Becoming the … N5? Master

Becoming the … N5? Master post image

So, a long time ago I passed the N2. It has actually been awhile since I’ve taken the JLPT because to be honest, I had reached the level I need to be at in order to do what I need to do. At the N2 level, you can understand most reading materials and the majority of situations that you might find yourself in. I tried the N1 a few times and did okay, but didn’t pass, and with my free time becoming increasingly more scarce, I decided to move on to other things.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve been slacking off. On the contrary, without a countdown to a test to worry about, I’ve been able to do more experimenting with my studies and to see what works and what doesn’t. And I’ve been working on projects that require me to use and interact with Japanese on a daily basis, so I’ve gotten a lot of real world experience with it as well. I would like to go back to taking the test sometime in the future, but I’m not sure when that will be.
In the mean time, I’ve been asked to take part in a large project for N5 test takers. The sheer volume of work that needs to be done for it will keep me busy for a good amount of time. I’ll be working my way through all the N5 material I can get my hands on. I think the prospect of doing all that would make most people bored sick, but for me it should be a lot of fun to really delve into all the small intricate details of all the grammar points. Over the next few months, you’ll most likely see a few articles on my thoughts on N5 as I burying myself in the research.

Mastering N5

Mastering N5 seems like a ridiculously easy task for someone who has been using the language for well over 10 years and it is in a way. I think the average person with concentrated regular studying could pass the test in 9 months. If they were really determined, you might be able to shorten that to 6 months or if you want to go about it in a more leisurely pace around a year. But mastering a test, knowing the content well enough to easily get a perfect score, 満点まんてん, is a little something else entirely. And that is going to be my goal over the next few months.

Amazingly, with just a few tools to work with, the N5 test writers can come up with a good number of devilish questions to test your knowledge of particles, and other grammar points.  You can even see the beginnings of what the higher levels will look like.  There are listening exercises that twist and turn.  There are questions that seem to test your ability to do mental arithmetic, and there are a few nuances you need to be familiar with.

And yes, I am in fact learning and picking up small details here and there.  For instance, I never really realized all the uses of the を particle.  Of course, you can use it to mark the object.  But, you can also use it to mark the thing you are ‘passing through’ like the following:

家を 出る。

出口を 出る。

I guess I knew this on some level, but I always thought of it as you were doing the ‘leaving’ to the ‘house’ and so you would use the を particle.  It made sense at the time I guess, but knowing all the meanings has allowed me to use it more easily, with a variety of situations.

Going back to the Basics

Reading the Dictionaries of Japanese Grammar back to back without doing a lot of real world practice would probably be one of the most boring things you could do for yourself.  And would probably be a waste of time anyway because there is no way you can simply retain all that information and use it.  Your brain needs at least some practice in order for it to all settle in.

but it does pay off to be extremely curious and try to see as many examples as you can of a particular grammar point, especially if it isn’t something immediately obvious to you.  What makes a good learner a lot of times is the ability to ask the right questions and be curious about something.  I feel like learning something that you are not actually curious or  interested in leads to the new knowledge simply bouncing off and not really sticking with you.

This is why it can be quite tough to pass the higher levels (N3+) if you simply just study the published grammar books that geared toward the test.  Those kinds of books tend to not create as much curiosity as reading a good book for example.  You want to understand the book, so you can get into the story, but you can’t really say that about the grammar book.

I think it’s important to keep asking yourself questions about the grammar, even the grammar that you think you have mastered.  This is especially true at the higher levels where obscure use starts to come into play.  There are, in fact, questions on the N1 that cover the use of は and が because some of the more difficult usage only comes into play with rather long and complicated sentences that you can’t write at the lower levels.

Keep Moving Forward

This isn’t to say that you should linger in the past.  The best way to learn a language is to learn what you are going to use, or what is important for you.  So, if reviewing a particular grammar point is important to you at this moment, take the time to go back and read up on it.  The Dictionaries of Japanese Grammar I mentioned earlier are perfect for that.  They are well-organized and lay out all the uses of a particular point with some clear examples.
A common question I get is about test takers that have just passed or just failed the test and are wondering if they should try the next level, or try to get a perfect score.  I really don’t believe in mastering a particular level before jumping to the next.  In my opinion, you should keep moving to the top and then try to fill in the holes later.  It’s more valuable to have an N2 or N1 then to have a perfect N3 score.  However, if you have the time, a slow steady pace could be a good option.

How about you?

How are your studies going?  Did you change something after taking the test?  Let me know in the comments.

Photo by Ruko Fotografie


{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Zdenek January 3, 2017, 7:13 pm

    I have set my personal goal earlier – to prepare for N5 in a year from scratch. Well, not exactly from scratch, I have mastered hiragana and katakana earlier. I started to learn vocab and basic gramar in December 2016 and I am going to take the test is Dec 2017. I love Japan, been there twice, definitely will come back…there is actually no urge or need for me to know the language. It is just a personal challenge. I would like to ask you on your opinion about the learning system I choosed. My native tongue is Czech and there is a good Japanese textbook in Czech, but it makes you to learn some quite difficult and not really N5 vocab. But on the other hand, the grammar section is great (well, mainly because it is reflecting my native tongue) So, my plan is to study on vocab and reading from your Memrise N5 courses for a month (2 or 3 maybe… :)). And after that I would dig into grammar. To you think this can work? Or is it essencial to study vocab and gramma at the same time? Thank you! Zdenek.

    • Clayton MacKnight January 4, 2017, 9:23 am

      That sounds like a great plan. If you really work hard, you can master the vocabulary for N5 pretty quickly. There are only about 600 or so keywords you need to know. And the test always includes a few words that are not on the official lists either, so it is important to study different kinds of materials. It should be pretty easy to pass the N5 in a year from scratch just need to master particles.

  • Antony Inato January 5, 2017, 1:52 pm

    I ve been going through so many similar website like this and found this to be perfect.
    Am quite excited that you can skip the level. Actually I started from the scratch by myself, learned katakana and hiragana in just a matter of a day or two. Its a kind of self motivation to learn Japanese. I want to ask whether the materials here are enough to get me past through N5 test.
    Also I started kanji using anki, there was this particular deck which has 2200 cards with beautiful mnemonics to remember. So far i ve seen around 1800 kanjis, out of that i can correctly recognize correctly more than 1000, and write another may be 500 with the help of mnemonics. With new words and reviews everyday it would be a matter of days to know them all and with more reviews, i hope to remember all 2200 kanjis.
    But the point is am still weak in grammar and vocab. I found your tutorials interesting, educational and resourceful.
    well, am from India. I can understand Hindi but do not speak so fluently. In our region we have dialect completely different from Hindi. In-fact, my mom and dad speak different dialect. I know both, lucky for me. My State is near Myanmar, so i look more like a South east Asian rather than Indian look. I know like 5 language but only Hindi and English comes in
    handy. I ended up using English most of the time.
    So, I will give my best and prepare rigorously and hopefully I ll be ready for N5 in like 6 month from now. Thanks to you, am pumped up to become fluent as well as good japanese reader. I ll experiment with N5 and upgrade to premium. Am a under graduate student so cant give the time i want but still I out of interest to learn the language am giving the time i can.
    and I apologize for writing to much, i just hope that you read and reply to my queries. Not an excuse but I wrote it long so that you could understand my situation and get the best out of me. ありがとうございました! Antony

    • Clayton MacKnight January 24, 2017, 3:17 pm

      I think know that many kanji is a huge asset. It will make it a lot easier for you to read and study Japanese very naturally. My guide does cover the N5 level. The guide for the N4 isn’t completed yet though.

  • Otaviano January 6, 2017, 10:14 pm

    JLPT is a fluency test afterall, so it means you dont have to pass the N1 to really know a the language, if you see a list of word in you own language, how many you realy use in every day situations? no more than 3.000 or something. But as native speaker you know the meaning of almost all the other words. Then, fluency comes with the time.

    • Clayton MacKnight January 24, 2017, 3:18 pm

      Exactly, you really don’t need that much vocabulary. I found that i do know most of N5 material of course, but it is good to review it and oil the gears.

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