Friday, June 14, 2013

The JLPT: Sentence arrangement problems

Seeing as how LP has been busy posting Japanese Language Proficiency Test prep materials, I figured I would make my own small contribution to the world of test preparation with some hints on how to conquer the dreaded "sentence arrangement problems" (bun no tatekumi mondai 文の立て組み問題)found on the higher levels of the JLPT.

What's a Sentence Arrangement Problem Anyways?
Good question. Japanese tests of all stripes ranging from junior high school language tests to employment exams seem to love these types of questions. Basically these problems give you the very beginning and end of a sentence with four blanks in the middle. One blank will be marked with a star. Below the blanks will be four sentence fragments marked one through four. The goal is to figure out which sentence fragment belongs in the star marked section (see example below).

今日の______  ______  ___*___ ______です。
1)いい 2)天気 3)とても 4)

The ulimate goal of these problems are twofold: to check your through understanding of sentence structure and to make sure you know how and where to apply grammar points.

These problems may seem rather odd to those who are not well acquainted with Japanese-made tests so its essential to make sure you know the format of the test like the back of your hand. 

How to Tackle These Problems
I have always found these sentence arangement problems to be one of the easier parts of the JLPT grammar section, although judging by complaints I hear, I seem to be in the minority. The biggest problems is how much time these problems take to solve. However, there are some secrets that might make your test go a little smoother.

  1.  Don't focus on the star!- It is tempting to try focus on the stared section of the problem seeing as how that is what you will be jotting down on the answer sheet. However, your time would be much better spent constructing the whole sentence from scratch regardless of whether or not the star is in the first blank or last. This may take a bit longer, but it give you a chance to check for errors and mismatches.
  2. Grammar, grammar, grammar- This probably goes without saying, but know every grammar point that could possibly be tested and then some. I find that knowing all grammar points will help critical parts of the sentence stick out like a sore thumb. Also, it helps to simplified process of elimination in the event you are lost. Keep in mind, that JLPT guidelines allow for a fixed percentage of "above level material" to appear on the test, so don't be surprised to see a few N1 items pop up on an N2 test.
  3. Brush up on your basics- In the heat of the moment, it is easy to forget some of the most basic rules of Japanese grammar. Make sure you keep a sharp eye out for the subject, verb, and object as well as helping verbs and miscellaneous particles. Remember, just one misplaced particle will ruin your whole sentence! There is no shame in going back to your old books to make sure know everything down pat.
  4. Fast error checking- I have found that the hardest part of these sentences is not the arranging, but the double checking. It is very easy to second guess yourself and end up not having enough time to finish the grammar section. In addition to practice sentence, try making your own sentences or scrambling sentences that you find online or on newspapers. This can help give you a sense of what is "natural" Japanese.
Unfortunately there is no easy way to unravel these problems but practice followed by more practice certainly helps. If grammar trips you up then it might help having The Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar and The Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar by your side. And for those going for higher level JLPTs, The Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar is a great help if you don't mind shelling out a bunch of cash. And of course, make sure to use good use of the practice problems and past tests that LP has dug up.

Do you have an secrets to unraveling the sentence arrangement problems of the JLPT? If so, let us know in the comments.


  1. Yes, nice indeed. Very useful! Kind and thoughtful :)