First Reactions to the 2012 July N1 JLPT

First Reactions to the 2012 July N1 JLPT post image
July 2012 N1 JLPT

Crowd of test takers at Kyoto University

Phew!  お疲れ様でした.  That was hard work today.  For the first time, I took the N1, which is a gruelling 4 hour ordeal (with about 3 of those hours actually taking the test).  To top it off, it was pouring rain on and off all day.  Such is rainy season in Japan.

The main reason why I signed up for the July test in the first place was to make me study and stay focused for the first part of this year.  I figured if I waited until December to take it, I would kind of lazily study my way through it and not make it through all the material in time.  I knew I wasn’t going to pass it that was for sure.

I’m glad I did take it though, because I found out that I was a lot closer to passing the exam than I thought I was.  I walked into the test today thinking I had no chance of passing, but after taking the test, I feel like I did okay, at least not a complete fail.  I want to almost say it was easy, well, easier than I imagined it would be.

I changed up my study routine a little in hopes of speeding up my learning.  I think at least some of the things I changed actually really helped.

N1 Grammar Study

This time around, I decided to start off by building vocabulary and over-learning the grammar.  The theory was that if I over-learned the grammar, I could get through the grammar section in pretty good time as well as increase my reading speed because I would be able to recognize and understand all the grammar being used.

And I can truthfully say that I’m able to easily translate any of the sentences in my So-Matome N1 Grammar book with relative ease, which is pretty good considering I just started it about a month and half ago.  However, knowing the grammar (in the So-Matome book at least) didn’t help a lot in the grammar section.

Actually, for me the grammar section seemed a little strange.  I didn’t really immediately recognize any patterns.  There were a few things I could quickly answer, but a lot of the questions I just answered on hunches.  So, So-Matome doesn’t cover you very well for the grammar section of the exam.

But, it really helped in the reading section where I was able to read the passages a lot quicker thanks to the fact that I could recognize certain grammar patterns.  The reading was still hard, and I’m sure I scored lower in that section, but it was mostly due to vocabulary and not the sentence structure.  So, I think So-Matome is still a good introduction, just not the cure-all.

N1 Kanji and Vocabulary

There is no orthography section on the N1 (where they give you the hiragana and you have to choose the kanji).  So, you might think that you don’t have to study that much kanji for the N1, and you are pretty much right.  I’m just about 33% through the N1 Kanji with my iKanji the iPhone app and I was able to recognize most of the kanji throughout the test.

Now, I do a lot of supplemental reading and some of the kanji I recognized because I studied the word or words that use it during my vocabulary studying, but I feel like you don’t really need to focus on kanji at this level as much as you do at other levels.

N2 kanji are the most valuable kanji and most useful for every day situations.  N1 kanji (and above) or used a lot in newspapers and formal documents, but I haven’t really seen them in other places.  Or if they do come up, they will have furigana with them.

Knowing kanji and their individual meanings did come in handy for guessing the meanings of vocabulary in the vocabulary section, which never seems to have words in it from the lists that circulate around the web.  More often than not, you will have to guess the meaning of the word from the kanji.

However, there were more than a few words that I recognized from doing my reading and reviewing the vocabulary.  That is always an amazing feeling when you recognize a word on the test from ‘real life’.

Reading and Listening

I felt like both of these areas don’t require too many new skills to master.  Most of the strategies I learned from taking the N2 came in handy here.  Although, I have gotten a little rusty with them and so I’ll have to be polishing them up for the next round.


The biggest thing I took away from taking the test this time was that it was ‘do-able’.  Even though everything still seemed to be out of reach, it was just outside of reach and not impossibly far away.  So, I feel like if I put my nose to the grindstone and keep working and studying I’ll at least come close to passing in December.

How did you fare?

Did you take the test?  What level?  Where?  What was it like?  What did you think was difficult?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

{ 32 comments… add one }
  • monica July 1, 2012, 1:39 pm

    Hey!!! I was there!! Aha, I use your site from time to time but that’s funny that you and I were at the same one. I was in room 27. The listening for me was SUPER easy but I still tripped up on kanji here and there. The reading wasn’t SO bad… so I agree with you. It was do-able but we will have to wait for the results.

    The rain was ridiculous…


    • Mac July 2, 2012, 6:17 am

      Haha, I was in room 26 across the hall. It’s a small world after all, eh?

      The listening for me was definitely easier than I thought it was going to be, but I always lose my focus in that section. Especially for the quick response. I need to hone my skills again I think.

      Now the patient wait for results.

  • Jen July 1, 2012, 2:35 pm

    I went to N-1 today too (Tokyo, though)
    I wish I found your site earlier.

    I almost didn’t study (too lazy), so I am not sure I passed it, but I felt that 1st part was pretty difficult, while listening was like for kids.
    But my Japanese is very kaiwa-oriented, so may be that is why.

    Anyway, hope you passed! ^_^

    • Mac July 2, 2012, 6:19 am

      Yeah, I felt the listening was kind of easy, but still tricky for me at least. I’m not used to be ‘tricked’ with my listening. In real life, I usually ask for repetition or clarification. Or people just generally explain things a lot clearer than on the JLPT.

      Anyway, let’s hope we passed!

  • Kasia July 1, 2012, 3:33 pm

    I took N2 in Poland. I did it for the same reason as you did – not to get lazy. I am 100% sure I failed, but luckily I manage to learn so many new things during preparaton time I’m pround of myself. Overall test wasn’t that hard, but without vocab it’s almost impossible to pass. I’ll concenrate on it to pass is next time 🙂

    Now waiting for results (do you now how to check them via the internet?)

    • Mac July 2, 2012, 6:21 am

      The way to check results is different for each institution that puts on the test so you’ll have to check with your school to see. I know in Japan, we just got an internet service that allows us to sign up and check results online as well as send our results to someone, but it is different for each country/region.

      I hope you were able to learn a few things from taking the N2. I certainly learned a lot from taking the N1, even though I probably failed.

  • Arno July 2, 2012, 2:05 am

    I took N2 this time, mostly for the experience though. Listening, grammar and vocab might be ok with a little bit of luck, however I am quite sure I failed the reading. I even run out of time at the end and didn’t get to read the long text (Question 13, I think).
    This doesn’t come unexpected though, I had taken a mock test before, and it was just the same. Reading is JLPTwise my weakest point.
    I’ll take the test again in December. Until then, I’ll mainly focus on reading and only review grammar and vocab 1~2 months before the test.

    • Mac July 2, 2012, 6:25 am

      Reading always seems to be a weak point for a lot of people. It was a weak point of mine for awhile, too. I got into the habit of reading for 20 to 30 minutes a day, so I got used to seeing Japanese characters on a daily basis, and I didn’t freak out when I had to face all of that reading on the test.

      Are you going to try to work your way through a couple of native books? or are you going to go through past tests? or get some drill books? like So-Matome or New Kanzen Master?

      • Arno July 2, 2012, 8:31 am

        30 minutes of reading is about what I am aiming for from now on. I have been reading before, but am really slow. E.g. it might take me a 20 min trainride to work myself trough one paragraph 🙁

        I do have the New Kanzen Master, that I will work myself trough again before the next test.
        In the meantime, I am planning on trying some native books. Studying only for the test again right away would kill all the fun out of Japanese. But I will try to keep the test in mind while reading. E.g. pay attention to grammar points, vocab I don’t know and, much more important, rephrase what I am reading as a comprehension test, as this i
        s the most important part for me.

        I might start with a translation at first. I don’t have much experience so far, but I feel it is easier to read a text with European background in Japanese with less cultural obstacles than a native Japanese text.

  • Alexandra July 3, 2012, 8:56 am

    I’m taking the N3 exam this winter. In my country there’s only the December test. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect. N5 and N4 were pretty easy, but I think this one will be different. I’ll take your advice about increasing my reading. Atm, I am a bit slow, that’s why even if I do inderstand, I’m afraid I won’t be able to finish in time. I’ve been focusing on grammar and kanji, I’m studying from Minna no nihongo Intermediate (I’ve just finished the first volume and I need to buy the second volume) and also a bit from Kanzen Master. What do you think about it? And if you have some pointers about the test or what I should focus on, I would much appreciate it.

    • Mac July 4, 2012, 3:26 pm

      I didn’t think N3 had any particular traps to look out for. You do need to increase your reading speed though. It might be time to start in with some native books or trying your hand at some blogs in Japanese with the aid of rikai-chan/kun. Are you using Minna no Nihongo with a tutor? I stopped using Minna no Nihongo after passing 三級 mostly because I didn’t have a tutor or teacher to work with. After 三級 I started working through native materials, drill books like So-Matome/Kanzen Master and just talking a lot when I could.

      If you are outside of Japan, it is probably time to get together with someone and chat via Skype. Do you do any chatting?

  • Hilary July 6, 2012, 12:53 pm

    I hope you passed!

    • Mac July 8, 2012, 10:03 am

      I hope so, too. It would be really simple if I did 🙂 I’m not sure though, might have to wait until next time.

  • Ashley July 8, 2012, 10:42 am

    I took the N4 it was so different than what I thought. I hope I passed! But the listening section was the easiest for me. I had a lot of trouble with vocabulary and Kanji!

    • Mac July 9, 2012, 2:17 am

      It is always a little different than what you expect. I think the practice tests help, but don’t give you a complete picture. Were you able to study all of the vocabulary from the N4 lists before the exam? Was that section difficult because you didn’t know the words or you weren’t confident with the words? If you know what I mean.

      • Ashley July 10, 2012, 3:00 am

        Like some of the kanji I knew the words but I didn’t know the kanji for them cause I hadn’t learned it. And I didnt get to study all the vocab for the lists. I was able to get a clear picture but the Kanji= vocab and the vocab= kanji parts are what tripped me up.

        I also didnt finish the first section I had 5 questions left blank. Do they count off for wrong answers?

        • Mac July 11, 2012, 12:57 am

          Yeah, they definitely count off for wrong answers. It’s best to answer all the questions with something I think. Because a blank answer is always wrong. The kanji tripped me up a bit as well, they looked familiar but that might have just been my mind playing tricks on me.

          • Rajesh August 15, 2012, 12:05 am

            They asked for ABB for Korean last year and AAB for Japanese, but now both are AAB. x_x I’ve been predicted AAC, AAB at the very best (unlikely) – but I’m hoipng that if I get AAC and have the JLPT and TOPIK under my belt then I might, just might get a place. *crosses fingers*Bah. Je deteste les pre9sentations – j’ai un note terrible e0 l’orale en frane7ais car j’ai une terreur folle d’e9chec, donc je le repasserai en janvier l’anne9e prochaine. 🙁

  • Stephen July 8, 2012, 11:05 am

    I took JLPT 5 in December in Ireland and I passed, I also took N4 last week in London, it was more difficult but I think I’ve passed. I’m now studying for n3 in December, anyone got any tips? What book is good for JLPT study? I’ve been using Hiyaku, chuukyuu kara manabu nihongo and an integrated approach to intermediate japanese amongst others. For Kanji, I like memrise, its excellent for JLPT kanji. Any tips? What is good for establishing what is entailed within JLPT 3 curriculum?

    • Mac July 9, 2012, 2:26 am

      The N3 is a tough one to study for because no one is really sure what is on the test. The So-Matome Grammar book will give you a pretty good idea of what is on it. I would recommend checking out the memrise N3 vocabulary deck as well to get a feeling for what kind of vocabulary is going to be on it as well.

      Other than that, it is probably time to start working through some native materials like books and jDramas to start building up your exposure.

  • vivzilla July 8, 2012, 12:37 pm

    So jealous you guys get to take the July test. Its not offered in my city so its hard to be focused when my test is still 5 months away.

    • Mac July 9, 2012, 2:28 am

      Yeah, it does really help, I wish it was in June though. The first weekend of July is always 4th of July weekend. I’m not all that patriotic, but I do like to BBQ. 🙂

  • Simon July 10, 2012, 6:33 am

    I didn’t take it this time around, but I found the same thing with the N1 grammar last December – the grammar points I had memorized from So-Matome didn’t really help too much on the test. I’m going to be taking N1 again in December and so am wondering if anyone has any advice on how/what to study for the new grammar questions.

    • Mac July 11, 2012, 12:59 am

      I haven’t picked it up yet, but I’m planning to get the New Kanzen Master N1 Grammar. The N2 Grammar book was pretty good prep work. I think the new type of grammar questions they have are incredibly difficult to prepare for no matter what you use.

  • Tim July 11, 2012, 8:52 am

    I’m glad you think it’s doable, rather than impossible! I guess when you force yourself to really bog down and study, you get used to it and you can really make headway. Perhaps progress and understanding of the language even speeds up a bit as you learn more grammar and whatnot.

    As for myself, I just took the N4. I found the listening part a lot easier than I thought it would be (I struggled on that part of the N5 a year and a half ago), and the vocab section was also pretty much a breeze (3 or 4 words I had to guess, was all). It was the grammar that stumped me. I knew my grammar was weak; I mean, I simply don’t have time to study and really, really wish I could take Japanese classes – or something; but experiencing the test made me realise just how weak my grammar is. I simply haven’t managed to make sense of all the N4 level grammar; in fact, I’ve managed to make sense of very little of it.

    But as with others who may or may not have passed, one thing I can say: I learned from taking the test, and for that I am happy. Now, to try and figure out a way to actually _study_ Japanese instead of expecting it to osmose into my brain by watching GTO and floundering around at school trying to make sense of what people are saying. 😉

    • Mac July 11, 2012, 3:09 pm

      Yeah, the grammar at the level can be pretty hard to get used to. Especially all those different conjugations. Those use to drive me nuts. I always forgot which was which. After N4, grammar is more phrases and expressions and how to use them than how to conjugate verbs.

      Anyway, I hope you passed! I’m glad it taught it something.

      • Cahyadi August 14, 2012, 9:25 pm

        If you don’t have time to study, play safe with N5 (but N5 doesn’t really mean anitnyhg, I’ve been told). If you have even a little time to study, aim for N4, because you’ve still got more than two months. I’m actually not sure whether passing N5 would mean anitnyhg to your uni; it doesn’t to mine (N3 means you can skip one year of language classes, N2+ means you can skip two).There is a whole lot of preparation material out there; you shouldn’t have trouble finding the vocab, kanji and grammar you need to study. I have no idea what the GCSE syllabus is, but JLPT, especially the lower levels, are very formulaic. If N5 looks easy to you, two months of studying with JLPT prep material should make N4 possible for you.I wish you all the best anyway =) がんばってね。

        • Mac August 15, 2012, 4:12 am

          The N5 is more like a practice test for the higher levels I think. I personally skipped it, but I can see where it would be good for you because you can get use to the testing style and how the test is conducted, which will earn you more points and make it easier for you to move up in levels. I think one reason why N1 seems easier than I expected is because I grew up with the test, I had to keep pushing myself a little more at each level until I got to the highest, which makes it easier on you to study.


  • Angel August 14, 2012, 10:09 pm

    I stumbled over this site from ahotner JLPT prep site and the podcasts you have are pretty informative and the first I’ve heard to actually tackle the format of the new test.Since you lamented on the differences of the new test and how it kind of messed you up on test day; this kinds of worries me. I’ve been prepping for the N5 for about two and a half months now . Blindly since there’s really no material out there and I can’t afford get my hands on anything official due to where I live (BFE) So all the practice tests I’ve been using of previous JLPTs not good? I guess they’ve helped gauge my grammar but will it mess me up on test day? The closet testing experience I’ve had with the new tests is on the official JLPT site.

    • Mac August 15, 2012, 4:10 am

      I think as long you have taken the practice test on the JLPT site you’ll have a pretty good idea of the differences. The biggest thing to look out for is the scrambled sentences, that is what tripped me up when I first saw the new test. I had no clue they were on the test until I walked in and saw them there. 🙂 Good luck, I’m sure you can make it!

  • Nelson September 25, 2013, 11:58 pm

    Hello. My name is Nelson, and I’m studying Japanese. I live in the U.S., and the closest place of the JLPT testing is Boston, MA. I have a Basic Grammar Dictionary, some beginner level texts, some Intermediate texts, some dictionaries, etc. I’m currently at the beginner level of Japanese, and I have read through a textbook series called Elementary Japanese vol. 1&2. I struggled the way through, and it was hard to study at the time because of my college classes. In fact, I spent more time on college than on Japanese. I remember and recognize some of the kanji from that book, but can’t always write them on command. The intermediate books I have are Tobira: Gateway to Advanced Japanese Through Content and Multimedia plus the kanji workbook and Authentic Japanese: Progressing from Intermediate to Advanced plus the workbook. I do not think I am prepared for Tobira yet because I did not recognize a lot of the kanji compounds. It requires about N4 fluency. I currently do not study everyday because of appointments and the like with doctors. These appointments are currently once a week. When I do have these appointments, just getting there and back home takes a while. I also do have a part time job where I work in the mornings. I am also a slow reader at Japanese. What should I do to speed up my reading and other skills up to the N4 level and considered passable at that level?

    • Clayton MacKnight September 28, 2013, 1:56 pm

      Do you do any kind of vocabulary practice with say Anki or Memrise? That would help a little with reading speed and things.

      Also, picking up some past 三級(old N4) tests that have some reading examples would be good.

      When you are heading to these appointments are sitting down on a bus? walking? driving? My guess is walking, so you probably can’t read and walk, at least safely or with any real retention. You might want to think about making some audio flashcards and putting them on shuffle with your favorite audio playing device. You can just put some sentence pairs that are giving you trouble in a few recordings and then shuffle those around.

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