The hardest part about studying for the JLPT isn’t memorising kanji or practicing your listening skills.
The hardest part for most students is actually finding the motivation and getting into a consistent study pattern.
If you’re one of these students then this article was written for you.
I want to share some proven study tips to help you prepare for the JLPT. The best thing is that these tips can be applied no matter which level you’re going for.
I’ll also give some suggestions on which learning resources are the best for you based on what kind of student you are.
Whether you’re a hardcore textbook learner or prefer taking lots of mock tests, there’s something for you here.
If you’re just looking for good JLPT resources, check out our resources page!
About the JLPT
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (or JLPT) is a standardised test that is held every year in 273 cities in 74 countries around the world.
In 2016, more than 750,000 students took these exams – that’s a LOT of people taking the same test at the same time!
It is organised into 5 levels – N5 (easiest), to N1 (hardest) and is said to be an indicator for a person’s grasp of the Japanese language.
Each exam consists of four sections – vocabulary, grammar, reading, and listening. Each section has a series of multiple choice questions.
You can find out more the JLPT here at the official website – http://www.jlpt.jp/e/index.html
Why Do the JLPT?
There are a number of reasons students take the JLPT. The majority use it as a way to measure their own level of proficiency, or require it in order to work in Japan.
Personally, I use it as motivation to continue my studies.
It’s likely you’ve heard people claim that the JLPT does not accurately represent one’s Japanese ability – it doesn’t even have a written or spoken component!
While they may have a point, I’m a firm believer that if you want to take the JLPT you should do it. Don’t let others tell you otherwise.
At the end of the day, the JLPT is just one step on the road to language proficiency. It is definitely not the “be all and end all” measure, but the same could be said for any single test or qualification (university degrees included).
Whatever your reason for taking the JLPT, you’ll want every advantage you can get in order to pass – you paid money for it after all!
Here are the top 7 tips that you should know to help you prepare for the big day.
1. Know Your Current Ability
It’s not possible to completely map a textbook like Genki against the JLPT, but the you can use the following to help you decide which level to tackle.
If you have completed Genki I, then you should go for the N5, or the N4 you want a challenge.
If you have completed Genki II, then you should go for the N4, or the N3 if you want a challenge.
The best way to measure your current skill is to take a practice test. A quick Google search will reveal many free (digital) or paid (physical) practice exams available online.
This is important – take note of how well you did and how comfortable you were taking the exam. You’ll be doing a lot more practice tests later on, so this is a good way to see how you have progressed.
2. Learn the Kanji ASAP
At levels N3 and higher, kanji will make up a large part of the written material, so you’ll want to start learning as soon as possible.
In fact, your first activity should be to find an SRS app for kanji (like Memrise), or create your own in Anki.
You’ll want to practice every day since knowing kanji will help you with vocabulary, grammar, and the reading sections. It’s also something you can learn in parallel with other sections – talk about efficiency!
3. Get a Textbook
Studying for the JLPT is likely different to how you’ve learnt Japanese up to now. Finding a good textbook that suits your learning preference is recommended.
I recommend three of the most popular textbooks in the “Good Resources” section further down – they each cater to different students so there’s likely something for you!
4. Don’t Get Stuck
If you run into a sentence or question that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t let it stop your progress. You want to always be moving forward with your studies, especially if you are short on time.
Resources like Lang-8, r/LearnReddit, and even just Google will help you find the answers you’re looking for.
5. Have a Study Plan
This and #6 are the most important steps for succeeding in the JLPT.
You want to have a study plan or schedule you can refer to at any time. Plan your study as you would plan going to the gym (or any activity really).
First, choose the days you will study. For example, every Monday, Friday, and Saturday.
Then for each day note down what you will study, where you will study, and how long you will study for. Be as specific as possible!
The idea here is to make study a part of your weekly routine, just like weekly sporting activities or social events.
Also make your schedule visible – it could be printed and stuck on your wall, or on your phone calendar – so long as it’s in a place you are going to see it.
6. Be Consistent
Studying for shorter periods of time but consistently is better than studying longer but inconsistently.
Your goal should be to form a study habit, which (like going to the gym) will require a few weeks to form.
If you struggle with studying consistently, find someone to keep you accountable for studying consistently. Even better, if you can find a study buddy, keep each other accountable!
7. Keep Taking Practice Tests
There are a lot of practice and mock tests online. As you’re approaching the date of the exam, you should be aiming to complete around 3 mock tests per week.
There is an overall pattern to how the JLPT is structured and how the questions are asked. Taking lots of tests will get you used to this pattern so you won’t be surprised during the actual exam.
As a bonus, remember that exam you took in tip #1? Well this is a great way to see how much you’ve come through your studies. Its the perfect motivation booster you need as the test draws closer.
Shin Kanzen Master
Likely the most popular series of books for studying the JLPT, the “Shin Kanzen Master” is for students that are good learning on their own.
These books break down everything (kanji, grammar, etc.) so you can really understand the finer points and nuances in the language. If you’re the kind of student that likes to know everything in lots of detail, rather than taking a “go with the flow” approach, then these books are worth considering.
Fair warning – the explanations are mostly in Japanese, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Also note this series has no N5 books, one N4 book, and four books for N3, and five for N2 – N1.
Vocabulary – each chapter introduces groups of related words with accompanying example sentences. There is a quiz for each chapter so you can test yourself.
Kanji – progressively introduces new kanji and provides sentences and short passages so you can practice reading them in context.
Grammar – groups similar grammar points together and explains how they are constructed as well as where and when they are used. At the end of each chapter there are practice exercises.
Reading comprehension – contains reading material such as essays, newspaper articles, diary entries, emails and other short form passages.
Listening – provides exercises and questions close to the ones asked in the JLPT. Comes with an audio CD that you can put on your phone so you can practice wherever you go.
Nihongo Sou Matome
Like the series above, “Nihongo Sou Matome” is also split into 5 books per JLPT level. The primary difference being that they are structured into weekly lessons.
The books are broken into lesson “weeks”, where each week has 6 lessons that teach you new material. This is followed by a 7th “review” lesson with a quiz to test what you learnt in the last 6 lessons.
For N5-N3, each book is designed as a 6-week course. Understandably, the N2-N1 books are longer, each structured as 8-week courses.
Doing some simple math, if you study every day you’ll get through all N5 books in 30 weeks. Of course this is just a guideline, so you can go as fast as you wish.
This series is designed so that you can study a little bit every day, thus is good for students with a busy life (e.g. full time workers). Compared to some other methods, this is the “slow but steady” reliable approach to passing the JLPT. It is easy to lose motivation over time so just be mindful of that and keep pushing forward.
Pattern-Bestu Tettei Drill
If the above two textbooks don’t interest you, then consider the “Pattern-Bestu Tettei Drill” series. These are packed with quizzes and mock tests where the questions are in the same format as the JLPT.
There is only 1 book per JLPT level, and it covers all the vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening you will need.
A big plus is that the answers to most questions are explained in simple terms, so you’ll be able to learn from your mistakes easily. On the other hand, explanations for specific grammar points or vocabulary are not explained in depth like the other books.
For the students that follow a “go with the flow” approach to learning Japanese, this could be a good resource for you to pick up. After continuously testing yourself with the quizzes, you’re mind might be able to just pick up the more specific points or nuances.
If you are not this kind of learner, this is still a good resource to have, but should be supplemented by either “Shin Kanzen Master”, or “Nihongo Sou Matome”.
When I got my first JLPT certificate (N4) it was one of the most gratifying feelings I had experienced learning Japanese. It’s still extremely rewarding to be able to hold some physical proof that all my hard work and effort had paid off.
You may feel intimidated by the JLPT right now, but believe me and countless others – it’s easier than you think once you apply the advice I have given above. Of course it requires some hard work, but that’s the way it is with most worthwhile ventures.
Whatever you do, make sure you don’t burn yourself out like I did 🙂