There aren’t a lot of books specifically designed for the N5 test. It is a level of the test that sometimes gets ignored. You can get plenty of vocabulary resources like the Memrise N5 course, but it can tough to find a book that gives a good list of exactly what you need for the test in terms of grammar, and kanji.
And the prep book from Unicom, strangely named N5 Yomu (it doesn’t actually have reading practice in it), does a decent job of listing all the vocabulary, kanji, grammar, and phrases you need in one place. Keep in mind that this is mostly a reference book that you can use to double-check everything you need for the big day. I wouldn’t really recommend it to learn from, although you could in a pinch.
Unicom is known for being very straight to the point and somewhat low-budget. They have a lot of great books for the various levels of the exam. Although they don’t seem to be very consistent in their coverage of every level, the levels they do cover are pretty good and this N5 book is no exception.
The Vocabulary or Kotoba Section
The book starts off the vocabulary that you need for the big test. What I like here is that they have broken down the words into groups that you can study with. I think this can help make the list of words you need to learn for the N5 (somewhere around 700) a little more manageable for your brain. It also makes it a lot easier to break down into more achievable goals.
It looks like they have around 460 words listed which should cover most of the main words. You will need to supplement this with other material though. That list is way too short to cover everything you probably need to know for the test.
There is a good sized (around 100 questions) quiz in this section that familiarize you with how questions are presented on the real test as well as checks your knowledge of the vocabulary you need. This is a good healthy amount of practice, probably enough for you to get comfortable with the type of questions that you will see on the test.
Again, this is to just get you comfortable for the test. I recommend doing a lot of outside practice, even before you crack open this book and give the quiz a try, because it really doesn’t ‘teach’ you any words, just lists them. If you take the quiz before you’ve at least done some preliminary vocab practice you’ll be wasting it.
The Kanji Section
Very much like the vocabulary section, it lists all the kanji you will need to know grouped together. It lists all the on and kun yomi for each kanji. I’ve never found memorizing the on and kun yomi for each kanji out of context to be very useful, but it can be good for reference.
And like the vocabulary section there is a good long couple of quizzes that you can use to check your understanding and bring your comfort level up with these types of questions. It can be a bit tricky to think of kanji if you are not use to matching kanji to kana, so taking a few minutes to go through these before the test can be a huge boost.
These quizzes are very no frills much like the quizzes for the vocabulary. There are no explanations of the answers, they are simply presented without comment, so you might have to do a little bit of leg work to understand why you got a particular answer wrong.
The Grammar Sections
The remainder of the book covers what I think of as grammar for the N4 test. They break it down into 3 chapters – grammar, important phrases, and conversational phrases. The grammar chapter is broken down into 9 sections – 助詞 (joshi) particles, こ・そ・あ・ど words like ここ、こちら etc…, 形容詞 (keiyoushi) adjectives, 動詞 (doushi) verbs, 名詞 (meishi) をせつめいするほうほう how to describe nouns, 動詞 – て形 te form of verbs, ぶんを「て」つなぐほうほう how to connect sentences using the te-form, 自動詞 (jidoushi) vs. 他動詞 (tadoushi) intransitive vs. transitive verbs as well as ている・てある, and finally ぶんのぶんぽう sentence grammar, basically how to form sentences.
Each of these sections covers about one grammar point per page. The top gives you a few quick tips and hints as to how to use the point. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it teaches you the point. It just gives you a brief explanation to jog your memory. It also gives you some common mistakes to keep in mind as well as plenty of example sentences so that you can get a feel for the grammar.
After each chapter there is a pop quiz that goes over the material you covered two chapters ago. So for example, if you just finished chapter 3, the quiz send to cover chapter 2. This is a great idea because it gives you a little space for the material to soak in. It is pretty easy to answer questions about something you just read about but being able to recall if a few days later can be a little taxing. That extra use of you brain muscles can help hone some things that came loose in that span of a few days.
I find this book useful as a rough guide to what is covered on the test. If you are doing other study with something like jpod101 or fluentu, this can be a great supplement to fill what is missing. For N5, you don’t need to do too much studying to the test, but you do need a little refresher before heading into the test and this book serves that purpose quite nicely just don’t expect it to cover you completely.
I would like to have seen some of the more difficult grammar points, like は vs が, see a little more attention. This covers them very lightly. The vocabulary and kanji sections seem to just be added so that they didn’t have to write a whole other book. It would be nice to see more example sentences and example questions for these sections.
This is a great book, an probably one of the only books you need to pick up when studying for the N5. You can pick up inside Japan at Amazon or a major bookstore. It is a little difficult to get outside of Japan, but White Rabbit Press can help you out wherever you happen to be in the world. Beware of some phoney Kindle versions that seem to be on Amazon in the States. They don’t look very official, and are poorly formatted even if they were.
What do you think? Have you tried this book? Let me know in the comments below.