JLPT Prep

This page is devoted to the Japanese Language Proficiency Exam or JLPT (日本語能力試験). It was originally inspired by Robert’s excellent JLPT level 3 Roundup page, I chronicled my efforts to pass the JLPT and what worked for me, and what didn’t. Also, I shared more general advice for mastering Japanese language, which is reputed to be one of the most difficult in the world, and to help others prepare for the JLPT.

However, as of 2014, I took down the original page. I wrote a long explanation here about why I think the JLPT really isn’t worth it in the long-run. Please take a moment to read why, or if you are in a hurry, to read suggestions below about how to improve your Japanese more effectively and without the time and cost of doing the JLPT.

Without The JLPT, How Do I Get Good At Japanese?

If you’re new, or relatively new to studying Japanese language, I would strongly, strongly recommend taking Tae Kim’s online Japanese-language course. Even if you learned Japanese previously, chances are you might have learned some things wrong (like I did), and it’s always good to review the basics, since the basic grammar is (in Tae Kim’s words), very frequently used, and often the hardest to grasp. This has been my experience as a student of Japanese language for years. I developed a lot of bad habits and assumptions I started to correct only recently.

Even if you think you’re familiar with basic Japanese, I highly recommend reviewing it anyway because we can all use some improvement. :)

Seperately, when I first learned Japanese, I spent a lot of time using podcasts from JapanesePod101.com which helped me get familiar with the basic grammar in small, easy steps. It helped me get on my feet, in other words.

But my Japanese really didn’t improve beyond the basics until I followed my wife’s advice to spend more time reading Japanese comics and books, and less time studying. Once I did that, I could feel noticeable improvement. Really, all that matters for learning Japanese or any language or skill is frequent exposure. Reading, listening, learning with SRS tools like Anki is all you need. A little bit every day, something you enjoy doing anyway, just like that. You get good at driving a car because you do it all the time, and in the same way, if you keep using your foreign language, you’ll just get better and better at it.

I mention this because even if you plan to take the JLPT exams, you should have a strong foundation in the basics anyway. The exam is intended to measure Japanese competency you should already have, not something you crammed for, so you should spent time really getting the fundamentals. Don’t put the cart before the horse.

But How Do I Know If I Can Speak/Read Japanese Well?

The JLPT can serve as a benchmark for Japanese skill, but really, if you’re actively reading and using Japanese, you don’t need it. If your skills are good, it’s painfully obvious. A certification would just be an empty formality.

65 Responses to JLPT Prep

  1. Aaahhh very good very good.

  2. Alexandre says:

    You say “JLPT3 can definitely be passed in a year [...]. JLPT 4 can be passed in 6 months. JLPT 2 seems to take about 2-3 years, or even one year”.

    Does this mean you consider that 3kyuu can be passed after one year of study, or after 1 year plus 6 months for 4kyuu?

    In any case, while 3kyuu CAN be passed in a year, I don’t think this reflects the situation of most students, at least that of students outside of Japan.

  3. Doug says:

    Matthew Thank you, sir. :)

    Alexandre Welcome to the JLR. Regarding your question, I assume you mean someone whose doing this entirely from scratch. If so, you should definitely go for the JLPT 4 first, which takes about 6 months of consistent study and practice. Then, you should think about the JLPT3, which takes another year. So that would 1.5 years in total.

    As for whether a student can pass level 3 in a year, I think it really depends on the student. I skipped 4 altogether, but I started preparing for 3 in January, and have had a whole year. So far things are looking pretty hopeful. That’s why I dumped as much info as I could onto the blog to help empower others to do the same.

    The issue isn’t so much time, but investment. If you invest the time, and do it consistently, your language skills will improve. It’s easy to make a great start, but harder to stay with it. But if you want the certification enough, you’ll find you had strength you never thought possible.

    Part of it also is creating a no-fail environment, so that rather than relying on willpower, you setup your environment so you don’t have to force yourself. Instead you’re just exposed to it a lot. Exposure is the best way to learn a language, and if you can manipulate your environment, even outside of Japan, to be conducive to learning Japanese, you will learn it without really trying. :)

    The materials for level 4 and 3 aren’t that great in size or content. It’s the absorption and practice of the material that takes a while. I crammed a lot in the first months, and then spent all the time until now just practicing and taking more practice tests (or old tests sold above).

    Investment and exposure. That’s the two key elements. If you’re taking the JLPT, I wish you the best of luck! :D

  4. Alexandre says:

    Thanks for the input. I started a year ago exactly and I will give JLPT3 a go this December. I am guessing I am just around the passing grade now.
    So, best of luck to the both of us!

  5. Doug says:

    I’ll think you’ll do fine. :) If you can get a hold of old JLPT tests and do a few of those, you’ll really get some preparation accomplished. Above all else, practice, practice, practice!

  6. alchymyst says:

    I am using the white rabbit kanji cards too, I think they are wonderful even if you don’t plan on taking JLPT. I’m not even sure if I’ll end up taking the test, I just want to get more proficient and get my reading skills up to where I can actually read anything! :D

  7. Doug says:

    alchymyst: The JLPT provides a nice benchmark, and for me at least, a reason to keep studying (a milestone in my studies), but I didn’t for a long time, so I know where you are coming from. :)

  8. Jay says:

    What a fantastic blog! I’m enjoying reading posts like this. I’ve found myself getting discouraged, but after reading your suggestions on studying for the JLPT, I’m ready to start digging in! Thanks :)

  9. Doug says:

    Hi Jay and welcome to the JLR. Glad this helped. It’s easy to get discouraged, but if you set aside any mental misgivings and just keep at it, you can’t help but improve. :) Best of luck in your studies.

  10. Venkatesh says:

    Konnichiwa!Doug-San

    Hajime mashite!
    Venkatesh desu.Indo-jin desu.
    Yoroshiku!

    * BOWS __/=== *

    I took the level 3 JLPT test on last December 6th and passed! I passed by the skin on my teeth, but I still passed.

    My Score Report:

    文字・語彙 : 76/100
    聴解 : 35/100
    読解・文法 : 148/200

    Total = 259/400(64.75%)

    As you can see my score deatils, my score in Listening section refelects how terrible i’m when it comes to listening, thats always been my weakest area and i’m finding it really hard to improve in this particular section obviously because i’m from india and i don’t get to talk to native speakers much other than my sensei who is a japanese.

    I need your valuable suggestion on improving my listening skill.

    Thanks in advance!
    Yoroshiku!

    Ja mata.

  11. Doug says:

    Hi Venkatesh and welcome to the JLR!

    I think the listening section is by far the most difficult section, but at the same time, probably the most important. One cannot communicate unless they can actually understand what’s said, and unfortunately it’s also the slowest skill to master. That’s because you cannot cram or memorize for it. Even if you learn a lot of vocabulary, you have to consistently expose yourself to spoken language so that the words are understood automatically. You can’t waste time thinking and remembering what a word means. It must be understood to the point that it’s automatic. Then, when you go into the JLPT or any Japanese speaking situation, it’s acatually kind of easy.

    With that said, your best bet is to just expose yourself to Japanese media constantly. it should be dynamic, not just one movie or two over and over again. You need fresh content, and you need to listen to it almost daily. Doesn’t have to be for a long duration, but just getting your ear used to it.

    Podcasts are one great way of doing this, as are online shows. Both are linked here on the blog at certain points. Just keep doing it, and you’ll be surprised how much easier things become. Speaking from experience, when you take the JLPT listening section sounds slow because you’re used to natural speed (they dumb it down for us foreign students because most are not used to native speed). You’ll be surprised. Try it out for a year and by the next JLPT, your listening skills should be stronger.

    Good luck!

  12. Troo says:

    Excellent information, Doug, thank you!

    I find it difficult to practice speaking and comprehension without being in Japan. Being surrounded by English all the time is extremely distracting. On the other hand, I neither have a Degree (thus rendering something like JET well beyond my reach in spite of my profession and skill with the English language) nor a Japanese partner. Curses.

    I suspect that, sooner or later, I’m just going to take the plunge and go live in Japan off my savings for a few months, perhaps attend some Kumon classes while there.

    I shall certainly give those graded reader books a shot in the meantime, though! Thanks :)

    Troo.

  13. Doug says:

    Hi Troo,

    Welcome to the JLT! Yeah, not being in Japan really does make things harder, but there’s still a considerable amount you can do in the meantime (before you go). It’s just learning how to learn, among other things. Memorization doesn’t really work, but finding a routine to practice does, and the Internet makes things far easier than it once did. :)

    Best of luck,
    Doug

  14. Troo says:

    It’s true. I’m terribly lazy ;) And with a poor memory!

  15. Ewings says:

    Hi,
    I am appearing for N5, and am starting from scratch. What all am i expected to cover for it? Can you list out a few things?

  16. drivya says:

    Doug- San

    Did you appear for N2 level on dec 2010 or you are planning it in July 2011. I am also appearing for N2 in July2011. It would be great if you can share some information and links for improving score in reading comprehension. I just scored 60% in dokkai in N3.

  17. Doug M says:

    Hello,

    No, I took the N3 this year (see related posts in blog), so I have experience with the N2 and can’t offer help.

    In general if you want to improve reading comprehension, you need to read Japanese media: comics, books, websites and so on. It’s the only way. Find a topic that interests you and just start reading.

    Good luck!

  18. superscube says:

    That’s some great info about JLPT truly helpful for some one thinking about how to go about with the study and yes I agree with you there is no use mugging up the vocabulary as its its pretty tough to identify when to use which word where.

  19. superscube says:

    Hi,

    I had some queries regarding JLPT N3 it would be great if we could have a little chat on it,
    My email: something@email.com contact me on this if possible.
    About a month to go the before the day wow never been more excited.

    Cheers!!

  20. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi Superscube and sorry for the late reply. I can’t really discuss anything about the test apart from what’s already publicly available so I am sorry that I can’t be of anymore help.

  21. KK says:

    Hi doug

    it was really nice to read your suggestions on taking JLPT.

    I am KK from India and was studying japanese few years back …

    I did an intensive course in Japanese for 1 yr which was a full time course. It was suppose to be equivalent to san Kyuu.

    However I never appeared for JLPT after that as i started working and i didnt have much time. Now after 4 years i have landed here in japan working for a jap company.

    I am preparing again for taking on the JLPT examination. Even though the complete set up around me is in japanese (japanaese colleagues/ movies / programs / operating system to mails)… i do have only few months to prepare. I believe i will take help of some tutor also but I am not sure which level to appear for as I think lot many things have changed now from past JLPT level.

    could you please suggest which level to prepare for now ….keeeping a time limit in consideration which is only 3 months now ….

    Your suggestion will be highly appreciated.

    Regards

    KK

  22. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hello and welcome. I can’t tell you which level is appropriate. Instead, I suggest you take the JLPT practice exams offered by the JLPT foundation, linked in this page, and see which one is appropriate for your level and with three months of practice. Good luck.

  23. victoriansilk says:

    Thanks~~

  24. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Thanks and good luck on the JLPT.

  25. Kasugano says:

    I guess those people who watches lots of anime/drama and Learning Japanese at the same time will help their listening alot. :)

  26. Katie (ke chan) says:

    Thanks for your wonderful blog! I spent a year in Japan in the mid 90s, studied at university to 402. I found that the three hundred level was quite easy for me. The 400 level was quite challenging. I’ve been working in the finance field and have had the opportunity to work with japanese clients. Over the years I’ve been told that my spoken Japanese is quite good. My reading skills need some work. After being out of college for 10 years and just finishing the CFP, I decided to challenge the JLPT for fun. I took level 4 knowing that my kanji is weak. I found that having taken the 10 hr CFP test the week before this test was quite short and surprisingly easy. I passed the test the first time. I’d like to challenge level 3 now. I’ve found some websites but would prefer to use books to study form and use the web as supplemental material. Do you have any suggestions? I’ve looked at some of the vocal for level three and found that when spoken or written in hiragana I understand. My chgallenge will be learning the kanji. Thanks for your help in advance!

  27. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi Katie and welcome! Sorry for the late reply, been swamped with work.

    Anyhow by the time you get to N3 I think it’s fine focusing on reading and not kanji. By reading I mean reading things you enjoy via manga and such. I did that and passed the N3 without any kanji practice. Kanji seems a little de-emphasized on the new exams anyway compared to reading, plus from personal experience of you learn new vocab you also learn new kanji. :-)

    Best of luck!

  28. NGG says:

    Hi Doug,
    I just found out 5 minutes ago that I failed N3….This was also my second attempt !!. Each time I failed the 2nd paper (the reading section). I am feeling quite depressed (not because the world has ended for me) but because I really put in a lot of effort and hardly improved my score from the previous year’s failed score.
    I just can’t finish the reading paper in the time allowed !! That is my big problem.
    I feel like totally giving up right now.

  29. Hi NGG and welcome. Sorry to hear about the JLPT results. What has your study regimen been in the past?

    For the N3, which was new at the time, I had no study material, so instead I just read manga whose subjects I liked for a year and I guess that was enough.

    If you’ve failed twice, maybe it’s a time to take a break from the JLPT and focus on generally improving your Japanese in a fun way. http://www.ajatt.com/ has some good advice on that front (the author isn’t too fond of the JLPT either).

    Good luck in your studies in general. :-)

  30. Hi, I am just started studying Japanese and romaji is still my preference. Can you have a review this online dictionary http://www.romajidesu.com. Is it useful for newbie like me/more advanced learners?
    Thanks

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  65. Jrancher says:

    JLPT probably isn’t the best judge of a person’s overall ability in the language.

    I think that just passing L4/5 and sometimes even L3 doesn’t mean the person has a complete fluency up to those levels. I’ve met people who’s kanji was much better than mine. However, they couldn’t hold a conversation in Japanese. So their speaking and listening wasn’t that great.

    There’s also the case where you’ll know words or phrases in the language that other learners do not, and vice versa. There are things I haven’t learned yet that are considered elementary to a Native Japanese speaker. So there are definitely gaps. I think many people may have some type of gap in the language, especially if they concentrate on certain things when learning.

    That’s a challenge, for when I speak Japanese with people, I speak using the words and phrases I know best and I am confident in using. So much that the listener may think my grasp of the language is much higher than it is. Then they speak in at a native speed, using words I may not know of be so familiar with, and or start going on in sonkeigo. (Customer support FTW on this one.. haha)

    When I speak Japanese, I’m reminded every day of how much I still do not know. I honestly think that no matter how much one studies this language, it’s a life-long effort if it’s not your native tongue.

    Thanks for the learning resources!

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