JLPT: study tips and resources

JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is an exam that certifies proficiency in Japanese of non-native speakers. It has five levels going from N5, the easiest, to N1, the most difficult. The test is held in Japan twice a year, at the beginning of July and December. In the rest of the world, you can take the test only once a year, usually in December. On the official website, you can find the updated dates and the deadlines for registration.

It is a test with multiple choice questions and a very rigid structure. It is not necessarily an accurate indicator of your Japanese as it doesn’t include any writing or speaking section. However it is widely recognised by companies in Japan and abroad, so if your goal is to work with the language by any means go for it!

After living for two years in Kyoto I got the N1 level certification in December 2015, while working full-time in London. Below you will find the resources I used to prepare and the way I managed my time to fit studies in my days. Please note that it is highly recommended to start preparing well in advance and to dedicate a few months of studies to this test. Don’t underestimate it!

JLPT: study tips and resources

First of all, if you are serious about studying Japanese, I would recommend you buy an electronic dictionary (電子辞書 denshi jisho). They are quite expensive, but they are worth the investment if you compare their functions to those of any app or online dictionary. I use a Casio Ex-word and I love it.

A tool I couldn’t do without is Anki, an app based on the spaced repetition system that will help you optimise every spare minute. Download the app on your smartphone (free for Android, 25$ for iPhone, but there is also a web version you can use online) and you will be able to study while commuting to work, queuing at the post office, waiting for your meal to be ready. I use it to memorize kanji by creating cards showing the reading on one side and the Chinese characters on the other. It is also great to repeat vocabulary, expressions, grammar. I find it useful to create your own decks in order to learn faster, but you can find ready-made ones online for every JLPT level.

You can also make the best of your lunch break: bring a book and read at least a little bit every day, it will expand your vocabulary and it’s great exercise for the reading comprehension. For many students, this is the hardest bit of the test, especially because the time is tight. It is vital to train yourself to skim read and to learn how to read fast! It’s important for you to choose the right material according to your level. It doesn’t have to be so difficult you don’t understand most words, but also not too easy to improve your vocabulary.

One more skill you can train when you have just a little time is listening. Search for podcasts on topics you are interested in. If you are a beginner or intermediate level student, then the material for foreign students might be good for you. If your level is advanced do your research in Japanese and listen to shows aimed at natives. When you are tired and you want to take a break don’t forget that music can be very useful for studies. Listening to a song many times will make sentences stuck in your head without making an effort.

JLPT is a very rigid test and you will need a specific set of skills, not just a general knowledge of the language. I would recommend you get some textbooks specifically created as a preparation for this test, for example, the Kanzen Master series. For kanji, I used the books printed by the language school I used to study at, Arc Academy. I also used two mock tests to try if I could make it in time.

This article is a good starting point to prepare for the N1 level of the exam.

Do you have any suggestions, secrets or tools you used to study Japanese?


I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach Japanese and help introvert and anxious language learners find a way to start speaking, one baby step at a time.