December 2019 JLPT – First Impressions

December 2019 JLPT – First Impressions post image

The December 2019 test was yesterday here in Japan. Although you can take the test twice a year. The December test tends to be the most popular among test takers.

I hope everyone had a good experience. If this was your first time taking the test, I hope you weren’t met with too many surprises. It can be a little rough your first time with the test. If you have some experience with the JLPT, I hope this test felt a little easier for you.

I’ve been busy with the launch of the new study guide for the JLPT N5 (JP, US, IN, UK) and making videos for the grammar points on the main YouTube channel. Each one of those videos takes a good amount of time and energy to put together and proofread, but it has been a lot of fun to help people pass the test. I’m also happy to report that the study guide has also been well-received. Thanks everyone for all the feedback as well.

How was the test?

How do you feel the test went for you? Was it like you expected it to be? I’d be interested to hear what materials you used for the test and how effective they were. What would you recommend to others? What would you not recommend to others?

If you used the JLPT Study Guide for the N5, what did you like about it? What didn’t you like? I’m very interested in making it the very best resource for the N5, so if there is anything I can help you with, please let me know. I’ve already gotten some great ideas that we are implementing and using to improve the book even more.

I love these post-test posts because I can hear from my readers about what was effective, so don’t be shy. Share your tips and help out your fellow readers.


You might be wondering when you’ll hear about your results. If you registered electronically in Japan on the JEES site, you should be able to check results at midnight on Jan 20th or 27th. They will announce the exact date sometime in early January on the JEES site. I will also try to keep you updated on when the results will come available on my Facebook or Twitter.

The only way for you to be able to check your results on the JEES site is if you registered for the test through the site.  If you registered in another way, your results will not be available there.

You should receive an official certificate / results usually about a week after that. Outside of Japan, it might take up to a month to receive the mailed results. Check with the local organization that puts the JLPT on in your region. You can check that here.

And definitely be sure to come back and let us know how well you did. I usually make a result post shortly after the results come available electronically.

So now take a few short minutes and share with us what you thought about the test in the comments below.

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • ジョゼフ December 2, 2019, 6:44 am

    Just took the N3 in Portland, Oregon, after having passed the N4 in Dec 2017 in Los Angeles with a score of 142/180, and having sat through half of the N3 in Dec 2018, also in Los Angeles. I had to abort that first N3 attempt last year half way through the grammar/reading portion upon realizing I was still grossly underprepared, and even beginning to feel physically ill about it to the point that I had to raise my hand and ask to be allowed to give up and leave the room; indeed, since passing the N4, I had completed “Minna no Nihongo Chūkyū I” and complemented my anki deck with all the vocabulary from “Nihongo Tango Supīdo Masutā Standard 2400,” but had not been able to do anything specifically targeting JLPT grammar/reading/listening, leading to that bipolar outcome where I likely aced the vocabulary portion yet could barely answer any question in the grammar/reading portion.

    I am in my late 30s studying completely independently outside of Japan with no teacher, classmates, or conversation partners, meaning things may take a little longer to sink in, but on the upside I do have the flexibility to focus 100% on Japanese studies when I want/need to, which is what I did this September, October, and November, since I really did not want to relive what happened last time.

    The vocabulary deck from last year had by then sunk in even better, and I tackled this second attempt by completing the following textbooks cover to cover while continuing to add new vocabulary words I’d come across, and while also attempting to read all explanations in Japanese before their English translations.

    In this order, I completed: “Shin Kanzen Masutā Bunpou” (~3 weeks), “Shin Kanzen Masutā Dokkai” (~3 weeks), “Shin Kanzen Masutā Choukai” (~2 weeks), “Patān Betsu Tettei Doriru” (~2 weeks), then over the last two weeks before the exam I took 4 mock exams (all 3 exams from “Zettai Goukaku Kanzen Moshi”, then the recently published official JLPT test from 2018).

    I not only timed those tests like the real one but also took them at the same time of day (starting at 1pm), and gradually layered in other variables that needed careful calibration, such as sleep, exercise, meditation, eating, drinking, and clothing. A couple of days before getting into the mock exams, I also visited the test center and my assigned examination room (along with nearby restrooms) to start visualizing me being there instead of simply at my desk in my apartment.

    So how did it go this time?

    The vocabulary portion went even better than last year, and while in both cases I felt like I might have struck near-perfect scores, there were fewer answers I had to return to this time, and I was also left with more extra time at the end, allowing me to even re-check every single answer at a leisurely pace. For this section, I feel like all four mock exams were somewhat harder than the real thing.

    The grammar/reading portion was like night and day compared to last year, thanks to all the extra practice (when practicing I also forced myself to read text passages at an exam pace before giving them a second slower read, which I think really helped me read at an N3 level, where higher-level ideas can sometimes only be grasped by not reading individual words too closely). Most significantly, it was the first time I was able to finish the grammar/reading section with at least an educated guess for every question, and absolutely zero random guessing. In every one of the four mock exams, there were usually 4 reading questions I’d left unread and untouched and filled in completely randomly during the last few seconds. (Side note: when doing mock exams, I recommend not doing that and actually leaving those ovals blank, as getting more than 1/4 of them correct by chance will give you an unduly inflated score and lull you into a false sense of confidence, especially given how many points these tend to be worth. Just take the reduced score and asterisk it with a separate score that adds an extra 1/4 of the point value for every oval that you filled in completely at random).

    I should also note that, just like with the mock exams, I started with the reading section first, switching to the grammar section around the 30-minute mark, by which point I’d both (i) be sufficiently tired to need a break from long paragraphs and (ii) have covered enough reading questions to hopefully secure that scoring section from failing. Indeed, since vocabulary and grammar are lumped together in the scoring, it’s probably very hard to fail that portion due to a mediocre grammar section if you’ve aced the vocabulary section, whereas the reading portion stands alone in the scoring and should not be botched due to mental fatigue or left barely touched due to lack of time.

    The listening, as always, is the big unknown for me, with the possibility of failure still looming. I found that section arguably harder than in the mock exams, although probably not nearly as hard as the exercises found in the latter part of “Kanzen Masutā Choukai” or the listening section of “Patān Betsu Tettei Doriru,” which deliberately try to trick you (as I am told starts happening around N2), or where some passages are even peppered with N2/N1/+ words.

    The thing about Listening that frustrates me most is that even though I tend to get right more answers than I initially thought I did, I never feel certain about anything because I never seem to grasp even half of what is actually said and seem to rely very heavily on individual keywords that stick out, non-verbal cues like intonation, and my own intuition. I wonder if this is by design, where at the N3 level you are simply supposed to grasp the snippets that contain the answer, or if I’m just still pretty terrible at listening comprehension. After all, oftentimes when I read the script post-hoc, I realize I do understand the words and sentences when laid out on paper, but when spoken at full speed (and without kanji ideograms) I often can’t even parse what is said even when it is all made up of individual fragments I do know; or just as frequently I’d miss a sentence entirely because I am still processing the previous one. It’s really frustrating and at times even demoralizing. I have been noticing some progress however, and if the only recommendation is to just keep practicing, then I suppose there is at least some solace in knowing that what will eventually be achieved can only be reached without shortcuts. It may also be time for me to start enjoying more real-world media. Back in early September, right before starting my focused N3 studies, I watched “Piano no Mori” entirely in Japanese with Japanese subtitles (granted, with lots of backtracking to see the English subtitles as well), and I must say I was pleasantly surprised to have found something that was finally almost within my reach, but even then, there was no way I’d have grasped much of anything had I turned off Japanese subtitles and relied solely on spoken Japanese. It’s a long road ahead I’m afraid.

    Listening comprehension notwithstanding, I am overall very pleased with the way this test went, and especially proud of everything I’ve studied and improved upon over the past three months. Pass or fail, the sense of progress and accomplishment is undeniable (especially considering where I was standing a year ago) and is certainly cause for celebration.

    • Clayton MacKnight December 5, 2019, 12:00 am

      Sounds like you did a great job preparing for the test. It is true that at the N3 level, they are really looking for broader understanding and comprehension in the reading. You have to start reading between the lines, and the answers will most often be synonyms of what is in the reading. Whereas the wrong answers will simply use keywords from the reading but twist them slightly as to make them incorrect.

      It sounds like for listening you just need to ‘encode’ the sounds into the visual words. Maybe you have done a lot of studying with Anki or Memrise or something without audio? Basically, something you can do to help this is drill with audio, even if it’s just you saying the word out loud. And also drilling with whole sentences using audio. The whole sentences are important so that you can pick up difficult conjugations better. Things like 食べたくなかった (I didn’t want to eat), can be difficult to listen for if you don’t have that much experience listening to them. One mora changes the meaning.

      Thanks for sharing and I look forward to hearing about the results!

  • Caro December 14, 2019, 12:48 am

    Um, i don’t know if i am the right person to be commenting. I stood up the test. I was planning on taking the N4. I’m 25, and am intrested in spending some time in Japan as a English teacher. I’ve been studying on and off for a bit, and this was my first serious attempt at doing something with Japanese. While i took some courses at college, and did okay, this was a time for be to buy some study aids like the Nihongo So-matome: JLPT N4 Grammar, but i did not have the means to take another 20 credit load at college.

    I just don’t know how to reshape myself! I felt that i let my sensei down. I really should have done it. “you gotta play to win,” would be something i would objectively tell someone but for me, i’m a loser.

    I don’t want this to stop me from achieving my goals, but i fell like for sure this is going to change the course. Thank you ver much for this awesome website as well as the meme-rise projects you designed. The community online is very helpful and encouraging. I was too anxious to be present.

    _thank you_Caro_

    • Sarah February 8, 2020, 7:35 pm

      I can understand how frustrating this experience must have been – I might not have had the exact same experience but learning a new language is definitely something that has its ups and downs and my personal Japanese learning voyage is something that takes way longer than I thought or wanted to as well, which frustrated me more than just once.
      And especially with test-taking there is always a psychological component that shouldn’t be taken lightly as well. I’m working as a teacher and in my experience there are a lot of students that do have the knowledge to pass a certain test, but just can’t put it to use during the test, because they are too frightened or insecure (etc.). In these cases it is essential to work on that psychological component as well, so maybe you just have to make yourself more sure of all the things you already know (so to say).
      In any case: don’t think you are alone and don’t give up!
      All the best from a fellow learner,

      • Clayton MacKnight February 12, 2020, 2:09 am

        I think that is so true. Teaching English, I meet a lot of people that are quite communicative and know the grammar, but still can’t score very well in standard testing. I think it is a matter of building up your confidence and doing it.

  • Teresa January 23, 2020, 11:43 am

    I passed the N2 test with 152/180 (Vocab/Grammar: 42, Reading: 50, Listening: 60, Vocab: B and Grammar: A). I have native speaking and listening experience but had very little kanji knowledge at the beginning of the summer of 2019, so I mainly focused on reading and vocabulary books (Nihongo-somatome) and using physical flashcards. I found Anki was not working for me because I would just get distracted on my phone, so the act of physically writing down each vocabulary word I learned was very helpful.
    Do you have any advice as to how I should prepare for the N1? Do you think I have a good shot at passing if I just read and listen to native material, without much drilling on workbooks? Or should I be supplementing with practice tests and questions from N1 workbooks?

    I used your website a lot for advice in preparing for the exam, so thank you so much!

    • Clayton MacKnight February 8, 2020, 10:43 am

      I think you need to do at least a little drilling, so that you have a good understanding of what kinds of questions you are going to see on the test. People prepare for the N1 in a variety of ways to be honest. A lot of people will read news articles and things like weekly newspapers like Aera. This is the kind of material you might see on the test.

  • xiiliea January 25, 2020, 7:49 am

    Took N1, which was also my first JLPT ever, and passed it! Got 106/180. Kind of a borderline pass, but a pass is still a pass! I still have a long way to go to get better marks, so this is just the beginning.

    I was only about a self-estimated N4 before, and binge-studied for 6 months, 6-10 hours a day, 50 new words a day. It was crazily stressful, but looking back, it was definitely worth it.

    For Grammar/Vocab, I got 32/60 and 39/60. I think I got some free points when they tested on くじける. I thought, “Hmm, this sounds familiar, even though it wasn’t one of the words I learned.” Then I remembered I had to look up くじけそう while translating a Precure interview for a friend. I guess helping others paid off! I also heard two guys discussing about the word when we were leaving the exam hall, and felt it was funny I learned the word through Precure.

    For the reading section, I did the last 2 questions first (the poster question and the 2-passages comparison thing), because I felt those were easy questions and were free points, and I didn’t want to waste them by running out of time on them. Also, since they were the last two questions, I think most people didn’t reach them in time and ended up getting them wrong, so they were worth big points due to score scaling. I actually didn’t even read the second passage for the comparison question. I already had the answers by crossing out all the wrong answers. I knew I had to save time, and it paid off. I managed to finish every question just 2 minutes before time was up after rushing through some long passages in the middle.

    For the listening section, I got 35/60. I don’t think I did that well for many questions, but the last two questions saved me. The last two questions were about Sentai (based on the Super Sentai series), and I happen to be a fansubber for tokusatsu, so it was a very familiar topic to me. I was like silently cheering when I realized it was about Sentai!

    I expected to score better for Vocab/Grammar and Reading, so it was a surprise that I scored below 40 for both. I guess it was due to score scaling and I did pretty average compared to other people. I expected to barely scrape past Listening, but I did surprisingly well for it. I guess the last two questions really saved me. So in the end, it was not Vocab/Grammar and Reading that covered my weakness in Listening, but instead I scored pretty evenly for all 3 sections.

    I still have to work on my listening skills by listening to native material like news, and my reading skills too by reading more news, but I’m really happy that I passed.

    • xiiliea January 25, 2020, 8:12 am

      As for study method, I planned out how I was going to prepare for the test over 6 months beforehand. I learned 50 words a day, 6-10 hours a day, on Memrise, for the first five months. I wrote down each word a few times until I could write them from memory, but didn’t force myself to remember them permanently on the first day. By repeatedly revising them, I managed to sort of remember them all over time.

      I actually learned the words backwards, from N1 to N5, and grammar last, so I had more time to remember N1 words (because I didn’t really study seriously before, I still had many N4 and N5 words I didn’t know, so I just studied them all).

      For study material, I only bought Shin Kanzen Master Grammar, Vocabulary, and Reading books, which I did over 2 weeks. Personally, I think only the Reading book was really useful, as it had questions that were most similar to JLPT. The Grammar and Vocabulary books had decent questions too, but they tested on words that had too similar meanings, making them too hard. The real JLPT didn’t really make me choose from similar-meaning words anyway.

      For the last 2 weeks, I watched ANN news livestream on Youtube everyday to train my listening skills, and read news articles to practice reading, while continuing to revise the words on Memrise. I did a full revision of every word on the last 2 days before the test.

      After taking the test, I felt that just learning all the words marked JLPT wasn’t really enough. I was just lucky that I knew some extra words from my experience as a fansubber over 3 years. The JLPT courses I used had about 7,500 words in total, so to be safe, try to learn at least 12,000 words at least.

      • Clayton MacKnight February 12, 2020, 2:05 am

        That is excellent advice. I think you can pick up a lot from translation and just reading a lot. That can be a lot more useful than just doing drill questions, and a lot more motivating I think.

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