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Japanese Study Techniques: How To Prepare for JLPT Exams

You’re about to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)! You must be getting those pre-examination jitters, hoping that there has to be some easy way to pass the exam. Long story short, how well you do will depend entirely on your study habits. But if you’re looking for a real-life account of preparing for and passing the JLPT, you’ve come to the right place!

I had already been looking forward to taking the JLPT to have an official assessment of my Japanese language skills before actually taking the December 2019 exam. I had 3 months to prepare and review as many lessons as I could, and I tried to make them as fun and comprehensive for myself as possible.

Studying Japanese: Tips to Prepare for JLPT Exams

We all have unique study habits and personal methods when preparing for an exam. For myself, I tend to absorb more information when I find ways to associate lessons into everyday life. I need a real reason to learn something and keep the knowledge.

Memorization tends to be the key in most examinations. Some students remember lessons the more they repeat them, but I remember things better when I can attach the academic facts to fun memories. I’d make up chants to remember hiragana characters and make Japanese language jokes that make sense in my mother tongue.

While we may have our own individual learning styles, allow me to discuss my methods for preparing for the ultimate Japanese test.

I Surrounded Myself With Japanese

Photo by mrhayata on Flickr

When I started learning Japanese, I tried my best to create an environment where I’d have to think, speak, and read Japanese. Had I lived in Japan, I would have easy access to newspapers to practice reading and pick up vocabulary. And since Japanese is almost never used where I live, the closest I could get to emulating that experience was to read online news websites in Japanese.

I was still a university student when I was preparing to take the N5 Level JLPT exam in December 2019. I used my student credits to spend at least an hour in the campus IT laboratory and just browse news articles at https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/easy/. This handy website simplifies daily Japanese news, which can be useful for practicing N4-N3 level Japanese. I considered this as formal studying since I took note of the new kanji I came across.

My experience as a part-time ESL tutor to Japanese 7th graders living in my city also helped me prepare for the exam. I got to practice my Japanese while helping them practice their English. We would have free talking sessions where I ask students about their day.

One time, I had a new student who seemed shy. Talking about themselves in their second language might have been overwhelming, so I pulled out a Japanese-English picture book from the academy’s library instead. I asked my students to read the story in Japanese and then try to explain it in English. Every time they mentioned a Japanese word or phrase that I understood, I’d suggest English translations and they’d take note. I’d list down the new Japanese vocabulary I’d picked up as well!

I Took Online Mock Exams

The JLPT may appear intimidating as it is an official assessment of your Japanese skills. But if you look at it as just another test, you’ll have an advantage practicing with mock exams! The official JLPT website conveniently provides an entire mock exam resource for examinees at https://www.jlpt.jp/e/samples/forlearners.html. This really helped me absorb the structure of the JLPT and boosted my confidence in taking the upcoming exam.

You could also test yourself with JLPT-specific books! Some friends have recommended the Shin Kanzen Master (新完全マスター) book set. These books cover N4-N1 levels, but since I took the N5 exam, I stuck with my primary Japanese language textbook and online mock exams. There are countless online and printed resources to learn Japanese, but to pass the JLPT, using books with JLPT in their titles is the best way to study for the actual test.

I did considerably well in the online sample tests, but the actual exam was more challenging! I went in thinking I’d do good, but that wasn’t the case. Some uncommon vocabulary words in the final exam made the sample tests seem so much easier! I was relieved to find out I passed, so the many mock tests I took still proved useful in the end. I may have relied too much on sample tests, but it turns out I’d have to be ready for anything when it comes to the actual JLPT!

I Made a Daily Study List

JLPT coverage includes Japanese grammar, vocabulary and kanji knowledge, as well as listening and speaking abilities. I boiled these down to reading and listening comprehension. With these two categories, I made a list and scheduled the subjects I would study in a day. Basically, I alternated study sessions with reading comprehension and listening comprehension.

I usually reserved Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for reading practice. I’d go through my textbook and read Japanese news articles online whenever I could. I’d dedicate entire pages of my notebook to practicing kanji to master the characters. I’d even take out my personalized flashcards made of old cereal boxes to test my vocabulary! If you have the means, you can easily install software like Anki to help with reviewing vocabulary.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’d practice listening. I played Japanese music to pick up new words and watched a Japanese drama series just to hear the language. I found out that dramas helped more than anime since most anime I enjoyed used a lot of made-up words. With live-action drama series, although dialogue can be exaggerated, I was able to pick up casual sentence patterns. I made sure to schedule only two days for listening practice because I was juggling other subjects.

On weekends, I gave my brain a break. Having an entire routine planned out for my weekdays often left me feeling like living a routine, so I saved some time for rest. Plus, I don’t feel productive when I constantly cram new information in my mind, so I set some days for letting loose. Of course, if you can add a few extra hours of study time to your off days, go for it!


Ultimately, it’s up to us how we make the most of our unique experiences in preparing for the JLPT. It’s basically an assessment of your knowledge of the Japanese language. Once you look at it as a regular exam instead of a puzzle to figure out what the questions mean, you’ll surely ace the test!

Take every opportunity you can to incorporate Japanese into your daily life. This will make the language feel more familiar and natural instead of an academic subject or chore. When you have to put in the hours of actual study time, focus on JLPT-specific resources! Since you’re getting ready for a standard exam, all you can really do is complete your homework and understand the test coverage. You’ll do just fine as long as you believe in yourself!

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