Examples of Reading Comprehension for N4 and N5

Examples of Reading Comprehension for N4 and N5 post image

I get a lot of questions about what the different levels of the test are like. And of course there are can-do lists of what someone that has passed a certain level of the exam is capable of, but those seem fairly abstract. I thought I would take a different approach of demonstrating what each of the levels of the test are like.

First, some background, when I first came to Japan, I had the opportunity to take the TOEIC, which is a Test Of English for International Communication. Back then, it was structured a little differently than it is today, but it is basically a test of English competency which has recently gotten more popular worldwide.

It was a great experience for me, because it was actually a little tough. You would expect a test like that in your native language would be a cakewalk, and the topics that they were testing over were pretty easy, but taking the test, actually sitting down and circling in the marks on the answer sheet in a rapid order while maintaining focus was pretty tough.

It made me realize that in order to pass a language test, you need to know the language for sure. But, you also need to know some basic testing strategies as well. Things like time management and how to read quickly.

So, I thought I would put my translation skills to the test and give you a little sample of what the JLPT would be like in English. I tried my best to faithfully translate these passages and keep the original meaning while at the same time keep the English simple enough so that you get a feeling for what each level of the test is like.

These aren’t literal translations so some things have been re-worded to sound a little more natural in English. Let me know if you think I got a little too liberal or misinterpreted something and I’ll update the translations.

The point here is not to use these to double check your comprehension for the practice tests (although they can be used that way), but more to point out how the JLPT is going to test you and what kinds of things they want you to know.  I feel like it is a lot easier to see that in your native language (or near-native language) then in Japanese which you  are probably working on learning at the moment.

These passages are taken from the practice tests that are freely available. Read more about these resources on the separate blog posts for them:

JLPT N5 Practice Test

JLPT N4 Practice Test

N5 Medium Reading Passages

This is the second part of the reading section of the N5 exam. The passages are about 250 characters long, this particular translation is 100 words long. They always have just two questions.

Mr. Yan’s house is in a convenient place in the city.

Next door, there is a bakery. In front, there is a flower shop and next to the flower shop there is a fish shop. Nearby, there are also a pharmacy and a butcher. There are a post office and a hospital as well.

Tonight, Mr. Yan’s friend is stopping by. Mr. Yan is cooking chicken and fish. There is no fish or chicken in the refrigerator, so Mr. Yan is going out to go shopping from now. Then, he is going to the post office and buying a stamp.

11) Out of the next choices, what is the closest store to Mr. Yan’s house?

1) the butcher
2) the bakery
3) the pharmacy
4) the fish store

12) Where is Mr. Yan going today?

1) the butcher, the fish store, the post office
2) the bakery, the pharmacy, the post office
3) the hospital, the flower shop, the fish store
4) the hospital, the butcher, the bakery

Notice how the first question is more about vocabulary than anything else. They want to check if you know how close となり (tonari), the word used in the Japanese version, is.

The second question is more of a general comprehension question. The second sentence of the 3rd paragraph, “There is no fish or chicken in the refrigerator, so Mr. Yan is going out to go shopping from now.” implies Mr. Yan is going to the butcher and fish store. It doesn’t directly tell you. This is pretty straightforward at the N5 level, but as you go up, it gets more and more complicated.

JLPT N4 Medium Passages

The N4 medium passages are little bit longer (around 450 characters). This translation is 171 words. They appear in the second part of the reading section of the test.

In Japan, there is an old custom of greeting your neighbors when you move in. It means “We appreciate your future support. I’m looking forward to living here.”

In a apartment or condominium, people greet the people living next to them, above them or below them and so on. If you move, you should greet your neighbors right away. When you greet your neighbors, it is common to bring them a small gift. For example, you can give a towel, hand soap, or sweets and so on. However, the important thing is to greet your neighbors, so you shouldn’t worry too much about what kind of gift you bring them. If you go to greet your neighbors but they aren’t home, you should stick something like a greeting note in their entryway mailbox.

Recently, there have been more people that don’t do “move in greeting.” There are many people that don’t greet their neighbors, especially when they live alone. However, I think “move in greeting” is of course a good custom.

11) In Japan, when people move, what kind of custom is there?

1) Bringing small gifts and greeting the neighborhood.
2) Handing a small gift to your neighbors.
3) Giving your neighbors a greeting letter.
4) Sticking up a greeting note in your house’s entryway.

12) Why do you do “move in greeting”?

1) Because when you live in a place like an apartment, almost everybody does it.
2) Because if you move, you definitely have to do it.
3) Because when you don’t let people know “I’m living here from now on” it is rude.
4) Because you want to communicate a feeling of ‘I’m looking forward to living here.’

13) Why do you “ stick something like a greeting note in their entryway mailbox”?

1) you want to let them know you came and greeted them.
2) You want them to come pick up an item later.
3) You want them to come over when they are free.
4) You want them to contact you later.

14) Recently, what kind of people are increasing?

1) people living alone
2) people living with other people
3) people that do “move in greeting”
4) people that don’t do “move in greeting”

Again, it seems like the 1st question is testing your vocabulary, what is きんじょ (neighborhood) as well as your comprehension of what is the most important part of the custom. The author has put emphasis on the greeting and not just giving gifts. So 1 is correct for question 11.

For question 12, the passage doesn’t give any specifics about 1-3. We don’t know how many people do it (answer 1), there is no mention of it being required (answer 2), and it doesn’t talk about it being rude if you don’t do it (answer 3). That leaves just answer 4.

It’s the same for question 13, only answer 1 can be implied from the situation. There is no mention of the other answers.

Look out for these types of questions where the answers make sense, but aren’t mentioned or implied in the passage. Almost every reading question is like this on the higher levels.

Question 14, is testing you on your ability to recognize the main idea of a paragraph. The last paragraph is stressing that less and less people are doing the custom in general, not just people living alone. Be careful to stop yourself from jumping to conclusions.

What do you think?

Does N5 or N4 look harder than you thought it was? Would translate these passages differently? Let me know in the comments below.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Jperb September 8, 2013, 10:42 pm

    Thanks so much for doing this, Mac. I just took N5 for the first time in July, and the longest reading passage was just like this, and I think where I lost the most points! In fact, question 12) of N4 above was the most similar, in that all the answers seemed true. This translation may help me analyze how to answer this sort of question when I take N4. In other words, understanding the passage wasn’t necessarily enough, you had to know how to answer the questions from the passage. As a relative beginner in the language, this is truly difficult. Shows what a tough test of proficiency JLPT is at even these levels!

    • Clayton MacKnight September 8, 2013, 11:34 pm

      Thanks, I’ll try my best to do some of the higher levels as well. I love translating, especially for things like this.

  • Chad September 17, 2013, 9:01 am

    For some great JLPT 2/3 level practice, I highly recommend NHK easy.


    The grammar is around N3, but the vocab is harder and more like N2. If you are planning on taking N2 soon, NHK easy should be some quick light practice with a few random new words thrown in. If you are working on N3, it’s a nice daily dose of reasonably challenging practice. There are usually three new articles every day so your supply will never run out.

    I’ve always felt there is a dearth of this sort of upper intermediate level material. I was very happy when I found the NHK easy website.

    • Clayton MacKnight September 17, 2013, 3:02 pm

      This is a great resource. Thanks for sharing it! And I totally agree. There is plenty of beginner/intermediate material, plenty of native material but not a whole lot in between.

  • wutzibu March 2, 2015, 6:35 am

    Can you post that and similar texts in Japanese so learners can translate it as a practice?

  • keaton james May 31, 2016, 9:03 am


Leave a Comment

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