JLPT BC 27 | JLPT N2 Reading Section

JLPT N2 Reading SectionThis is a special podcast specifically about the reading section (読解) of the JLPT N2.  If you have already taken this test or are studying for another test, you might want to skip this episode.  I’ve previously published podcasts on the reading section for N5, N4, and N3.  So, if you are studying for any of those tests, you might want to go back and check those podcasts out.  I’ll be covering N1 next week.

The N2 Reading Section has 21 questions.  It starts off with 5 short passage questions of about 200 characters in length.  Then, there are 9 medium passage questions (3 passages/3 questions each).  These passages are about 500 characters long (around 2 or 3 paragraphs).

New to this level are the integrated comprehension questions.  There are two questions that go over 2 or 3 readings and the point is to test your ability to compare and contrast two different readings with a similar topic.  There is one long passage (thematic comprehension) passage of about 900 characters with 3 questions after that.  The thematic comprehension will be asking about summary information of the passage.  It’s important to read this passage quickly, but throughly.  900 characters is a little more than a page of writing.  There will also be a few words that aren’t ‘N2 Level’ that will be defined in Japanese for you.

This is all finished off with 2 information retrieval questions about one piece of reading.  On the N2, you’ll see brochures, business documents, advertisements, and other such materials that they will be asking you about.

Tactics for the N2 Reading Section

The first two types of questions, the short passage and medium passages, the tactics are the same.  Be sure to read the questions first before reading the passage so you understand why you are reading the passage.  This will help focus you on the main ideas of the reading.

For the integrated comprehension questions, these can be a little bit more difficult to answer.  The idea behind these questions is to compare and contrast two pieces of information.  Examples of this are a bit difficult to find in the ‘wild’, so you might want to check out a practice test or reading comprehension practice book.  Alternatively, you could take a look at the practice questions on the JLPT site that go over these as well, so you have an idea of what you are going into.  These questions don’t exist on past, pre-2010 tests, so if you are taking these old tests to practice for the N2, be aware that this question wasn’t on those old tests.

The second to last question you need to worry about is the thematic comprehension questions.  These are 3 questions about one passage of about 900 characters (roughly a little more than a page).  These passages will be written with logical composition, so they will include connectors and references to other parts of the same essay.  This is where you will have to read quickly, but throughly too, so a good reading speed will come in handy for this section.

The final two questions will be information retrieval.  For these two questions, be sure to read the question first and then skim through the reading to find the answers.  You don’t need to read all the information.  However, do be sure to look for exclusions or exceptions that could be written in fine print somewhere that will change the correct answer.  Look out for the ※ (こめマク), this mark called ‘kome mark’ or ‘rice mark’ in Japanese signifies that the writer wants to add some extra information.

How do you Prepare for the N2 Reading?

At this level, you have to start reading native materials.  I would recommend a balance of fiction and non-fiction reading.   The non-fiction will include a lot of logical composition which will come in handy for the longer passages in the reading section.  The fiction will build your vocabulary and overall reading speed to help you skim and speed through this section so you don’t get bogged down.

You can pick up books at a variety of used book stores as well as new bookstores.  Be sure to find something that you are pretty interested in, so that you will stay motivated to finish.  This isn’t the time to work your way through war and peace either.  Find something a tad shorter (around 200 to 300 pages) and about a somewhat light topic.  The N2 doesn’t cover specific subjects, so reading something a little more general would help you with vocabulary and give you an idea of what to expect on the test.

For information retrieval questions, be sure to try to pick up some brochures and flyers and try to skim through them from time to time.  If you are out of Japan, I’m going to try to start scanning flyers I get in the mail and posting them up.  I promise I’ll try to get to that soon!

You may also consider picking up some books that specifically focus on reading comprehension.  There is only one good book for this level (that I’ve been able to find anyway), Nihongo So-Matome N2 Reading Comprehension, that I just recently did a full walkthrough of. This is a good book for not only the test, but general reading comprehension, too.

This will probably be the most difficult section of the test (at least for most people).  So, at the very least, be sure to look at the practice questions before going into the exam.

Action Steps

Have you taken the N2? If so, what kind of topics came up on the test? What did you find difficult about the test?

Let me know in the comments below!

P.S. I’m now in iTunes.  If you like the podcast, please be sure to visit iTunes and leave me a review.  If you have comments or suggestions for the podcast, by all means let me know in the comments below or contact me and let me know what I can do to improve the show.  Thanks!



{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Smashley October 11, 2012, 7:10 am


    I am suprised that more N2 hopefuls haven’t commented on this. Well I took the N2 the first time in 2011 and i bombed it. I kind of expected to considering my prior studying wasn’t N2 focused. I had been studying Japanese for 6 years at that point so I thought I would be okay, but that wasn’t the case.

    Now that I have been in Japan for a year studying diligently and working my Japanese has of course become much much better. I am not doing practice exams to and the vocab, grammar are easy now. The reading is still a hassle of course. I have started to read more, but sometimes get distracted and put my book down. I totally agree with the massive amounts of reading though.

    • Mac October 14, 2012, 3:30 pm

      I think reading is the biggest hurdle for this test. I lot of people fail it just because of reading. I guess it is mostly because the majority of us don’t read about the topics that are on the test. 🙂

      I’ve been trying to apply more and more speed reading techniques and have seen some pretty big improvements, but I’m still missing some things because of foolish mistakes. Are you taking the N2 this December?

      • Smashley October 29, 2012, 8:26 am

        Sorry for the late reply just looking at this. Yes I am “Retaking” it this Dec here in Japan. The first time I took it was a complete disaster. I thought just have 6 years of studyng at my University in the states plus a little study abroad was enough for the test. I was painfully mistake. So definately my approach has been a lot different now, but I have done some reading from a mock test in my book and the JLPT site still no good :(…… I would buy those books you recommened, but I am am little broke right now.

        • Mac October 29, 2012, 3:26 pm

          Yeah, you can be pretty conversational and confident with the language, but the N2 takes some reading skills and some note-taking skills for the listening. Have you worked your way through the free official workbooks:


          Also, if you are in Japan, picking up some used books at the bookstore is probably a pretty cheap way to study as well. Good luck!

  • Perla August 22, 2016, 3:18 am

    I took the JLPT N2 last year and was a couple points away from passing. The reading section was the reason why I didn’t pass, haha. I think with a lot of people it’s just not making enough time to go through the reading and answering the questions. I had several passages to go through and I just ended up guessing because I was running out of time. I didn’t do as much reading preparation as I should have.

    This time though I finally went through and finished the Kanzen Master Reading book and it has helped a lot by showing the different types of reading I’ll be taking on the test and providing enough problems to do. I’ll probably go back and make flashcards out of the highlighted words I didn’t know. I’ve started looking for articles to read online in Japanese that have similar content to the material in the Kanzen Master book and I’m also reading some light novels and novels I’ve been interested in reading. Of course it’s much easier and faster for me to read the online stuff because I can just highlight the unknown word and use rikaikun to tell me the reading and meaning instead of having to write the kanji characters like I do on my imiwa app on my iPad and iPhone.

    Basically my whole goal in preparing for this round of JLPT N2 is to just read more. I’ve done grammar practice but it helps me a lot more when I actually see it and read it in reading material. 🙂 Less than 4 months to go!

    • Clayton MacKnight August 23, 2016, 3:03 pm

      You can find good material in news weeklies like Aera. Or I read PHP (little magazines you can pick up at any bookstore), the theme of them is a bit religiousy at times, but they are easy to read.

  • Nanu Grewal May 2, 2018, 11:06 pm

    I find the reading so difficult
    If I see an unknown kanji, I just panic
    PLUS, I still fail to recognise common kanji’s and just stare at them in total frustration

    Reading Japanese is the HARDEST thing I have ever done with my brain

    It’s killing me …it is a form of masochism I am sure

    • Clayton MacKnight May 9, 2018, 12:47 am

      I find it a lot of fun, like decoding a puzzle, but hey that’s me. It just takes practice breaking up the kanji and getting used to looking at them. Good luck on the test!

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