The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is an exam taken all around the globe in over 40 countries. It’s taken every year by hundreds of thousands of people looking to test their Japanese language ability.
There are 5 levels, from complete beginner (JLPT N5) to advanced (JLPT N1). Achieving the JLPT N1 means your Japanese is on par with a native Japanese high school graduate. It’s a challenge even for Japanese people with a pass rate that swings between 20%-40%.
I’ve taken almost every level of the JLPT, not for work or as a requirement for a qualification, but because it’s a good way self check my knowledge. I’ve used them as a goal to push myself and my Japanese skills and the N1 (on the 4th December 2016) was the ultimate challenge.
Failing it Once
I took the JLPT N1 in 2015, spending the 2 months studying intensely for 4-6 hours a day. It was an incredibly stressful time.
It might have been due to various reasons that the stress built up, but when I was study and taking the exam I was very stressed. Reflecting on it now that was not the best mind set to do the JLPT in.
Needless to say the exam was hard. I also failed. But I feel like it’s important to fail now and then so you can learn from your mistakes.
Besides worrying too much and stressing myself out, I had also chosen the wrong resources to study with.
Studying With the Wrong Materials
There are a million and one suggestions for how to pass the higher levels of the JLPT. All my time learning, and helping other people learn, Japanese has relieved to me that everyone is different. Everyone’s circumstances, goals, motivation, money, time, location, etc., all impacts how they study and best learn Japanese. So there is no one right way.
(A quick background of my circumstances: I do not live in Japan. I had flexible time to study 4-6 hours a day for several months. I am dyslexic.)
The first time I studied for the test I used Nihongo Soumatome (日本語 総まとめ), which is a series of JLPT books that are very popular. But just because they’re popular, doesn’t mean they’re good.
The N1 series of books barely covered the material on the test, and despite the practice questions, they certainly didn’t prepare me for the exam. If you want to take the JLPT N1 (or N2) I strongly suggest not wasting your money on Nihongo Soumatome.
From knowing myself and looking at the results of my failed attempt I could see that my knowledge of advanced kanji and vocabulary was sorely lacking.
Studying With the Right Materials
I spent 3 months learning everything in these two books. Everything. It didn’t just work wonders for my practice N1 tests, but my Japanese knowledge in general. (I wrote a more detailed review and breakdown of the Japanese Vocab Speed Master books here.)
During the test I could tell this book had helped me a lot. I felt I knew almost all the answers for the vocabulary section of the test. It did not help on the kanji side so much, but I had bought Japanese Kanji Study App, which is an amazing program. Although I didn’t use it as much as I would have liked. (I wrote a full review of this Japanese Kanji app here.)
Grammar has always been another weakness of mine. Possibly because I’m dyslexic and I get confused with how to use vague ideas (as opposed to concrete vocabulary). But either way I had avoided grammar until I came a across a technique that involves learning the grammar through drilling JLPT questions. It was amazing and a technique that worked really well! (I have a full breakdown of this grammar study technique here.)
I also used the Shin Kanzen Master Reading (新完全マスター読解) to practice the reading sections. It’s a very good book although I feel like the exam was even more difficult than the book. Mostly likely because the people who write the exam know what books people use to study for it, so avoid overlapping.
In this N1 exam there was an article from the Yomiuri Shimbun, so I strongly suggest people read newspapers (but not NHK because I don’t think they’re articles are challenging to read), as well as opinion articles and blogs on various topics.
Trying Not To Panic During the Exam
Last time I took the exam the stress was very bad for my health. This time when I studied I took my time to learn things. I didn’t panic or stress. I paced myself and felt better prepared for it.
During the test I also tried to stay calm (even if the two people next to me were speeding through). Panicking causes you to make mistakes, so I avoided that at all costs.
The exam itself was tough. I really do think they know what the common materials are for studying for the exam (Somatome, Kanzen Master etc), so try and not use things covered in those books. They’re also getting trickier by throwing in longer sentences in the vocabulary and grammar sections.
I don’t know how the reading went. I tried to speed read which doesn’t work all the time because there are often red herrings in the answers section.
The point of the exam is to REALLY test your fluency. So it makes sense they don’t make it easy and try to trick you. Which is often why people who live and work in Japan (who are surrounded 24/7 by Japanese) are more likely to pass. But people outside of Japan can pass the test. It’s just more of a challenge.
I don’t know if I passed or failed but I feel more confident. Even if I don’t pass I know I’ve learnt a lot from studying for this exam.
I’ve learnt a lot from my experiences and written a few articles on how to study, materials to use, and techniques for the test on my Japaneses Language website:
- Tips for Studying for the JLPT N1
- More Tips for Studying for the JLPT N1
- Tips for When You Take the JLPT N1 Exam
I hope people will find these and my story helpful if they plan on taking this challenge in the future. It’s a scary challenge, but a fun one!