Ultimate Guide to the Japanese Language and Culture Exam
As you probably already know by this point in your high school career, Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams are administered each year under the oversight of the College Board. The AP World Languages and Cultures program reflects the College Board’s belief that in today’s global community, competence in more than one language is an essential part of communication and cultural understanding. Study of a foreign language goes beyond the ability to simply express thoughts and ideas by further providing access to perspectives and knowledge that is only available through that language and culture. To this end, the AP World Language and Cultures program features eight foreign language courses and exams.
Of these eight programs, the smallest is the AP Japanese Language and Culture program. In 2016, fewer than 2,500 students nationwide took the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam, accounting for less than 0.01% of the 2.6 million AP test-takers that year. Still, Japan has the third largest economy in the world, so speaking Japanese could in coming years be an valuable skill in our increasingly global economy. To learn more about the AP Japanese Language and Culture Exam, and how you can prepare for it, read on.
About the AP Japanese Language and Culture Exam
The AP Japanese Language and Culture course emphasizes true communication, skills meaning the ability to understand and be understood by others. This emphasis is applied to real-life situations through three primary modes of communication — interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational. Though the curriculum includes vocabulary usage, language control, and communication strategies, it seeks specifically not to overemphasize grammar at the expense of communication. The course is taught primarily in Japanese.
In addition to teaching Japanese communication skills, the course curriculum also focuses in particular depth on Japanese culture. This includes both contemporary and historical contexts, along with an awareness and appreciation of social, political, and educational issues. Specifics such as the role of religion in society and traditional versus modern gender roles are considered, along with more traditional topics like arts, customs, and history.
Students who take the AP Language and Culture exam are typically in their fourth year of high school-level Japanese language study. Although there are no formal prerequisites for the course, this is due in part to the significant number of students who take the exam as native or heritage speakers. If you are not regularly exposed to Japanese outside of the classroom, you should probably stick to the recommended three years of high school Japanese before enrolling.
The AP Japanese Language and Culture exam is administered entirely on a computer. You will read on a screen, listen through headphones, type using a keyboard, and speak into a microphone. All Japanese text displayed on the screen is in kana and kanji characters. You will be required to use Microsoft IME for typing Japanese text. For more details about the exam format, see the AP Japanese Exam Overview.
The exam lasts for two hours and 15 minutes and contains two sections. The multiple-choice section is taken first. It consists of 70 questions that are administered over the course of 90 minutes. This section is worth 50% of your exam score and includes both written and auditory stimulus. The second section, called the free-response section, consists of four tasks. This section lasts for 45 minutes and accounts for the remaining 50% of your score. It includes demonstration of your written and oral Japanese communication.
In 2016, about half of all students who took the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam were native speakers or students who otherwise were exposed significantly to the language outside of the classroom. Not surprisingly, these students performed particularly well on the exam, with 79.1% receiving a score of three or higher. More remarkably, over half of these students achieved the top score of five. The standard, non-native speaking group of students performed less strongly. While 63.5% passed the test by receiving a score of three or higher, a full 25% received the lowest score of one.
For more information about the Japanese Language and Culture curriculum, refer to the official course description.
Step 1: Assess Your Knowledge of the Material
It’s important to start your studying off with a good understanding of your existing knowledge. To learn more about the importance of formative assessments and how you can use one to get your studying off on the right foot, check out the CollegeVine article What Is a Formative Assessment and Why Should I Use One to Study?
You can find practice questions in the course description to use for a formative assessment or you can use the additional multiple-choice questions released from the 2007 exam. More free-response questions can be found on AP Central.
Step 2: Study the Material
The best way to really learn any foreign language is to immerse yourself in it. Although it might be difficult to surround yourself with native Japanese speakers if you don’t already know them, it is not nearly as difficult to find Japanese multimedia content. You can find Japanese videos on Youtube, podcasts in iTunes or the app store, and tons of websites with Japanese text and audio. You could also find comic books, young adult novels, or blogs in Japanese. It may be more difficult to source Japanese content than it is to source, say, Spanish content, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. And your hard work will be rewarded through accelerated learning. After all, the quickest way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it as much as possible.
Of course, you will need to focus on more than just reading Japanese comic books if you want to ace the AP exam. You’ll also need to learn the material specific to the test. In the case of the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam, the material includes basic abilities to communicate by using three modes of communication. These modes are interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational. Specifically, the learning objectives for the course require that you:
- Engage in spoken interpersonal communication;
- Engage in written interpersonal communication;
- Synthesize information from a variety of authentic audio, visual, and audiovisual resources;
- Synthesize information from a variety of authentic written and print resources;
- Plan, produce, and present spoken presentational communications; and
- Plan and produce written presentational communications.
In your mastery of communication, you will need to be able to request and confirm the receipt of information, ask for and provide directions, and issue and respond to invitations. You will also need to employ more complex functional language skills, such as comparing phenomena, expressing opinions, and discussing life experiences. In addition, you will need to be able to express yourself through written word, and as such will need to have a basic command of many of the prevalent kanji characters and efficient Japanese typing skills. (Remember, the entire test is administered on a computer). Although the exact content of your course may vary depending on your specific school, a rough outline of course objectives is available beginning on page five of the course description. A list of the required kanji characters is also available beginning on page eight of the course description.
Unlike most other AP foreign language courses, the standards for the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam do not require that you become an advanced Japanese communicator. Instead, you will only need to display proficiency at the Intermediate-Low to Intermediate-Mid range in each of the three modes of communication. This is good news for non-native speakers who are learning an entire new alphabet on top of a new language.
Due at least in part to its minimal participation rates in years past, there are not many commercially produced study materials specific to the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam. The only commercially produced study guide, Strive for a 5: AP Japanese Practice Tests receives generally poor reviews, with some users noting that the audio files were incomplete and others noting that there are obvious errors that indicate it was unlikely to have been proofed by a native-speaker. A few reviewers do note that if you are already a comfortable Japanese-speaker, you might use this guide to prepare for the test by brushing up on test-taking techniques. But, it is not a good choice if you are still perfecting your comprehension of the language.
Luckily, there are other study materials available online. Free Japanese Lessons, though not specific to the AP exam, has many helpful language learning tools. There are also a number of relevant study sets available on Quizlet posted by former AP students and their teachers. Another site, the Japan Foundation of Los Angeles, provides various learning tools including a database of tests for assessing your proficiency. Finally, many course syllabi and study guides can be found through online searches. One such syllabus contains an outline of course materials and links to various study materials online. The College Board also provides a general list of Exam Tips for all AP World Language and Cultures exams.
Apps are another fun, relatively new way to brush up on your material. The Kanji Practice Dictionary allows you to practice your vocabulary and knowledge of kanji characters, and is available for only $2.99. FluentU also has a number of free study resources, though in-app purchases can run as much as $240 for an annual pass to their ‘Plus’ services.
Step 3: Practice multiple-choice questions
The multiple-choice section of the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam is divided into two parts. The first part of the multiple-choice section involves listening and tests your interpretive communication skills. You will listen to various genres of auditory materials and answer questions pertaining to them. These genres might include announcements, conversations, instructions, presentations, or debates. You will have 12 seconds to respond to each prompt.
The second part of the multiple-choice section involves reading and tests your interpretive communication of written and print resources. You will read a variety of documents and respond to questions about them. These documents could include emails, letters, instructions, news stories, or short fiction.
The best way to prepare for the multiple-choice section is to practice lots of sample questions. You can find some in the course description and more from the 2007 released exam questions. As you practice, focus on what each question is asking you to do. If it’s difficult or you get the wrong answer, try to classify the question by type — that is, identify if the question is audio or written, and what specific kind of communication it involves. Also keep track of any specific vocabulary or grammar that is still difficult for you. By keeping a running tally of the question types that are tripping you up, you’ll have a ready-made review list.
STEP 4: Practice Free-Response Questions
The free-response section of the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam consists of four tasks, each worth 12.5% of your total exam score and containing between one and six specific prompts. The first task is the interpersonal-writing task, which will ask you to read and respond to six text-chat prompts. This interaction will be informal in nature and will imitate a casual text conversation you might have with a friend or family member. You will have 90 seconds to respond to each prompt.
The second task in this section is the presentational writing task, which contains a single prompt. You will be asked to write a compare and contrast article in Japanese for a specific purpose and for a specific audience. This will be a more formal representation of your Japanese writing skills.
The third task in this section is the interpersonal speaking task, which contains four prompts. This will be a simulated conversation in which you listen and respond to four questions. You will have 20 seconds to respond to each question.
The final task of the free response section will ask you to display your presentational communication skills in the context of an oral Cultural Perspective Presentation. You will be asked to describe and express your opinion about a Japanese cultural practice or product. For this task, you will have a single prompt and you’ll be given four minutes to prepare your response. You will then have two minutes to deliver your response.
The best way to prepare for the free response section of your AP Japanese Language and Culture exam is to practice repeated sample questions. Luckily, the free-response questions from every exam dating back to 2007 are available on AP Central. Not only are the questions a valuable practice tool, but also the provided scoring criteria, samples of authentic student responses, and scoring explanations are all great resources for understanding how your answers will be assessed.
Step 5: Take Another Practice Test
Once you think you’re ready to take the real exam, test your knowledge with another practice test. You should see a steady increase in your knowledge. Repeat the above steps as necessary to increase your score, bit by bit.
Step 6: Exam Day Specifics
In 2017, the AP Japanese Language and Culture Exam will take place on Wednesday, May 3 at 12 PM. A complete calendar of important AP dates is available here.
For complete registration instructions, check out CollegeVine’s How to Register for AP Exams (Even If You Didn’t Take the Class).
For information about what to bring to the exam, see CollegeVine’s What Should I Bring to My AP Exam (And What Should I Definitely Leave at Home)?
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For more about APs, check out these CollegeVine posts