advocate using mnemonics, I find it a lot easier to learn kanji via radicals (basically just the little parts that make up a kanji). I like to compartmentalise each piece of a kanji, if I can, into radicals and it tends to break down relatively nicely after that.

For VCE, you only really need to know about 200 kanji. This may sound like a lot, but is really very little. This is how I went about learning them:

1.   Draw out a grid (can be 5x6, 6x7, whatever fits your fancy) on a piece of paper.
2.   In each square, write out a kanji you want to know, its readings (i.e. 訓読み and 音読み), rough English meaning, and some example words that use the kanji.
3.   Stick it onto your shower where you can see it from the inside, but it won’t get wet.
4.   Through sheer repeated exposure, learn them all.

For example, for 車, I would maybe write out
   車- くるま、しゃ, car
   電車-でんしゃー(electric) train

You can find the list of required kanji for VCE on the Japanese SL study design.
Personally, I learnt all the required kanji during the holidays before year 11 started. Learning kanji is really just a chore in the face of everything else you need to know for Japanese, so I recommend you take it off your checklist early.
   Listening Ability
Section Summary:
•   Find something you can at least tolerate listening to and listen to it often.

Honestly, the summary is about all there is to it. Exposure is the name of the game here, and you want it to be something you don’t hate. You can listen to basically anything you want and you’ll probably improve your listening ability at least a little, but I do not recommend using anime. Why?

1.   The voices are all (usually) recorded in a studio, so the sound quality is unrealistically good.
2.   The voice actors are, well, acting, which can result in exaggerated ways of talking which you really don’t want to let bleed into your speaking abilities.
3.   You’ll probably watch it with subtitles on, which doesn’t really let you accomplish anything except look at the answers and go, “yeah, I basically got that too”.
4.   You’re probably watching it for the actual show more than the speaking, so you’re not going to spend much time or mental effort into really improving.
5.   The manga is better anyway.

Personally, to build up my listening ability, I listened to (in order of frequency*) livestreams (specifically utaite livestreams), radio shows (with voice actors), the NHK podcast, and random videos in Japanese**. Jibba’s guide recommends using dramas and has a list of some good ones, and while I personally didn’t watch any dramas, I’d definitely trust jibba to give solid advice.
Let’s do a quick analysis of the pros and cons of each avenue I used.

   Pros: Natural speaking. Usually only one person talking at a time, so there’s less confusing clutter. Something I would have tuned into anyway, so I enjoy listening to them. No subtitles (it’s live!), so to follow along I am forced to understand what is being said and hence improve my listening skill. Great for dictation practice. If a recording of the livestream sticks around (e.g. Youtube VOD), I can rewatch it. Unscripted, which again, means it’s very natural. High difficulty means that if you get used to the speed, the VCE exams will be very, very achievable. Not usually many visuals, so lack of distractions.
   Cons: High difficulty; usually far, far beyond what you’d ever come across in VCE so if you try and aim for perfection, you’ll overprepare and waste time. Lack of subtitles means an inability to check if my interpretation is right or not, and I have to basically trust that I know what’s going on, or parse things together through a combination of dictation, a dictionary, reading the chat, and sheer determination (braver souls than I could instead try showing clips to their teachers. I salute these heroes).  If a recording is not preserved, you only have one chance to catch everything.
   Overall: Best for improving dictation. However, it’s very difficult for anyone who isn’t a native speaker to try VCE style comprehension questions with livestreams.

Radio Shows:
   Pros: can come in subbed and unsubbed varieties. Natural speaking. High difficulty. Replayable. Lack of distracting visuals (depends on the clip).
   Cons: Multiple people can be talking, so dictation can get difficult even for a native speaker. Like livestreams, high difficulty can be counterproductive.

NHK Podcast is basically like livestreams but more structured. More or less the same pros and cons.

The most useful YouTube videos (for listening ability) would probably be explanations of Japanese grammar patterns, aimed at second language learners, but delivered in Japanese. The end result is a fairly basic explanation (by native standards) that is still more than enough to create a foundation for VCE listening exercises.

*Songs were more useful for vocab building than listening skills, seeing as how neither I nor anyone I know has ever heard a listening task use singing. That would just be cruel. Like an angel. Who has published a thesis.
*”Random” here means a set that includes but is not limited to critiques of other people’s accents and pronunciation (Kaz Eigonodo), comedy skits (Dogen), and let’s plays.

Section Summary:
•   Make sure you’re actually saying things correctly; Dogen’s series on Japanese pitch-accent is great for laying a foundation. Don’t know what his Patreon series is like, but consider those as well if you’re really concerned. Otherwise, Google is your friend. And if you don’t know, slap a 平板 pattern onto it and pray.
•   Talk often. Doesn’t have to be related to your GC or DS script; just get used to talking.
•   Get a regular conversation partner (e.g. teacher, language assistant, pen-pal, family members if able, etc.)

Do not underestimate how difficult it can be to pronounce words and sentences in a way that doesn’t sound like you butchered the language.

Japanese only has a little bit under 50 different sounds. This does not mean pronunciation is easy. Pronunciation is, in my opinion, by far the hardest thing to get even decent at if you have a bad habit. If you can, identify any problems you have and fix it immediately before it becomes ingrained. It is really, really hard to fix your speaking habits.

With that out of the way, let’s get into the how. Simple method everyone is probably expecting: ask your teacher or tutor. Be quite insistent in getting them to point out your mistakes, in case they’re just being polite. You really want to iron out any creases, and their entire job is to teach them, so don’t be afraid to keep asking and clarifying until you’re sure you have a good idea of what your flaws are. I was lucky enough to go to a school which hired a language assistant, so I would be able to talk and get feedback for 20-30 minutes a week. If your school does something similar, please do get in on it.

If you do not have a language assistant, tutor, or a teacher, Dogen has a few YouTube videos where he breaks down common misconceptions about Japanese pitch-accent structure and outlines how he developed his stellar accent. It’s all more or less ground level stuff, but still worth a watch to make sure your fundamentals are all green.

A more advanced video series would be the “Nitpicking xxxx’s Japanese” videos by Kaz’s Japanese 101 & Eigonodo. It is pretty much what is sounds like: a Japanese man nitpicking other people’s (usually second language learners) Japanese. I found them to be very educational.

Furthermore, if you’ve exposed yourself to enough Japanese media as part of your listening ability preparation as described above, you should also get a feel for how things maybe should be pronounced. It’s definitely not perfect, but I would say that livestreams and radio shows are unironically how I formed my Japanese pronunciation (which is also why I placed emphasis on them displaying natural speaking).

Alright, so that’s pronunciation. How about actually speaking?

There’s no real way around stuttering and mind blanks; they happen to you in English too, after all! What’s important to make sure you maintain a good flow (e.g. no sudden stop-starting) by using あいづち (e.g. あの、えと、そうですね, etc.) when you need time to process something. Also, if you must pause mid-sentence (it happens, don’t worry), do it after a particle, not before. For example,

日本語が下手ですが。。。難しさは一番楽しい点だと思います, as opposed to  日本語が下手です。。。が難しさは一番楽しい点だと思います。

And if you make a mistake, don’t call too much attention to it! This was one of my biggest weaknesses. Every single time I made the slightest perceived mistake, or even when I hadn’t made a mistake at all, I would say すみません. When that was called to my attention, I switched over to just going あ, which was even worse.

Unless you want to take back an entire sentence or something, just correct it and move on. You don’t need to go through the すみません、間違いました。言いたいことは。。。 spiel, or even just すみません like I used to. Literally just say it. After all, if someone says “Hey, could you grab me a coffee from the café down the street on the ri—left?”, it’s pretty much fine since they caught themselves quickly, so you can do the same.

Making a script also helps immensely for making sure you don’t just freeze up when talking, but that’s more exam advice, which I’ll cover a bit later.

Learning Outside of School
•   I think having a tutor is fine if you can afford it
•   Language exchange apps (HelloTalk, HiNative) are great and you should use them

I did not have a tutor, nor did I ever really feel like I needed one, but I did have a language assistant helping me immensely with my speaking skills. That said, I would say that if you can afford a tutor, and/or feel like you need one, go for it. The main benefits of having a tutor include having someone mark your responses and give feedback, who can pay exclusive attention to you, and teach you exam technique. Certainly has the potential to be quite helpful in my opinion—although, like I said, I don’t have direct experience with a tutor, so I could be wrong.

   Language Exchanges/Language Exchange Apps
I used HelloTalk, a language exchange app. Basically, you can post things and Japanese people (who want to learn English) will (hopefully!) correct and assist you. Learning from a native speaker is one of the best ways to learn about not only the language, but the culture of a given country, and thanks to technology, you can do it for free. I personally used the app to post random thoughts (which were mercilessly corrected), answers to Reading Part B (which were even more mercilessly corrected), and talk to Japanese people in the leadup to my oral exam. During the term when I essentially had no teacher, this app was basically the only thing I used to study (though to be fair, I didn’t use it much). It can be hard to keep using it, as both I and the friend who introduced me to the app stopped using it after a few weeks, but definitely try to keep up a good routine and you’ll improve greatly. One way you can do this is by having someone to chat to regularly on the app.

•   Changed my phone language to Japanese. Did not help much, but did not hurt much either; main benefit was getting used to seeing Japanese all the time so I didn’t panic during the exam
•   Being taught and teaching classmates; really good for fostering bonds, and teaching others is a great way to learn. Just make sure you don’t end up with a case of the blind leading the blind

Exams and SACs

This section relates only to exam and SAC technique. For tips on learning Japanese for VCE in general, please see above.

So now you know how to learn the language. How then, do you apply the language to get a good score? If you find out, please let me know

While there is no explicit SAC technique section, please do note that exam techniques should apply perfectly well to their corresponding SACs.

Oral Exam

General Conversation
•   Prepare a script. It does not have to be extensive. Just having a script does wonders for your confidence.

I prepared my scripts based on topics and questions one of my teachers would give to the class. In this sense, I was lucky, since I didn’t need to worry about what answers I did and didn’t need to write, but if your teacher doesn’t make you do this, don’t worry. Here are some common topics to get you started:

•   What was your hardest subject this year?
•   How did you manage stress from your studies?
•   Did you do any club activities?

Japanese Studies
•   Why did you start learning Japanese?
•   Do you think learning Japanese will be useful in the future?
•   What’s the hardest part of learning Japanese?

Hobbies/Free Time
•   What do you do in your spare time?
•   (leading on from your answer) What kind of (book/game/sports team/song, etc.) is it?
•   How often do you (hobby)?

•   What do you want to become?
•   What do you need to do to become …/get into …?
•   Why do you want to do …?

Further topics can be explored through practice orals with a teacher or tutor. If you’re asked a question you haven’t prepared for, note it down and prepare an answer, or at least have one in the back of your mind.

However, you always need to keep in mind that you need to display the capacity to lead the conversation. Which brings us to the next step: making sure your answers lead into another topic. While not every answer needs to lead to a new one (that would be fairly tiring for both parties, and feel more like a speech than a conversation), you do not want to have an awkward silence because the assessor has asked you if you like baking cakes and all you said was “yes”.

I like to follow a fairly basic 3-part structure for most of my answers: Address, elaborate, link.

1.   You need to actually give an answer. So, for the cake example, you might say “yes”.
2.   You would then give a specific example. Perhaps you could say “I especially like baking spongecakes, because even though they’re easier to make than other varieties, they still taste delicious”.
3.   Then, to make sure there’s still something to talk about, you link it to another topic. In this case, you could mention that you like baking cakes so much because it makes your family happy (prompting more questions about your family).

Fairly basic example, but it’s quite useful to keep in mind. The first two are pretty much always essential to have, but the link can be dropped when you’ve just exhausted a conversation thread (e.g. when you’ve just finished the plot summary of a game, book, or movie; you need to give the assessors time to ask their own questions, too). As always, this comes a lot more easily with regular practice.

A small note on the content of your answers would be to try and make them interesting. There’s no real formula for this, obviously, but I tend to find that answers that are backed up with your own thought process behind them carry more depth than simple “yes” or “no” answers. For example, when asked “Who is the person you respect the most?”, I would say that instead of a celebrity, I respect one of my closest friends most, because I have never met those celebrities and can’t really tell what they’re truly like, whereas my closest friend has this and that quality, etc.

Using humour is another way you can spice up the conversation a bit, but I would advise students to incorporate humour in the way of funny personal anecdotes, rather than outright jokes. One answer I had was that my favourite part of high school was fooling around with my friends; one time, on Valentine’s day, me and all my lonely single friends got together and drew hearts in each other’s notebooks, something I remember and laugh at even now.

Okay, so let’s get into paranoia territory to make sure we cover our bases. What if you have no teacher, no Japanese-learning friends, no tutors, and your internet connection isn’t working so you can’t call up someone on a language exchange app so you can’t talk to anyone? How do you prepare a script then?

One technique I used was to talk to my friends in English and just ask them to act like it’s my final speaking exam. Give them a brief outline of what the exam entails, and then get chatting away. Now, you have a bunch of questions and answers that you gave in a language you’re already fluent in that you can simply translate into Japanese. I used this to get fresh perspectives from my friends who hadn’t been learning Japanese, to try and compensate for any blindspots I may have had in my script.

   (Be reasonable with this, though. If your friend starts asking what your favourite area of mathematics is and why, then don’t worry about it coming up in the oral exam.)

Miscellaneous Tips:
•   Don’t be afraid to put in some white lies if it makes answering a question easier. If I was asked what my favourite game genre was, I would say action games because I just so happened to have an explanation of the plot for Sekiro on hand. The truth is that I don’t particularly have a favourite and like to play them all, but this isn’t really all that useful if you want to talk about a particular game without sounding a little strange.
•   Smile. You will be nervous, and that’s okay. Smile it all away, and hopefully you’ll feel better. The assessors will probably be smiling at you anyway, so it’s nice to flash them a grin back.
•   Consciously speak more slowly than normal. Your nervousness on the day will likely make you talk a lot faster than you would usually, and this is pretty bad (you could stumble over your words, become incoherent, etc.). Making a conscious effort to slow down counters this and gives your mind something to focus on other than the gigalitres of adrenaline pumping through your veins.
•   Look at both assessors equally. Even if one is talking more than the other (seems to be the norm), both of them are marking you, and you don’t want one to mark you down because your lack of eye contact demonstrates a lack of connection with a conversation partner.
•   Keep your hands still (I kept them clasped together in my lap). Excessive hand gestures can get distracting, whereas if you’re not moving, you just seem polite.
•   Keep your body posture fairly constant. Same issue as with hands, except some body language might come off as rude, due to the culture difference; you don’t want to risk that.

Detailed Study
I’ll keep this part short because I think from 2020 onwards, something is happening with DS. Guidance from a teacher is your most valuable tool here, but if they’re not available don’t worry—I’ve been there.

I did hikikomori, focusing on middle-aged hikikomori. My sources were largely scientific studies and the occasional news report. Here’s a (probably incomplete, I haven’t checked) list of my sources.

•[1] Butet-Roch, L. (2018). Pictures Reveal the Isolated Lives of Japan’s Social Recluses. [online] Nationalgeographic.com. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2018/february/japan-hikikomori-isolation-society/ 
•[2] Gent, E. (2019). The plight of Japan’s modern hermits. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190129-the-plight-of-japans-modern-hermits 
•[3] Honjo, S., Sasaki, Y., Kaneko, H., Tachibana, K., Murase, S., Ishii, T., Nishide, Y. and Nishide, T. (2003). Study on feelings of school avoidance, depression, and character tendencies among general junior high and high school students. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 57(5), pp.464-471.
•[4] Ishikawa, K. (2017). “Hikikomori”: Social Recluses in the Shadows of an Aging Japan. [online] nippon.com. Available at: https://www.nippon.com/en/currents/d00332/
•[5] Korematsu, S., Takano, T. and Izumi, T. (2016). Pre-school development and behavior screening with a consecutive support programs for 5-year-olds reduces the rate of school refusal. Brain and Development, 38(4), pp.373-376.
•[6] Tateno, M., Inagaki, T., Saito, T., Guerrero, A. and Skokauskas, N. (2017). Current Challenges and Future Opportunities for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in Japan. Psychiatry Investigation, 14(5), p.525.
•[7] Teo, A. (2009). A New Form of Social Withdrawal in Japan: a Review of Hikikomori. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 56(2), pp.178-185.
•[8] Tsujimoto, T., Daimon, K., Izumi, K., Sawai, M. and Iwashige, T. (2007). [School-refusal and social-withdrawal in the clinical setting at a psychiatric medical institution]. Seishin Shinkeigaku Zasshi, 109(4), pp.313-20.
•[9] Uchida, Y. and Norasakkunkit, V. (2015). The NEET and Hikikomori spectrum: Assessing the risks and consequences of becoming culturally marginalized. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.

You’re not expected to know everything, so don’t worry if you’re asked a question you don’t know the answer to. It’s fine to say 自分の意見ですが。。。

For Japanese sources, I recommend using rikaikun, a browser extension, to make reading a lot easier.

Also, DS is probably where practising with a teacher is more or less necessary, since they’ll be familiar with the actual structure and requirements of the task.

Written Exam

Reading Time

Here is what my (fourth) teacher recommends (not his writing, just my notes while he was teaching):

   Mentally prepare your essay for a little bit--bare bones
Familiarise yourself with listening and writing questions--mentally prepare
Listening is especially important, as you cannot refer back to it after the audio file is done playing
15 minutes: 4 minutes on picking essay topic and plan what sort of structure you'll use + anything else you can do within 4 minutes; 5 minutes on reading one of the reading topics, get the gist of the main point of the text and skim over the questions; last 6 minutes are essential. Use them to predict what the listening content will be and figure out which keywords will be important, setting, context, who is who, lecture/dialogue/airport announcement, etc.

Overall, I agree with this advice. However, feel free to be a bit flexible with time allocations. I know I barely spent a minute planning my essay in my actual exam and made up for it by getting comfortable with the reading and listening questions.

Dictate relevant parts of texts in romaji for both parts; I find it easiest to slap down what I’m hearing onto the page if I can simply write it out in my native alphabet without having to translate anything. It also lets you easily search up unfamiliar words in your dictionary. It’s also pretty great to have what is basically the script of the audio file right in front of you for easy consultation if you get lost, or if you run out of time and need to move onto the next listening question. This way, you can just come back and pick up where you left off.

My general doctrine for writing answers is thus: write everything you know to be true. Nothing more, nothing less. You might lose marks for lack of detail, so hence write everything (relevant to the question, of course). You might lose marks for having incorrect details, so only write what you’re sure of. This is the safest approach, in my opinion.

Here are some more of my notes, taken when my teacher was running through the exam:

Assessor marking rationale:   
•   2 sections in reading and listening--slightly different marking schemes
•   Listening A: English, direct translations, don't miss out on any information. Exactly translate what you hear, but Japanese words have a catch. お茶 green tea, お弁当 packed lunch, BUT 駅弁 commercialised packed lunch sold at train stations. Try not to use romanisations. Safe option is to write down the romanisation for vague words and also translate it (e.g. Ainu, indigenous Japanese people) if you’re not sure
•   Listening B, direct cut and paste. Don't change anything, don't be clever.
o   Up to 2 kanji mistakes are okay. 3 and more kanji mistakes and you’re done
o   Answer a lot of past exams and check the report to refer to sample answers
o   Assessors will check the content for section A and B first, as part one of a two-part marking process. If you have content right, then they check the language aspect. So you need to get the content right before you start worrying about your Japanese expression
•   Listening:
•   Total reading texts with no pauses with be 4.5 to 5 minutes. Lengths of individual texts will not be specified, but there will be one text that is longer than all the others.
•   Pause period is not specified, but probably 45 seconds to 1 minute.

I will say that the 2019 exam had pauses that seemed unusually long, far surpassing the one minute noted there. When doing timed exams, I used pauses of 45 seconds, personally, but there shouldn’t be a problem with using 1 minute intervals.


Assessor marking rationale:   
•   Reading A: direct translation like listening
•   Reading B: need to use different grammar patterns to the ones used in the text. Content needs to be correct before they mark language techniques, and if you just cut and paste, your max mark for language aspect goes from 5 to 3

Read the questions before the text. Reading A should not be a problem as long as you have your guard up. It is very easy to lose marks here for silly mistakes. For example, on my trial exam, I lost a mark because I wrote “the child and parents should discuss the amount of pocket money to be given and also decide how much is needed”, because I didn’t specify “with each other” at the end. Harsh, perhaps, but you should be very, very careful with these things. I've also heard of marks being deducted if 楽器 is translated as "instrument" instead of "musical instrument".

For re-checking purposes, I recommend highlighting bits of the text that contain answers for a certain question and label them as such. For example,

Question: 5a. How is Japan’s education system different from Australia’s?

Text: オーストリアの教育制度には、生徒が自分のやりたい科目を選ぶことができます。反対に、日本の全ての高校生が同じ科目を勉強しなければなりません5a

(Apologies for any glaring mistakes in the text; I wrote it myself so I am not all that confident in its accuracy)

I might also highlight the first part of the text as well, where it describes Australia’s education system and include it in my answer, depending on how many marks the question is worth and how much space you are given.

Highlighting and annotating like this also lets you make sure that everything is properly connected and that you’re actually referencing the text instead of something you think is in the text.

Reading B is trickier. It is, in my opinion, the hardest part of the entire exam, and I am not sure if I ever quite mastered it. However, my tips would be to not overthink the language aspect. I kept wondering how much preservation would be copying and how many differences would result in a completely distinct meaning from the original text, and before I knew it, I’d spent far too much time on this section and would lose marks for my responses anyway.

Relax. Remember that you need to get the content first before your language is looked at. If you’re willing to cop it, you are free to copy it all down and get a potential 8/10. A simple way to change up sentence structure is to reverse the subject and object (i.e. use the passive form when the text doesn’t, and vice versa). And if you feel like you’re stressing, just skip it and come back; this entire section is only 10 marks anyway.


Remember your genkooyooshi rules. An easy one to forget is how you can’t have a punctuation mark (。、) at the beginning of a line (just put it outside the square). Otherwise, remember your formats and you’re set for those easy marks.

Now, for content. This is harder to do for essays, but I like to try and get into the role I’ve been given for my essays. For example, if I have to write a speech, I might include a quick 手を上げてください to show that I understand the task and differentiate myself from other students.

Making up names shouldn’t be something you put much thought in. If it’s an institution, restaurant, etc. just name it 桜 … and you’ll be fine. For people, I like to use 山田、山下、田中 for last names.

Aim for one and a half pages of essay. Not more, not less. Greetings for letters can be a pain, but generally commenting on the season or weather is fine.

As always, practising and getting a teacher to look over it is the best way to improve. I went absolutely wild on my practice essays, having fun with them by testing my limits and writing about the most ridiculous things I could, using expressions that may or may not have made sense. It doesn’t really matter how your practice essays perform as long as you get something out of it and learn, say, that you can’t use 壊れる with organs or whatnot. At the same time, you can test your limits, but be careful when trying to surpass your limits; if you get an essay back completely decorated with red ink, work on correcting those errors before you try again.


My first teacher said that it would be really good if you could use proverbs in your essays. While probably true, I personally rarely found a situation where I could apply one. Nevertheless, here are a couple that you can use:

月と鼈 (つきとすっぽん、lit. the moon and the soft-shell turtle): Refers to two things that are superficially similar, but ultimately distinct

念には念を入れて (ねんにはねんをいれて、lit. be cautious about your caution): Double-check, look before you leap

塞翁が馬 (さいおうがうま、not lit. so there's like this entire story about a guy named Saiou (Sai Weng in the original Chinese) who lost his horse and broke his leg, but because of that he was free from a sudden war draft, so it was lucky in the end, or something like that): One cannot know what the future holds

猿も木から落ちる (さるもきからおちる、lit. even monkeys fall from trees): Nobody is perfect

門前の小僧習わぬ経を読む(もんぜんのこぞうならわぬきょうをよむ、lit. the boy in front of the temple gates will chant sutras he has never learnt): One learns from their surroundings

百害あって一利なし(ひゃくがいあっていちりなし、lit. no profit even after a hundred wounds): (of something) Does nothing but harm, with no benefits

I don’t know if the following are really proverbs, but they’re fancy expressions nonetheless They can be divided into three levels of usefulness.

Might be able to use if you’re careful

   表裏一体 (ひょうりいったい) : two sides of the same coin

   一石二鳥 (いっせきにちょう): two birds with one stone

   不幸中の幸い (ふこうちゅうのさいわい): small mercy, consolation in sadness

Probably shouldn’t use because you’ll sound dramatic

   空前絶後(くうぜんぜつご): for the first and last time

   大胆不敵(だいたんふてき): bold and audacious

   天衣無縫 (てんいむほう): perfect and flawless

Don’t use anywhere except when joking with friends

   俯仰天地に恥じず(ふぎょうてんちにはじず):To have nothing to be ashamed of before both Heaven and Earth

   美人薄命 (びじんはくめい): beautiful women die young

   縦横無尽(じゅうおうむじん): freely; as one pleases

As always, check with your teacher to see if you can actually use any of these the way you’d like.   
Personal Regrets

A list of miscellaneous points of improvement I wish I had addressed during my time as a student.

•   Being too shy to talk to my teachers and ask for feedback. They are literally paid to teach you. Ask them.
•   Starting practice exams earlier. If you’re in year 12, it’s easy to underestimate how burnt out and tired you’ll feel after finishing every single one of your other exams, even if you supposedly have a week to study solely for Japanese. In the end, I only did two practice exams, which was far from ideal.
•   Not doing more work with handwriting. I tended to type out a lot of my work this year, which meant that I tended to forget how to write a kanji here or there. Those kinds of split-seconds of panic really aren’t something you need in a timed exam setting.
•   Not studying more in general. For a lot of the year, I would basically go, “yeah, I probably know that already” and fail to do any real preparation. More practice SACs throughout the year would have helped me immensely.
•   Not going on my school’s Japan exchange. I had to basically fake it until I made it for every essay prompt based on Japanese culture and infrastructure, and I feel like my language ability could have definitely been improved
•   Not sleeping as much as I would have liked. This isn’t subject specific, but seriously, don’t be like me and become a zombie for the entire year. You waste a lot of time by being tired and unable to learn properly

Well, that’s about all I have to say. If there is anything that you would like to be added, anything you'd like to clarify, or any mistakes you want to point out, feel free. Good luck!
« Last Edit: March 03, 2020, 03:01:56 pm by Hiea »
2018 - 2019 : Biology [45] Japanese SL [45] JLPT N2
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Re: A Guide of Questionable Quality to VCE Japanese SL
« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2019, 08:55:34 pm »
Legendary! Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed guide; I'll definitely be saving this for later. Although I'll be going through the QCE, you really gave me some hope that I wasn't too late to start learning (I'm also planning on picking up Japanese in Year 10).
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Re: A Guide of Questionable Quality to VCE Japanese SL
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2019, 01:57:30 am »
Fantastic guide!! Congratulations on your wonderful score, you have obviously earned it!
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Re: A Guide of Questionable Quality to VCE Japanese SL
« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2021, 08:16:33 am »
Hey! Sorry for this late reply but I'm currently halfway through year 10, and I'm considering taking VCE Japanese SL units 1&2 next year. Prior to this decision, I have self-taught myself hiragana and katakana. I'm trying to get back into anime as I used to watch it, and I listen to Japanese music a lot. Since the school I go to doesn't have Japanese as a language, it has made it less accessible to me to learn. I might apply to this VSL thing that my career supervisor told me about, but I'm not sure if it's worth trying since I haven't learnt anything of this language since year 7. But the thing is, I am truly passionate about this language. I find the kanji in a particular very fun to write and learn. I've tried learning a few, but you know I've probably forgotten some of them by now. But the fact that you started learning in year 10 also gives me hope. If I don't manage to make it into the VSL for Japanese, I'll take it in university or just learn it for fun without taking it as a VCE subject.