studying jlpt japanese

It’s a controversial topic – to JLPT or not, but like it or lump it, it can be quite useful when it comes to job hunting. Of course, it’s a double edged sword because the JLPT doesn’t test speaking, so you can have N1 but be terrible at speaking. People have their own assumptions about your abilities when it comes to your JLPT level but sometimes, their expectations can be a little unfair. Of course the JLPT doesn’t test writing either, which can be considered quite a useful skill.

Anyway, I wanted to compile a list of resources that have helped me with my Japanese JLPT studying pursuits. It took me a long time to work out how I liked to study the various elements that the test is comprised of and of course everyone is different, but you might just find something useful for you amongst the list.

I am not writing this from a beginner’s point of view, so please keep that in mind.

kanji
I am one of those annoying people that loves kanji and doesn’t seem to struggle with it too much. Having said that, a resource that really worked for me was Wanikani. It works like Anki (see vocab) and firmly cements it in your brain. I also like Kanji in Context and the workbooks that go with it.

grammar
For going back over the basics – which are very easy to forget, I recommend Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You and 80/20 Japanese. These books just spoke to me in terms of cementing my understanding of basic grammar.

vocab
I like to Anki sentences, not just the words. I learn vocab every week in class and with this vocab, I look it up in a dictionary and if it has a sentence with it that is similar to the one in the book, I Anki that. If not, I type out the book sentence and Anki that instead. The dictionary method just saves quite a bit of time. In short, Anki a target sentence to learn how a word is used. There are so many cases in Japanese where a word can only be be used as part of a set phrase so it’s best to learn it like that from the beginning.

For example, this is how one of my cards might look:

front
3人は代わる代わる車を運転した 

back
かわるがわる
The three men took turns (at) driving the car.

reading
I really struggled with reading and my problem was with the vocabulary – it just wasn’t sufficient enough and the grammar – I had forgotten/never really learnt properly, the basics.  So, if you are struggling and you have a good grasp on kanji and grammar, try working your way through vocab. If you know the words and kanji in a text, but can’t work out how they go together, go back over your grammar. Do both of these things and I think you will see positive results. Read native material but be warned, I am working my way through reading the Harry Potter series and lots of N2 stuff comes up as well as N1.

listening
I sat in a staffroom in Japan for two years and this is how I gained my listening skills. I went from not understanding much, to understanding quite a bit. Of course, you might not be able to do that, so I suppose, just listening to Japanese is the key. It needs to be an active process in my opinion, not just sitting, listening, hoping something sticks. Try to understand a bit of what is going on. As for actual resources, I like Japanesepod101 which also gives you vocab and grammar.

book series for test prep
Nothing quite beats the Kanzen Master (完全マスター) series for me. I have tried a lot of books, but the difficulty level of these is set at the same difficulty level as the exam, I find. I also like 日本語能力試験直前対策 N2 文字・語彙・文法 which is hard! It has vocab lists in the back, so make sure to learn them. For mock exams, I used 日本語能力試験 完全模試N2.

There is so much out there in terms of resources and books. I made the mistake of buying lots of books, thinking they would somehow just seep into my brain without properly studying them – they don’t. My advice – get a book for each section on the test, study them, do mocks and see where you’re going wrong and go over it again. Also, don’t ever think you’re too good and let pride get in the way. If you are studying for N2 but can’t remember transitive/intransitive verbs that well, there is no shame in going back over a ‘beginner’s’ topic, so just do it. You will thank yourself in the long run.

Best of luck!

Emily

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