After I passed the N2 in December of 2011, I started setting my sights on the ultimate N1 test. I knew that it would be a long journey to complete the test, so I’m starting to settle in for the long haul. The first stop I wanted to make on my quest was with a So-Matome book.
The main reason for this is that the So-Matome series takes a slightly less hard-core look at the grammar. While the New Kanzen Master will mercilessly beat you down with pure Japanese and some of the most difficult example questions I’ve ever seen. The So-Matome series generally holds your hand and sings you nice songs.
Well, not exactly, but it is an easier book to get through than the New Kanzen Master series as a whole (I haven’t actually tried the N1 Grammar book, but I’m guessing it is the same). This generally makes the So-Matome series a lot more popular, but it is usually considered easier than the actual test.
Either way, it is a good book to start with and then if you need some brushing up you can pick up the New Kanzen Master series to finish it all off. Both books are not at all pricey, so you might just want to pick them both up if you live outside of the country and are preparing for the exam.
Format of the Book
Most of the So-Matome books follow a 8 week (or sometimes 6 week) format of lessons. Each week starts off with a handy little checklist for you to see all the grammar points you are going to be going over. Then, each day they introduce 3 to 5 grammar points and there are a few sample questions to help you get an idea of how to use the grammar.
The 7th day of each week is devoted to a 3 page review test that you can time to give you an idea of if you can answer the questions in time. This 7th day is the only time you will see all three types of questions you’ll find on the real exam (1. Choose the correct grammar 2. Unscramble the sentence 3. text grammar questions)
For each grammar point, they go into detail in how it is used for the most common cases. They also include translations of the example sentences in English, Chinese and Korean. There is also a Japanese re-wording of the grammar point. I feel between the translation and the re-wording you can get a general idea of what the grammar point means.
If you are not quite sure what each of the questions in the grammar section look like, you might want to take a look at the JLPT N1 Practice Test.
What I like about it
I like how this book has English translations and basic explanations of the answers to the review questions. This is a huge help. A lot of people are against using L1 (your native language) when learning another language. I feel like as long as you don’t rely on it as a crutch and think of it more like a ‘hint’ to what the real meaning is, you are okay to use translations.
What I don’t like about it
I wish it gave more specific advice for each section of the exam like New Kanzen Master series does. I’d also prefer that it have a few grammar practice tests at the end that go over all the grammar in addition to the review tests they have every week.
It is a good book to start off with when you are getting ready to take the N1. Grammar and vocabulary are the nuts and bolts of studying a language and it is good to get these out of the way first when you go to study for an exam. Then, later on, you can practice skills like reading and listening as you get closer to the test.
What do you think?
Have you used the N1 So-Matome book to study? Was it useful? The same level as the test? Let me know in the comments below.