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The SPI Test & Job Searching in Japan — Learn Japanese Antonyms & Synonyms

If you’re like me, then you’re probably one or both of these two things:

  1. You’re thinking about working in Japan one day (but perhaps aren’t a computer science major…)
  2. You want to enhance your Japanese vocabulary

If you ever want to work for a Japanese company, especially as a fresh graduate right out of college, then you might find yourself having to take something called the SPI適性検査, which is one of the most popular “recruitment aptitude tests” in Japan. While many learners aiming for Japanese company employment might assume that having JLPT skills at Level 1 would be sufficient for general job searching in Japan, this is in fact not the case in the beginning of the process. Let me explain.

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Welcome to your worst Japanese nightmare

When you apply to a typical Japanese company, assuming you have no direct connections that would boost you straight through to the interview process, after listening to a general info session (can be online but quite often in person) you first submit an エントリーシート (entry sheet), which is a one-page form that includes your name, university, and perhaps a small box for your 志望動機 (reason for applying). When you submit this form in person—such as at a career fair with Japanese companies, including CFN, Mynavi, Works Global Japan, Top Career, etc—you will hand write it in Japanese, so be sure to practice writing Kanji just enough to answer the questions that are typically asked. Memorizing your 志望動機 down to the letter is probably not a bad strategy.

If the company is interested in talking to you further, you will likely receive instructions to take a WEB検査, or online test. If you’re lucky you’ll skip right to the interview where you can show off your Japanese and interviewing skills, but there are plenty of large corporations in Japan (Softbank, for example), that require the test first. And while some companies, such as Rakuten and most foreign investment banks have their own English version, most companies have it in Japanese only. In this blog post, Ms. Melfi sums up the test quite well:

Imagine having to take the JLPT1 in 30 minutes, with two more 30 minute sections on logic and math. […]

Unequivocally, the JLPT1 does not qualify you as ready for the Job Hunting process.

In other words, if you just passed the JLPT level 1 and are feeling rather good about yourself for barely squeaking by, be prepared to be pummeled by the typical web test (SPI test) that job searchers are required to take. Sure, if you were able to skip the test and get right to the interview and show your employer that you’re perfectly competent at speaking, and could look up unknown job-specific vocabulary as it comes your way, the world would be a perfect place. But it’s not, and the SPI, in my opinion, is a big unspoken roadblock that prevents non-native Japanese from entering Japanese companies, despite their constant pleas for “more global talent.”

According to a friend of a friend, he was asked by a Japanese company to take the test, but he responded that as a non-native Japanese person the test had no meaning, and that he should not have to take it. In reply, the company agreed with him, moved him right along to the interview process, and then he got the job. I can’t say this is typical, or even if the story is true, but if you don’t feel ready for the test this might be a nice hail mary move to try out.

At any rate, just because the test is hard does not mean it’s impossible. It’s a Japanese test, which means, for the most part, it’s perfectly study-able. If you have come this far in your Japanese study to consider applying to a Japanese company, then you can get over this as well. It just requires you to change what you’ve been studying.

Enter the Antonyms (and Synonyms)

When studying Japanese, my vocabulary generally comes from sentences and vocabulary lists that correspond to something I’m reading. I believe this is a fairly practical way to go about learning new words, since I’m learning things that directly relate to what I want to understand. For the SPI test, however, a decent portion of the 国語 (Japanese language) section revolves around identifying antonyms (反対語) and synonyms (同意語), which is something I simply have never done before in Japanese. Thankfully, this is probably the part of the test that is easiest to study: rote memorize enough antonym/synonym pairs and that should mean a decent shot at doing well.

There are two sites online I have found (other than buying a test-prep book on Amazon.co.jp) that seem useful and are free:

  1. StudyPro ~SPI2 • SPI3対応
  2. SPI試験対策集会所 (site looks right out of the early 90s, but still good)

For instance, combining the lists of 同意語 (synonyms)  provided on both of these sites, I’m able to compile a list of 238 vocabulary words. Each word’s reading and definition is listed, along with its synonym provided in parenthesis. If for each word in Kanji you can quickly recall it’s reading, meaning, and corresponding synonym, you should be good to go.

封建  ほうけん    feudalistic(独裁)
独裁  どくさい    dictatorship(封建)
宿命  しゅくめい   fate(運命)
運命  うんめい    fate(宿命)
冷静  れいせい    calm(沈着)
沈着  ちんちゃく   calm(冷静)
没頭  ぼっとう    absorption in(専念、熱中)
専念  せんねん    absorption in(没頭、熱中)
熱中  ねっちゅう   absorption in(没頭、専念)
不平  ふへい     discontent(不服)
不服  ふふく     discontent(不平)
傑作  けっさく    masterpiece(名作)
名作  めいさく    masterpiece(傑作)
秀才  しゅうさい   prodigy(俊秀)
俊秀  しゅんしゅう  prodigy(秀才)
損益  そんえき    profit and loss(損失)
損失  そんしつ    loss(損益)
欠点  けってん    defect(短所)
短所  たんしょ    defect(欠点)
欠乏  けつぼう    shortage(不足)
不足  ふそく     shortage(欠乏)
著名  ちょめい    famous(有名)
有名  ゆうめい    famous(著名)
規定  きてい     regulation(規則)
規則  きそく     regulation(規定)
形見  かたみ     memento(遺品)
遺品  いひん     memento(形見)
意外  いがい     unexpected(案外)
案外  あんがい    unexpected(意外)
尽力  じんりょく   endeavor(献身)
献身  けんしん    endeavor(尽力)
断続  だんぞく    intermittent(中断)
中断  ちゅうだん   interruption(断続)
不意  ふい      sudden(突然)
突然  とつぜん    sudden(不意)
必然  ひつぜん    inevitable(当然)
当然  とうぜん    natural(必然)
転居  てんきょ    moving(移転)
移転  いてん     moving(転居)
疑問  ぎもん     doubt(疑念)
疑念  ぎねん     doubt(疑問)
了承  りょうしょう  consent(許諾)
許諾  きょだく    consent(了承)
滋養  じよう     nourishment(栄養)
栄養  えいよう    nourishment(滋養)
準備  じゅんび    preparation(用意、支度)
用意  ようい     preparation(準備、支度)
支度  したく     preparation(準備、用意)
落胆  らくたん    disappointment(失望)
失望  しつぼう    disappointment(落胆)
自然  しぜん     natural(天然)
天然  てんねん    natural(自然)
督促  とくそく    demand, urge(催促)
催促  さいそく    demand, urge(督促)
順序  じゅんじょ   order(次第)
次第  しだい     order(順序)
永遠  えいえん    eternity(永久)
永久  えいきゅう   eternity(永遠)
対等  たいとう    equivalent(互角)
互角  ごかく     equality(対等)
願望  がんぼう    wish(希望)
希望  きぼう     wish(願望)
筆記  ひっき     written(記述)
記述  きじゅつ    written(筆記)
不偏  ふへん     universal(一般)
一般  いっぱん    universal(不偏)
負債  ふさい     debt(借金)
借金  しゃっきん   debt(負債)
知己  ちき      friend(友人)
友人  ゆうじん    friend(知己)
発達  はったつ    development(進歩)
進歩  しんぽ     development(発達)
親切  しんせつ    kindness(厚意)
厚意  こうい     kindness(親切)
質素  しっそ     thirfty(倹約)
倹約  けんやく    thrifty(質素)
原料  げんりょう   materials(材料)
材料  ざいりょう   materials(原料)
承認  しょうにん   approval(承諾)
承諾  しょうだく   approval(承認)
同意  どうい     agreement(賛成)
賛成  さんせい    agreement(同意)
瞬間  しゅんかん   moment(瞬時)
瞬時  しゅんじ    moment(瞬間)
模範  もはん     model(手本)
手本  てほん     model(模範)
関与  かんよ     participate(介入)
介入  かいにゅう   intervene(関与)
待望  たいぼう    long desired(念願)
念願  ねんがん    long desired(待望)
根底  こんてい    foundation(基本、基礎)
基礎  きそ      foundation(根底、基本)
基本  きほん     foundation(根底、基礎)
責任  せきにん    duty(責務)
責務  せきむ     duty(責任)
冷淡  れいたん    cold-hearted(薄情)
薄情  はくじょう   cold-hearted(冷淡)
実践  じっせん    put into practice(実行)
実行  じっこう    put into practice(実践)
活用  かつよう    use(利用)
利用  りよう     use(活用)
手腕  しゅわん    ability(技量)
技量  ぎりょう    ability(手腕)
便利  べんり     useful(重宝)
重宝  ちょうほう   useful(便利)
綿密  めんみつ    careful, detailed(細心)
細心  さいしん    careful, detailed(綿密)
正確  せいかく    accurate(的確)
的確  てきかく    accurate(正確)
帰省  きせい     return home(帰郷)
帰郷  ききょう    return home(帰省)
生涯  しょうがい   (one’s) lifetime(一生)
一生  いっしょう   (one’s) lifetime(生涯)
起源  きげん     origin(発祥)
発祥  はっしょう   origin(起源)
揶揄  やゆ      tease(愚弄)
愚弄  ぐろう     tease(揶揄)
我慢  がまん     endure(忍耐、辛抱)
忍耐  にんたい    endure(我慢、辛抱)
辛抱  しんぼう    endure(忍耐、我慢)
高尚  こうしょう   refined(典雅、上品)
典雅  てんが     refined(高尚、上品)
上品  じょうひん   refined(高尚、典雅)
貢献  こうけん    contribution(寄与)
寄与  きよ      contribution(貢献)
出色  しゅっしょく  excellence(抜群)
抜群  ばつぐん    excellence(出色)
疎外  そがい     (to be) cast out(排斥)
排斥  はいせき    (to be) cast out(疎外)
漂泊  ひょうはく   wandering(放浪)
放浪  ほうろう    wandering(漂泊)
腐心  ふしん     take pains to(苦心)
苦心  くしん     take pains to(腐心)
歴然  れきぜん    evident(明白)
明白  めいはく    evident(歴然)
廉価  れんか     low price(安価)
安価  あんか     low price(廉価)
頑丈  がんじょう   healthy, solid(壮健)
壮健  そうけん    healthy, solid(頑丈)
横柄  おうへい    arrogance(尊大)
尊大  そんだい    arrogance(横柄)
堅持  けんじ     adhere to(墨守)
墨守  ぼくしゅ    adhere to(堅持)
邂逅  かいこう    chance meeting(遭遇)
遭遇  そうぐう    chance meeting(邂逅)
格言  かくげん    proverb(金言)
金言  きんげん    proverb(格言)
確執  かくしつ    fued(反目)
反目  はんもく    fued(確執)
敢行  かんこう    decisive action(断行)
断行  だんこう    decisive action(敢行)
簡単  かんたん    simple(容易)
容易  ようい     simple(簡単)
機転  きてん     quick wit(機知)
機知  きち      quick wit(機転)
工面  くめん     raise money(算段)
算段  さんだん    raise money(工面)
啓蒙  けいもう    enlightenment(啓発)
啓発  けいはつ    enlightenment(啓蒙)
激励  げきれい    encouragement(鼓舞)
鼓舞  こぶ      encouragement(激励)
回顧  かいこ     recollection(追憶)
追憶  ついおく    recollection(回顧)
険悪  けんあく    threatening(不穏)
不穏  ふおん     threatening(険悪)
原因  げんいん    reason(理由)
理由  りゆう     reason(原因)
合格  ごうかく    pass an exam(及第)
及第  きゅうだい   pass an exam(合格)
安泰  あんたい    tranquil(静穏)
静穏  せいおん    tranquil(安泰)
婚礼  こんれい    wedding(婚儀)
婚儀  こんぎ     wedding(婚礼)
妨害  ぼうがい    hindrance(阻止)
そし  そし      hindrance(妨害)
蹉跌  さてつ     setback(挫折)
挫折  ざせつ     setback(蹉跌)
残念  ざんねん    unfortunate(遺憾)
遺憾  いかん     unfortunate(残念)
賛美  さんび     praise(称揚)
称揚  しょうよう   praise(賛美)
示唆  しさ      hint, suggestion(暗示)
暗示  あんじ     hint, suggestion(示唆)
交渉  こうしょう   negotiation(折衝)
折衝  せっしょう   negotiation(交渉)
多弁  たべん     talkativeness(饒舌)
饒舌  じょうぜつ   talkativeness(多弁)
知悉  ちしつ     deep knowledge(精通)
精通  せいつう    deep knowledge(知悉)
執着  しゅうちゃく  be a stickler(拘泥)
拘泥  こうでい    be a stickler(執着)
大衆  たいしゅう   the masses(庶民)
庶民  しょみん    the masses(大衆)
賢明  けんめい    wisdom(利発)
利発  りはつ     wisdom(賢明)
詳細  しょうさい   details(委細)
委細  いさい     details(詳細)
長所  ちょうしょ   strong point(美点)
美点  びてん     strong point(長所)
崇拝  すうはい    admire(敬慕、傾倒)
敬慕  けいぼ     admire(崇拝、傾倒)
傾倒  けいとう    admire(崇拝、敬慕)
心配  しんぱい    worry(懸念)
懸念  けねん     worry(心配)
辛酸  しんさん    hardships(困窮)
困窮  こんきゅう   hardships(辛酸)
頑健  がんけん    robust, brawny(屈強)
屈強  くっきょう   robust, brawny(頑健)
精読  せいどく    careful reading(熟読)
熟読  じゅくどく   careful reading(精読)
切望  せつぼう    longing for(熱望)
熱望  ねつぼう    longing for(切望)
束縛  そくばく    restraint(拘束)
拘束  こうそく    restraint(束縛)
粗相  そそう     blunder(失敗)
失敗  しっぱい    blunder(粗相)
完遂  かんすい    to accomplish(成就)
成就  じょうじゅ   to accomplish(完遂)
抜粋  ばっすい    selection from text(抄録)
抄録  しょうろく   selection from text(抜粋)
核心  かくしん    kernel, core(枢要)
枢要  すうよう    kernel, core(核心)
奪取  だっしゅ    capture by force(攻略)
攻略  こうりゃく   capture by force(奪取)
敗走  はいそう    retreat(退却)
退却  たいきゃく   retreat(敗走)
功名  こうみょう   great feat(殊勲)
殊勲  しゅくん    great feat(功名)
繁忙  はんぼう    busy(多忙)
多忙  たぼう     busy(繁忙)
卑近  ひきん     familiar(身近)
身近  みぢか     familiar(卑近)
緩慢  かんまん    slow (worker)(遅鈍)
遅鈍  ちどん     slow (worker)(緩慢)
歳月  さいげつ    time, years(星霜)
星霜  せいそう    time, years(歳月)
変遷  へんせん    (historical) change(沿革)
沿革  えんかく    (historical) change(変遷)

Some of these words are not especially difficult, such as 有名 and 当然, but being able to point out from a list of words which has the closest meaning in about 15 seconds is likely something that requires a bit of studying, hence the hefty list above. Using the links above you could compile a similar (but perhaps even longer) list for antonyms as well.

After antonyms and synonyms, the next part of the Japanese language section of the SPI test involves reading short passages and answering 1-3 questions about them, often in less than a minute or 90 seconds. I wish I could say I had an ultimate trick or study method for this portion of the test for us non-native speakers (as reading speed is not exactly an easily upgraded skill), but purchasing an SPI test-prep book and going through questions is likely your best chance. Something else you may want to try is to estimate how fast you read English, and then give yourself that amount of time to answer a JLPT level 1 reading passage. Obviously you’ll be hampered by the time limit, but you may discover what works for you when trying to rush through a Japanese passage.

Finally, there is also a math section in the SPI test, which isn’t terribly difficult (think back to the SAT or ACT if you’re from the United States), but is made difficult because, again, it’s in Japanese. What that means, then, is that additional practice is  required. In a future blog I hope to go over some math vocabulary in Japanese (which I have been meaning to study myself), something is not covered in typical Japanese language classes as far as I know.

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