As applications for the JLPT’s July period open up after a year of cancellations in 2020, now more than ever is the perfect time to get prepared and consume as much Japanese content as you possibly can. As such, we thought it best to release our comprehensive guide on everything you’ll need to succeed in the JLPT.
Before we get into it, to find out whether you’re country is running the JLPT test this year, check out the JLPT Website’s List of Overseas Test Sites & Host Institutions to see if your country is running the test this July.
So, What is the JLPT?
The JLPT, or Japanese Language Proficiency Test, is the official way for testing Japanese language proficiency in reading, vocabulary, grammar, and listening. There are 5 levels overall with the lowest being the N5 and the highest being the N1. The test features no writing but is instead a multiple choice quiz that tests you on your understanding of the differences between vocab, grammar, and kanji. As featured in the image below, each level has a different overall pass mark and each section must be passed in order to receive the certification. Using the N3-N1 scores as an example, even if you were able to get 60 points on both reading and listening, you still wouldn’t be able to pass if you only got 18 points on the language knowledge section.
So, this is probably the point where you’re wondering why you even need it. Well, having the certification can be a useful way to see where you place in your Japanese language journey and can also be incredibly useful if job hunting in Japan. Many casual jobs will require N3 and more formal office jobs will require at a minimum N2, if not N1. According to the official JLPT website, holding a JLPT certification can even help you in obtaining points for preferential treatment when migrating to Japan. So, if you have any interest in living in Japan, obtaining a JLPT certification of at least N3 can be very useful when job hunting.
Test fees can also vary depending on where you live, so we definitely recommend checking out the official JLPT site to see how much the cost is for your area.
As featured above, each level is broken down differently and the allotted time for each level is also different as the difficulty and length of time it takes to complete changes.
What Level Should You Take?
If you’ve never taken the JLPT before, it can be quite daunting as to which level you should take. For that reason, depending on how long you’ve studied and how up to par you are with your vocabulary, grammar, kanji, and listening, we highly recommend you take some practice tests online.
The official JLPT website has short practice tests from N5 all the way through to N1 where the link can be found here. JLPT boot camp also offers longer practice tests ranging from N5-N1 as well. Unlike the official JLPT website, the JLPT bootcamp website features a range of full length tests and also provides some great tips on their own recommended textbooks as well.
Overall, unless you’re wanting to see where you are with your Japanese skills, we’d recommend skipping over the N5 and N4 levels and aiming straight for N3.
Our Asia Options Japan Team Textbook Recommendations:
When taking the JLPT, one of the first questions you’ll probably ask yourself is what materials you’ll need to successfully pass. With numerous textbooks out there which are designed specifically for taking the JLPT, it can be incredibly hard to pick the right one. The books also definitely don’t come cheap either. When looking to buy, we suggest searching through a variety of websites including Amazon, Kinokuniya, OMG Japan, and eBay to compare prices.
So let’s get into it then!
Genki I and II (N5-N4 level) are great introductory textbooks that cover the basics of Japanese grammar, vocabulary, and kanji which also come with CDs for listening practice as well. If you are just starting your language journey, these are great books to get you started. It’s important to note that this is not a Kanji book and that while it does feature 317 kanji over the two books, you will need more as you move to the next levels. Overall, they are great books for self-learners who are just beginning their Japanese journey.
Minna No Nihongo I and II (plus their intermediate counterparts) (N5-N3 level) are great introductory books that teach you all the basics you need. Although unlike Genki, the Minna No Nihongo books are a bundle purchase of different textbooks that each focuses on a different aspect of the language. Due to this and also the way the books are set out, the series is more thorough but can also be a bit overwhelming due to the amount of content. Overall, we do recommend the series but would also suggest you have a tutor as they aren’t explicitly self-lerner friendly.
Nihongo Sou Matome are a series of books ranging from the N3-N1 level with five books in each level. They are extremely welcoming, organised, feature English, and are laid out well; but if they were to have a weakness, it would be in their grammar books. Unfortunately, they lack extensive explanations of differences between similar grammar points; which are key in the N3-N1 tests. As such, I would recommend them for Kanji and vocabulary, but only recommend them as supplements for grammar if you’re a self-learner. If you have a tutor though, these can be great welcoming books.
Shinkanzen Master is a series that features textbooks from the N5-N1 level but I would more so recommend these at the higher N2-N1 levels. They are completely in Japanese at the higher levels which can be great for immersion. More than anything else, they are an excellent aide for learning each grammar point in a concise way and also understanding subtle differences in very similar grammar points. For anyone taking N2-N1, this should be your bible.
Honourable Mentions also include:
Once you’ve finally gotten to the final stages of preparation, we also recommend taking as many practice tests as you can so that you can get the hang of how to take the test. Some of our recommended practice textbooks include:
Online Resource Recommendations:
If textbooks are out of your reach or you can only afford a few then online resources can honestly be a great money saver. From a wide variety of websites, to some great youtube channels, there are a wide variety of resources that you can use to improve your Japanese.
Recommended Online Tools:
Wanikani is a great tool that uses a spaced repetition system to ensure that you fully remember and understand the meaning of every kanji. Everything is laid out for you in an easy-to-understand way and is perfect for someone who is a self-learner or in classes. However, it is free only up until the early levels and after that, it will cost $89 USD per annum or $299 USD for a lifetime subscription.
Anki, like Wani Kani, uses a spaced repetition flashcard system but instead enables the user to create their own decks or download one’s that others have made. It is a great resource for learning both vocabulary and kanji.
Memrise let’s you create your own kanji and vocabulary decks, or find those that others have made as well. Unlike Anki though, it has you typing in answers to prompts.
Tofugu is a great website for people who are just beginning or a little way through their Japanese journey. It has some awesome tips on grammar, learning the language and also features blogs about the culture as well. If you’re lost about which textbooks to get, they also have some incredibly comprehensive reviews on Minna No Nihongo and Genki.
Jisho is an awesome online dictionary that saves you having to buy a real one if you’re a bit tight on money from buying all those pesky textbooks. You’re able to search not just vocabulary but also Kanji and even grammar points. It’s honestly a great resource when trying to figure out what a certain word of kanji means.
小説家になろう (Shousetsuka Ni Narou) is a great website for more advanced learners to be able to read Japanese novels for free. It’s a great tool that has aspiring novelists writing content that anyone can access. If you want to improve your reading speed and have some fun while doing it, then I can highly recommend this website.
Our Top 5 Tips For JLPT Success:
With everything mentioned above, we figured it best we also lay out some tips of succeeding when it actually comes down to test day. I was definitely super nervous the first time I took the JLPT.
- Pace Yourself! More than anything, pacing yourself is my most highly recommended tip when taking the JLPT. With only a set limit for each part of the test, it can certainly feel like time can get away. To deal with that, use the above-mentioned practice tests and set a timer as if you were doing the real test. This can be a great way to get used to performing under a time limit.
- Skip a question if you’re taking too long! If you are spending more than a minute or two on a vocab or kanji question and really struggling to choose an answer, then you’re probably taking too long. Skip the question for now and come back to it if you have time to later.
- Read as much as you can at all levels! Reading ability is incredibly important and from N3 and up, and especially for N2 and N1, the reading sections can be a page long. So, it’s incredibly important that you read as much as you can whether it be news articles, manga, or practice readings from textbooks. A lot of the questions can be a bit of a read between the lines kind of situation which is why I highly suggest you do this.
- Strengthen your weaknesses and reinforce your strengths! While it might sound simple, never neglect any of the key areas whether it be grammar, kanji, vocabulary, or listening. Each area is just as important as the other and will all feed into one another.
- Finally, just be consistent! It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 minutes or one hour every day, but make studying a habit. Motivating yourself at times can definitely be hard so if you can’t be bothered opening up a textbook, then just watch a quick youtube grammar lesson, watch a show without subtitles, or just talk to another friend that’s studying Japanese (In Japanese of course).
With all these recommendations, tools, and tips laid out, we hope that you might find something in here that was useful. It’s also important to point out that the JLPT is just one way of measuring your Japanese skill and even if you don’t pass, that’s ok as there’s always next time. So, from one language learner to another, 頑張ってね！
If you’re currently studying from home, we also recommend taking a look at our other blogs on learning Japanese listed below:
The Nihongo No Mori youtube channel in particular is an awesome resource for gaining a better understanding of difficult grammar points from the N3 to the N2 level.
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