First Reactions to the December JLPT N2 Test

JLPT-2011-December-TestSo, this weekend I journeyed up the street to 京大 (Kyoto University) to take the N2 test again. I took it back in July and didn’t pass, although I came somewhat close. Is 13 points away fairly close? I think it is.

Anyway, between July and now, I had done a lot more studying for my weaknesses. I really focused on reading, which seems to be everyone’s weakness as well as some grammar and listening practice. I feel like my listening has especially improved mostly because this is the first time I really put forth an effort to study it.

Still, the test seemed just as difficult as before, which is a little disheartening to experience. After all, if you are intensively studying for 5 months, you’d expect the darn thing to be a little bit easier. But, on the contrary, it seemed a bit more difficult than the test in July for a few reasons.

The Reading Section Seemed a bit more Abstract

The reading sections for N2 are notoriously abstract, and this year’s test was no exception. I had a trouble wrapping my head around the essay about how dogs greet each other. I understood the essay for the most part, but then had issues deciding on what answer to choose for the questions.

Some of this was due to a few of the key words were defined at the bottom (using the ※ mark) when this happens it always tends to throw me off because I can’t picture the word clearly. Maybe I should do more practice with Japanese definitions?

The long essay (the second to last passage) was a bit of a nightmare. What a remember from it was that it was about what a novelist should be and the responsibility of the reader. Other than that I didn’t get much out of it. I always have trouble understanding those types of passages.

The integrated comprehension passage was about two individual’s advice on how to run a 100 meter race. It was mostly difficult because again, I couldn’t seem to find the most appropriate answer. Maybe I’m not able to read as well as I thought I could.

Tried Out a New Strategy that I think Worked

For this test, I attacked the reading first, then went back and did the kanji, vocabulary, and grammar sections. The theory was that since I was a little slow at reading and it is a weakness of mine I could go through those questions first then go back and tackle the (relatively) easier sections of the test.

This strategy worked all right. Mostly because this put a small break for my mind in the middle of the test. I find kanji and vocabulary a little easier on the noggin to answer than, say, the scrambled sentences or reading sections. This proved to be a decent strategy until I made it the grammar section…

Longer Sentences in the Grammar Section

It seemed to me that the sentences you have to fill out in the first grammar section were quite a bit longer. Some of them were actually two sentences. I don’t think there were so many longer sentences on the July test. And the sentences in drill books are definitely shorter than what was on the test.

This made doing the grammar section take a little bit longer, which of course takes time away from other sections. I was especially in a bind because my test taking strategy involved doing the reading first than the grammar and kanji sections. I was filling in my last answer when the proctor called time.

The New Kanzen Master N2 Grammar Book did really help me out in this area. There were definitely more than a few of the questions that I at least had a better idea about thanks to that book. I feel like the New Kanzen Master series is more in line with the actual difficulty of the test than the So-Matome series.

The Listening was a Bit Mixed as Well

I typically score really well on the summary comprehension questions (section 3 of the listening) and the integrated comprehension questions (section 5). These are usually my strong points for whatever reason. However this time, I felt like I didn’t do as well. I actually did better on the first two sections of the listening.

I can say with the utmost confidence that the New Kanzen Master Listening Book really really helped with this section. The vocabulary and phrases were pretty good from this book, but the real gold was the strategies that they went over. I think if you properly use them while taking the test you can definitely come out ahead. Definitely worth picking up if you have trouble with listening!

How did you do?

I’d like to know how you did on the test. What did you find difficult? It doesn’t matter what level you took, let us know in the comments below.

Photo by Zach Klein

{ 59 comments… add one }
  • andrew December 5, 2011, 6:24 am

    hi mac,

    I took the JLPT N1 this December 4th.

    My plan worked best in attacking my strong areas first on the first part of the test. I knew if i could get through the first 45 questions in about 25-30 minutes I should have enough time to do the reading part at my normal pace. The sequential problems as usual through me. I didnt get great luck in the fact that I did not know many of the 2 point definition questions on section 4? The reading started off very hard I feel on the short questions but the longer ones worth more points were 50/50. With a little luck I feel like I got above 50 percent on both parts.

    That brought me to the listening section.. I am strong here and felt if I could bag a 70 percent score like normal on the practice tests I could squeak by… BUT wow the listening was a little more difficult than I expected. Being thrown off in 1 question could throw me off for the next question if i didnt choose answers decisively and quickly and it slightly did.

    All to say, I feel that I was on the fence here and whether I fell off or barely stayed on will have to wait until the middle of February when we get our results.


    • Mac December 5, 2011, 11:39 pm

      It’s still pretty remarkable to say that you are on the fence for N1 after just passing the N2 last year. Great work no matter what. I have another friend that has been living with a Japanese family and passed the N2 last year and got tripped up by the N1 this year. It’s definitely a tricky test.

      I can totally understand getting thrown off by just one question. Any hesitation in answering can really put you in a world of hurt if you aren’t too careful. Especially in the quick response section, you really need to be ready for that next fast sentence they shoot at you.

      Let’s hope we both made it though! Now, the long cold wait till February.

  • Jenn December 5, 2011, 7:37 am

    I took N3 in London, was the first time I’d taken the test in 3 years before they changed it all. It was…I honestly don’t know. I’d used the Nihongo Somatome books, but hadn’t bothered to buy the vocabulary one thinking I could use anki to memorise vocab. Nope. I ended up memorising the grammar and all the kanji from the books and working hard on the reading, but without the vobulary I really think I shot myself in the foot. Woops. Well I knew that would happen going in and I’ll live with the consequences.

    So obviously vocab section was annoying although I know I got all apart from one kanji right. The grammar wasn’t too bad thanks to the somatome books but I think I’ll be unpleasantly surprised when the results come out. Also almost ran out time on the reading so had to make an educated guess on the last 2 questions. Actually had to make quite a few educated guesses, even on the listening because I got distracted towards the end and didn’t hear/understand what was said.

    All in all test was a challenge, but fun. Whether I pass or fail (most likely fail) I’m just glad I had a chance to do it. Being a self taught student the JLPT has really helped me improve my Japanese and set myself a goal.

    Good luck to everyone and getting your results in March!

    • Mac December 5, 2011, 11:48 pm

      First of all, being a self-taught student and rising to the level of N3 is no easy task, especially for someone outside of Japan. So, cheers to you!

      I think the So-Matome vocabulary book is good, but it isn’t a lifesaver. Some good Anki practice with a N2 deck might help you out with the vocabulary. I bought the old 二級 so-matome vocab book, but didn’t have much use for it. I think it’s good for sample questions, though. I just felt like I couldn’t remember the words simply by reading a bunch of sentences that used them. I suppose if you did pick it up, you could create some mnemonics and put them into an Anki deck and that would really be valuable, though a lot of work.

      I’ve always built up vocab through reading and Anki combined. I feel like this is a really good way to do it, and I’ve also picked up a few words that weren’t on the ‘lists’ but were on the test, so it has helped more than a few times.

      I think too, almost everyone runs out of time on the reading the first time they take the test. Have to work on getting that reading speed up. 🙂 And distractions have always been my biggest enemy in the listening. I’ve even taken the TOEIC (an English test) and had some minor problems with paying attention during the listening, and I’m a native speaker!

  • Amandine December 5, 2011, 1:07 pm

    I took N5 again yesterday. I was short of 2 points on the listening section in July!!! Once again I found the vocabulary and grammar/reading parts easy but listening is still my weak point. However I feel I did better than last time, let’s wait and see! My new target: pass N4 next December!

    • Mac December 5, 2011, 11:57 pm

      2 points! That’s gotta be heart-breaking!

      For listening, try to do some ondoku. It’s basic, but it really does help. Also, simply listening to a lot of material while reading the script can unlock a lot of things for you. Of course, Jpod101 has an enormous vault of listening and scripts to practice with, but you can also use Erin’s challenge for video and audio. It’s free, but not as much material.

  • Mimi December 5, 2011, 5:01 pm

    Dear Mac,
    (My English is not perfect, sorry, I am not a native English speaker 😉 )

    I do hope you have succeeded the N2! Thank you for your wonderful and helpful website.

    I took N1 test yesterday and I already know I have failed ;-(. I really really felt discouraged between the written test and the listening test (“so many hours of study for nothing”, “feeling like a total looser”, etc), but after the test, plus a night rest, I feel determined to succeed next time 🙂 (Unfortunately in my country, the test is hold only once a year)!

    It is also my opinion that New Kanzen Master Listening Book series is really helpful because of its explaining of the strategies/type of questions. On the contrary, the “Mimi kara oboeru nihongo noryoku shiken chokai training N1 (Space alc) was not (far too easy). I also agree that the sentences in drill books are shorter (and easier) than what was on the test

    Now, I try to focus on the next test and think of a good strategy. I had the feeling yesterday that there was more business-related contents and think I should practice a little business Japanese. For the listening test, I have difficulties in understanding what the oldest male speaker said.


    • Mac December 6, 2011, 12:03 am

      I have difficulties with the older male speaker as well. It always seems like he slurs his speech a bit. Of course this is good natural practice. I was at a Christmas dinner last night, and there were plenty of older gentlemen slurring their speech :).

      Anyway, don’t discouraged. I always feel like the test is good reality check. It helps me realize I still have a ways to go. I might now all the vocab and grammar, but I still need to refine my skills and keep challenging myself to get to the next level.

      That’s amazing you are taking the N1 outside of Japan! Have you spent time in Japan? I think that taking the N1 test outside of the country is truly a difficult challenge, but definitely achievable with some good practice. 頑張って!

      • Mimi December 6, 2011, 2:52 pm

        Dear Mac,
        Thank you for your kind and encouraging words!
        I took N1 in France. I have spent a total of 2 months of my life in Japan… You guessed well, N1 is a mountain to climb in that case. It even made me lost my motivation to seriously study Japanese during several years, but the JLTP has always been a yearly occasion I never missed. Finally, motivation came back :-).
        Outside Japan, it is also difficult to develop oral skills. In English, I have been able overcome the fear of speaking “magically” (through correspondence courses!), but in Japanese, hum, well… not yet. I know that passing N1 won’t solve that problem by itself, but it can give me confidence (BTW, thanks for your interesting article on Lalophobia !)”.
        This time, reading seemed harder than expected (harder than in most JLPT textbooks), my personal goal for next time is to improve by reading skills (and read faster because I could not finish on time this time)

  • Maja December 5, 2011, 6:01 pm

    I took the N2 was VERY difficult…As you said the reading section was hard…I didn’t get the meaning of almost half the texts, even if usually I’m quite good at finding the answer to the question even without understanding many part of it..
    The listening section was harder than the previous ones! I also score the best at the listening part, but this time I had some major doubts…

    Instead I found the grammar and sentence structure part (the one with stars) to be easier that previous years..

    Anyway, good luck to both of us and let’s hope we pass 😀

    • Mac December 6, 2011, 12:06 am

      Yeah, I can agree with that, I feel like the reading and more general listening questions were more difficult than the July test, but the grammar and vocab sections are getting easier. I have a hard time guessing the right answer, my guessing skills need to be fine tuned I think.

      I hope we pass! Now for the long wait for the results.

  • Julian December 5, 2011, 11:38 pm

    I also took N1 and was caught a bit off guard.

    When I took it in July, the vocab and grammar were harder than expected and the listening was easy, so I studied accordingly. But with this test, the vocab and grammar were much easier and the listening was much harder. I think I may have gotten the 100 points to pass but will fail the listening section and thus the whole test. Really frustrating.

    • Mac December 6, 2011, 2:56 pm

      Yeah, I can kind of understand the new requirements of having to pass all three sections, but it can still be a bit heart breaking if you just miss one of them. Did you do anything to prepare for the listening section? I can’t imagine what they would put you through for N1. Obviously a lot more difficult than N2.

  • Steve December 6, 2011, 12:02 am

    I took the N3 again in Maebashi, Gunma, after failing it by 4 points (4 points!!!) last time.

    I studied the Nihongosomatome books, and the Speed Master books like before.

    I felt better about this test, and I think I passed, but I don’t want to say anything before the result!

    The Vocab and kanji section was okay, but it took me a while to get into. I was braindead for the first 5 minutes!

    In the reading and grammar section, I decided to leave the grammar until last, since the reading is all one section in the grading and I wanted to really focus on it. The reading questions were easier than I thought, especially the long passage, since three out of the four questions they underlined and asked what the underlined passage referred to.

    Leading up to the test, I was confident in the scrambled sentences and really improved but the sentences in the test were much more difficult than the ones in the practice book. With 3 minutes to go, I started the passage with the grammar points and just made educated guesses. That is the price I paid for really focusing on the reading section, but I feel it was worth it.

    The listening was okay, but as usual I find it difficult sometimes to keep my concentration. Everyone else seems to find this section very easy!

    So, I hope that there is good news in February!

    • Mac December 6, 2011, 3:10 pm

      I wouldn’t worry too much. The reading is actually worth more points per question, so it is important to focus on that. I kind of feel like the So-Matome series goes a little easy on the test questions they present. The scrambled sentences on the test are absolutely torturous and they just get worse as you go up the scale.

      I do remember N3 being a lot more like the 二級 reading but with easier vocabulary. There are a lot of what does これ mean kind of questions. This is a lot easier than some of the questions they ask for N2. They go more for nuances and rewording of things at that level.

      Anyway, it’s good to not say if you passed or not, you don’t want to jinx it! Here’s to waiting out the next 2 months for results!

  • Ameya December 6, 2011, 5:55 am

    Very good analysis of the N2/Dec/2011.
    The same thoughts came in my mind after the test was over. specially about that 100 metre race paragraph.
    If I can not make it this time, (I am hopeful for the best, but. . .) I will try to get the books you suggested.
    Thanks for the advice.

    • Mac December 6, 2011, 2:47 pm

      Yeah, about the 100 meter race / integrated comprehension passage was strangely easy, which probably means I got it wrong. I usually miss some deeper meaning somewhere along the line. If your listening needs improving the kanzen master will definitely help you. I felt the grammar was also useful, I learned a lot just going through it. It had a lot of grammar information that isn’t in other books.

  • Nick December 6, 2011, 5:31 pm

    Well, I took the N5 on Sunday. I came out strong; I cracked the first few Kanji easily! Then I made some really silly mistakes! I got confused between the kanji for water and a fake kanji in the options. Like a complete idiot, I chose the right answer at first, then erased it and chose the wrong one! I felt so stupid after I realized the mistake back home.. I took your advice for the comprehension section; I read the questions first and then combed the passage for theAnd to make it easy,correct answers. To make it easy I wrote the questions in English and erased them after I was done.
    Grammar was a mixed bag, because I’m kinda weak at it and can’t really say how did. I feel I did OK, but can’t be 100% sure. Listening started off really well, but the last part, where they just speak one short phrase and give you three options to choose from?, that REALLY threw me off, since I had difficulty catching what the speaker said. It’ll be a painful wait till March for the results, but I’m preparing for N4 as of now. If I pass N5, well and good. If not try N5 again and then N4 in December 2012. I will not attempt a higher level if I flunk a lower one 😀

    • Mac December 7, 2011, 3:02 am

      Sounds like you did pretty well though. We all make those stupid mistakes. The quick response listening questions take some getting used to. I had to listen to a few practice exercises to get used to understanding the sentence they say quickly.
      You really have to stay focused for that listening section.
      I think starting early on the N4 is a good idea. At the very least it help you pass the N5 because it’ll seem easier in comparison. 🙂

  • Mark December 6, 2011, 9:36 pm

    Hey Mac,

    I hope you passed the N2!

    I did the N4 in Dublin on Sunday. It was my first JLPT so I didn’t know what to expect.

    The first section was the Kanji section, which I found easy, so I led myself to think I was in the clear, which was further reinforced by a reletively easy reading section. But then I was hit with the listening. It was like hitting a wall. I have essentially no listening experience, so I was screwed. I’ll be very lucky to scrape to 20 section pass points. I just have to hope the vocab section will make up for it!

    On the other hand, I think it was good experience, and I think I knew enough of the test to aim for the N3 next. I’m happy with how much I learnt since I started studying in June.

    • Mac December 7, 2011, 3:11 am

      Did you just start studying Japanese in June? Wow! That’s amazing progress.

      Yeah, the listening is , at least statistically speaking, the most difficult for those outside of Japan. I would recommend just doing some regular listening practice with a Japanese learning podcast or the previously mentioned Erin’s challenge.

      A lot of times just simply connecting the sound with the word. That’s why listening to a text and reading at the same time can be a big boost.

      At higher levels (N3+) you will probably need a listening drill book simply because there are so many small phrases and tricks they pull at those levels you have to be aware of. I had to pick up the N2 listening book and I live in Japan, so it gets tricky fast. 🙂

  • Swathi December 7, 2011, 4:15 am


    I gave n1 this year again as i was not able to clear in the test which i took this july.Margin of 11 marks!!!Really feels frustrated t^t!!

    This time the listening was quite tricky as compared to the reading n vocabulary!!So i m just keeping my fingers crossed ans hoping to clear this exam once and for all..

    It would be very helpful if anyone tell me about the question wise marking scheme of jlpt n1?? (if possible few encouraging words)

    • Mac December 7, 2011, 3:48 pm

      Swathi, that has got to be frustrating to miss out on the test by 11 points! I hope you passed this time.

      For the marking of questions, generally speaking the reading is worth more than grammar/kanji/vocabulary section on a per question basis. For listening the last couple of questions are worth 3x as much as quick response. And all the other questions are worth 2x what quick response is. This is the generally outline that I’ve heard at least. I hope you made it!

      • Swathi December 10, 2011, 2:18 pm

        Thank you Mac for your reply…
        I hope this time i clear the exam!!!hope your wisheswork for me!!


  • Bryan December 7, 2011, 5:35 am

    Hi Mac, fantastic website.

    When I first came to Japan early last year, I prematurely took N4, thinking I’d crack it first time. How wrong I was. It was a humbling experience! I decided to start again from the ground up, and passed N5 this summer. I took the N4 again last week, and…. well it almost felt like Groundhog Day. I definitely did better, but I’m almost certain I haven’t passed. I had to do so much guess work, and my vocab really let me down. It’s so frustrating as N4 feels a quantum leap more than N5. N3 et al feel so unachievable right now. I want to improve so much.

    I’ll cut to the chase. I need someone to recommend a ‘one size fits all’ guide to N4. Most of the really good stuff (as with the books you cite on this site) only starts from N3 upwards. The N4 book (by アルク) I have isn’t great.

    Can anyone help?

    p.s. If Mark (above) started studying Japanese from scratch in June, and is already looking at N3… I quit! :p

    • Mac December 7, 2011, 3:59 pm

      Thanks for the kind words Bryan!

      For アルク, are you talking about the gokaku dekiru series? I’ve always heard good things about that book, but maybe it doesn’t live up to its hype? The book that I thought was interesting and well in line with N4 was the cleverly disguised So-Matome books for this level, the Nihongo Challenge books for grammar/reading, vocabulary and kanji. These will still probably be easier than what the test is (Ask books seemed to have that fault), but look like good complete books for the N4 level.

      Kanzen Master did have an old 三級 book so with any luck, they will get around to publish something for the lower levels soon. Those will probably be the ultimate, but the nihongo challenge will be good along with some extra practice in other areas.

      I would also like to hear from some others, what books helped you with the N4/N5? This is a commonly asked question I get actually.

  • andrew December 7, 2011, 6:09 am

    mac did you say you took the toeic test?! They let native English speakers take it?

    everyone enjoy the 2 months until results come in but dont forget to keep reviewing and studying or all that hard work will disappear!

    • Mac December 7, 2011, 4:01 pm

      Yeah, believe it or not, when I first got here to Japan, my company made me take the TOEIC for the experience. It was definitely a good experience. It was a bit funny to sit with my students and take the test though.

  • Sarah December 7, 2011, 6:00 pm

    Hello there^^

    (I’m not an English native speaker as well, so please…^^”)

    First of all: I hope you passed your test! Your website is really great ^^- it feels good to see that there are other people out there taking the JLPT with the same problems and fears, etc.
    I’ve taken N5 on sunday in Vienna – for me it was quite difficult to find out what to learn for the test since I’m learning on my own… (for about 3 months for real – before that learning happenend rather occasionally during the last 2 years because I didn’t know that there was such a thing like the JLPT which is really a great goal to achieve – or at least aim for…XD)
    But after taking the test I’m really hoping that I did pass – I made some stupid mistakes as well, but I hope that there were not too much of them since I would feel really bad if I just pass somehow because how could I be aiming for the next level if the base isn’t built well?
    Back in school we had listenings during our English lessons and exams, but we were always allowed to hear everything twice, so hearing the listening part just once during the JLPT was a real challenge for me – even more so because it’s all Japanese and not English 🙂
    So there were some questions that I had to get through with some educated guesses but… I’m still hoping^^

    • Mac December 7, 2011, 11:06 pm

      I think everyone feels that way the first time they take the test Sarah. I definitely felt that way. I had to make a lot of educated guesses on questions on my first exam. The first time you take the exam, you have to get used to the skill of taking the test. After that, it gets easier and easier.

      You are also right about building a good base. It is very tempting to race ahead and try to pass the tests as fast as you can, but I think it is more important to have a good foundation before you move on.

      Even now, when I prepare for the N2, I can get so much more out of the second time I listen to something, it can be incredibly frustrating.

      I hope you did well!

    • Sarah2 December 11, 2011, 1:53 pm


      I’m a Sarah too and took the N5 in Vienna as well.

      It’s difficult to make a prediction about the result. I think the grammar section wasn’t that bad but the listening section was difficult. I knew what to expect (only listening once, quick response questions etc.) but it still wasn’t easy.

      I’m impressed when people learn on their own. I go to Japanese classes and in addition learn with a friend. This helps a lot.

      Let’s hope we all get the result we hope for. 🙂

      • Mac December 12, 2011, 10:44 pm

        I think everyone learns a little bit differently. Some people find it more motivating to choose their own path, while others like the way a class is setup. I think it is great that you have a study buddy to help you study with. This is a great way to stay motivated and to learn from one another.

  • Daniel December 8, 2011, 9:09 pm

    After passing 3級 four years ago (in Japan, 東大) and 2級 two years ago (in NYC, Columbia) both on first attempts, I took N1 for the first time on Sunday (in NYC, Lehman College) and I think my streak has come to an end!

    I found it very difficult and probably didn’t pass. However I definitely learned a lot about what I need to study for next time.

    I was surprised that some of my strengths on previous tests, kanji, vocab, and grammar, became weaknesses this time around. The amount of new kanji and grammar points for N1 is truly enormous. I have a lot more studying to do in those areas.

    Reading was hard before, and was similarly hard again. I didn’t have quite enough time to finish. Gotta get the speed up.

    Thankfully, I found the listening easier than expected, as it was a weak point on 2級. It may be the only section I passed this time around. I didn’t really study listening but my wife being Japanese and working in a Japanese office for the past year may have helped.

    My advice to people going for N1 in the future:

    Study a lot of kanji, little by little and consistently for many years. It takes a long time so start early. Think of it this way, the number of new kanji to learn for N1 (around 900字) is nearly equal to the number of kanji for N5-N2 combined! (around 1100字, are those numbers right Mac?) I recommend the White Rabbit Press cards. I own all three boxes. I also recommend writing out kanji by hands many times individually and in sentences. Thats how Japanese kids do it after all. Anki is alright as a supplement, but for me it can never replace the old school methods.

    I agree with Mac on this one, the 完全マスターbooks are the way to go for N3-N1. I’ve found that N3 and N2 grammar are used a lot in everyday conversations and writing so after studying a grammar point you’ll hear it a lot and remember it fast. Not so for N1 which includes all kinds of old and unusual grammar that you never hear or see. Even my wife was perplexed by a lot of it when I showed her book. 「なに、この変な日本語?古っぽい!」って。

    Reading and Listening
    Specific materials are less important for these. I have the 完全マスター読解 and 聴解 books and they’re fine, but I feel that reading challenging books and articles (both hardcopies and online with the help of rikaichan/kun), and listening to native speakers is just as good.

    Thats all I’ve got to say for now. I’ll try again next year.

    Thank you Mac for the website and podcast. I hope you pass N2 and start studying N1 so you will post more N1 material!どうもありがとう!

    One more random comment: Did anyone else take the test in NYC? Why oh why did they decide to have it way out in the Bronx at Lehman College? It should be in a centralized location in Manhattan. しょうがないね。

    P.S. check out the website for the magazine I’ve been writing/translating/proofreading for. Its about Japanese culture in NYC in English.

    Also for Japanese practice, check out the NYC Japanese newspaper published by the same company.


    • Mac December 8, 2011, 11:15 pm

      These are some good points.

      I think the kanji is definitely something that takes time and lots of consistent review. For me, that has always been a multi-prong approach, flash cards, writing them out (on iPhone mostly :)), and trying to come with mnemonics for the really complex ones. I think you are about right on the numbers too. It is about a 50/50 split between N1 and N2-N5, so it takes a while to get all of that down. Another way to think of it is N2-N5 is all the kanji that Japanese can write easily. N1 is all the kanji that Japanese can read easily (but generally can’t write).

      I keep hearing that the grammar for N1 is old and not often used. It seems to be a common complaint. From my own experience, I can now read and understand almost everything from a grammatical sense, my one limiting factor is vocabulary at the moment, so I can’t imagine what kind of grammar is on the N1.

      I imagine the listening and reading at this level just involves a going over a large volume of material to increase your speed. That is what I’ve been doing for N2. I try to get in about 20 to 30 minutes of reading a day. That has really increased my reading speed to the point that I can get through the test in time, now it’s just a matter of figuring out what the passages want to say. 🙂

      I hope I passed too Daniel. Of course, if I do pass, I’m afraid of the long road ahead of me to get to N1. I’ve already started on the kanji and I’m going to try to do a lot of reading over Christmas break, but I still think it will be a challenge to get it done in 2012. My priority next year will be expanding JLPT Boot Camp and ‘baking’ in the new vocabulary and kanji for N1. We’ll see if I can pull it all off. 🙂

  • Julian December 9, 2011, 1:56 am

    I hear people complain about the N1 grammar being too archaic, but I`ve encountered nearly all of the grammar points covered in test materials while reading novels. Its just not stuff you use in coversation. Feels good though to encounter it in print and to know that all of the studying wasnt just to pass a test.

    I found the answers from the N1 online and it looks like I did okay (from what I can remember). I got all of the kanji right (lol at the inclusion of 兆し…this kanji has been on at least 4 other past JLPTs), I got 21/25 in the vocab, I think around 6 wrong in the grammar, and only around 5 wrong in the reading.

    The listening though…I cant remember. Gonna swallow a sword if I fail because of that.

    • Mac December 11, 2011, 9:13 am

      Julian, do you encounter these grammar points in regular novels (e.g. popular fiction, etc…) or more philosophical type books. I do a lot of reading and would like to bite into something a little more challenging to get started on my reading skills. I think reading is definitely necessary at this higher level.

      • Lucius December 11, 2011, 11:21 am

        I started reading Haruki Murakami’s 国境の南、太陽の西 recently, and within the first 20 pages I’d already encountered about 4-5 N1 grammar points, so I’d say you’re likely to find them in popular fiction too.

        • Mac December 11, 2011, 12:14 pm

          Hmm, okay, thanks Lucius. Maybe I’ve seen them before, but just haven’t realized they were N1 grammar points.

          Thanks for the tip!

      • Julian December 11, 2011, 11:47 pm

        I read Mishima Yukio and see N1 grammar in his work often, and while his stuff is certainly challenging, I was reading manga yesterday (Berserk) and ran into a few there as well.

        • Mac December 12, 2011, 10:45 pm

          Good stuff, okay I’ll have to get cracking on learning some of the N1 grammar points. That is once I find out I know the N2 grammar points. 🙂

  • Knicky December 9, 2011, 1:09 pm

    Hey there! Thanks for all the tips by the way. And your booklet was really helpful…I made sure not to eat the Chinese I was really really wanting the night before. I took the N4, I have never taken the N5 so I don’t know what that was like and I was going to take the N3 but was worried it would be too much since the changes so I took the N4 and it actually surprised me. I have studied Japanese for 3 years (2 in college, 1 on my own) and was ready for Kanji…I WANTED Kanji in fact…I was so used to reading Kanji that the N4 NOT having a lot of Kanji is what threw me off! It actually made it harder to be sure what word they were meaning sometimes (is it totte or yotte?) and I had to re-read to make sure I understood the context of the questions to figure out what word they meant. The listening part was a little rough as listening isn’t my strong point and the reading was tough in a few places. Overall I think I did well and I am already studying for the N3 for next December.

    • Mac December 11, 2011, 9:19 am

      I’ve encountered the exact same problem before. Not being able to recognize what words they are because I’m so used to reading the kanji. Beware that this also happens (less frequently) in the actual use of the language. I’ve heard that in passages where there is too much kanji, native speakers will change some words into kana to make it appear slightly less formal. So, it pays to know and recognize both forms of the word.

      I hope you did well!

  • andrew December 12, 2011, 5:59 am

    i agree with julian. The grammar in N1 does have some old forms but there are a lot of helpful grammar points as well, but most of them are not as common in everyday speech.

    I will be honest. One of the things I have not made time for in my studies is reading Japanese books but I really want to do this. I’ve picked up a few for this upcoming offseason.

    • Mac December 12, 2011, 10:47 pm

      Reading has been shown to be a great tool for language learning because it gives you a lot of context and, in theory, should be pretty motivating. Some people in the language teaching industry swear by it.

  • Kana December 12, 2011, 9:15 pm

    Took N2 at Oporto university (Portugal). It was a little harder than I expected, but I think I will pass it. I finished the test with only 3/4 minutes till the end. The reading about running was the one I found the hardest.

    Ahhrrr, don’t want to think about it anymore :p

    I’ve been studying for N1 with somatome N1 bunpou, I also have unicom 1kyuu bunpou and donna toki dou tsukau, all for grammar. For vocab I’ve been adding vocab from a N1 list and adding new words that I read in random news articles and other kindsof articles (life hacker). For listening, Ayu Ready, dramas and podcasts. Of couse, one month before the test I’ll start listening to jlpt specific materials.

    Good luck to everyone when receiving the results!

    • Mac December 12, 2011, 11:05 pm

      Yeah, who knew reading passages about running would be so difficult? Those really threw me for a loop.

      You always talk about Life Hacker. I want to start doing some reading from there as well. Seems like a great place to learn something and practice Japanese. I’ve never seen Ayu Ready before, looks like an interesting show. Do you find it frustrating to listen to something without a script? or at least closed captioning (in Japanese)? I always find it a little difficult to learn if I can’t go back and fully understand what is being said.

      • Kana December 17, 2011, 4:19 pm

        Ayu Ready is Ayumi Hamasaki’s show (2002-04), she’s my favorite singer, and japanese teacher.

        I really like Life Hacker because not only I get some reading practice and new vocab, as I also learn something.

        I never used scripts, man that’s boring! I mainly listen to Ayu ready lately, and can understand close to 100%. when I listen to podcasts, if I pay attention I can probably understand 70-90%, depending on what kind of program it is (tokyo local I can understand almost fully, and Nikkei trendy I also understand most of it, but still has some vocab I don’t know).

  • Virginia December 12, 2011, 9:24 pm

    Hi Mac, thank you for all your advice! I’m subscribed to your newsletter, thank you for all your exam tips!
    I took N4 on Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was more difficult than I thought, I studied with many books: Minna no Nihongo I & II, Challenge N4 Grammar and vocabulary, gokaku dekiru N4-5 and Tanki Master N4. Gokaku dekiru book was somewhat easy, but Tanki Master N4 practise exams were pretty difficult. I thought the actual N4 test was going to be at the same level the gokaku dekiru book was, but it was actually at Tanki Master’s level.
    For N3 I’m thinking on first studying all the grammar, vocab and kanji, then give it a try with gokaku dekiru N3, and after that, try with Tanki master N3. My sensei advised me to study for 2 years before sitting for N3, but I guess I’ll decide that next year depending on how comfortable I am with my knowledge.
    Anyways, let’s wait for the results next year, gambatte 😀

    • Mac December 12, 2011, 11:17 pm

      Thanks for the kind words and I hope you passed the N4! That is where studying the language starts to get really exciting because you are able to really use it and start doing some reading and using more native materials. Most be exciting!

      Also thanks for the recommendations for the books. I’m always very curious what books are good. So, it seems like Tanki Master is the way to go. There is similar problem with the So-matome and Kanzen master series. So-matome is too easy and Kanzen Master is more in line with the difficulty of the test. It looks like the way to study is start with Gokaku Dekiru (or So-matome) and finish with Tanki Master (or Kanzen Master).

      • Virginia December 13, 2011, 5:45 pm

        Thanks for your reply Mac! Definitely, I’d leave Tanki Master for the end, when I’ve finished studying with all the previous books 🙂

  • Mark December 13, 2011, 4:03 pm

    Hi mac,

    A bit off topic, but I discovered your Youtube page earlier, and I wanted to know, has it been abandoned or will you make more videos in future? Thanks

    • Mac December 15, 2011, 3:37 pm

      Oh, no 🙁 It’s not abandoned, I plan on posting things there from time to time. Mostly reviews of some books and soon some Japanese videos. Just haven’t had the time lately to post some goodies up there. I’ve been too busy studying for the test and the holidays! Anyway, I’ll putting up some stuff in 2012 for sure. Stay tuned!

      • Mark December 16, 2011, 9:02 pm

        Oh, okay thanks! Looking forward to it!

  • Laura December 16, 2011, 5:17 am

    Hi Mac!

    I’ve been reading your website for awhile, and it’s been incredibly helpful for studying for the JLPT. I signed up for the Read the Kanji website and used it to study for the N4 that I took in the states, and it was really helpful!

    The N4 was my first experience with the JLPT, but I had some idea of what the test would be like from various practice tests and resources. The one part I worried about was the reading section, but it turned out to be my easiest section! In fact, the N4 was structured a lot like how my exams for my Japanese class are structured. It seemed very familiar.


    It was a tricky bastard. The vocab threw me even though I had studied kanji like crazy. I started questioning even the ones I knew by heart. I know I mixed up “motsu” and “matsu,” sadly. I just barely made it through the reading section when they called time, and I didn’t have time to fill in the last answer. The listening section wasn’t too bad, but there were a couple of conversations where I thought, “What the heck?” and just guessed. I’ve had more listening practice than anything, so I thought that would be my easiest section.

    We’ll see how it went, but I feel good about it. Of course, just because I feel good about it doesn’t mean I passed. I do wish there had been more resources for N4 levels like past exams or more than one practice book (that I would NOT spend $30 on).

    For anyone who wants to take the N4 next year, definitely sign up for Read the Kanji and study the former levels 3 and 4 kanji as well as all of the basic grammar structures. One thing I encountered that I haven’t actually studied is the “kadouka” thing.

    • Mac December 19, 2011, 4:51 am

      I think we’ve all had this kind of experience before. It feels like you really prepared for the test, but then when you go into the test, it is a lot harder than you were expecting. I’ve been there a couple of times. I think the drill books are just now catching up to the difficulty of the new tests (which are considerably more difficult in my opinion).

      ~かどうか (whether or not) is a bit tricky, but it should be a N4 grammar point. At least it isn’t in any of my N3 or N2 grammar text books. Did you use gokaku dekiru series? People have been commenting that those are a little too easy. The Tanki Master seems more in line with the test.

      But, practice tests are definitely worth every penny. It is good to know, how much time you have for the test, so you can pace yourself.

      Good luck! I hope you passed!

  • Blue Shoe December 22, 2011, 6:13 am

    Hey Mac, hope your results reflect the hard work you put in!

    I feel like not just studying Japanese but studying for the format of the JLPT is kind of important. When preparing for the JLPT N2, I was using a few books that had questions and readings formatted like the actual questions (some were from past years). So I’d recommend that to anyone.

    Anyway, the wait is a pain but it’s nice to relax a little after the test is done, aye?

    Happy holidays to you!

    • Mac December 31, 2011, 5:36 pm

      Yeah, you really need to know the format of the test, especially at the higher levels. I feel at the very least it calms your nerves a bit.

      The waiting is a pain, but at least it is not as bad as before. I think now we only have to wait 2 months, before it was something like 3 or 4 months. I remember getting my results right about the time I had forgotten I took the test.

      I hope you had a good New Year’s!

  • oscar September 6, 2012, 9:42 am

    i just got my results for the N2 test held last July .
    I passed failed once before they changed the whole test structure. definitely reading its the real challenge here, the way I did it and practice for it is very simple, reading a lot of magazines, manga, etc.
    the test ,I remember had actual articles from the newspaper.

    • Mac September 6, 2012, 3:11 pm

      Yeah, there are a lot of abstract essays and things for the test to mess you up, but just doing a lot of reading gets you used to the sentence patterns and reading at a good speed as well.

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