December 2013 JLPT N1 First Impressions

20131201-224700.jpgThe December JLPT has just finished here in Japan. The N1 seemed to be about the same level as I’ve gotten used to. Unfortunately I was not in the best condition to take the test, but I made it and it’ll be interesting to see the results. Fingers crossed that I kept my score. I would have liked more but it’s been a rough couple of months.

All this last week, I’ve been spending most of my free time moving the last few items from my apartment into my house. This is after a month and a half of meetings and paperwork-finding to buy a house here in Japan. But, it is finally done, and I have the scratches, bruises and fatigue to prove it.


Between the July test and this one I placed a lot of focus on grammar and making sure I knew every little detail about each point. I’m not sure if I got back what I put into it though. I think I will still continue my strategy of refining my grammar knowledge, but I’ll probably add a few more tricks as well to refine things even more.

The biggest problem with N1 grammar is about half the questions are more complicated examples of simpler grammar points. N1 is not a test where you can simply study Shin Kanzen Master Grammar, memorize it and be done. You need to know a lot of fine points that only come from a lot of reading (at least in my opinion), which I simply haven’t been able to do this time.


I felt that the reading was pretty much what I expected. There were 2 passages that I had a hard time staying interested in (the 2nd medium passage and the 1st long passage). I could not hold my focus long enough to get the questions answered which is a huge problem. I thought the subjects of the essays were fairly mainstream except the one about music (the longer passage 4th from the end), it put me totally to sleep and I had to do some guess work.


This also seemed to be about what I have come to expect from the test. The kanji questions seemed a lot more difficult though. I even asked my wife about one and she had no idea how to pronounce it (日夜, nichiya). This, to me, seems a little ridiculous – being asked the orthography of kanji that are usually only seen in writing. But maybe I just don’t see/hear it much in my day to day life. Has anyone heard this word before today?


I felt listening was a lot more difficult for some reason. On the July test, I could follow the conversations fairly well and only missed a few twist and turns. But, this time, there were a handful that I could hardly follow. Again, this might have just been my mood, but I got completely lost. How did everyone else do?

Going through the Motions

I hate to admit this publicly, because after all I do run a blog about JLPT, but the test was not a huge priority for me this time. I almost didn’t go, but considering I paid, I figured I might as well give it a try. I’m pretty sure I did horrible on it. Why do I know this?

Well, I pretty much did the opposite of everything I recommend. I didn’t get a healthy night sleep. I ate kind of poorly because are kitchen is still packed up. I had way too much fried food for example. And I’ve been cleaning and still maintaining my crazy work schedule.

In other words, don’t try this at home. But, we have a house. No internet yet though so, I’m writing this on my iPhone. Obviously this was a less than ideal time to move, but we get a tax break for 2013 and we saved some money on rent. I’m not sure if I would do it again but it is all done now.

Anyway, please excuse the slightly less than professional post. But, I had to get it out. It’s test day!

How did you do?

Let me know what level you took and where as well as how it went in the comments below.

{ 56 comments… add one }
  • Mitchell December 1, 2013, 2:19 pm

    Took N1 in Tokyo today for my 2nd attempt. Failed the test back in July by 5 points (95/180); was very disappointed. I wasn’t even sure I’d bother taking it again because I’ve begun to realise how very unnecessary it is for me to have N1 (except maybe for some petty bragging rights – for lack of a better term).

    Anyway, maybe it was just my unmotivated state but I thought it was harder than the July test. I had spent a lot of time on vocabulary this time as that was a major weak point of my July attempt. I made a huge anki deck and reviewed it daily and even after that, I still knew hardly any of the words on that test. I did however know 日夜 but it really makes me angry to hear that even your wife, a Japanese national, doesn’t know the reading of it and yet we’re expected to know it.

    The grammar was probably a similar level to last time. At least the text grammar question was a little bit nicer this time. July’s test about some type of tree was absolutely awful – I didn’t want to read it to answer the questions, but this one about advice on dogs was sort of entertaining to read.

    The reading section was what I found a lot harder in particular. The long passage about music, I actually gave up halfway through and went onto something else before going back to it more towards the end. I ran out of time and the last mid-sized passage I guessed without even reading the article. I had to guess a few other questions in the reading section, too. I’m not expecting a great mark on reading – I would not be surprised if I even get under the 19 required to even pass that section. I did get 26 last time but the reading section was a lot kinder to me last time.

    Listening I found relatively similar to July’s test, with maybe one or two passages a bit harder. The last question of the 3rd set of questions (listen and point out the main content of what was said) I had no idea what was even being said. In saying that, I’m probably only unsure of 4 or 5 questions. Although, I said that last time and I got a score of only 35/60 in listening. To me, I either didn’t get as many right as I thought, or, I’m being totally screwed over by this supposedly “fairer” scoring system. I honestly want to e-mail JEES and tell them that I think this new system is absolute . To me, it only takes a few geniuses (and in N1, there’s a whole lot of them), to skew the results so bad that even getting a couple of questions wrong drags your scores down immensely!

    There was nothing wrong with the old system where questions were worth points and you’d either get those points or not depending on whether or not you got the question right. I agree with some of the other changes made with the introduction of the N-level tests (such as no longer releasing syllabi or past papers) but I absolutely refuse to believe that the new scoring system is in any way fairer to test takers.

    Overall, I’m pretty confident I failed the test. Last time I was about 50/50 but this time I just know I’m in for a bad score (probably worse than last time) My heart just wasn’t in it and I should have gone with my original instinct to not sit the test again so soon after attempting it back in July. I actually nearly just got up and walked out about 15 minutes into the Language Knowledge exam because I was so unmotivated.

    I’m currently studying abroad as part of my university degree back in Australia. I came to Japan to improve my Japanese; however, I feel I’ve spent the best part of my time here (I’ve been here for roughly 8.5 months) studying to pass JLPT when I should have studied to improve my general language proficiency. It almost feels as if I’ve wasted my experience here. My general Japanese fluency could be so much better, rather than cramming lists of pointless grammar that is only used in academic written Japanese, and words that are only used in similar contexts.

    Will I sit N1 again? Maybe one day but not for a very long time. I’ve taken JLPT 4 times in the past two or so years (N2 twice, N1 twice) and I’m just over having my head buried in JLPT grammar books and other study materials.

    I apologise for the huge rant.

    • Clayton MacKnight December 2, 2013, 11:42 pm

      Not problem about the huge rant Mitchell. I can totally relate to your experience. The N1 seems to get this criticism a lot and it is not unwarranted. It’s a beast of a test. It seems like those native speakers of languages that use roman letters have a bit of a hard time.

      I’ve talked to more than a few Koreans/Taiwanese/Chinese that seem to have sailed through it. Now granted some of those were Kyoto university students so they are probably the geniuses that skew the results.

      I try to look at as a sports game, something that pushes you to the limits. And like sports, you have to do a lot of drilling and training for the game. But, playing the game and competing helps you understand how you stack up against others and creates motivation because you can see where you are headed.

      That’s what would happen in a perfect world, but of course the JLPT is not perfect. They have designed devilish twists and turns to make it more difficult than real life. But, if the test is more difficult than real life than you can approach real life with more confidence knowing that you just went hell in the test.

      Having said all that though, I would recommend making the most of your time here. Get out and practice conversation, read some interesting native materials and get a ton of exposure because you have an amazing opportunity. When you slip into a more regular 9 to 5 gig you can go back to grinding through the fine points if you’d like the bragging rights/job opportunities/confidence. That’s where I am now. And although it’s quite difficult with a family, 6 day work week, and a blog it’s something that keeps me on track instead of being lazy about my studies.

  • Can December 1, 2013, 3:13 pm

    Mitchell, i was told that JLPT is going to get harder, You should try to clear JLPT N1 asap.

    • Clayton MacKnight December 2, 2013, 11:21 pm

      They always say it is going to get harder though. How much harder can it get? 🙂

      • Can December 3, 2013, 2:50 pm

        Very hard until the Japanese can’t even answer? :p

  • Afoofoo December 1, 2013, 3:14 pm

    The day has come when I can finally relate to your N1 entries!

    I was also very sleepy; I came home for the weekend from university and I wanted to be with my mom for as long as possible. That ended up being 12:30 and I had to wake up at 4 lol.

    So I didn’t study at all but I found it fun and interesting. I’m so used to seeing words I don’t know so it didn’t make a difference to me haha. But it was so long and tedious, my back started to hurt.
    Listening was literally gargling to me. “Shachou ni okorareta sdgudbgsiu” Erm, I see. I’m always bad at listening.

    Overall, I feel like I was tested to my limits, but if God forbid I pass, then my N1 qualification is a lie because I was just grazing through everything and didn’t feel like “oh look my language proficiency is being tested”. I’m also a little down because I didn’t feel like talking in Japanese with anyone. It’s kind of sad when there’s like newspaper Japanese and poetry in your head but when you speak it’s like “…samui ;-;”

    I can relate to being busy; taking a test usually needs you to be in a kind of test-taking phase and not an indicator you can dish out out of the blue to check someone’s proficiency. I think a house is kind of more important than the JLPT haha 🙂

    • Clayton MacKnight December 14, 2013, 11:43 pm

      Yeah, the house is definitely more important. It’s still going to be awhile until we are completely moved in, too. Every weekend we are out hunting down a new piece of furniture or a light bulb or something, but it is good to be home.

      I think you summed up a first time N1 experience pretty well. It is a pretty difficult test, but you might be surprised about how well you did.

  • Shirley December 1, 2013, 3:40 pm

    Took N1 in Tokyo today and have been feeling so overwhelmed by it. Mitchell’s words really struck a cord in my heart. Arrived here about 8 months ago and poured all my efforts into taking this test. My conversational Japanese still sounds horrible after 8 months. It’s like in the end there is nothing to show in terms of fluency and I am definitely not looking forward to getting the results. This though is my 1st attempt and I will definitely try it again as I felt that I didn’t really have enough time to prepare for it. However I do start to question if I have not use my time more efficiently in Japan.

    • Clayton MacKnight December 14, 2013, 11:46 pm

      I would say try to focus on decent fluency first. That will help you be a lot more comfortable with the language. Then, try to focus on all the small little details so that you can pass the test. Some people are talkers and some people are readers, it really depends on your interests.

  • lazuli December 1, 2013, 5:26 pm

    Glad you could do the test somehow xd
    as for me it was the first time ever i took jlpt and it was N1 too lol
    i found the listening more difficult than the mock (past official) tests i had (and i felt it should be ok if i’d master the kanzen master listening volume xd)
    as for voc and grammar i could find it’s my weak point so i worked on it the past months but all what i’ve learnt is badly learnt because all is theory: i thought i should read more in japanese in order to remember the words in a specific context…
    As for reading comprehension i think i did not that bad but who knows (last text questions are always ambiguous lol)
    let’s wait for the results and study more!! I want more textbooks and more time xd
    also i was a bit sick and tired from my week (sickness and zangyou) but it could have been worst i guess…
    I realised it’s a proficiency test so no
    check list about what to learn but more given to experience
    well sorry for the big comment and the awkward English but it’s cool to share my thoughts here ^^
    good luck everyone for the results!

    • Clayton MacKnight December 14, 2013, 11:50 pm

      Thanks for sharing! Yeah, at the N1 level, a lot of vocabulary needs to be learned from context and that means a lot of regular reading. I’ve gotten back into reading just for fun. I started reading some of the Disney readers and I actually found some N1 grammar points (a few but it was interesting to recognize them).

      I like the test, but it is challenging and keeps me wanting to study more. I think if it didn’t exist, I really wouldn’t push myself that hard. Good luck! Hope to hear you did well!

  • nammae December 1, 2013, 5:27 pm

    Firstly I must apologise for posting my comments here cause the title says “JLPT N1” while I only attened N2 test. But as you said, Clayton, it’s test day and I also need to get it out.
    I am quite disappointed with myself. I did so bad at Language Knowledge, especially at Kanji Reading section. I could only answer one out of five questions. Before the test, I thought that it is one of the easiest part. Indeed it was but like people said “You reap what you sow”. I haven’t been spending much time to learn Japanese. But unlike you who were busy with moving and many things else, I was just fed up with it so I stopped learning it one week before the test. I spent the last week watching anime, reading manga and listening Japanese music.
    Well, I did pretty good at Reading Comprehension and Listening Comprehension so the possibility of passing this time is not zero.
    But now I realized that if I want to reach to the top (that is N1), I must renew my determination.
    Anyways, I wish for everyone to pass.

  • Roxas December 1, 2013, 6:51 pm

    Hey there!
    I’ve been seeing your website for some time now. Congratulations, it’s very good!
    Today I did the N5.
    I found Grammar, Reading and Kanji quite easy. But the Listening was kinda hard to me. You lose focus for almost nothing and you lose a question.
    Thanks for the website!

  • Tailan December 1, 2013, 7:42 pm

    I’ve taken N3 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

    Well, I haven’t had enough time to study. I’ve only tried to memorise lots of kanji. The first part was very easy – well, not easy in fact, but much easier than the mock tests I took. Although I think I’m very good at grammar, I’ve decided to guess all the grammar questions – indeed, I marked all number 3 hahaha – because I can’t read very fast and dokkai gives more points than bunpou. I think I’ve scored all the texts I read. There was only one I couldn’t read. Choukai is always a nightmare for me. All I can say it that I just understood the questions.
    I think I can pass though. I’m already studying for N2.

  • Ioana December 1, 2013, 8:26 pm

    There are no words for how miserably I failed the N1 today.
    Had I taken the written part in August, the last time I studied Japanese, I would’ve aced it. However, after 3 months of almost no contact with the language my concentration was off. I didn’t find the texts or points particularly hard, but I had lots of lapsus and had to read each line 3-5 times (for each section). I still finished 30 minutes early, though; I don’t really get how people run out of time. I was expecting it to happen given how I was re-reading everything, and was surprised to see the clock.

    In choukai I was so beat that I couldn’t follow anything. I’d listen to a sentence and while I understood it (many times I didn’t, or got lost mid-way) I’d instantly forget it; especially during the parts with nothing in the brochure, I’d take notes as much as I could but often by the time I’d start writing them I would have already forgotten what I had hear 5 seconds before. it was really weird, and I’d gotten a good night’s sleep and was calmer than ever (since I was aware that I’d fail after such a long break from the language). I am pretty bummed =(

  • Kamen December 1, 2013, 10:27 pm

    I took the N4 in Sofia today. It was my first time taking the JLPT, so I was extremely nervous. Fortunately, I had the luck to be in the same room in which my Japanese teacher was. She didn’t help me, but at least I was glad to know that there’s someone I knew. The first section was rather easy, the dokkai- bunpou was OK (dokkai was a bit more difficult than expected) and I almost fell asleep a couple of times on the choukai section. I’ll most likely pass it, but it was a strange experience. There were moments in which I really asked myself: “Does this exam really mean anything?!”. Most of the questions weren’t really testing my actual language ability. Next year I plan on taking the N2. I’ll obviously have to change my studying methods radically.

  • Aleatha December 2, 2013, 1:42 am

    I took the N4 test today in Chicago. I’m pretty sure I failed miserably. Murphy’s law states that as soon as I decide to do something that takes a lot of time to prepare (e.g. study for a test) work becomes ridiculous and I have no time or energy left.

    At least I got the experience and will know more of what to expect next time. Halfway through the test I was ready to leave, but stuck it out. We’ll see. Maybe I did better than I think.

    Your website and resources were a big help in helping me know what to expect on test day.

  • J December 2, 2013, 2:48 am

    Took N1 yesterday for my first JLPT experience ever. I’ve been in Japan 11 years and conduct my job in Japanese so never thought it was necessary but had more free time than usual recently so decided to give it a shot. I wasn’t too confident because I know that test Japanese and everyday Japanese is different, but I was surprised at how much trouble I had with the listening section. Maybe it is because at my age concentrating for 4 straight hours is tough but as some of the other commenters wrote, I understood the words but couldn’t always put together the overall meaning and/or quickly forgot some minor points that later wound up being critical to the answer.

    Agree that passage about music research was a slog. I got nichiya correct but sadly changed it with 30 seconds left in the section.

    If I fail likely will take it again out of a warped sense of completionism but definitely not an experience I want to repeat.

  • Bart December 2, 2013, 5:11 am

    First time taking N1 after passing the other levels. Gotta say it was just as diabolical as I thought it would be. I was kind of surprised how few kanji questions there were. I don’t think I saw much grammar from my Shin Kanmaster N1 or Kanzen Master 1 kyuu books. Those reading sections were beasts. I had 30 minutes left over to go over the questions I skipped, but I lost the mental concentration to read the long sections again. The listening section started out well but finished poorly. I would understand like 80% of the convetsation , but miss the crucial part needed to solve the question. Last year for N2 I felt 50\50 for passing after the test and I passed. This year I know I didn’t make it. The good thing is that I don’t feel like they tricked me, but rather I need to step up my reading and vocabulary skills.

  • niemand December 2, 2013, 8:21 am

    I took N2 for the first time in Stuttgart and it was even harder than expected. About 80-85 % total guessing :/. Passing would be a not deserved miracle. My biggest weaknesses were probably vocabulary and listening, plus about 5 minutes missing for reading. Now I am not that much disappointed but I think of reconsidering my daily learning routine, for I have been working through all of the So-Matome and Kanzen Books several times for about 16 months and I’m not sure it would be very helpful if I continue that way. Maybe learning with the N1 books for reading and listening could make me progress for N2?

  • Chad December 2, 2013, 8:22 am

    I find your critique of the reading and grammar to be almost the opposite of my thinking. I probably failed yesterday, and it will certainly be because of the reading section of the test, which I only got about 60% of the way through. But my issue with the JLPT 2 at least, is that the reading consists almost entirely of rambling, hedging-and-hawing triple-negative-laden personal essays. I don’t know about you, but these are nothing like the Japanese I read in my everyday life, which are emails, advertisements, instructions, and technical items related to my job. In contrast to the JLPT essays, these items are direct and to the point, and written to communicate information quickly and clearly as possible. Yes, they can have some nasty kanji, particularly if technical, and they have their own grammar, but it is pretty simple and straightforward. The JLPT essays, on the other hand, seem to be designed to cram as many grammar points into each sentence as possible. They end up sounding like they were written by some bored, drunken ex-philosopher housewife or some high school kid who has been smoking something.

    When I do the reading section, I do the last question first as it is always some sort of advertisement or instructions, which I find far easier than any of the other long essays. I then search for any other materials that information centered such as mock emails. There are usually one or two of them on each test.

    This was my first actual JLPT test. One thing I found surprising (and dismaying) was that on the listening section, the volume was so loud that it was actually physically uncomfortable. I found this pretty distracting. Yes, the people in the back need to hear, but that was ridiculous. Other than that, it seemed pretty easy.

  • Stewie December 2, 2013, 1:50 pm

    My N2 experience…

    Language Knowledge/Reading- Did all of the reading first and with the exception of one total bitch of a passage, it was pretty simple. (Totally agree with the above “They end up sounding like they were written by some bored, drunken ex-philosopher housewife or some high school kid who has been smoking something.” comment on JLPT reading passages.)

    I’d lost the will to live by the time I got on to the language knowledge, so did the whole thing with an “I either know it or I don’t” attitude… I think it got me through the kanji/vocab part, but grammar probably not.

    20 minutes of vacant chain smoking later, the listening. I think the brief switching off did me the world of good and it pretty much went as expected. I didn’t understand all of it and definitely made some mistakes, but I was never completely thrown.

    Overall impression= I made a fair attempt. I wasn’t entirely with it for language knowledge, but hope it wasn’t serious enough to cost me a pass. I don’t think I’d have done any better on N3 or any worse on N1 to be honest- which is maybe a weird way to describe the whole thing?

  • Ed December 2, 2013, 2:16 pm

    Pretty much agree with what has been said, other than the reading, whihc I’ve spent the last 6 months working on and was MAYBE(!) a little better than when I did it in July.

    The listening was a LOT harder than the summer – one section I was literally guessing for pretty much all of it. I alos think they’re taking the twists and turns concept a bit too far – it’s pretty unnatural in terms of how people actually communicate.

    Added to this, I got married on Saturday, had a big party, so just to haul myself down to the test centre in London was mission on Sunday. I think I’ve failed it as well, not least because the listening section where I usually bump up my marks was so hard.

    Agreed on the Grammar as well, the questions that are being asked are not like the practice questions or those in the likes of Kanzen master. This makes preparation for an exam very very difficult.

    My Japanese teacher said last week she thinks that N1 is significantly harder than the old 1kyu, and I’m definitely starting to agree. I’m beginning to think the only way to pass it is by reading newspaper level articles almost every day. There’s nothing out there in terms of text books that are preparing you enough.

    Anyway, hope you all did well. I’ll be happy to beat my score from the summer.

  • Christine December 2, 2013, 5:01 pm

    I sat the N1 on Sunday in Tokyo. It was my first time taking it, though I passed N2 back in California 3 years ago without much studying.

    This time, I studied fairly regularly for about 3 months, particularly in the last month when my study time about tripled. I made it through 7 of 8 weeks in the 日本語総まとめN1 grammar book, halfway through 漢字・語彙・文法まとめドリル にほんご500問, and only about 20 pages into the kanzen master N1 kanji book, which is hilarious because I bought that last January or so.

    I’m really glad that I had 日本語総まとめN1 because it introduced me to a lot of dumb, 硬い grammar that I never come across at work or in daily life. I agree that the test wasn’t necessarily about long, complicated grammar but just about very specific types of grammar. The listening section didn’t seem much more difficult than the practice test I took from 2012’s N1, HOWEVER, I agree with others who say that they’re doing their best to confuse the listener. I seem to have gotten a different answer from everyone I ask about the final question about which seminar to take, though I feel pretty confident with the answer that I chose.

    The kanji vocab section was brutal though. 🙁 Despite having a fairly easy time on the listening and an all right time on the reading, I knew almost none of the kanji/vocab. It was pretty disappointing, given that I’d been managing around 67% in the drill book that I have. Fortunately, I did guess 日夜 correctly, but I had a good feeling about it because I’ve heard the “や” reading come up in festival dance music… so I can count on having at least one question right in that section ^_^;

    I’m not planning on taking it again, though, even if I don’t pass it. I don’t really feel like giving JEES any more of my money haha!

  • Joel December 2, 2013, 6:51 pm

    I just took the N4 in San Francisco after passing the N5 in Tokyo in July. Completely different atmosphere, people were definitely amped up for job related reasons in Japan, whereas it was a lot of college and high school age students with a much more laid back attitude in the US (despite it being at a higher level). The instructions in the US were in Engrish, which makes sense I guess, but was a bit of a surprise after having the N5 instructions be in Japanese in Tokyo.
    I’m very glad now I took the N5 and got that accomplishment. I’m pretty sure I didn’t pass the N4, I probably should have taken more time in between tests and been more prepared, but too much life-related stuff going on (as I’m sure you can relate). I had seen so much internet advice to skip the N5 and jump right into the N4, so it was a shock that it was so much harder. I had heard that the N4 was like the N5 with just some added vocabulary, but I would describe the difference as in the N5 you were tested on the basic vocabulary, and in the N4 knowing the words wasn’t enough. The grammar used was at an entirely different level, which wouldn’t automatically be a problem except for the time constraints. It is hard to explain exactly, but it felt like certain basic grammar that isn’t on the N5 and that I know well was assumed knowledge and not tested; and the questions were on the upper reaches of the N4 grammar (conditional/passive/unususual conjunctions and colloquial phrases). It’s also a very difficult test in which to guess or strategize on, as it’s often written in a way to try and trick you (I suspect knowing the N5 vocab/grammar and not the N4 level meant falling for some of these traps, particularly in the listening section). Makes it a good test of proficiency, but I think leads to the criticism that it’s unfair, trying to trick you rather than reward you for your knowledge.
    This is far in the past for many of you at the upper levels, but I just wanted to share my thoughts for anyone thinking about which of the basic levels to take.

  • Arun December 3, 2013, 4:05 am

    It’s been great to read all these comments and experiences of various people across globe that have appeared for JLPT exams. Many thanks to Mac for coming up with this site which I came across just 1 month back.

    I took N2 mainly to improve my vocab and kanji though due to personal priorities I couldn’t really spend time on learning which started on paper from early March. Kanji learning was a slog over and I had to ‘forcibly’ complete grasping ~350 kanjis in 18 days, specifically from 12th to 29th Nov, with a total memory overload.

    At the time of the test, instead of completing the vocab section within 35 minutes as initially planned, it took me 45 minutes. Rest of the 60 minutes for dokkai was just too a little time for me. Hence I started with the last question first, thinking the points for the long and medium passages were more. But this thinking or even the information given by my teacher were incorrect as JLPT uses ‘Scaling’ system to calculate scores which has been mentioned in the FAQ or even mock tests that JEES sees. I managed to read this info. just yesterday itself. Hence performing well on the long passages does not mean one can clear reading section. The listening section was the easiest of the three.

    To cut the long story short, it will be ‘fugokaku’ though the positive outcome is that I have improved my vocab and kanji considerably. Hence can understand quite a few things running on the idiot box, TV. Lastly, I have started aiming for N1, as to learn 900 more kanjis and more vocab & grammar. I might take N2 in July 2014 and irrespective of the result have strong desire to take N1 in Dec 2014, though the chances of clearing N1 seem pretty low as of 3/Dec/2013 🙂

  • David December 3, 2013, 4:23 am

    Hello all,

    Glad to see I was not the only one who struggled yesterday.

    I took N1 for the second time yesterday (in Los Angeles). After nearly passing it last time, I made a last-day decision to try it again, but I felt that this test was much harder than the one I took last year (we do not have the July test option here). So much of the vocabulary was unfamiliar to me (I also asked my wife about “nichiya” by the way – and fortunately, I guessed that one correctly), and I made a giant mess of the grammar.

    Unless I magically aced the reading (I expect a 30 might be ambitious on that section), I will not only fail, but have a worse score than last year, which is pretty depressing.

    The listening started out fine, but I start to lose focus midway through and section 3 is always difficult for me. If you don’t take notes, it’s hard to follow, but I find the conversation moves too fast to take good notes anyway.

    Expecting about a 70 – not sure how to improve, but for me, the vocabulary and long-listening are definitely weaknesses.

  • Andrew December 3, 2013, 8:33 am


    3rd time taking the N1…
    Felt stronger on the listening and vocabulary but as always there were still words I didn’t know.

    First long reading passage was tough… Ran out of time towards the end and guessed on the 2nd long passage which looked easier so I could answer the last 2 questions w/ time.. A little disappointed I didn’t gage my time better to give myself more time on that 2nd long passage.

    If I improved both listening and vocabulary/grammar and get at least 22-25pts on reading I might have a shot at passing this time but outlook is grim.

  • Matt December 3, 2013, 8:28 pm

    I took the N1 in Michigan on Sunday. Having passed N1 last year, I thought I would take it again to get a better mark. I didn’t study much, so that is doubtful. I found the vocabulary to be a bit harder than last year, luckily I guessed 日夜 correctly. The grammar section seemed to be the same as last year. The reading section was alright, except the music passage which was ridiculous, I gave up half way through and went on to other questions, coming back at the end to guess. The listening was much easier than last year, especially the part where you have to choose the correct response. I think this will be my last JLPT for a while, and hopefully if I fail this one my old N1 certificate from last year will still be valid!

  • Sumidagwa December 4, 2013, 12:03 am

    Taking the test after more than a decade of gap ….Listening test was surely fast and requires an
    exposure to Japan , or a good practice of listening to plays and movies , right from the
    very first day one starts learning Japanese …while studying using techniques like writing
    subtitles for drama and movies might be worth an activity to clear N1 I feel…

  • Kay December 4, 2013, 12:22 am

    Second JLPT experience – After passing N2 with 170 on first try, I sat for N1.
    Oh I should note that every sign at my test site wrote JPLT instead of JLPT (they wrote Japanese proficency language test)
    Reading passages were SOO boring…even the passages on my SAT a few months ago (America’s college exam) weren’t as bad. Though I did finish that section with 30 minutes to spare.

    The listening was faster than I expected – they spoke at maybe 1.5x the natural speed of my native Japanese teacher (from Tokyo, to boot). I knew what was said most of the time, but I feel like the JLPT tries to trick you in every way possible; what is mentioned first is rarely ever correct.

    About what the other guy said about how the grammar on shin kanzen master didn’t appear – I agree. I think the ones I learned from it were ~極まりない、~といったらない (as far as I remember). I would rather be have harder grammar structures than the complicated usage of simpler grammar, especially the first question which always deals with particles, and the one with 思う. Fortunately I learned 敬語 not too long ago at school so I was able to answer that one.

    Overall, I can say I probably passed with a decent score 130~140, which makes me feel bad because there are many people struggling with N1, and I kinda wish they passed, especially you, Clayton, since you work so hard.

  • Lynn December 4, 2013, 2:04 pm

    May I join the conversation? I also took N1 test in Saigon, Vietnam last Sunday 🙂 I didn’t prepare much for the Vocab-Grammar section resulting from my great failure at them the last time (oh I forgot, this is my third time) although I spent 2 months of summer studying mostly vocabulary and doing mock test like crazy all day and all night == I decided to improve my reading comprehension skill instead, so I mainly focused on practicing reading. Listening, meh, I’m neither good at it nor I have a lot of chance to listen to Japanese with natural speed about everything because I’m still a student but somehow I always manage to get the highest score in listening section so I just like let fate carry me anywhere it leads :))

    And this time. Yeah, vocabulary and grammar. I understand how you guys feel, because I feel the same way too. I gave up practicing vocabulary partly because I have no idea why even when I study soooo much and the test is still be able to give me words that I have never seen them before in my 5 years of studying. And the grammar, soooo different from those printed on the textbooks we study. But this time I luckily met some of the words I studied and got some more right answers by guessing. Reading, hmm, much more complicated than I had expected. I tend to do better as the test comes closer to the final questions, except for the question of the 2 short paragraphs A and B. Listening, barely survived the gaiyou rikai (the one about the summary of the talk 😕 ) and the last 4 questions. Not so sure about the quick response things. This might be another failure again.

    However, when I checked my answer with this ( this is a referential answer from China, and Chinese are usually very good at Japanese, maybe because they are the origin of Kanji) I found that I got at least 50% correct answers in every part of every section, especially listening, if this thing is right then my doing gaiyou rikai is flawless. But with the so-called scale score calculating system, nothing is guaranteed, so I guess I just have to wait and pray until the online result announcement is available 😐

  • Hannah December 4, 2013, 2:29 pm

    N1 was pretty difficult this time around, but I finally was able to take it under good conditions (no running the the site, no freezing temperatures, no exhaustion), so I feel like I could give it my all this time.
    The reading was heavy and I burned out half-way through. That section I’m most worried if I can get the required 19 points. The kanji/vocab/grammar section were kind of rough, but I feel like my studies paid off with those sections. I was actually really happy to see 日夜, I thought it was like N3. But I must have just picked it up somewhere or other. ^^;; And I was pretty happy with the listening. It was tough and I have no idea what my final score will be, but it seemed pretty level appropriate though not quite full native speed. My friends speak much faster, so I should probably thank them for the listening practice. lol
    But I took the BJT two weeks earlier, and the test administration was a complete joke compared to all the JLPTs I’ve taken. (Why clean up the sound equipment and remove it from the room in the middle of the reading section?!) So I think I was easy to please this time around…
    This will be my last JLPT for a while. Since I passed in summer, I just wanted to see how I could do without much pressure. I think the first and last section will be an improvement, but I’m not sure on the reading. We’ll see.

    Sorry to hear you weren’t in such good shape for this round! You’ve been working on this for a good long time too, and given me a lot of good advice and study resources through your site. I hope you can pass or at least see some more progress in you score!

  • Sally December 5, 2013, 8:11 am

    Hi Clayton, I first came across your blog while doing N1 prep this year!

    I too was doing my study while living in Japan for most of this year. I was studying law full-time, in Japanese, and cramming in JLPT study out-of-hours, and I can safely say that the reading I encountered on the N1 test a few days ago is trickier than reading court judgments! Or maybe I’m just used to the specific language and style of court judgments, but still. That blew me away…..

    I was also rather cranky that of the 150-odd obscure grammar patterns I memorised endlessly, about 3 of them appeared in the test, the rest being essentially particle-based questions…..grrr.

    I have a question which I am hoping you (or someone) could clarify for me – and please forgive my lack of knowledge – exactly what does it mean when it says a “sectional pass mark” is 19 points? For example, out of the 70/71 questions in the first section of the test, I think the first 25 are vocab/kanji, the next 20 are grammar, and the remainder (i.e. 25 or 26) are reading. Does this mean that I needed to get 19 of the 25/26 reading questions correct? Or does it mean that out of 0 to 60 points, zero obviously being zero and 60 being every question correct, then I would have to have passed a minimum of one-third of the reading questions, but so long as my scores elsewhere are significantly better, I will pass as a whole?

    That was poorly worded, sorry! But I hope you know what I mean. Essentially I’m confident that my vocab/kanji/listening is on the mark, but I disappointed myself in the reading, so I’m hoping that if the “19 points” requirement refers to one third of the reading questions, that might do the trick for me.

    Thanks for your blog – it’s a great motivator for people in my situation!

  • Mun Keat December 7, 2013, 12:12 am

    I took N3 – the first time I’d taken a JLPT for 5 years. I was reasonably confident I’d do ok, but it turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. But I definitely benefited from having the test to aim for and learnt a lot from the experience, particularly in terms of test day strategy and my weak points. I wrote up my experience in a post on my own blog:

  • Nhi-chan January 3, 2014, 3:01 pm

    Hello, I’m Nhi and I live in Viet Nam. I plan on taking the N1 by July this year. I just got my N2 done last month, the December 1st and I think I passed.

    And, I have something that I would like to ask about. Can you tell me… what’s your blood-type and Zodiac sign and which country are you from? :D. I find your blog so awesome, your style of writing is so clear and easy to understand, that also makes people feel more comfortable and refreshing when reading your blog.

    So, I’m just a bit of curious about those kind of informations. If you don’t mind, please tell me. I’m looking forward to your response and, thanks you :D.

    • Clayton MacKnight January 7, 2014, 3:18 pm

      Thanks for the compliments. I’m actually not sure about my blood type, I keep forgetting. I know that’s a bit bad for me, but I just don’t follow it so much.

      For the Western Zodiac, I’m Gemini, though, if that helps.

      Anyway, good luck on the N1.

  • Zac January 27, 2014, 3:34 pm

    Results are online available, passed N2. Nothing compared to you guys but I am still very happy…

    • Clayton MacKnight January 27, 2014, 11:14 pm

      Awesome! Glad to hear it. N2 is still a formidable task and worth a lot. Next stop, N1?

    • lazuli January 28, 2014, 11:40 am

      wow congrats~~!!!
      Results for me aren’t available yet but I’m excited to know^o^
      Wish I can pass ;D

  • Singaporebanker January 28, 2014, 6:55 am

    Drat…flunked the N1 by 10 points…Listening was quite hard. Mitchell’s rant is very appropriate..the test is becoming ridiculous and I wonder if I need the qualification since I speak the language fluently and have the N2 already…..

    Would be grateful for any suggestions regarding vocab…got a C and it was a nasty surprise. Did not feel i had done that badly….I used Kanzen Master and online quizzes to sharpen my vocab base….

    • Clayton MacKnight January 28, 2014, 12:56 pm

      I would say if you speak fluently I wouldn’t sweat getting N1 really. It will help a little with job security though.

      As for vocabulary, I think you need to do a lot of reading at this level and a wide variety of material. Kanzen master is a good start but it doesn’t cover it all. I’ve never used vocabulary books and it is usually my strong suit. Of course that has changed recently though. 🙂

  • Joey January 30, 2014, 3:24 am

    Took the N1 in December, first N1 I’ve tried. I felt the reading was very difficult. I filled in a couple blind at the end there…. I studied kanji and vocab like a madman for three (yes three) years. I should have done more reading, but it was my weak point. I didn’t think I’d make the 19.

    The listening was far harder than the multiple mock tests I had bought. I was disappointed but I tried as best I could to keep my concentration (which is difficult for me that far in when I’m tired). I figured I’d get 45 or so.

    Got the results yesterday.
    Kanji/Vocab 30/60
    Reading 24/60
    Listening 40/60
    94 pts

    I was surprised I passed the reading! I figured I had 1 points or so. I must have gotten lucky filling them in….

    The listening also surprised me, in the opposite direction. Wasn’t expecting it to be so low (I live in Japan and work in Japanese speaking environment).

    Though I had a bad feeling in the first place, very disappointed. Feel very, very stupid. I studied a lot more than others, I think.

    I’ll certainly try again in July. But right now I’m not so sure what to do. I’ve been reading Natsume Soseki on a tablet during my commute, I guess I’ll keep reading but I’m not sure what I need to do to pass this sucker. It seems like its totally dependent on the material that comes out and you may just get hit with a tough test. Looking forward to see the percentage of people that passed the December (as only under 20% will really make me feel better).

    • Clayton MacKnight January 30, 2014, 5:34 am

      The passing rate for the N1 is notoriously low. It’s a tough test. I would say that the listening might just be the skill of doing the test. You have to think really fast during the quick response section and that last section, you have to get used to taking good notes fast. That’s not something that I’m used to doing even though I sometimes go to Japanese only meetings as well.

      For reading, you might want to do more reading of articles like newspaper or magazine articles. It is a different style of writing than novels, and using different vocabulary. I need to pick up a few reading materials that have essays in them as well.

      Great score for first time taking the test. I’m sure you’ll pass next time with a little fine tuning.

      • Joey January 30, 2014, 5:47 am

        Thanks Clayton. I guess I’m kind of aggressive about studying. This is the first thing I’ve failed something I really put my mind to. I even got my J driver’s license (in Aichi, where this is an accomplishment) on my first try! And after studying for years… years. Ugh. What a horrible ending. I think part of my worry is that about a month before the test, I kind of reached a point where I didn’t know what else I could do to improve my score. I was scoring about 110/180 on practice tests. Girigiri, but it felt like the ones I didn’t know, I really just had no clue. I studied through the N2/N1 grammar books, I think I had a decent grasp, but then on the test all these funky new combinations I haven’t seen before pop up, and suddenly my grasp of grammar seems a lot more like smoke.

        I have a couple links lying around for editorials. My worry is that they are not grammatically intensive enough. On the other hand with Soseki, I don’t exactly have a guide to help me understand the deeper parts (though its steeped in N1 grammar like craaaazy). Too little, or too much.

        If you find essays, feel free to post them in a reply!

        • Clayton MacKnight January 30, 2014, 12:38 pm

          Wow, past first try for the driver’s license. I tried and flubbed up stopping on the white line of all things. Need to get free time to try again.

          I do a lot of offline reading of popular magazines that just look interesting in the store. Let me snoop around and see if I can find the online equivalent.

  • Shash January 30, 2014, 1:04 pm

    Hey, I am following your blog for about a year and I really appreciate the way you have managed to update it quite regularly. N1 is really tough and I think concentration also plays a big role, I failed it twice with very low marging, last time I cleared all the sections but could not make the total 100.
    But this time I passed it finally, I was always confident about my listening but last time I got only 35 in listening and could not pass, but this time my score was Vocab/grammar 38/60, Reading 27/60, Listening 53/60 so I am glad I did good in listening but I must say I really tried very hard to concentrate on reading and listening, In reading I didn`t try to read all the paragraphs (even though I would have tried I would never have been able to complete), I took my time to read the paragraphs and tried to understand it rather than reading it in hurry and making mistakes, I think I got most of the answers correct whatever I solved and again in listening I really did well and was sure I will make it this time, For me listening this time was bit easy than the earlier exams I appeared at least the first half.
    Thanks a lot for this blog and I am happy to share my result here.


    • Clayton MacKnight January 30, 2014, 2:37 pm

      Wow, your listening really shot up. I actually was a little confused at times in the listening, making some educated guesses here and there except the final questions, they seemed to be a lot easier this time around. I can never quite get a handle on those quick response questions though. You have to really have good focus.

      Anyway, glad to hear it and thanks for the kind words!

      • Shash January 31, 2014, 12:46 pm

        Thanks Mac ! Please continue your good work with the blog.

  • kiken February 4, 2014, 8:18 am

    December 2013 was my first JLPT experience, and managed to survive N2 with a total of 100/180. Definitely a low score but I was surprised to have even passed since I know people who didn’t. By the time I came across your blog, it was a little less than a week before the test, and I hadn’t been studying at all (well if you don’t count my Japanese class lol), so I was getting pretty worried even till Test Day. I’m debating if I should retake N2 or just go for N1 the next time I plan on taking the test (and this time with ample studying hopefully). Thank you for this blog, I didn’t find too many sites on the internet to be too helpful!

    • kiken February 4, 2014, 8:58 am

      whoops, didn’t know there was another entry for results after this one, sorry!

    • Clayton MacKnight February 4, 2014, 12:33 pm

      Go forward unless you’ve got a good reason not too. You’ll need the skills you got from N2 to pass N1 so its not like you’ll lose out. N1 is the big one, so the sooner you can get experience with it the better. Good luck!

  • Chris February 8, 2014, 11:07 pm

    98/100. Argh!
    Sorry, just needed to vent… After taking the 1kyuu three years ago, I found the N1 was quite a bit harder in spite of having studied a lot.
    39/32/27 – I guess I’ll have to practise listening. I agree with most of what has been said, though; listening comprehension was very hard, reading was mostly boring, and there were quite a few unexpected vocabulary items.
    日夜 I knew though, from an Anki deck named “n1-vocab-kanji-hiragana”, that seemed very complete.
    Good to have found another motivating website. Until a couple minutes ago I thought I would never try the JLPT again, but now I’m not so sure…

    • Clayton MacKnight February 13, 2014, 2:18 am

      That’s so close that I would think that it was just the luck of the draw. I’m sure if you give it another try you’ll be pretty close.

      And yeah, I’ve heard from a lot of people that the N1 is more difficult. I can see it as well. If I take the old ikkyuu tests I usually pass. Actually, I usually pass practice tests as well :). The test is tough.

      • Karthik August 27, 2015, 3:05 am

        I cannot say how crushed I feel right now..I took the N1 for the second time and got 98/180…aaargh!!! 23/30/45…….It is an improvement from December 2013 when i got 88/180….Vocab is usually my strong area….I am shocked I got a 23 there!….

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