Saturday saw us taking a written accuplacer that would help to determine which level of Japanese classes we will be taking this semester. It came in at six pages of graduating difficulty, ranging from “I am aware that Japanese is a thing” to “I am capable of reading an essay literally written by a kindergartner.” Almost everybody then spent the next couple of days stressing out over how “badly” they had done, which of course is a completely wrong-headed way to think about it. The test, after all, is intended to measure one's ability; it's not a pass/fail proposition by any means.
But uh, maybe that's easy for me to say, since I scored the highest.
The night before was solemn and quiet as most people huddled over the textbook of their choice, reviewing grammar points. The night after everyone got extremely wasted.
The second component of the placement process was a face-to-face interview with several of the Japanese teachers, broken up into groups based on what happened with your written test. If anything, this proved even more nerve-wracking for most – the fact that we were made to gather in a waiting room before facing the firing squad can't have helped – but I can happily say that I was in my element. I'm like an atom when I get to talking, able to effortlessly maintain the same speed almost indefinitely, yet requiring a tremendous amount of energy to bring to a halt.
As much as my reading and writing may be lagging lately, conversation is one area where I can really show off my ability. One girl noted that much of the stuff she'd learned in class was completely inapplicable to actual communication. Though vocabulary in the vein of “agriculture” and “rescue squad” has its place, its not quite as utilitarian as the Japanese I've learned from watching TV and talking to people, which put me at a strong advantage. Even so, I felt a lurch in my gut as I sat down before the panel, painfully conscious of every twitch of my body and lapse in my keigo, their awkward stares making my eyebrows itch.
The last question the head teacher had for me was whether a particular textbook seemed difficult. Thinking carefully, I said honestly, “It does look difficult, but I think I could do it.”
The nervousness that everyone else seemed to have been feeling finally hit me in the lingering moments before our placements were announced. What if I'd messed up? What if I hadn't been put in the highest group? What if I was...average? But if my placement had hinged on my answer to the textbook question, clearly I'd managed to take the right action under pressure, because I found myself in the highest level. And now I'm having the opposite problem, worrying that I'm grasping beyond my reach, that I will quickly be forced to flee in shame and take refuge in a less demanding class.
Actually, there is a level above, but it's populated by Chinese students, who can read anything that's put in front of them but tend to have weak grammar and next to no speaking skills, which is actually why they're separated into their own level. So whatever.