Switching Gears when Switching Levels

Switching Gears when Switching Levels post image

I’ve heard back from several people over the last few weeks about their results from the JLPT. It’s been great to hear from everyone about how well you all did and how you are setting your sights on something bigger. I’m impressed by the amount of hard work everyone puts in to pass this test. It can be quite a struggle, but it is also really rewarded to get that certificate back that let’s the world know that you did it.

I’ve gotten a lot of emails and comments with questions and requests for advice. First of all, thank you everyone who wrote in and commented. It is always a good feeling to hear from everyone and hear about how well you did. I thought I would take some time to consolidate all the piecemeal advice I gave into one useful blog post since I tend to get some of the same questions from time to time.

Up to N3ish

Up to the N3 level, you can get away with sticking to the books and “prepared” material, that is material that is specifically prepared for learners of Japanese. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try with native materials. The sooner you can start using native materials the better. It will help you get a good idea of how Japanese is actually used in the real world.

However, the most efficient way to study at the N5 to around the N3 level will probably be with material that has been prepared for learners and has clear levels to it. This can be through a membership site like JapanesePod101, or with the excellent Genki I and II books if you are studying with a teacher or tutor. Another favorite is the Minna no Nihongo series, which is packed with a lot of sentence patterns and drills that you can use if you are studying alone.

After the N4 level, you will have most of the grammar structures you need to communicate with others. N4 vocabulary definitely doesn’t cover that much though, so you will need to pick up some more vocabulary from ideally talking to natives, or listening, or reading. Keep in mind that drilling vocabulary with something like Anki and Memrise is useful, but it shouldn’t be the only place you are being exposed to that vocabulary. You need context and you need to actually use it to own the words.

Past N3ish

Starting around N3, you should start to try to ease yourself on to more and more native materials. This can start with simple things like doing web searches in Japanese. I got started with some graded readers and then moved on to simple novels. NHK also has a web easy site with news stories in simple Japanese that can help you ease into reading.

Books are still quite important for understanding the nuances of grammar that you may not get exposed to that often even with regular reading. It also helps point out the small differences between similar grammar points. I always recommend So-Matome (easier, but quick to get through) and Kanzen Master (more difficult, and harder to get through, all in Japanese).

The bottom line is that it is fairly difficult to pass N2 with just N2 textbooks. You will need some real world exposure preferable through conversation, but that can also be with good listening material. And you will need to increase your reading speed. That means doing reading on a regular basis. In order to pass, you need to read at slow native reading speed. And be able to not only comprehend a sentence, but a whole paragraph and understand the flow of the writing.

It’s virtually impossible to pass the N1 with just study books. You will need a good amount of native exposure to everything – reading, listening, and conversing. If you can’t get a regular conversation partner, you might be able to find someone who can check your writing.

Make Sure your Goals Match Up

One last piece of advice I can give you is that you should make sure to ask yourself if the test is still worth it for you. This may sound strange, but some people get into JLPT fever and go for N1 because it is the highest achievement. But do you need it? Or would you actually benefit from more conversation practice? You should take some time to honestly evaluate what will be the most useful for you.

N1 can open the door to a lot of jobs and get you an interview with a Japanese company. However, I have often times been able to get gigs and work simply by networking and showing that I’m capable of the level that is required for the job.

That’s not to say that you should abandon the test. It helps you focus and drill skills, like skimming and scanning, that you wouldn’t normally do if you had simply learned in a more open kind of way. And these are valuable skills that will make your life easier with Japanese. But you might need to take some time to focus on other skills that can’t be tested.

Good luck everyone with your studies! I always love to hear from everyone. Contact me about your questions or leave me an awesome comment. Let’s talk soon.

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