December 2018 JLPT – Last Minute Advice

December 2018 JLPT – Last Minute Advice post image

In about 36 to 48 hours, a lot of you will be walking into the December JLPT. The test is conducted twice a year, but the locations that put on the summer test can be limited. So, this might be the only chance for a lot of you to take the test until next year. Over the last few weeks I’ve gotten a lot of emails about the test and how to study for it so I thought I would address some of the major concerns and questions that kept coming up.

What to do Now

With only a day or so left, you might be wondering if there is anything you could possible do to improve your score at this late stage. Although language learning is more about focusing on the long game, there are a handful of things you can do that can help you reinforce your knowledge so that you can get the best possible score.

First things first, if you haven’t already, take a practice test. There is one full-sized practice test that the JLPT organization provides for free. I have linked to them at the bottom of the page. These will give you a good feeling of the level of the test as well as how long you have to complete each section as long as you time out the test. I wrote up a blog post about how long each section is that can help you with this.

If you have taken a practice test. It’s time to focus on your weak points. How you do this depends on what your weak point is.

Grammar – If you are weak at grammar, it’s time to crack open a grammar book like the Kanzen Master series (tougher, truer to the test) or the So-Matome series (easier to get through, not as difficult as the real test). Look at every grammar point and, to yourself or someone else, explain how you use it. Think about what kind of situations you can use it in and what situations you can’t use it in. If you struggle to explain how to use the grammar point, do some additional research. The point is to reinforce it until you can confidently use it.

Listening – If you are weak at listening, you can help your score out by building up your listening stamina. On the JLPT, you will be required to sit and listen to Japanese for extended, uninterrupted period of time. If you are not use to this, you will benefit from simply practicing your focus. Listen to as much Japanese material as you can in one session. This needs to be focused, intentional practice, so you won’t be able to listen to this while walking or working out. Just sit there and listen. It’s best to try to do this without headphones since you won’t have them during the test.

Reading – If you are weak at reading, you can also benefit by building up your reading stamina. Again, if you are not use to reading Japanese for an extended length of time, this is a good time to sit down and practice your focus. For levels N5~N3 you will need to practice reading prepared materials like a textbook, but for N2+ you can pick up a lot of native materials to read. Even if you have read the material before though, re-reading can help increase your speed and comprehension.

Kanji and Vocabulary – If you are weak at kanji or vocabulary, it’s best to go on a vocabulary binge. There are several good decks for various levels available on or Anki’s shared decks that can help you on your binge. Basically, vocabulary and kanji are one of the only things that can be drilled into your head pretty easily. This is especially true for the lower levels. As you move higher you will have to switch to more reading to build your vocabulary.

The Night Before

It should go without saying that the night before you need to get a good night’s sleep. That generally means a good 8 hours of sleep, although some survive on less. But getting a good night’s rest also means eating a pretty plain dinner. The night before the test is not the best time to try green curry for the first time.

I personally try to empty out my mind the night before and try to forget completely about the test, so that I can sleep without worries. I often watch a movie or play a video game. The point is, you don’t want to keep cramming things into your head at the last minute. Try to empty your head as much as possible before so that it’s not busy processing all that at night. Instead, your brain can kick back and take a well-deserved vacation.

Good Luck

Good luck everyone! I hope you do your personal best on the test. Remember that it’s only a test. And remember to come back here and let me know how well you did in the comments below.

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Audrey Pearson December 2, 2018, 12:53 am

    Thanks for the last minute post! I re-read your ‘5 biggest mistakes to avoid’ booklet last week and applied the food suggestions and organisational suggestions, and although I’m not feeling confident that my study preparation was adequate (‘life’ seriously went off the charts in the last 4 months), I’m feeling confident that in the last 24 hours I’ve eaten properly, rested properly and allowed enough time to get to the venue and so on and so forth. Thanks for keeping it calm and real. Much appreciated.

  • JH December 2, 2018, 2:15 pm

    Hi Clayton! I took the N2 today and it was harder than expected! I should not have hesitated when doing the vocabulary/grammar questions. That took me a lot of time. Because of poor time management, I did not complete the paper. Vocabulary was rather difficult, but grammar was easy. Reading was harder than expected, the short passages were easy but the longer ones were harder to understand. It was harder than the official paper on the JLPT website and Kanzen Master passages. The choices were ambiguous so I was not sure which one to choose. When the proctor told us we only had 5 minutes left, I still had one passage (thematic comprehension) not done. It was not good at all. Should I do vocabulary/grammar or reading first? I left a few blanks on vocab/grammar, thinking I still have time to check my answers. But that wasn’t true. I cannot believe how time passed so quickly. 105 minutes may seem long, but in reality it is very short! I passed N3 and N4 with decent scores, but I’m not sure how I did on the N2.

    Listening was also very difficult, there were many tricks in the audio and the points were kinda hard to catch. Regardless of the outcome, I have decided to retake N2 next year. I think I might have passed, possibly by a small margin, but who knows? I know my decision is rather sudden, but I want to ensure I have a decent score on the N2 before moving up to N1.

    • Karsten December 3, 2018, 6:45 am

      I took also the N2 today and agree that it was hard. I took it already a few times and one time I came close, but cannot remember another time, where I had to guess to much of the vocabulary, because I never heard some of these words.

      I am a slow reader and tend therefore not to finish in time. Good thing I brought my watch this time, so I could check the time and could just randomly fill out the empty answers, since you still have a 25% chance to get the correct answer.

      But I was surprised to hear you were told when you have 5 minutes left, every time I take the test, it is especially mentioned before the test that there is no 5 minute warning.

  • DC December 2, 2018, 8:16 pm

    I took the N1 today. Let’s just say I’m looking forward to taking it again next year, or perhaps the year after.

    Not sure what I was expecting since I just passed the N2 last year and didn’t really study all that much since then. I’m just studying Japanese as a hobby, so it’s not really a big deal for me, but I gotta say, that was quite a sobering experience.
    聴解 was especially harsh for me. I scored 58/60 on the N2 in that section but this time I maybe understood 3 or 4 questions. 語彙/文法 wasn’t horrible but 読解 was an absolute nightmare.
    Also, it’s crazy how fast time passes when you’re really concentrating on something. I’m almost certain somebody tampered with the clocks in the classroom.

    My plan from now on is to finish the Core10k deck and my Kanji deck completely before attempting the N1 again. Perhaps I should have done that in the first place, but I honestly don’t regret getting this experience today. Also I’ll go through Tae Kim again and the 総まとめ books I bought today. Then maybe read more Japanese stuff in general. For listening, I’ll probably look for some Japanese TV shows or news.

    Clayton, if you have any advice or experience specifically about preparing for the N1, I’d love to hear it.

  • Nikhita December 3, 2018, 1:43 am

    Hi Clayton! I took the N5 today. I didn’t do well on the test today and I’m dissapointed. I spent too much time on the grammar questions and ended up with no time for the passages. I went over a few test papers from the previous years and I didn’t think they were hard, compared to this year’s N5. Listening was also difficult for me. I am not sure if it was just me or if the japanese in the audio was being spoken a bit faster than it should have! I will be honest and say that I spent less than 3 months studying for N5, but I know I studied hard and practiced as many sample questions as possible, but I guess it wasn’t enough in the end.

    Whether I pass or not, I am thinking of studying for N3 now. I don’t know if this is the right move, but I feel like I have a whole year to study hard and take the test next Dec.

    Thank you very much for all your videos! They really helped me understand some of the basics really well. If you have any advice for me on my decision to take N3, please share!

    • Clayton MacKnight December 3, 2018, 1:57 pm

      Well, it depends on how much you can dedicate to it. I think you can do N3 if you are able to study 1-2 hours a day or so. I would try to do some more natural ways of studying and maybe get used to listening to Japanese more. Good luck and let me know how you do!

  • BT December 3, 2018, 2:58 am

    I took the N1 in Toronto two years after passing the N2. The levels are now split in two groups (except N4) and put us in smaller rooms (with not so great sound systems). They also brought back that orientation meeting before the test where the rules are explained and (sometimes silly) questions are answered. Is this a thing in other test sites?

    Vocab and grammary were not so that bad, I went enough fast to finish those sections in less than 40 min. Reading seemed not that bad, I didn’t find that part much difficult compared to the practice tests. The second medium-sized passage seemed a little harder than the rest though and maybe a couple confusing questions. I managed my time well enough that I ended with two minutes to spare, the last question being rather easy. Maybe that my reading practice in the last days helped me go faster than when doing mock papers.

    The listening however was quite hard to follow. The passaged seemed really long and complex. Maybe it was the sound or it was not the best day for me to do listening.

    For now I don’t know what I will do, but I will continue to study in order to continue to improve. As taking the test involves long distance travel every time I might no do so again unless I go live in Japan near a test site. But I am writing this as I am waiting for my flght back home that has been delayed no less than 6 times…

    • Clayton MacKnight December 3, 2018, 2:07 pm

      Wow, so you have to fly to the test site? That’s pretty rough. In Japan, there isn’t an orientation meeting per se. More like a quick run through of the rules that are printed in the little information packet or website. I think N2 is a good level. Now is a good time to consolidate what you learned and improve your reading and listening speed and stamina. Do you have plans to come / move to Japan?

      • BT December 8, 2018, 3:59 pm

        Well, I can go there by land (9+ hours with buses/trains) but after doing that for the other test I decided to go the fastest way so I can be better rested before the test.
        I did have plans to go to Japan (to get exposure to the language so I can pass the N1) but attempts through my former company or recruiters did not net any result. And time passed and I got ready enough to take the N1. So no definite plans for now but I have a few ideas.

  • Nguyen Duy December 3, 2018, 4:51 am

    I’ve no idea whether I’ll pass N1 or not the moment I left the exam room, but I feel I’ve made it close. It will going to be very painful if I failed. I should have study vocabulary and kanji more diligently, because I feel every point are very valuable. The listening section was ridiculous. I only crossed my finger and hope I’d get like 27-28 points out of 60 on that section. There are very few questions I was sure of, but I knew I did gabrish on listening. Now all my hope lies on reading. I think I’ll probably pass if I get at least 60%. Still feeling regret, since the test wasn’t that hard.

    • Clayton MacKnight December 4, 2018, 12:29 am

      Listening can be quite difficult for the N1. They like to use a lot of extra vocabulary and twist and turn several times. I always had trouble with the last question where you had to take notes about the listening before even hearing the question about it.

  • Dec December 3, 2018, 11:57 pm

    FOURTH (sorry for shouting) time taking N2. The first time, I didn’t really know what to expect and got 21/17/21 in language knowledge/reading/listening, respectively. The other two times I passed the language knowledge and listening comfortably, but I actually got worse in reading (14 and 11, respectively, which is even worse than if I had just randomly guessed everything). I thought about this last July (the last time I took the test) and realised that my technique for reading was actually probably quite good the first time I took the test, but after trying to pore through Kanzen and getting confused about what exactly they meant by such things as 全体をつかむ, I decided to go back to my original technique.
    That technique would be essentially the same as if I was given an English text and some comprehension question after it. First, look for obvious clues about what the text is about, then read the question so I have an idea what I’m looking for (but not the answers), and then work quickly through the text marking up bits that look important, and then attempting the questions.
    My study routine was focused on doing as much reading practice as I could, although I did some grammar practice (including writing sample sentences for each of the grammar patterns and having a Japanese speaker correct them) and listening practice just to keep up my skills in those areas. Reading practice included Kanzen N1 reading, Murakami novels and short stories, some segments of “classic” Japanese literature (not whole novels) and a couple of “drill” books (eg パターン別徹底ドリル) that I could use to gauge and improve my speed and accuracy at answering N2-like questions. I didn’t stick to strictly N2 material since my vocab and kanji knowledge is around N1 level at this stage.
    I still wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish all the reading in 1 hour, so I set myself the goal, going into the exam, of answering as much of the reading as I could in 1:05 or 1:10. On the day, I answered all but one of the medium 内容理解 questions in that time (so I had to randomly select answer for 3/21 reading questions). Based on my past results and practice, I knew that I had to pay a lot of attention to improving my accuracy in answering the reading questions. After that 1:10 was up, I was happy that I had actually done a pretty decent job on that front. I didn’t get flustered or panic on any of the reading questions, and in the few cases where I was having difficulty deciding between options, I was pretty certain that it was a choice between just two options.
    After reading, I did vocab and grammar. I had consistently got A’s and B’s in those in the last two tests, so I expect something similar this time. I noticed that I was having more problems in the vocab section that asks you select the sentence that uses a particular word correctly. I’m not sure if that’s the 文脈規定 or 用法 questions. Anyway, I got through all the vocab and the first two grammar questions with a bit of time to spare, so I had a choice of going back and doing the missing reading question or the final “wall of text” (as I call it) grammar question. I couldn’t remember off hand what the time budget was for the reading question, so between that and feeling that I had actually answered all the other reading questions quite well, I thought I’d attempt the wall of text instead. I’ve never actually had time in any previous exam to attempt that question properly, but I guess I was interested to see how I would fare. I actually approached it quite differently that I would do it in practice. Instead of reading the text from beginning to end, I just looked at the boxes and then read the containing sentence and the sentences before and after it (skipping a lot of vocab and just focusing on the sentence structure, but also being mindful of what the four options were) and managed to get through the question with a few minutes to spare at the end. Although I didn’t read the full wall of text, after filling in all five blanks and picking up bits and pieces about the content along the way, I figured that the whole text must have been about how origami techniques are being used in space exploration. It sounded quite interesting!
    I don’t have much of a strong opinion about the listening section. I just remember that at one point I was listening to something about せいざ(the cross-legged sitting position) but then none of the options matched my expectations. One of the options sounded like it was talking about せいさ (not ざ), but maybe I just misheard it.
    Anyway, my last two results have given me a combined score of around 90/180, so if my reading section this time was as good as I think it was, I should probably pass, even if I didn’t do as well as usual in the other bits. Although, that said, I’m glad that I attempted the “wall of text” question, which (I think) should have netted me a few more marks bringing me further away from the dreaded 90/180 zone.
    One last thing… as far as I can remember, one of the words in the paraphrase part of the vocab section was うつむく。 At least, I hope that’s what it was (and that I didn’t misread something like おもむく)。For the sake of argument, assuming it was うつむく、this actually isn’t in any N2 list that I’ve read. It is in some N1 lists, though, so I had studied it and so I knew what it meant. I think that a lot of people (including everyone I talked to at the exam centre) had no clue what it meant. I think that that was the most surprising thing on the test for me…
    In summary, I felt very good about my reading section and even though I had some doubts about some of my so-called “solid” areas (where I’ve been getting around 36/60 in the last few tests), I think that I did well enough in reading specifically, and also maybe also in grammar (thanks to quicker more focused reading that let me get through the wall of text) that I should (hopefully) easily achieve the minimum pass mark in all sections and have a lot of daylight between my overall score and the twilight 90/180 zone. If not, failing five times in a row will be somewhat embarrassing.
    I hope everyone else had a good test, or if not, that they’ve gained something from it, and that it will help them to figure out how to structure their study to do better the next time.

    • Dec December 4, 2018, 12:20 am

      Just to add a quick note on a technique I used in reading, especially for the longer texts. After reading the questions, as I was reading the text, I underlined sections that I thought were important for answering particular questions. Then I wrote the question number beside that part. Then, at the end, as I was looking at the question answers, I could quickly find the sections that were relevant. In one case, I had two separate sections that were marked with the same question number, but for all the other questions where I used this technique, I had only marked a single section. I’m sure that this saved me quite a bit of time as I worked through the options.

      • Karsten December 5, 2018, 12:57 am

        I hear you, I stopped counting but it was my fifth try at the N2. I came one time 1 point close on passing, but I don’t know how I did this time.
        I really wanted to study hard for this test with 1-2 hours studying every night before going to bed after I failed in the summer. I have a 2 year old daughter, so it seemed feasible, since she sleeps from 9pm. However, my son was just born when I made this plan and I must have forgotten how stressful the nights are with a small baby. So in the end I barely could study at all and am just hopeful that it was still enough. Well, perhaps I should have skipped this time and should have waited until my son sleeps better in the night…

    • Clayton MacKnight December 4, 2018, 12:45 am

      It sounds like you have been developing your strategy. N2 and N1 can sometimes be very hit or miss. It often depends on what the subject matter is.

      The paraphrase section often includes words that aren’t on the lists. When I was studying for the N2, I studied the lists, but I also did a lot of extra reading to pick up extra words here and there. I hope you did better than you thought.

      • Dec January 23, 2019, 9:56 pm

        Well, just to update on how I did, now that the results are out. I passed!

        I managed to do quite well with marks of 40, 38 and 36 in the three sections (114 in total). My focus on reading paid off since I got more than twice as many marks (38) as my previous best (which was only 17/60). It might have been even higher if I had answered the final reading question instead of trying the “wall of text” question.

        I’m also happy that I passed out of the 90/180 “marginal” zone with a solid-enough 114, and that I got more-or-less equal marks across all three sections (38 +/- 2). I’m interested in seeing the official certificate to see the percentile ranking that I achieved.

        I have to say, though, that I’m glad that I’ve finally finished the N2. I have no immediate plans to take on the N1, but I’ll continue studying the books I have for it, as well as keeping up my reading and listening practice. It would be nice to get some conversation practice, but where I am, such opportunities are pretty limited. Anyway, after putting in so much effort to get my Japanese to this level, I don’t intend to stop studying it now. I also hope that my JLPT qualification (the first one I have earned) will help me with finding a new job where I can use my language skills. Either that, or I’ll hopefully head to Japan this year and see where I go from there.

  • Ledy December 21, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Hi clay, i’m new visitor on your page. I starting learning japanese this month, do you have any tips how to remembering and fluent in katakana and hiragana? Since i’m a beginner learner. Thanks 🙂

    • Clayton MacKnight January 22, 2019, 2:18 am

      I think it’s important to practice writing katakana and hiragana as much as you can. That will help you internalize it well.

  • James January 2, 2019, 3:31 pm

    Hello, I took the N4 for the first time. I am glad I got the experience. I don’t think I was able to pass. But that is OK. I was mainly going to see what it was like. I had been studying twice a week with my language parnters (Japanese). I hope that JLPT Boot Camp will start to get the N4 material soon. It would be really helpful. Bye for now.

    • Clayton MacKnight January 22, 2019, 2:19 am

      Yeah, I’ve been focused mainly on N5 since I’ve got the book coming out soon. I’d like to get to N4 as soon as I can though.

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