The JLPT N5 is the easiest of the tests. It corresponds to the old level 4 or ４級 test. It is where you will probably want to start when you are first studying. It only requires about 100 hours of classroom work to pass. This is equivalent to a little under a year of a college class in Japanese.
JLPT N5 – Basic Info
The N5 tests the ability to understand some basic Japanese. The keyword is ‘some’. You should be able to read and understand typical everyday expressions and sentences written in hiragana, katakana, and kanji. You should also be able to listen and comprehend daily life topics as long as someone is speaking slowly.
The main objective of the JLPT N5 is to test your ability to read hiragana, katakana, and few basic kanji. This is a major hurdle for new learners of Japanese. It may seem a little painful, but the sooner you learn to read and write hiragana/katakana the better. If you are still using romaji (romanization of Japanese) you are crippling yourself. Take the time now to lay down a solid foundation of these writing systems. It will pay off in the long run.
Note that since the JLPT is not a speaking or writing test, the test will only judge your reading and listening levels. In other words, you can theoretically not speak a word of Japanese, but be able to pass if you can listen and read the language.
JLPT N5 Grammar
There are no official lists of grammar that will be on the N5 test. You can look over the old lists of grammar for ４級 to get an idea of the types of grammar that you will be tested over though. There are a few lists out there on the net as well as decks in Anki that can help you study them.
In general, this level will test basic particle usage (は、が、や、を etc…), basic formal and casual conjugations of verbs and adjectives for past and non-past, as well as making comparisons and a few other simple grammar points.
JLPT N5 Kanji
Again, there is no official list of kanji that will be covered on the N5 test. The old ４級 or level 4 list is a good place to start studying for the exam though. You can pull up a list of these on Anki or on iKanji on the iPhone. You can also pick up the raw list of these kanji on various sites around the web.
In general, you need to know the kanji for numbers, time including days of the week, for family members (father, mother, etc…), directions and for basic verbs (read, write, buy, etc…). These are all kanji that would naturally come up in simple daily conversations.
The kanji for this level though can be sorted out into 6 groups, which can help you remembering them a little more easily. Read more details about JLPT N5 kanji.
JLPT N5 Vocabulary
There are approximately 500 ~700 words that you need to know for N5. These correspond to the most used words in the language. If you are studying a newbie to beginner level textbook, it should cover this vocabulary. You can also find decks in Anki that go over the old level 4 vocabulary which should serve as a good base.
The important thing to keep track of for vocabulary is the vowel sounds. There are big differences in one extra vowel sound. For example, おばさん means aunt, but おばあさん means grandmother. You can remember this difference by remembering that grandmother is older, so she has been around longer, so we need to use a longer sound. JLPT N5 will test you over these differences so be on the look out for long vowels and short vowels.
So, what is this thing good for anyway?
You might be thinking, if this test is so easy, why take it? What good will passing this test do? This level is too low for you to get a job using Japanese. It only proves that you are capable of a very simple conversation (about the equivalent of a kindergartener in Japan). And that is just barely enough to get around in the country when you come to visit. So, why even bother?
Well, it will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses for one thing. It’s important to understand these early on. That way you can focus on them more as you move up and become more fluent in Japanese. For example, knowing now that you are not so hot at grammar will help you study more efficiently in the future by focusing on that weak point and not studying so much on, say, kanji, which you are better at.
It can also serve as a mini-goal. It’s important that you have a long term goal for studying Japanese, but it will also help you if you have smaller goals along the way. Being able to monitor your progress and being able to have that ‘Heck yeah! I did it!’ moment are both important to keeping your motivation high.
You can also still put it on your resume because, of course, it will make you look like a total bad ass. I mean who else on your block has passed the N5? Probably not a lot of people. I’m just saying.
Some people skip over JLPT N5 on their way up the JLPT ladder, but I would recommend giving it a try even if you feel it might be too easy for you. At least you’ll get the experience of taking the test, and you’ll have a pretty little certificate to hang on your wall and brag to your friends about.
Now it’s your turn to take action. In the comments below, let me know any resources you are using to study for the JLPT N5. Did they help? What would you recommend to someone that is studying for the N5? Don’t be afraid, help your fellow man (and woman) pass the test!
Image by Dricker94, available under the Creative Commons 2.0 Generic License