JLPT Strategies – How to Answer Multiple Choice Questions

JLPT answering multiple choiceWhen you go to play basketball, you don’t just jump on the court and start throwing the ball around. You have to learn some rules. Rules of the game. These rules don’t exactly apply to real life or even exercise, but in order to play the game you have to know the rules.

Taking a test is very similar. You might know Japanese, just as you might know how to run around and dribble a ball, but in order to take the test, there are some rules and strategies that will come in handy and help you score better.

Is this fair? Well, not exactly, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need tests to measure our abilities. Instead, we would just tell people are level at job interviews and for schools and they would just believe us wholeheartedly without question. We would also just magically know what we are good and bad at.

But, unfortunately, this is not a perfect world, so we must learn a few strategies and rules to play the game. And in my opinion, the strategies are half the fun of taking the test. It’s just like playing any other game.

Since the JLPT is a multiple choice exam, I thought I’d go over some general multiple choice question answering strategies that will come in handy for the test. As with all advice, I recommend trying it out for yourself on a practice test or a sample test before the main event so you can get a feel for how to put these strategies to work for you.

What to do When Answering

For every multiple choice question on the test, cover the answers and look at the question first. Try to come up with the answer to the question before you look at the choices.

Take note of any negative words, like 違っているもの (different thing/statement) or 正しくないもの (incorrect thing/statement). These are fairly rare, and usually have an underline underneath them, but they do pop up on the reading section from time to time.

Then, uncover the answers and choose the answer you think it is.

If the answer you thought it was isn’t there, then start eliminating the choices you are sure are wrong. Remember, you can write on your test booklet, so you can simply write a slash through the answers you think are wrong and narrow down your choices.

What I commonly do in the reading section is write X for clearly wrong, Δ or a triangle for not sure, and O or a circle for pretty darn sure, to the right of the answer option. I also make sure to read through all the answers before choosing one. You might think the first answer is correct, but then find out that the last one was actually a better choice.

Of course, there is also the old adage of going with your first answer as well. I’ve found through experience and practice tests that this also holds true for the JLPT. Don’t change an answer unless you know it’s something else or you see something on the rest of the test that reminds you of the answer.

Don’t Try to Out-Think the Test

The JLPT is not written and designed by your high-school teacher or even college professor. It is a test that goes through a variety of checks before you ever see it, so don’t try to look for amateur mistakes in the test making process.

What do I mean by this? Don’t try to read into test patterns too much. It is true that some of the listening questions have pretty standard patterns that you can look out for (like them almost always throwing in a twist at the end of the task-based listening questions), but for the grammar and reading questions there aren’t many patterns to look out for.

Don’t try to find answer patterns either. If the last 2 answers were “B” and you think the answer to the next question is “B”, stick with your answer. Trust what you know, and don’t try to over-think it.


If all else fails, you will have to try guessing at the answer. Hopefully you’ll be able to eliminate at least one or two of the answers, so the odds are better, but sometimes you just have to guess. Well, here are some generalizations about guessing that might be true. Keep in mind that this is just advice, and these guidelines are not set in stone. They may even lead you to choose the wrong answer, so be careful and use your best judgment.

The longest answers are often the most correct. This usually holds true in the reading section. This is because the test writer has to add extra clauses and qualifying words to make sure that it is the best answer.

Be a bit suspicious of a really obvious looking answer. Especially at the higher levels (N3+) almost all the answers have some kind of twist to them. They usually aren’t sitting out in the open.

For the grammar questions, you can sometimes eliminate grammar points that mean the exact same thing. Note: EXACT same thing. For example, for N2, 当然だ and当たり前だ(it’s a usual thing that X, I’m not surprised that X) mean pretty much the same thing, so you can eliminate both.

Some grammar points have nuances to them, and that might be what they are actually testing you on, so if two answers are similar, chances are one of them is correct. For example, for N2, がち(tend to~) and 気味 (sort of ~) are rather similar, so one of them should be the right answer.

Good Luck!

Those are just some general tips for multiple choice questions that I’ve learned from taking the test. Be sure to test out these strategies before putting them to work on the test. You want to be able to do this elimination and selection process smoothly and quickly so that you have maximum time to spend on the test.

If you have any tips to add, I’d love to hear about them. Leave me a comment below about your answering strategies for the test.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Mark November 14, 2011, 12:33 am

    What sort of grammar do you need for N4?

    • Mac November 17, 2011, 3:20 pm

      Most of the grammar for N4 is daily use, conversational type stuff. You need to know all the tenses and their basic usage as well as particles and how to conjugate everything. The only thing it doesn’t go into are grammatical phrases and expressions.

  • ALX November 26, 2011, 7:55 am

    That’s great to know I can write on the test booklet. A trick I like to use in multiple choice tests is to not fill in the answer sheet after every question. Instead, I just write the answer letter next to each question in the test booklet. After I finish each page of the exam (say 5-6 questions), I then go back and fill in the answer sheet. I find going back and fourth between the test booklet and the answer sheet after every question is distracting and breaks my concentration and train of thought. Also, when going back to fill in the answer sheet, it gives you a quick double check of each answer you selected.

    • Mac November 30, 2011, 3:46 pm

      That’s a great idea. I’m a little afraid of trying it though. I think I would end up filling in the wrong circles on the test. But I can see how it would really help with your mental concentration.

  • Tai October 23, 2016, 4:07 pm

    How to listen very, very quick speaking during listening questions?T-T

    • Clayton MacKnight October 24, 2016, 1:31 pm

      Just need to listen to more material, over and over. Get used to recognizing words and get comfortable with the language. Listening to test material repeatedly (even the same material) can be extremely helpful.

  • MD Habibullah November 29, 2017, 3:58 pm

    Is there any negative marking system in the JLPT N5 test?

    • Clayton MacKnight December 4, 2017, 3:17 pm

      Well, not exactly, actually, but how the test works, some wrong answers might be worth more points than others.

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