A little over three years ago, I passed the JLPT N2. I’d returned from a two-semester study abroad in Japan earlier that year and spent the fall semester studying as part of my senior year Japanese class curriculum. “Flying colors” isn’t quite how I’d describe it, but there was a decent margin between my score (108) and the lower threshhold (90).
Now, a pandemic and seven thousand miles later, I’m eyeing the N1 this July. I figured I’d document my study schedule and methods for any possible benefit it may provide for folks hoping to take N2 or N1.
When you’re considering the JLPT as a qualification while job hunting, N2 is usually all you need. It covers a little over 1,000 kanji and scores of grammar patterns and words you’ll find in daily life. If you can ace N2, you can probably live and communicate in Japanese without any major issues.
For those of you studying: keep in mind the JLPT only assesses your capacity to parse, not to produce. You can totally pass N2 and be unable to actually speak Japanese. If you’re studying Japanese to communicate, I definitely recommend going beyond study books and seeking out native language media.
I already have N2, live in Japan, and am (POSSIBLY HOPEFULLY PLEASE) getting a job opportunity lined up at a Japanese company. So why am I taking N1? Well… I want to? I guess that’s all it is. I like to explore specialty/complex topics like international affairs, environmental science, and urbanism in my native language. There are lots of resources on Japanese history or social science that are, of course, not translated into English. Plus, I’m interested in getting the Japanese perspective on world events.1 Also, I honestly enjoy challenging myself to learn new (ways of understanding) things!
I’m still at the beginning of my journey, so the materials I’m using may change. But for now, I’m using the Shin Kanzen Master (新完全マスター) series for N1.
Right now, I have my own kanji, grammar, and vocab books; I’m borrowing reading and listening from a friend and haven’t opened them yet.
As for content, I’ve heard these are some of the densest JLPT books out there. I’ve heard about the Nihongo Sou Matome (日本語総まとめ) series, but I haven’t used them before, so I can’t compare. What I will say is that 新完全マスター is definitely dense. Each unit contains 3-5 grammar OR 30-50 kanji OR 60+ words. There are some exercises to accompany each unit plus the occasional comprehensive test.
I’m considering buying the Nihongo Power Drill (日本語パワードリル) books once I’ve got a couple more units under my belt. This person’s study method involved the short multiple-choice tests from those books and seems promising.
If you’d like to peruse these books for yourself, I’d highly recommend finding a bookstore (or other source) where you can get a look at their format.
I’m gonna be real, I don’t know how to study, per se. I didn’t start studying until near the end of high school (you know how it is with AP classes). As a result, I’ve been searching for other people’s study methods to figure out what works for me. Right now, my daily study comprises Anki flashcards, physical flashcards, textbooks, and primary sources. Here’s my (ideal) routine.
I’m on that Anki grind. I’ll explain later how I set up flashcards, but I try to do my reviews before lunch—either before the morning bell or in between classes.
Study NEW STUFF.
There’s no particular order to this; sometimes I do kanji first, other times vocab. But whatever I do, my first pass is entirely visual and oral, no writing. This can take maybe 30 to 45 minutes per subject, depending on how I’m feeling.
- Grammar. I read the new grammar points and example and see how much I can figure out. I’ve heard complaints that 新完全マスター’s all-Japanese explanations make nuance challenging. I personally find them fine, but I do agree in some cases.2 In any case, after I’ve set eyes on everything, then I write notes of my own while watching a video for clarification and extra examples. For videos, I’m a fan of 出口日語, Meshclass, and 日本語の森. I also make physical cloze deletion flashcards for each grammar point, like this person; their post actually inspired my grammar study method.
- Kanji. Same as above, I go through the kanji in a unit, reading them and their example sentences aloud. Concurrently, I check their Anki cards and put them in a subdeck for that unit. I then do the exercises. Throughout this process, I’ll try to quiz myself by covering up the readings and trying to recall a random entry. After doing all the exercises, I write down kanji, readings, and definitions in a little notebook. I usually do this while watching a video of a calligrapher to ensure I’m writing it correctly.
- Vocabulary. I do the warm-up exercise orally, which usually involves using Japanese you already know to answer a question like, “How do you make your favorite dish?” or “Recount a time you got sick and went to the doctor.” Then I read through the words and see how much I can infer of their meaning. After that, I check my guesses against this wonderful Memrise set of 新完全マスター words. I put those into a spreadsheet, fill in readings manually (again speaking aloud) and import to Anki. I fill in sentences with extensions and from Weblio when I don’t feel the generated sentences are up to par.
Continue YESTERDAY’S STUFF.
My grammar and kanji study are split over two days. On those second days, I try to do reviews early so that later in the day I can take the unit assessments. For each test, I answer the questions as well as I can and writing as much kanji as I can (some only ask for the reading). They take about 5-10 minutes each. Then I grade myself and review missed questions: I may write the word or pattern several times, look up mnemonics or example sentences, or otherwise further ground my knowledge in primary sources so it sticks better. For kanji and vocab, I’ll also flag their Anki cards. I keep all my tests in a thin notebook so I can track my progress and be sure I don’t let any missed questions fall through the cracks.
Take in OTHER STUFF.
Living in Japan, I’m lucky to be able to pick up the day’s newspaper to study. I’ve started listening to 10 minutes of NHKラジオニュース (Radio News) in the morning and trying to understand it; I can then find the same info in the day’s newspaper or online to see the kanji in context and how the written and spoken styles differ.
I’m also trying (emphasis on TRYING) to get through the few books I’ve bought… I made the mistake of starting with Murakami, whom I’ve come to realize I don’t like very much. But I have other books. Finally, in preparation for the J-O-B I want, I’m reading a lot of articles from their website and picking up words/phrases. From all my reading, I try to make sure I get them into a little catch-all Anki deck to review whenever I have free time.
Now that the sun stays for longer and I’m less insane, I also want to go out more. We’ll see how that goes…
How It’s Going
Uh I just started really studying this past week, and so far it feels doable. However, as I mentioned, we are in the last days of the school year, so I’m blessed with much more free time than usual. And I miss knitting. But I tell myself if I can pass it this July, I never have to take it again! But also it’s not a huge deal, especially if I can get employed. Just a feather in my hat.
Studying new stuff on weekends is challenging. I get my reviews done and then I have stuff to do (e.g. relaxing, chilling, hanging out) and next thing I know I’m writing a big long thing about studying instead of studying! But even without weekend new stuff, if I keep up I’ll learn about 300 new words, 80 to 120 new kanji, and 10 to 15 new grammar points a week. … Did I say earlier I’m less insane? That’s not true, sorry.
For these same reasons, I still occasionally browse Der Spiegel even though my German knowledge has gotten pretty stale. ↩︎
For instance, や否や and が早いか are essentially the same thing, but what the book doesn’t tell you (but my mom or coworkers will!) is that や否や is more commonly found in literature. ↩︎