One Month to Go

Student taking the JLPT

It’s coming soon – the December 2019 JLPT.

Right now you might be wondering if there is anything you could possibly do to improve your score on the JLPT.

You’ve probably invested a good amount of time and effort into your studies and don’t want to see it go to waste by narrowly failing the test. You may also be hoping to improve a little on a previous score.

This may all be compounded by the fact that the December test is the only time a year a lot of people can take the test since the July test is not available in a lot of areas outside of Asia (although it is getting more popular).

Take a deep breath though, there is still a lot of time left and there are still a lot of things you can do to give you the best score for this test. Let me walk you through it.

student taking the JLPT

The Basics

Rehearse for the test. We rehearse for everything important in our lives right? You do mock job interviews before going in for the real thing. You practice key plays before playing a sport. It’s important to practice for the JLPT as well. When I’m teaching a new textbook for the first time, I will often teach a mock class with some stuffed animal ‘students’ walking through the key points of the lesson before the real thing. This practice really helps cement my confidence so that I can teach a great class.

So, first things first, as I always say, did you take a practice test? Did you time out the test the way it should be? Did you give yourself the same amount of time to do each section as you will have on the real test? Did you do the listening while listening to a speaker instead of headphones? In the real test, you will not have comfy perfectly-adjusted headphones, you will have a (hopefully) decent audio system, but you never know what will be available where you’ll be taking the test. And don’t forget about all the other distractions of people coughing, snorting, erasing, and scooting their seats around.

All of that scooting and snorting can be distracting, so be prepared. Learn to focus to audio being played over speakers. You may even want to open a window to let in some ambient sound as long as it isn’t too cold out.

You can start with the free tests for all the levels (N5, N4, N3, N2, N1). They also have additional practice tests available on the website (N5, N4, N3, N2, N1). If you haven’t taken these already, you should attack these first. These are the same practice tests that you can buy on Amazon or at a major bookstore for around Y700, but you can download them for free, so make use of them.

After taking the practice test, you will have a better idea of your weak points you can focus on over the next month. Overall, it’s important to review and reinforce the grammar that you have already learned, so that you can confidently choose the correct form on the test. Learning new grammar points a month before the test might be too tricky if you want to master them well enough to answer questions about them.

Your main focus for now should be improving your reading and listening skills. This becomes more and more important the higher the level of the test. It’s also more important if you don’t normally do a lot of reading or listening in Japanese. For instance, if you are not working for a Japanese company where you are using those skills regularly. Let’s go over how to do that.

JLPT reading skills, frustrated

Help! My reading skills are terrible

Reading tends to get ignored. I remember when I first started studying Japanese, looking at a page or two of Japanese text made my eyes water. Not only are you reading in a different language, you are reading in a different writing system. Actually, it is more like 4 different writing systems (kanji, hiragana, katakana, and romaji) being used. That can be a little difficult to get used to at first, but it just takes practice.

When I first started reading, I had to stop often to look up words and double check meanings. I started very slowly at first, but with regular, every day practice, it became second nature to me. There are still some things that I have a little trouble with reading like some manga. However, I find it a lot of fun to ‘decode’ everything.

You’ve probably heard this before or experienced it yourself, but the reading on the test is not ‘real life’ reading. They will try to trick you with similar meanings, idioms, and inference questions that you probably wouldn’t see in the real world. After all, in the real world, you would be able to ask further questions and nobody would just hand off the information without making sure you understood. Or at least, I good manager wouldn’t.

Because of that, reading native materials can only really help you so much. I highly recommend picking up at least one JLPT book that focuses on reading skills for the test. These books will walk you through how to answer the questions and give you some clear examples to get you ready for the real thing. Generally speaking the Kanzen Master series is on par with the test, while So-Matome tends to be easier, but really walks you through how to improve your reading skills. Of course, the best book for the N5 level is the JLPT Study Guide for the N5 (US, JP, IN, UK), but you already knew that right?

JLPT listening skills

Help! I have a hard time focusing during the listening

Something that I still experience, even after years of listening to Japanese, is having trouble switching between the languages. Often times at work, if someone says something quickly to me in Japanese it takes awhile for me to respond. Or I may not even realize the request was directed at me. I’m not in “Japanese” mode if you will.

This isn’t such a big deal in real life, I can just ask someone to repeat themselves. On the test though, you don’t get a second chance. The questions in the listening section are only given once. You have to answer the question in that short amount of time.

What you need is stamina, listening stamina and focus. Stamina is easy to build, just listen to Japanese for a longer time than what you are used to. You can of course re-listen to old practice tests if you have them, or grab material for a site like Japanese Pod 101, which has a massive library of conversations. You can actually access a lot of their material for free from their website. A premium subscription which includes the pdfs is incredibly useful as well.

Focus can be a little more difficult to practice. In this crazy world of ours with the myriad of distractions that surround us every day, you might find it difficult to focus for a minute, much less the 40 to 70 minutes you need for the listening section of the test. This is where shutting off your phone for an hour a day or even for most of the day could be a huge help if you feel you are addicted to it.

You may also want to try meditation. Yes, I know, very woo-woo. But, it can actually have an effect on your concentration. If you have a hard time getting into it, I personally recommend guided meditation. I’ve been getting into the Let’s Meditate app, which is free and offers a wide variety of courses to listen to. Sorry it’s only for Android, but it is a great little app to help you break into meditation.

And last but not least, get sleep. Get around 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night depending how much you actually need. And get consistent sleep. Go to sleep around the same time and wake up around the same time.

Help! I don’t know all the vocabulary or kanji

I know I struggled a lot making the jump from around N4 to around N2, but what really helped was daily drilling with a massive N2 deck I found on Anki. Familiarizing myself with all the kanji and vocabulary from this course made it that much easier to read anything that was put in front of me, and that in turn made it a lot simpler to study Japanese. Once I had that dictionary in my head, I could pick up a lot of different kinds of material and work my way through it.

So, the good news is this is mostly about memorization, at least as far as the test is concerned. Of course, you will want to use this vocabulary as much as you can once you have mastered it. However, with only one month to go, now is the time to try to get in as many words as possible before the big day.

It is also really easy to do this. You can fit in at least an hour of practice a day pretty reasonably by filling up the little gaps of time you have in the day. You may think you are ‘busy’, but a lot of time is wasted on just keeping updated with the news. Limit your news intake for a month and focus on the words and kanji you need. One tool that is especially useful is Memrise’s speed practice which is great for reviews and exposure.

I wish I could cover more for you, but I was trying to keep this short because you probably don’t have a lot of time to read a blog post before the exam. If you have any questions about how to study though, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Go and Study! Do one of these:

1) Get started reviewing and strengthening your weak points with some tips from above.


2) Leave a comment and let me know what you are struggling with.

Good luck!

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