JLPT Study Hours: Are they Accurate?

There is a lot of talk about JLPT study hours. How many hours do I need to study to pass N1? How many for N5? Is that classroom hours or self-study hours?

A lot of Japanese learners have been studying Japanese for a time and would like to take the test to verify that they have learned something. And without taking the test, it’s difficult to know what test to go for. If you guess wrong, you are out Y5500ish, a day of test taking and you might have to wait another year to take another level and by that time, you will have studied more and your level would have changed more.

So, it’s a burning question that everyone wants an answer for. Unfortunately, there really isn’t an official answer. But, before you throw your hands up in disgust, I’ll try to give you all the facts, so you can judge for yourself what level you are at (at least according to study hours).

Official Study Hours

Officially, there are no official study hour recommendations anymore. JEES, or the Japan Educational Exchanges and Services, used to publish them with every test application before about 2008. Since then, they have magically disappeared. I dug up an old test book from 2007 though, and this is what it had:

JLPT level 1 (N1) – around 900 hours of study
JLPT level 2 (N2) – around 600 hours of study
JLPT level 3 (N4) – around 300 hours of study
JLPT level 4 (N5) – around 150 hours of study

These to me seem down right laughable. I tend to interpret these more as classroom hours, as in this is about the amount of time you should be sitting in a class. I would then add about 2~4 hours out of class for study and prep work for that hour in class. So a revised total hour chart would look like the following:

JLPT level 1 (N1) – around 2700 ~ 4500 hours of study
JLPT level 2 (N2) – around 1800 ~ 3000 hours of study
JLPT level 3 (N4) – around 900 ~ 1500 hours of study
JLPT level 4 (N5) – around 450 ~ 750 hours of study

The lower end would be for students that are good at languages and good at test taking. The upper end is more suitable for those that are bad at languages and not so good at test taking.

The JLEC JLPT Study Hours

The JLEC, or Japanese Language Education Center, is a service that lists Japanese language schools in Japan. They have posted average study hours for each of the levels of the test as well. It doesn’t go into detail as to how they came about these hours, but they are generally considered to be accurate.

JLPT level 1 (N1) – around 3100 ~ 4500 hours of study
JLPT level 2 (N2) – around 1400 ~ 2000 hours of study
JLPT level 3 (N4) – around 500 ~ 750 hours of study
JLPT level 4 (N5) – around 250 ~ 400 hours of study

NOTE: These study times are for students without prior kanji knowledge. The study times are significantly less if you do have previous knowledge of kanji, e.g., if your an Asian student or have studied Chinese before.

You can see that the study times are slightly different. Unfortunately, JLEC doesn’t go into how many of these hours are classroom hours and how many of them are homework/self-study hours. This is where, again, the original hours quoted by the JEES might come in handy.

So, What does this All Mean?

I feel like the JLEC hours are reasonably accurate if you are taking classes. However, I know for a fact that there are more than a few of you that aren’t taking classes. Also, if you are taking more casual style classes, i.e., volunteer classes or tutor-style one-on-one classes, these numbers aren’t entirely accurate either.

I personally know a few people that have studied for more than 2000 (self-study) hours and are still struggling to pass N2, so these numbers can be completely off for anybody not taking a class that is focused on passing the JLPT.

That’s why, I try to stress in my summaries of each of the tests that the hours I quote are classroom hours. I feel like this is really the only thing that I can be sure about and recommend to people. Next week, I’m going to go into some alternative ways to judge your level and see where you are on the scale of things, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you. What do you think of these hours? How long have you been studying Japanese and what test are you taking? I’d like to know in the comments below.

Image by Arjon Richter, available under the Creative Commons 2.0 Generic License

{ 109 comments… add one }
  • Brian April 20, 2011, 9:59 pm

    Hey there, thanks for the great post.
    First off, I’ve been studying Japanese for around five years, and would estimate myself to be around JLPT2 level.

    I agree that the “official” study times are absolutely ridiculous. Unless you’re a hardcore studier and a genius, there’s no way you’re gonna pass level 1 with only 900 hours of study unless you live IN Japan and are totally immersed in the language. 150 hours for N5 seems pretty unfathomable as well – assuming you studied for one hour a day, that equates to only five months of study! It took me at least a year before I felt confident that I could pass it.

    On the notion of classroom time and studying, though, I honestly believe that time spent studying on one’s own is much more valuable than classroom time. For example, a teacher might spend the entire class period of an hour on one grammar topic, which I could learn on my own in probably half the time. Sure, some people might prefer classes to self-study, but I personally much prefer the latter.

    • Mac April 21, 2011, 1:54 am

      Thanks for the kind words Brian!

      I agree that classroom work can often be a bit wasted if you look at it from the purest point of view of how much stuff you learn, but class can be valuable as a way to meet people of a similar level and also to gauge your progress with others. It also sets a pace that you have to keep up with in order to pass the course or get your money’s worth.

      It’s definitely not for everyone. I mean don’t take regular classes but I have met with a tutor on a regular basis before and found it very useful. Of course one on one tutoring is quite different from full on classes.

      I found the year if Japanese I took at college before I came to japan to be virtually useless, but maybe that’s just a failing of the university system. 🙂

      Anyway thanks for the comment Brian!

    • Mayumi September 20, 2016, 6:23 pm

      I would guess it depends on the person. I passed my N5 with five months of study and about three hours of study a week. That including a two and a half hour class, and half an hour of self study.

      • Gerald December 22, 2016, 4:13 am

        Mayumi, if that is your actual name, your example of your study hours do not properly reflect the length it takes foreigners. I had many Niseis pass me taking a fraction of the time. My one friend Toshi discovered he was a dual citizen with Japan. Hurray he didn’t need a visa. That hurray only lasted until he discovered that JLPT test would be invalid just like his JR Rail pass as he repatriated as a Japanese national. He ended up taking the much harder Kanji Kentei exam where he had to learn vastly more vocabulary and actually learn how to write the kanji knowing the radicals etc. Megumi, if you are “Japanese”, this exam might be the wrong path of study for you since Japan only recognizes this exam for those who do not hold Japanese citizenship.

        • Peter June 2, 2017, 1:30 pm

          If you still read this, Gerald; I am actually in the same boat. I was actually quite amazed. I’ve been studying for around half an hour to an hour a day, but looking at example N5 tests, it seems elementary, and if anything, I’m getting confused on some words not being written out in 漢字 but in hiragana.
          My native language has nothing to do with Japanese, as I am Swiss. Other than seeing some Japanese shows before, I also had no prior knowledge of Japanese whatsoever.

        • Gabriella January 2, 2020, 8:03 pm

          If you still read this: I live in Brazil, I’m not Japanese (I’m 100% Brazilian) and I passed the N5 test by studying for 5 months, 1 hour per day, and all by myself (I didn’t have money to pay for Japanese classes). So I think it depends on each person.

          • Clayton MacKnight January 6, 2020, 11:41 pm

            It definitely does. Could you tell us what you did for that one hour?

        • Joneru February 19, 2020, 12:15 pm

          “That hurray only lasted until he discovered that JLPT test would be invalid just like his JR Rail pass as he repatriated as a Japanese national.” – Is this true? I’m half japanese but I grew up in another country because of the situation of my parents. I’m studying right now to take jlpt exam on July 2020. I’m 24 years old btw arrived at Japan when I’m 22.

  • bob rashman May 11, 2011, 4:40 am

    There seems to be an ongoing misunderstanding regarding whether the ridiculous quoted hours by JEES are classroom hours or total study hours. Just so there’s no mistake, the 900 hours quoted, referred to the ‘total recommended hours of study’… NOT classroom hours.

    The misunderstanding over this is because of a poor Japanese to English translation. The person who translated the original Japanese text stating the hours misunderstood the meaning. If you look at the original Japanese text there is no mistake that the 900 hours refers solely to the “total number of study hours” and has NOTHING to do with class hours.

    Speaking of the total study hours, if the JLEC study are considered the average, well then they seem right on the money to me.

    By the way, nice article !!

    • Mac May 16, 2011, 5:46 am

      I guess I hadn’t gone back to the original Japanese quoted the hours, but I just guessed that 900 hours is just ridiculous and could only mean classroom hours. I guessed wrong.

      Anyway, yeah, the JLEC hours are generally considered accurate if you are studying purely for the test. For example, I have a few friends that can chat away in kansai-ben, but would struggle with N3 just because they haven’t practiced the skills.

      Thanks for contributing Bob and clearing things up. Sorry for the late reply, I was in bed with the flu this week, no fun at all.

  • Chris June 17, 2011, 3:06 am

    I have a 4 year degree in Japanese. Of those 4 years, maybe 2 years worth of classes were on the language. Without any further study, I could sit and pass the N3 exam no problem. I’m currently studying for the N2 exam and will eventually go for N1. I think your estimates on hours is fairly accurate. Very good info for those people who are looking to allocate time for these exams.

    • Mac June 17, 2011, 1:29 pm

      Thanks for the tip Chris. Good to know these are at least fairly accurate. I’ve heard someone who graduated with a major in Japanese is suppose to be able to pass N4, and someone with a master’s in Japanese is suppose to be able to pass the N2. I’m not entirely sure how accurate that is. It’s good to know that you can pass the N3 after majoring in the language.

      Thanks for the comment and expert info!

      • Ioana October 19, 2011, 12:16 am

        I think it depends on the University. My Uni intends on having us at N3 level when we graduate(3 years, no prior kanji, kana or anything Japanese-related knowledge). The average-to-best students of the class are taking the N3 this December and intend on tackling N2 after graduation. And we are NOT a very good Uni, and our courses aren’t bootcamps(we only get 10hrs of Japanese classes per week). The very best of the class never even got their JLPT cause they got sent to Japan instantly =).

        N4 after studying Japanese in an academical setting for 3 years seems extremely slow. (OK, technically I am taking the N4 after 3 years of study, but that’s due to my own lazyness…).

        • Mac October 19, 2011, 1:18 am

          I think that seems about right. When I first started studying Japanese, I was told that N4 was basically a bachelor’s in Japanese, but I don’t think that is quite accurate. N3 is more on par with a bachelor’s. Of course there is a pretty sizable leap still between N3 and N2 in my opinion.

        • Nicky December 7, 2011, 8:02 pm

          @IONA I would really like to know what Uni you go to! Ten hours of Japanese a week sounds like heaven to me! You think your Uni isn’t very good because you only get 10 hours of Japanese class a week? Try having only THREE HOURS of Japanese a week! My Uni is slowly trying to get rid of their Japanese/Chinese program (which makes no sense since they also offer an MBA with Asian language?!) Because of this I had to rely on ALOT of outside study pretty much soley through site like YESJapan when I was a beginner and JPod101 to prep for the JLPT. I just took the N4 this past weekend…and Ive been studying Japanese for four years!!!

          • Mac December 7, 2011, 11:10 pm

            That’s a shame they don’t offer more hours of class. I don’t see how they can offer a MBA with an Asian language with such few classes either. A bit ridiculous. At least this way, you can personalize your learning experience right?

            My personal experience with college classes wasn’t a very good one though. I learned more things in a shorter amount of time studying on my own and working with a tutor. You can get a lot more done if you take control of the learning process yourself and move at your own pace.

            I hope you did well on the test this weekend!

  • Mark September 27, 2011, 8:03 pm

    Hey, nice post! I think that on the higher levels, you are right, but on the lower end of it (N4-N5), the hours quoted for the old system are reasonable. I started studying properly in early June roughly and my Japanese teacher is confident I could pass N4 by christmas. I can easily do the N5 practice test, and can struggle through the N4 with some help. I spend maybe an hour and a half a day, but I am a very bad studyer, and often drift my attention away…. Only time can tell, so I’ll know in feburary!

    • Mac September 28, 2011, 2:21 pm

      Really? That’s incredible. I took a year of Japanese and then studied for about a year off and on with a tutor and a just passed 三級 (the old N4).

      My advice is to try to establish some kind of habit of studying, try to do it every day even if it is for just 10 or 15 minutes. Constant, steady exposure is more important in language learning.

      My attention wavers pretty easily to. Try to do some time slicing: Set a time for yourself, say, 20 or 30 minutes. Set a timer for that time and then study your heart out until the timer goes off. Then immediately take a break and do something fun, reward yourself. Over time you can start to expand the time, but don’t try to go for more than about 45 minutes without at least a 5 minute ‘breather’.

      Anyway, good luck on the test!

      • Mark February 23, 2012, 4:53 pm

        Late update, got the results today, passed by the skin of my teeth, 92 marks, where the minimum is 90!

        • Mac February 26, 2012, 4:36 am

          Still not too shabby. Passing is passing, that’s what’s important!

  • Chad February 11, 2012, 11:33 am

    I studied Japanese two years in college. Five years later, I spent 14 months in Japan. Five years after that, I have spent another seven months here, and will be here for a total of two years. My work and social environment is Japanese and English mix depending on the English skill level of those I am with, and I actively study or take classes about one hour per day. At the end of my two year term, I plan to take the JLPT 2, and am pretty confident that I will pass it.

    Add it all up, and you can figure that my four five credit Japanese classes were about a thousand hours of class time plus study, and that my hour per day of active study while living here will be another 1250. That plus over three years of environmental soaking is right about on target for what you estimate for JLPT 2.

    • Mac February 13, 2012, 1:46 am

      That sounds about right. The N2 definitely requires some specific reading/listening skills that need to be practiced, but I think you should be on the right track to pass the N2 by the time you are ready to head home.

  • Divya March 24, 2012, 3:36 pm

    Hello to all,
    i am going for JLPT N5, and i have 3 months for preparation. how many hours should i spend for daily study.please give me some tips for better and fast learning.

    • Mac March 25, 2012, 2:56 am

      What are you starting from? Are you a true beginner? or have you studied Japanese before?

  • Ruby May 18, 2012, 12:10 pm

    I’ve definitely done more than 150hours of Japanese in the classroom during high school but it’s been 5 years since I’ve actually touched anything that has Japanese written on it. I came across your article the other day and it has actually inspired me to study and go for the N5 exam in December. Even though I did advance Japanese back in high school, I have almost no recollection of what I’ve learnt. I’m hoping that your posts are not only inspiring but also memory triggers for me to be ready by December!

    • Mac May 21, 2012, 1:58 am

      You’d be surprised how much Japanese will come back to you just by doing a little studying. I’m sure you’ll be able to make it for the December test if you do some regular studying. Good luck!

    • Craig December 31, 2016, 10:04 pm

      I didn’t know they offered Advanced Japanese in highschool. Are you Nikkei? Is this a class for Japanese ESL students or is it for Japanese born and/or raised abroad?

  • David July 4, 2012, 2:45 pm

    Your article is interesting […] When it comes to study hours, you will find JLPT’s guidance is actually reasonable for most Asian students. Remember, most of JLPT test takes are from China and Korea. They are the major customers for JLPT. For Chinese, they have advantages in Kanji. We all know how helpful that would be. For Koreans, they have advantages in grammar. As you may know, Korean language has very similar or basically the same grammar structure as compared with Japanese. Korean and Japanese belong to the same language system.

    In most part-time Japanese language schools in China, the normal goal for first time students is to pass N3 within half year, including about 250 class hours. A committed student can easily do that. A more agreesive goal is to pass N2 within 6 months. Some students can do that with a committment of 6-8 hours a day. An easy goal is to pass N4 within half year. That’s kind of for casual learners. Most of first time Japanese learners in China don’t do N4 or N5 since that is considered too easy. A lot of high schoolers can pass N4 after a two-month study in summer.

    Another thing is that most Chinese or Korean students have studied English seriously for multiple years before they started to learn Japanese. The experience to learn a foreign language is helpful for learning a second foreign language. Some westners (OK, we are talking about Americans here) have no serious foreign language learning experience whatsoever. Their learning curve is of course longer.

    BTW, did I mention that Asians are normally known as good test takers?

    So the JLPT old guidelines do make sense in old days. But I believe that more and more non-asisan students are take the test these days, so JLPT may feel that the old guideline is not applicable to these learners any more.

    • Mac July 4, 2012, 3:20 pm

      Yeah, when I go to take the JLPT the vast majority of people in the room are Chinese and Korean with a few folks from the West as well as some people from Southeast Asia. But, as I noted in the article these hours are meant for those without prior kanji experience, and seeing that 80% of my readers use English, and about 8 to 9% use romance languages (mostly German, but a little French). I think these are pretty accurate for my readership.

      I do know a few Koreans that have gotten a full score on N1, so I’m guessing it is a lot easier for them to study than those of us with an English background. 🙂

      Anyway, thanks for the comment and the added information, it is good to know.

    • Jean June 9, 2018, 8:59 am

      I completely agree with all that you said, David. At least, I wont feel that I am “under studying” when I saw those thousands of hours to reach N4-3. Asians truly have the advantage because most of them have their own characters in their own language. In my case, I’m a Filipino but I studied Mandarin for 2 years and even though I didnt take it seriously, the experience helped me reach N5 level in only about 100 classroom hours( maybe even lesser if it was one-on-one); spent around 100 hours self-study for N4 level and now on N3 level and I spend 2-3hours self-study per day and I feel that I can manage not to have a tutor up to this level. I was actually surprised how I got so addicted in this language that I initially thought N5 was too difficult for me so I gave up the idea of learning kanji so my focus was only for speaking but now, I intend to take up to N1 as long as I can find a tutor and an effective textbook.

      I think it is worth mentioning that speaking 3 more dialects also help in memorizing Japanese vocabs easily.
      Since you mentioned that Korean has very similar grammar structure with Japanese, I now feel excited to continue learning Korean( I can read and write in Hangul) after I pass my N2. I also heard that some Korean vocabs are similar to Chinese, so yay! The path to 3 languages is getting smooth!
      In the case of westerners, I think they may have a longer learning curve when it comes to learning an Asian language but in terms of European languages, it doesnt take long for them to master even 2 or more. In our case, maybe Spanish would be the easiest to start with. Surprisingly, my Sensei who is a Filipino said they studied for 8 months until N2 level. Well, I believe it can even take shorter if you have a talent in language which I also think is correlated with Math and surprisingly Music- just my theory.
      Cheers to Asian Global Languages!

      • Clayton MacKnight June 12, 2018, 12:18 am

        I think N2 might be possible with full immersion and constant studying. If I had known what I know now about studying a new language, I think I would have been able to improve my Japanese a lot faster.

  • F July 12, 2012, 7:43 pm

    I think hours-wise, N4 is definitely tackle-able (with aiming to get high marks) in 500 hours total. I’ve reached that level with 270 hours in class over 30 weeks (ish) and studying roughly 3-4 hours outside that each week, plus two weeks of 5 hours per day revision, going from no background of Japanese or kanji, as part of my first year of joint honours Japanese. I think that having a good teacher-in the form of a person or a book-is essential to this figure, because then you don’t have to figure out if you should be learning this or that by yourself, and you have someone pushing you through at a certain pace (you keep up, or you fail the year, it’s that simple). Working through the Minna no Nihongo I and II textbooks, we have to know all of the vocabularu and grammar apart from in the last two chapters (keigo) and around 500 kanji to read and write. Our university sends us to Japan for our second year of a four year course, and expects us all to be at least at N3 level by the end of that (we have to pass it to pass our year abroad) with students who studied Japanese to A-level before university (around N4 I think) encouraged to try for the N2. By the time of graduation, we should all have a very good N2 score, with top students going for N1 (the gap between N2 and N1 is large enough that N1 isn’t a requirement for graduation, thankfully). I have to say, I would want my money back for any university course that only got you to N4 or N3 level for graduation (not taking into account courses which get you up to a higher level in language ability, but you’re not prepared for N2 or above due to lack of practice of such exams-sometimes I think that’s better than just training you to an exam’s standard.)

    • Mac July 15, 2012, 1:24 pm

      That sounds incredibly reasonable. I have a friend that majored in Japanese and came to Japan to finish up his studies, but still had to do some fine tuning to pass 一級 (he took the old test). I know of a few others that have managed to get to a 一級 level outside of university, but had to do 4 classes a week to do it.

      Anyway, it is good to hear a Japanese major weigh in on these numbers. Most of my experience has been talking to self-studiers that are picking up the language because they live here and actually didn’t major in it in college and most didn’t study it before they came.

  • Yuval September 5, 2012, 8:15 pm

    I think you are a bit over exaggerating the time requirements.
    I’ve been studying Japanese for ~200 days (no prior background with anything related), I will go overboard and say I’ve learned 2 hours a day which would mean ~400 hours (in reality I probably spent A LOT less time), and I already feel ready for N4 (after some simulation tests) and plan on taking it this December.
    I don’t think I’m a particularly fast learner or anything, maybe a bit above average, I just don’t think N4 is a particularly high target.

    • Mac September 6, 2012, 3:09 pm

      It really all depends on your study habits and how you pick things up. I know a lot of folks that just study what they need to know and so wouldn’t be able to pass the N4 even with 750 hours. If you focus on the exam and have good study habits I can agree with your hours.

      It’s all about how you study and if you are maximizing your time. For example, are you focusing on speaking? or reading? etc… These are just averages.

    • Rae Robinson July 29, 2016, 2:17 pm

      You have to take in consideration that you are ACTUALLY in Japan, as opposed to studying that same material in, for example, Canada. Believe me, there is a difference. So that is sort of like saying I haven’t been attending my martial arts classes but I have been street fighting in the back alley every day living in a rough neighbourhood. Yuval, your time interacting in Japan going about your daily life COUNTS for time training. You are getting the REAL experience the AJATT way. Only when you are outside of Japan, should you count hours of study and class alone.

  • koshuwu October 11, 2012, 9:35 am

    hey guys,
    well, im n3 level and i kind of knew around 1700 kanjis? that was last year? however, i feel like i now know about 500 only cause i havnt been studying.

    So, what do i do to get myself on track again. im working and i get around 2 hours to study a day. so, can you all suggest what i should study ?? that would include everything, dokkai, chokkai, bunpou….

    Please do get back to me….. im all fired up and motivated to pass n2 which i happen to flunk twice beacuse of lack of concentration.

    How did you guys do it??? would love you to share some thoughts…..


    • Mac October 14, 2012, 3:34 pm

      One of the biggest factors for me was just trying to increase my natural exposure to the language. That meant doing a lot of reading of native materials about stuff that interested me. If you are in Japan, I would highly recommend trying to pick up a few books on something that you are interested in or want to know more about.

      Also, practicing with drill books does help because at the N2 and N1 levels, they start to play tricks on you, and it also good to just know the patterns of the test as well as typical questions they use and things like that.

      Anyway, good luck on the exam and your studies!

  • Fabián July 15, 2013, 3:12 pm

    Hello Mac!! I’ve been studying Japanese for almost one year and a half. I agree that 900 hours for 1級 is unreasonable. I’m going to take the 2級 in December of this year, so I’m sticking to it. My study hours are around 1400 ~ 2000 that is what you wrote above. Of course, I’m equipped with NKM and So-Matome series as well.

    • Clayton MacKnight July 19, 2013, 12:36 am

      That sounds about reasonable. Have you been doing a lot of reading?

  • adel August 22, 2013, 2:48 am

    Is it possible to pass the JLPT 1/2 by doing three hours of passive learning and two hours of active learning while I take a Japanese class of three hours a week during three years( the classes focus on the JLPT) ?

    Note: I have never studied Japanese in my life.

    • Clayton MacKnight August 26, 2013, 12:07 am

      It’s hard to say, for the N2, N1 levels you need a lot of regular exposure to the language. If you are living in country, it is quite possible. If you are living out of Japan, you might have to supplement it with exposure.

  • Caine September 11, 2013, 11:07 am

    I’m going for the N2 test in December and will only have been studying properly for about 9 months. I’m learning 60 words per day on weekdays and having breaks on the weekends and revising everyday for 1 hour or more. I’ve learnt about 5500 words and 500-750 so far and have immersed myself in the language well. By that I mean 15-20 hours a week in japanese media (music, tv, news ect.) and reading news and other articles everyday on my phone. In addition I speak to native speakers 3 times a week during my japanese classes. I also study grammar everyday through many websites (particularly https://www.renshuu.org/index.php?page=grammar/main#). What chance do you think I have?

    • Clayton MacKnight September 14, 2013, 11:07 pm

      If you have never taken the test before, it is hard to say. It is going to come down to probably reading speed and how good your testing taking skills are. I would say it is definitely possible to accomplish it though. Have you done a practice test?

  • Nathan November 5, 2013, 2:51 am

    I’m actually studying Japanese on my own now… focusing on memorizing kanji right now. I head to Japan in April to attend Kansai College of Business and Language for the two-year intensive Japanese language course. When I graduate, I’ll receive an associates from the college.

    It’s also the only language college in Japan that is sponsored by Japan’s version of the education department… so you get student discounts on the trains and such.

    Either way, the main point is… it’s six hours of classroom time per day, on top of personal study time and speaking the language day to day.

    I plan on passing N2 by the end of those 2 years. The associates will apparently allow me to work in Japan, so I assume that I:ll have an N2 level of proficiency by then, but I still plan to pass the test.

    It’s gonna be an interesting ride. I’m a US citizen, and have never learned another language before, AND I’m 31… all positive things, right? haha 🙂

    People keep saying how hard it is, but quite honestly it seems easy. It is challenging, yes, but easy as well. Kanji is like drawing pictures and associating sounds with them.

    To anyone else looking to get proficient, keep it up. Don’t let the nay-sayers tell you how hard it is. Don’t let that get in your mind. Psychologically, mentally, tell yourself it’s easy, that it will come to you. It will. When you free your mind of all that negative junk that people try to throw at you, everything becomes a lot more clear.

    For recommendations, I can definitely recommend Genki I by The Japan Times. It’s full title is An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese. That, the cds, teacher’s book, and workbook will cost you about a hundred US dollars, but it is well worth it.

    And fill your room with Japanese! let anime play in the background. Read japanese manga. I haven:t gotten to the point of reading manga yet, but I do listen to Japanese everyday, even if it’s just in the background and I’m not actively listening to it.

    Hah, this got a lot bigger than I was originally going to make it, but I am pretty stoked about learning this language 🙂

    Also, apologies for any punctuation mistakes, I recently got a mac with a japanese keyboard, so some of the English keys are different.

    • Clayton MacKnight November 7, 2013, 2:46 pm

      Wow, sounds like you are on the right course. Getting N2 after two years of intensive study like that, shouldn’t be too much of a problem. I’m sure your first month here might be a little rough, but you’ll get used to it and start speaking like a champ in no time.

      31 isn’t that bad. Just need to be willing to make lots of mistakes and be humbled a little bit by the fact you can’t really understand anything.

      Real quick about passive listening, there are a lot of mixed studies out there that range from it being completely useless and possibly harmful to somewhat useful. One thing that a lot of people suggest, and that I have tried a few times, is go to sleep with Japanese playing softly. Since your mind isn’t concentrated on anything else, it will subconsciously concentrate on the Japanese and help you get ‘your ear’, at least in theory.

      Anyway, good luck, I’m sure you can make it.

      P.S. Yeah, Japanese keyboards are a bit difficult to work with at first aren’t they? Especially that pesky single quote key -> ‘, took forever for me to find it the first time.

  • Dametrious March 13, 2014, 6:32 am

    I’ve been studying Japanese for at least 3 hours a day for the past year. That’s roughly 1068 hours. I aced the grammar and reading, but far from reaching an acceptable level for the listening. In order to pass the N2, I’m expecting at least devoting 5 hours PER day in order to get a PASSING level. That’s another (1,825 hours)

    Yeah, if you want to learn this language, it requires dedication.

    I chronicling my JLPT journey at https://iamboke.blogspot.com

    • Clayton MacKnight March 13, 2014, 2:34 pm

      Sounds like you have a solid plan. I wish you luck with the N2. There is a sizable leap between N3 and N2, it has a lot to do with your reading speed. Really need to kick it up a notch to make it.

  • ed April 29, 2014, 4:34 am

    Great article.

    I’m hoping to go from beginner to N1 in one year using the resources below. Can you comment?

    Mar: Remembering the Kana
    Apr: Pimsleur 1
    May: Pimsleur 2

    ON DECK:
    Jun: Pimsleur 3
    Jul: RTK 1

    — Move TO JAPAN
    Aug: RTK 2
    Sep: Genki 1
    Oct: Genki 2
    Nov: Genki 3
    Dec: ———-> JLPT N3
    Jan: RTK 3
    Feb: Kanzen 3
    Mar: Kanzen 2
    Apr: Kanzen 1
    May: Review / Practice tests
    June: Review / Practice tests
    July: ———> JLPT N1

    I’ll be living in Japan with a Japanese wife.

    Will incorporate anime, japanese jazz, serious movies, TV, manga and serious novels.
    Will also be taking Kendo lessons 3 times per week.

    Given the above, do you think N1 is doable?

    • Clayton MacKnight May 4, 2014, 6:31 am

      Will you be working in Japan? In a Japanese-speaking environment? If you aren’t working and can study full-time, this is definitely do-able. I would take N2 before going for N1, just because there is a huge leap between N3 and N2 that involves reading speed, and you really need to clear that hurtle before bulking up on the absolute deluge of vocab you’ll need for N1.

    • Jeremy February 1, 2015, 10:44 am

      This looks like a reasonable plan on the surface, but is it reasonable to do RTK 1 in a single month for example? Also, aren’t there multiple Kanzen books for each level? It seems like a logical order, but I question the time allocated for each item.

    • Ty February 24, 2016, 12:12 am


      I would love an update on how your plan went.
      Were you successful or what?
      I am thinking of doing something similar.
      I am currently in the military stationed in Japan and
      my plan is to retire fall next year and I would like to be
      ready for the N2 exam by July next year.
      So I can get a job here.

      And I hope you were successful!!

    • Rae August 18, 2016, 7:12 am

      From zero to N1 in a year is doable IF you are a Japanese Nisei or some returnee. (I’ve heard some killing the N1 in months but they spoke Japanese at home. The Japanese tend to give these “kikokushijo” returnees a real kick in the pants when it comes to the amount of homework they are given in order to ensure their speedy progress to reintegrating into Japanese society. Unfortunately the JLPTN1 is NOT the end goal. They are given the Kanji Kentei N2, and the Nihongo Kentei N2 instead if they are Japanese citizens as many Japanese businesses and schools do not recognize the JLPT test scores for them. I told them how it is nice that I do not have to actually learn to write the kanji for the JLPT and I was truly sorry that they are required to write all that we merely have to recognize on our multiple choice exam. I also see that they are less passionate about their study than we are as gaijin students. Social and cultural obligation and family pressure are usually the only two driving forces that motivates them to study. I would find it impossible to learn Japanese if it was forced upon me. My family thinks I am a crazy weaboo for wanting to devote myself to Japan when I have no ethnic ties to this this country.

      • Clayton MacKnight August 18, 2016, 2:42 pm

        Yeah, they have a rough time coming back, and in reality they should be welcomed back and given good jobs. Japan really needs to at least pretend to globalize if they want to boost their economy. But, that is a lot of wishful thinking. Nobody wants to globalize, too scared.

        • Rae August 18, 2016, 3:19 pm

          Clayton, you are right that they are too scared to globalize. They are pretending to a little bit. Shinzo Abe has opened the country for more tourists from more countries to be able to travel to Japan freely. But even this is pretending since these visas are a short term deal. Japan is not very flexible when it comes to giving work permits. Even Canadians who get a Zairyu Shikaku for teaching English in Japan are not allowed to also get a regular arubaito job on the side. Playing the Japanese visa game as a Canadian is already bad enough. Just imagine what a kind of hoops a Chinese citizen would have to jump through to be able to obtain a Zairyu Card.

  • Ed May 4, 2014, 2:27 pm


    Thanks for the tip re: taking class #2. I’ll definitely do the preview tests to gauge my progress.

    I won’t be working for the first three months that I’m there, but will then take a part time job so as not to interfere with both my studies and the screenplay I’ll be writing.

    So I figure four days per week at 5 hours per day and 3 per week at 2 or 3 hours.

    I’ll be in Japan 3 years and hope to get JLPT 1 done by year 1.5.

    • Clayton MacKnight May 4, 2014, 2:30 pm

      Sounds like a possibility if you can stay focused. Are you doing it for a job or just to measure progress? You might not even need N1 to be honest. N2 is pretty useful, but N1 is well, just a lot of vocabulary and nuances.

  • Jon August 15, 2014, 6:55 am

    Hi Clayton! I just started working in Japan under the JET program and I graduated from college with a degree in Japanese Studies just this past May. I have studied Japanese since I was a freshman in high school and I took 6 semesters of Japanese language courses in college (no study abroad). In college, I mainly used the textbook, Intermediate Japanese by The Japan Times.

    I’m currently starting my studies for the JLPT N2, which I intend to take this December. My question is, do you think that 3 months is enough time to study all the kanji and vocabulary? I’m studying around 7-10 kanji and around 10-15 vocabulary words a day. Is that a good pace? Since this is also my first time actually living in Japan, should I just wait until July 2015 to take it and give myself extra time to study?

    Sorry to bombard you with all of these questions, but your knowledge and expertise would be much appreciated. 🙂 Thanks!

    • Clayton MacKnight August 17, 2014, 2:29 pm

      It might be, but it is cutting it a little close. It really depends on how aggressive your Japanese language classes were. The old rule of thumb was that N4 was 2 years of college level Japanese, N2 was a Japanese language major and N1 was a Masters in Japanese language. Now, that has changed a little bit for the worst. The levels have gotten a lot harder so, it doesn’t really hold true.

      How much reading practice did you do? That will probably be the biggest thing that will trip you up. And you will also need to practice the listening questions and how to take notes during the listening, etc… New Kanzen Master has great books for both reading and listening for N2.

      Waiting till July is up to you. For some people, signing up for the test now, will help put a fire under your bum and get your studying so you can make a good showing. For others those external factors don’t really have much effect. Either way, don’t worry about failing, if you never fail, you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough.
      And for pace, I’m not sure, how much have you covered so far?

    • Rae August 18, 2016, 3:47 pm

      I also got my BA in Japanese as well. I thought I would be a hot shot and thought I could waltz in and kill the JLPT N1 since I am a UBC grad. Turns out I did not pass it the first time. I learned to focus more on understanding the meaning of the vocabulary words and focus on learning to read through those passages quickly. I was a slow reader. I made the mistake following my neighbour Hiro who insisted that learning to write in Japanese was paramount. I found later that many of them write a more difficult exam which requires writing out those kanji words, the stroke order (筆順), the name of each radical (部首), etc. It is called the Nihongo Kentei and the Kanji Kentei. What you need to do is focus on the N2 if you have a BA. Are you doing the CIR? The CIR requires Japanese language ability and it is a great way to speak to Japanese people in Japanese about your given culture. I hear it is more difficult but since you took this much interest in taking Japanese to this level, you may as well go for it. I am hoping to apply next year for the CIR. Focus also on the listening comprehension component also. Nihongonomori has free JLPT tutorials. I used their stuff to study. Good luck.

  • Abhishek August 16, 2014, 5:12 am

    Hey, um
    Are Kanji and Kana closely related and I heard 2000 characters of Kanji are derived from the Chinese script for basic daily conversations.

    I’m a complete beginner in Japanese (influenced by anime/manga) and wanna start from the bare basics to JLPT N5-N3 and so on…
    Where should I begin?
    From Kana?
    I have a book called Kana de Manga and it starts with Hiragana and Katakana and the series follows up with Kanji De Manga

    I’m planning on self studying but I hate taking classes
    I can spare 2 hours a day though… +(1 hr for watching anime with subtitles)

    I’m 18 right now so technically, I have 5-6 years worth of time to prepare…
    But is it really possible for a person my level to get through till the N2-N1 exams in 6 years worth of time with the 2-3 hr study time? What about till the university level?
    I plan on studying in a Japanese Manga Institute/Uni. in the future, that’s why I’m asking.

    Sorry for asking too many questions,haha (hope you don’t mind them)
    And arrigattou for sparing the time to read them 🙂

    • Clayton MacKnight August 17, 2014, 2:42 pm

      Kana are basically derived from kanji and the 2000 most commonly used kanji in Japan are taken from Chinese characters you see in the Chinese writing system with some minor differences here and there. Here is a short history.

      And yes, you should start with kana, specifically hiragana, then katakana. Some people start with katakana, because all recent loan words are written in katakana, but in my opinion hiragana is more useful. Whatever you choose, it doesn’t really take that long to learn them, usually only about a month if you study it regularly. Some people master it in a week or so. I built an introductory course over on Memrise that walks through hiragana, there is a link at the end of it that will take you to my katakana course.

      You could pretty easily get to N2 in 6 years with a good routine. N2 is probably enough to get you into most universities and allow you to have a basic understand of most media in Japan except maybe TV shows, movies, newspapers. Anime and manga should give you a good base of conversational Japanese. The JLPT focuses more on written Japanese though, so you will have to pick up some JLPT specific books to pass the test.

  • Mich August 27, 2014, 2:26 am

    HI… Thank you for the informative article. I just want to ask you if you can advice me with my situation right now. I am planning to take N1 on July next year. I have been working here in japan for more than 2 years and at the same time I am also studying for a japanese board exam. I studied japanese for around 5 years, with foreigner and Japanese teachers. In my first and second years of studying, I took level 4 (old version of N4) and also tried N3. I failed on both. So i lost my confidence after that but still continued studying Japanese. And now, 5 years had passed, I wanted to test myself again, do you think that it is right for me to just take JLPT N1 right away….? I plan to self-study starting next month until May of 2014.

    Hoping for your kind response. Thank you again for this article. Really helpful for me.

    • Clayton MacKnight August 27, 2014, 2:33 pm


      I think you should maybe try N2 this December and see where you stand. The N1 is a completely different beast. It takes a different kind of studying that the other tests don’t, so it might be good to take the level and see where your weaknesses are before refocusing your studies on N1. I’m sure you are pretty good with Japanese, working in Japan and studying for the board exam, but N1 requires a mastery that you really need to push yourself to get.

  • Kuruma August 28, 2014, 12:39 am

    Hello Clayton,

    thank you for your website. It is full of advises about JLPTs.
    First of all I would like to introduce myself. I’m a french guy, 26, arrived in Japan October last year and start working for a Japanese company since October 2013.
    I took the new JLPT3 but failed it. Below are my results :

    Voc/Grammar/Kanji : 47/60
    Reading : 14/60
    Listening : 43/60

    Total : 104/180

    It looks like the average is 95/180 to pass it but you need to get at least 19/60 in each part.
    Consequently I failed it for 5pts in the Reading part >.<.

    Regarding my study hours I have done 985h in 260 days (yeah, I count my hours ^^)

    What do you suggest me to do ? Pass the N3 again or go for the N2 ?
    Considering that I know around 1700 kanji and I've just done all the grammar for the N2.

    My main problem is the Reading part because I'm not good at reading fast.

    Thanks for your help

    • Clayton MacKnight August 30, 2014, 2:29 pm

      That’s absolutely heartbreaking to see. You’ve got great scores in listening and vocabulary and grammar and the one thing out of balance is reading.

      I would say move on to N2, BUT N2 requires a lot of reading, your reading speed should almost be twice as fast for N2 (compared N3 or N4). If you want to pass that level you will have to speed up your reading. That is pretty easy to do I think. You have the knowledge and vocabulary (or at least it looks like you do). All you have to do is get into the habit of doing a lot of reading. Pick up something interesting at the bookstore or used book store and just read read read. It doesn’t have to be ‘JLPT’ material, just something fun, that YOU want to read.

  • Kuruma September 4, 2014, 8:54 am

    Well, thank you for your advice. I’m gonna grab a book at the closet book store from my home.
    Now, the reel difficulty is to find an interesting book ^^. By the way, what about magazines or stuff like that ? Any recommendation ?

    I’m not especially hurry to get the N2, so I’m still hesitating to apply for it. The main reason is probably because I don’t have any JLPT for the moment.
    And It could be interesting to have something to show for my next company (or whatever). But at the same time, show a N3 is almost useless I guess…
    I planned to move for an other company around September 2015 (and I would like to get the N2 at that time).
    So maybe I should take it slowly and retake the N3 in December 2014 and take the N2 in July 2015.
    At that pace, I should be more comfortable with my reading problem, don’t you think so ?

    Anyway, thank you very much.

  • Kuruma January 27, 2015, 7:34 am

    Hello Clayton,

    just to tell you that I finally decided to take the N3 again last year.
    I’ve checked the result today i I finally passed it.

    Voc/Grammar/Kanji : 45/60
    Reading : 33/60
    Listening : 45/60

    Total : 123/180

    I finally “level up ” in reading by reading some japanese text.
    Well, I’m happy now, so let’s go for the N2 in July.

    I will get you in touch. Btw, did you get the N1 finally ?

    Thanks for all your advises.

  • Joseph February 27, 2015, 12:07 pm

    Good evening,

    You guys have a lot of useful insight! I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who is struggling with Japanese. Luckily I took 4 years of Japanese in Highschool which set me up well for Japanese in college, especially in regards to pronunciation. After I graduated college with a degree in Japanese I realized that nothing is as important as self study. The funny part is, the summer I graduated college I ended up passing N2 by one point. Now I’m on the road to N1 and am looking on the Internet for other people who are studying as well to boost my motivation. Wish everyone the best of luck!

    • Clayton MacKnight March 5, 2015, 12:04 am

      The road to N1 is pretty rough, but if you put in the work, I’m sure it is possible. Are you looking to move to Japan?

  • Alecia August 20, 2015, 9:58 pm

    Hi, I’m 12 and have recently begun studying Japanese.
    I’m actually pretty worried because I managed to pass the N5 with 100% online after only three days of studying.
    I’m even more worried because I had to learn all the kana in that time aswell.
    Is this normal for young people because my brain is still growing and stuff ??
    If anyone knows anyone else that managed this in similar time could you please tell me?
    I’m considering going to some doctor to get an IQ test done.
    I was just so surprised it said it should take like 900 hours !!

    HELP ME!!

  • Kuruma August 25, 2015, 12:34 am

    Hello Clayton,

    Just to tell you that I took the N2 and finally passed it.

    What should I do now lol. I think I reached a good landmark.
    Probably thinking of going on the N1. What do you think ?

    Thanks for all your advises.

    • Winson October 26, 2015, 4:50 pm

      Hi Kuruma, I remember you are the one who failed N3 by getting 14 marks for reading section. I am glad to see you pass N3 and N2 right after that. May I know what type of reading materials do you use after the first failed N3 exam to improve your reading skill? And can you understanding by reading japanese newspaper now? And mind sharing your score for N2 test this July? I got 24 for vocab, 24 for reading, and 31 for listening. I guess I should read a lot of materials too

      • Kuruma October 27, 2015, 12:56 am

        Hey Winson,
        Actually I focused my studies on the reading part with Kanzen N2. Never open a CD for studying the listening part because I’m living in Japan. Finally, even though I studied so hard the reading part I just got the minimum to pass it, namely 19 lol.

        Voc/Grammar/Kanji : 36/60
        Reading : 19/60
        Listening : 38/60

        Total : 93/180

        My best score is in the listening part, which I’ve never studied, while the reading part is the worst one…I’m so frustrated >.<. Anyway, it was quite just but I'm done with that .

        Are you going to pass the N2 this December again ? I can give you my list of books if you want, but, you won't have enough time to read them all I guess..

        • Winson October 27, 2015, 7:27 am

          I guess I will take it next year July as I know I haven’t reached the level of N2 yet. My conversation and listening skill is around N4 level I would say. When I was having the N2 listening test, there was no question that I am 100% sure of the answer with so I just randomly pick an answer and got 31/60 which is surprising and quite lucky. I need to listen to more japanese from drama and youtube since I am not staying in Japan. While for reading I guess I need one with translation provided or else I might be able to read a text but I might interpret the meaning differently. Can you give me the list of books you use for N2? And can you read and understand japanese newspaper at the moment?

  • James September 8, 2015, 1:24 am

    It took me 6 years to pass JLPT 1. Four of those were at University where I studied Japanese fairly intensely and two following graduation while working as an English teacher. It took me 3 years to get from zero to JLPT 2 and another 3 to get to JLPT 1, but I failed the 1 twice by a 1 or 2 marks leading up to the final time I took it. If I’d had one more mark the first time I took it I’d have passed it in five years. However, when I passed it I passed comfortably, so I guess you could say that 6 years was the time it took for me to get from zero to a comfortable JLPT 1 pass. It varies from person to person. I’m not a particularly smart guy and it takes me longer to remember things than most people. There were people on my course that went from zero to JLPT 1 in three years or less, but it depends in a variety of factors, such as how dedicated you are, the way your mind works, and how consistent your schedule allows you to be.

    • Rae Robinson July 29, 2016, 2:10 pm

      That seems about right. Even with a BA in Japanese, JLPT N1 is not a guarantee. 900 hours might be accurate for a Chinese students learning Japanese or Korean. But some of us “white folks” (myself included here) who are began learning Japanese from English or another European language, Japanese is considered a Category V language, which is supposed to be the most difficult language for us to learn. For Koreans, on the other hand, Japanese is considered to be the easiest language to learn. So when you see the JLPT schools average out the hours of classroom instruction, you have to take into consideration that majority of the students are Asians. I have had many Korean and Chinese fellow classmates that I had started off with who have long completed the JLPT N1, and went onto studying the Kanji Kentei. They also can write the kanji very quickly when in classroom assignments are given. Many a times, I have found myself being frustrated that I take way too writing out the kanji that I have decided to settle on recognition and be content in writing in hiragana and katakana.

  • munt March 12, 2016, 2:55 am

    Hey, I am proof that although you might be aiming for a high score and all, you might not reach it in a short time, especially if you aren’t dedicated and have the right strategy. I started studying Japanese at 18 and took the JLPT N5 at 23 years old and did not pass ( 63/180 you need 80\180 to pass- my lowest section was listening because of the vocabulary used). I only took half a year of Japanese in college (B+) and self-studied the rest because my major is in Business. I was not consistent in those 5 years and studied only when I felt like it, although I’ve been listening to Japanese music since I was 12 years old. You need to know basic grammar and A LOT of vocabulary. I also have only been in Japan for only 5 days on vacation as a young teenager and didn’t speak any of it at the time. Stay consistent and motivated and learn from books too, Anime and Jpop alone will not help you pass the JLPT. I would approximate that I’ve spent 50-75 hours studying books and lists, 100 hours of watching anime, and 1500 hours of listening to Jpop/Jrock.

    • Clayton MacKnight March 14, 2016, 2:17 pm

      I think you have to make sure you the input you get is comprehensible, that is just slightly above your comfort level with the language. So listening to jPop when you first get started is not going to be all that helpful. Unfortunately, at the very beginning, you have to do a lot of basics. You can still have fun with it of course, making stupid jokes and mistakes. Good luck next time!

  • Maniraman Periyasamy March 27, 2016, 10:15 am

    I planning to take jlpt N5 this July, and i don’t have any Japanese background or prior knowledge… is it possible to clear N5 with 3 months of preparation ?. if so, any guidance on the matter will be highly appreciated. Thanks in Advance.

    • Clayton MacKnight March 29, 2016, 2:40 pm

      You might be able to pass with a lot of intensive study, but it is not likely. It usually takes about 8 months or so. If you drill the vocabulary every day and write up sentences and get some conversation practice it might be possible though.

  • John August 15, 2016, 3:08 am

    To reinforce Clayton’s remarks, I feel three months does not give a native English or Romance language speaker with no prior knowledge in Chinese or Japanese ample time pass the JLPT N5.

    I have lived in Japan since May 2015. Since June of that year I have participated in more than 150 formal online one-on-one tutor sessions and 50 casual language exchanges. I reinforced these lessons by studying 1-2 hours every day using a variety of resources such as Anki, Genki, Memrise, Pimsleur, JapanesePod101, and Remember the Kanji. I also regularly watch–but rarely understand–Japanese movies, cartoons and television news programs (I steer clear of anime since more than a few of my Japanese associates say it’s a terrible way for a beginner to comprehend–much less speak–the language).

    By January 2016 I felt confident to sit for the JLPT N5. I met with my American cousin, Lisa, who passed N3 in July 2015 and plans to sit for the N2 in December. She gave me her favorite JLPT N4/N5 test prep book to help gauge my current reading comprehension. A quick skim of the book’s sample sentences left me utterly confused and bewildered. In a feeble attempt to conquer my fears and hold back my tears, I completed the first 10 “fill in the missing word/phrase in this sentence” and a got a perfect score: 0. That’s right, zero. After approximately 500 formal study hours, I could not read a JLPT N5 sentence.

    Needless to say, I did not sit for the exam last month. Due to my work schedule, I cannot sit for the December exam, so July 2017 stands as my target date.

    To be fair, neither my tutor’s teaching methods nor my self-study material are designed specifically to pass the JLPT 5 (or any exam for that matter). Moreover, although I live in Japan, I work as a photo and video journalist for the U.S. Army. Since English is the lingual-franca in my line of work, I do not have many opportunities in the workplace to practice my awful Japanese to abundantly patient native Japanese speakers.

    Combine these limitations with my uncanny–some may say superhuman–ability to slaughter this complex yet beautiful language with appalling grammar and minuscule vocabulary, and one has created the perfect recipe for failure.

    In short, unless you plan to spend a majority your waking hours participating in intense study, I highly recommend the following:

    1. Give yourself at least 6 (preferably 9-12) months to prepare for the JLPT 5.

    2. Learn Hiragana and Katakana as quickly as possible (It took me three weeks studying 1-2 hours each day, though the average foreign language learner can likely lock them to memory in one week or less)

    3. Enroll in a class or find a tutor that will prepare you for the JLPT 5. iTalki, JapanesePod101.com, and the Japan Online Institute offer a plethora of online resources.

    4. Go to https://www.jlptstudy.net/N5/–a completely free site designed by a gracious and giving language learner–and manually add EVERY vocabulary word, grammar explanation, sample sentence and common expression into a SRS such as Anki. After constructing your masterpiece, review it every day until you can cut through cards faster than Michael Phelps torpedoes himself to his millionth gold medal (an odd comparison, but you get my drift).

    5. Most importantly, occasionally pull yourself away from formal study and do something that reminds you why you find the Japanese language, people and culture so fascinating. Whether it’s watching your favorite anime, visiting your favorite Japanese restaurant, practicing a kata, or demonstrating your nihongo with your pretty language exchange partner (Speaking from experience, Japan boasts a plethora of attractive women who enjoy meeting and speaking with native English speakers), keep the joy of Japanese and your love for it at the heart of your studies.

    There’s my two cents. I’m sure the JLPT 5 veterans have other, more effective approaches. Find what works for you and stick with it. If a forgetful monoglot like me can keep his sanity, so can you.

    • Clayton MacKnight August 16, 2016, 2:55 pm

      Yeah, N5 is no joke, not for the vocabulary really, but for the grammar. The JLPT is heavily weighted in grammar more than anything else. All you really need to survive in Japanese is N5/N4 grammar, but N2 vocabulary/kanji. It’s bit wonky like that. You also have to get used to testing, which if you haven’t done a lot of tests lately can be more difficult than it sounds.

      Anyway, thanks for the great comment and tips!

    • John August 17, 2016, 1:13 am

      In my haste to create the hyperlink, I broke it. Questions, sentences, grammar, vocabulary and expressions found in N1-N5 may be found at https://www.jlptstudy.net.

    • sam December 18, 2016, 6:35 pm


      I read your comment with real relief, hahaha.
      I have been studying Japanese for a year now. Over 100 online one-on-one lessons. 3-4 hours study a day. Genki 1 and 2… TWICE. Anki. Human Japanese on the iPad. Japanese Pod. Doing languages exchanges, doing more language exchanges. Immersing myself in the language. Moving to Japan and living there for 8 months… Can’t understand a word of it. Its embarrassing. I’d estimate in total I’ve probably just topped 1000 hours of fairly focused study. I am left completely bewildered by the language, rarely understand anything that is said to me and am totally incapable of expressing the simplest things.
      JLPT 5? Shhhya! Maybe in a couple of years.
      I have nothing more to add to your great advice. Now… off to my favourite Japanese restaurant to meet another language exchange.

      • Clayton MacKnight December 20, 2016, 12:33 pm

        Are you able to read it? But can’t listen/speak it well?

        • Sam December 22, 2016, 1:57 am

          thanks for your reply Clayton,
          Certainly its true that my reading is better than my listening comprehension. However I often find that even if I can understand all the words in a sentence I still can’t grasp the meaning.

  • Shraddha February 4, 2017, 6:41 am

    Hi…i am an Indian staying in USA…..I had appeared for N2 7 years back. Had scored 85% . In addition to N3 and N2 exam, I also pursued University course of 4 years from certificate level to advanced diploma in japanese language from India (had been topper always). Now its been 7 years, since i left japanese. Have been watching few japanese dramas and movies all these years whenever possible. I really wish to appear and crack N1 . Have lost complete touch in japanese. Dont have any jlpt classes around, but have lot of free time and willingness for self study. How should i start preparing for N1 ? And is it possible for me to go for it ? As u said i can give 4500 hours of study to it…also is it possible to crack it without classes ?

    • Clayton MacKnight February 9, 2017, 1:04 am

      I think it is totally possible to crack it without classes. You just need to do a lot of regular reading. It seems like people who pass need to be doing around 10 hours a week of just regular reading for about a year. Of course, your background, your level of concentration, your comfort level with kanji, and other factors can all affect how quickly you pick up reading comprehension, but that is a good rule of thumb.
      You can get subscriptions to Japanese online newspapers or just read some of the big ones on a regular basis. There is plenty of free content out there, but it should be from a newspaper. There are occasionally novel excerpts on the exam, but it is pretty rare. Newspapers and news programs are your best bet.

  • Wonderer February 5, 2017, 5:22 pm

    I might be silly asking this,but the figures in hours,are they cumulative?

    I mean if we take your N4 lower end figure of 750 hours,does that signifies 400 of n5+350=n4,or 750 hours of dedicated n4 study.

    Sorry for being naive about this,however response from anyone of you would be appreciated.

    • Wonderer February 5, 2017, 5:28 pm

      Sorry for quoting the figures of JLEC though but hopefully you will get the generic point,I am trying to make.

    • Clayton MacKnight February 9, 2017, 1:05 am

      Yes, they are cumulative, so according to JLEC to get from absolute zero to N1 it should take 3100 ~ 4500 hours.

      • Wonderer February 9, 2017, 6:45 am


  • Vat June 13, 2017, 8:25 am

    Hi, I am appearing for N5 this July. My target is to give entry for N3 on jlpt Dec 17 test. Is it possible to study in 5 months? Still I am untouched to the level of N4.

    • Clayton MacKnight July 2, 2017, 12:01 pm

      Um, well, depends on how well you did on the N5. If you are studying at a pretty good pace (2-3 hours a day) and you use it regularly, you could probably take the N3 in winter.

      • Vat July 3, 2017, 4:48 am

        I did pretty good on the N5test and hoping for the good result. Using Anki Decks I am studying Kanji with Vocabulary that helps me to remember it easily. For Language knowledge which text book do you think good for N4 and N3?

  • Rob July 3, 2017, 11:52 am

    Using Anki cards for kanji is fine, but how are you going to train your mind to write kanji if you don’t practice reputation. My Japanese sensei told me to not cop out this way or else you will not be able to write Japanese when you have to fill out forms which are still largely still by paper.

    • Clayton MacKnight July 3, 2017, 12:43 pm

      Honestly though, you don’t absolutely need to write kanji. Yes, there are a lot of forms that still need to be filled out in hand, but you will usually only need to write your address in kanji, which you can learn to do if necessary or simply copy it from your smartphone. Is it a little bit slower? yes, but you will probably only fill out a form like that once every 3 months, unless you are mailing a lot of things domestically and want to make sure they can read the address. But writing the address in romaji is pretty much just as good and might even get your package to its destination faster if you are sending it to another foreigner.

      In general though, if you are in a real pinch, you can usually just ask whoever needs the form to write the kanji for you if you have it written down on your phone. I’ve been living in Japan for 13 years, and have always wanted to master kanji, but never had the time. It just really hasn’t hampered my life here.

  • Ryuushin July 20, 2017, 12:57 pm

    I think the time required you have mentioned are a lot more reasonable. Studying like a machine just to pass a test and being really able to use the language a certain are 2 complete different things. Especially thinking that JLPT doesn’t have writing nor speaking part in it. Do be really JLPT N1 for me you have to pass it with min around 85-90% and be able to speak using most words in it and also write.

    • Clayton MacKnight August 23, 2017, 12:38 pm

      I think to pass N1 you need to be using the language regularly. Even then, it is still a tough test. I’ve shown sample questions to natives and they’ve had problems answering some of them.

  • WonderLust August 3, 2017, 7:10 am

    Please help me out on this one with your advice.I am struggling with the listening section.Does the higher limit of study hours you have mentioned for every level includes the time needed to pass the listening section as well or it is exclusive of the listening part.
    Thanks in Advance!

    • Clayton MacKnight August 23, 2017, 12:43 pm

      It includes everything. This is the amount of time needed to pass the whole test.

  • Pdnh May 13, 2018, 1:27 pm

    Hmm I don’t think that the official study hours are actually that far off. Personally, I only studied for about 300 hours (includes classroom and self-study time) and got past N4 at the 85th percentile. I’m not sure whether the higher levels would have less accurate study hours but I don’t think that they would be more than 200% off the legitimate hours.

    • Clayton MacKnight May 15, 2018, 12:26 am

      That’s probably true for someone with a background in kanji. I’m guessing that living in Singapore probably gives you a lot of exposure to kanji, which would make it a little bit easier to learn Japanese. MLC had different study hours for people with some background in kanji and they were significantly lower.

  • Helen Smith January 7, 2019, 6:21 am

    This article is very interesting related to study hours.

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JLPT Boot Camp - The Ultimate Study Guide to passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test