JLPT N5 Reading Section


They thought about adding a tea leaf reading section but it was later rejected.

The reading section of the N5 is a little bit of a warm up for what is ahead.  It doesn’t involve that many tricks for you to get hung up on which will come up on the later tests.  There aren’t a lot of questions that involve inference for example or having to ‘read’ between the lines.

You do need to familiarize yourself with what is on the test though.  Just knowing the flow of the questions and what to expect can help you have a cool head and will probably end up boosting your score.  It certainly won’t hurt to do a little refresher.

The reading section for the N5 is administered separately from the language knowledge section, but on your results you will only see one combined score for both sections.  This section is scored out of 120 points and you’ll need a 38/120 to pass it.  Overall, the N5 has a lower pass mark of 80/180 total points.    But, don’t let that fool you.  The score is based on a curve and so you can, in theory, get 50% of the answers right, but still fail the test.

For general preparation for the N5 reading section, it is best to do a lot of vocabulary practice.  That will be the main target of this section.  They will try to trip you up with directional words, words for different family members, and question words.  Make sure you drill your vocabulary so you know it inside and out.

3 Types of Questions

There are only 3 types of questions at this level – short passage, medium passage, and information retrieval.  Each have their own strategies to focus on.

Short Passage

These are questions involving a passage of about 80 characters long with one question each.  If you are wondering what about 80 characters looks like about a paragraph long or a little shorter actually.  There is not a lot of detail in these passages actually, they are generally straightforward.

The main thing they are testing here is your comprehension of the vocabulary.  There will be some minor inference that you might have to do, but overall these are clear cut questions.  Be sure to polish up on your question words (どう、いつ、どれ) and the kind of answers that are expected with them.

Common tricks in this section include somewhat complicated time references like さらいしゅう or おととい.  They will use words like this and then ask you for the specific date (this is a common trick in the listening, too). This also extends to past tense and terms like それから (and then).  Be careful to look for details.

Medium Passage

These are questions involving a passage of about 250 characters long with 2 questions for one passage.  250 characters comes out to be about a half a page of text.  These passages are generally easy enough to read, but be sure to read the questions first to know what to look out for.  They are generally looking for some key pieces of information.

The main thing they are testing here is comprehension of the grammar.  The hardest part will be keeping track of all the details that they might try to overwhelm you with.  Don’t be afraid to take some notes to sort all the details out in your head.

Some tricks they might try to pull is adding in a clause at the end that changes the answer to the question.  Be sure to read through everything.  They are looking for details here and not overall comprehension.

Information Retrieval

These are a new type of question that started appearing on the N-series of tests.  They are generally a little long (around 250 characters) and involve train or class schedules, notices or advertisements among other things.  They are designed to test your ability to retrieve necessary information from the material.

The main thing they are testing here is your ability scan a given material for necessary information.  You shouldn’t actually read the entire passage.  Instead, read the question and scan through it to find the answers.  This is, of course, a very useful skill in real life.  You don’t want to spend 10 to 20 minutes reading the entire train schedule, you just need the information that is important to you.

Again, don’t be afraid to take notes or draw pictures to make the question clearer to you.  These kinds of questions can really trip people up that have a hard time doing math in their head, so it might be best to just visualize it on the paper (in English or Japanese).


One of the biggest issues people have with the reading section is that only the words that contain N5 kanji will be written in kanji (with furigana on top).  All the other words of the passage will be in kana.  This is something that is unfortunately unavoidable on the test, so be careful.  You might want to practice with the kana-only version of words at least a few times before the test.

The reading section is one place where you can prioritize your test taking a little bit.  Be sure to attack the easier questions first (information retrieval for most people) and then move on to more difficult questions, so you have a better idea of how much time you have.

If you’d like some more information about the JLPT N5 be sure to check out my main article about it.

Resources for JLPT N5 Reading

You are going to need a few tools of the trade to master these words. Here is a short list of resources that I felt really helped me out.

Free Stuff

JLPT N5 Practice Test – this is a much shorter test than the real thing, but it includes a 3 reading passages to practice with.  You can also take it online.

JLPT N5 Official Workbook – this is an official workbook with questions taken from previous JLPT exams.  In theory it should be exactly the same level as the real test.  It has just as many questions as the real test as well, so you can use it as a free mock test.

Paid Stuff

Mock Tests – These are 3 full-sized mock tests that are the same length as the real exam.  They have a lot of good reading for comprehension questions in them so can really help you get a feel for what the real test is like.

Graded Readers – It is never too early to start reading, and these graded readers are great. They have a limited set of vocabulary and use N5 grammar just like the reading section, which makes them perfect for speeding up your reading.  The more comfortable you are reading Japanese, the easier the test will be overall, and these make it a lot easier on you.

Do you have any tips for your fellow N5 test takers?

Have you taken the test?  What came up in the reading section?  Was it difficult?  Let me know in the comments below.

Photo by Peter-Ashley Jackson

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Bob June 10, 2012, 5:26 pm

    Thanks for another insightful article. I increased my kanji practice to up me reading level. I want to try and read Harry Potter by the end of the year. I already have a copy. It is sitting here daring me to read it. 🙂

    • Mac June 11, 2012, 3:47 am

      I’m reading Harry Potter now, and it is surprisingly difficult. I’ll try to post the vocab list on memrise when I get a few more chapters done. Are you reading the first one? You might want to try to pick up an English copy of the book. Have you read it in English? I read it in English a while back, so I’m a little familiar with the story.

      Anyway, good luck with reading!

  • Bryan June 18, 2012, 4:52 am

    Hi Mac, hope you’re well. One of the most frustrating things about the JLPT tests, for me, comes when we get the results. Last year I took the N5 test (having previously failed N4 miserably!) and came out of the exam room uncharacteristically confident. I mean, I could only fathom that maybe I’d got one or two questions wrong. In short, I’d totally nailed it. やった!

    I got my results a few months later. 69%. I was floored. Even a little angry. Maybe the questions I got wrong were the ones worth loads of points, or I’d over analysed certain questions but, still….. なんでやねん!

    It would’ve been incredibly useful for me to know what I got wrong. Do you know if they make the answers publically available shortly after the test?

    • Mac June 18, 2012, 3:34 pm

      That always happens to me too. I always think I aced one section when I really bombed it, and the section that I thought I bombed, I aced. Go figure.

      ‘They’ don’t post the answers on the internet no, but, um, they seem to magically appear on some sites here and there. It is of course banned/illegal/against copyright, and I can’t really say for sure where you can pick them up, but they might, you know, fall off a truck somewhere if you look hard enough :).

Leave a Comment

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