Friday, February 13, 2009

Finished with my tests!

Oh man it's been a rough few months! I finished a 100-page translation project, wrote a paper to submit with my application materials, and then hit the books hard to prepare for my entrance exam.

I spent every day studying and studying. For breaks I took walks now and then at the nearby shrine, but most of my time was spent cramming. I used all the ink of a whole pen to completely fill up a notebook with definitions and examples of important terms and topics in linguistics. Because of my knowledge of Sanskrit, I was strong in historical linguistics and certain areas of phonology and morphology.

I first tackled phonetics, defining all the types of articulations and learning how to express them in Japanese. Having to do all my studies bilingually was a huge pressure too. After I felt I had phonetics covered, I focused on syntax. Some of the students at Kyodai helped me with syntax, and I was able to borrow some introductory texts on syntax in Japanese. Syntax, especially Chomsky's contributions, are fascinating to me but the terminology and formality of generative grammar can be intimidating at first. Once you see what's being explained, it is usually pretty straightforward. I was nervous because I didn't want to get hit with a technical syntax problem on the test.

I then did a lot of studying about the history of modern linguistics. Most of the schools of linguistics have an underlying philosophical basis, so I tried to cover these philosophical stances also. This paid off because the second test on Thursday had three questions: Out of the following three questions, pick two and describe the history of (1) phonological research (2) syntactic research (3) comparative linguistics. I chose to write on syntax and comparative linguistics, and I felt pretty confident with my answers.

The first test on Monday was hell. About 200 of us lined up early on Monday morning outside the faculty of letters. We were divided up into groups of around 30 people and led to the examination rooms. The first round was a foreign language test. I had to take Japanese, and I think that most of the other students were taking an English test.

Before starting the test, we were told to change answer sheets for each question. I checked my test papers and found that although there were two questions, there were actually three answer sheets. This threw me off at first and made me quite nervous--I thought that the third answer sheet was there in case people needed more space.

Anyway, I did very well on the Japanese test, but I think I could have done better if I hadn't had that uncertainty in the back of my mind. You never know--in Japan they might reject you if you screw up on the order of your answer sheets, regardless of how well you did on the test!

After the language test, it became clear that many other people made the same mistake as me. The examiner apologized for not being clearer in his instructions and reassured everyone that our mistakes on the order of the answer sheets wouldn't affect our score! That was a great relief. I didn't want to be put back another year just because I didn't use the damn third answer sheet!

We had a short break and then started the second test, which was to test our general knowledge of our respective fields. It was a long long test! The answer pages were large blank pieces of paper, and the questions were designed to weed out the real guys from the fakers. The first question was on Optimality Theory and had four sub-questions where you had to give examples of generative phonology from Japanese or English. I knew the information and felt that I did pretty well, although I noticed at the end of the test that I had the order of my answers mixed up!

But that was just the first question! Just that one question could take over an hour, but you had to go on to the second question: There was a list of about 70 words in the Masaai language, and we were asked to describe the phonological processes and distributions of stops and fricatives. I started work on it and fortunately it kind of "fell into my hands" quite easily and I was able to draw out the conditioning environments quite quickly. Then we had the third question: we were to choose 3 terms out of 5 linguistics terms and give a concise explanation. I didn't find it too hard.

My interview also went quite well, so I think I have passed the test! The results will be out this evening. I'm happy to at least be done with it.

This was the toughest exam I have ever taken--IT WAS TOUGH! The fact that you have to go back on Thursday if you make it past the first round is very taxing mentally. There were about 25 people in my exam room on Monday, and when I went in on Thursday only nine people were left! Huge chunks of people had been cut! I really felt like a survivor at that point. I'm just glad that I pulled through to the end. We'll see if I passed this evening...

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