Best JLPT Textbooks to Study and Prepare for the Official Japanese Exam
The JLPT usually has a passing rate of less than 50%.
Will you be prepared this year? Maybe you’re waiting until next year?
The numbers sound a little intimidating, but you can ensure your JLPT success if you prepare yourself properly.
Don’t worry, I’ll help you get ready by recommending the most popular, high-quality JLPT textbooks out there.
Top JLPT Textbooks for Different Types of Learners
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is a test that’s used all over the world to indicate a person’s progress in the Japanese language. The JLPT is split up into four sections with multiple-choice questions: vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening. The levels range from N5 (lowest) to N1 (highest).
There are dozens of JLPT test prep books, but I’ve narrowed them down to four effective textbooks that a lot of Japanese learners swear by. You can buy any of these books at White Rabbit Japan, a cool online store that offers international shipping.
But what kind of learner are you? Which series would best help you pass the JLPT? In this section, I’ll cover the structure of each book and then lay out what kind of learner would get the most from it.
New Kanzen Master
The “New Kanzen Master” series is probably one of the most comprehensive and well-known series of books in JLPT study. Each level has 5 different books about vocabulary, kanji, grammar, listening and reading comprehension.
The vocabulary book starts by introducing words with similar concepts, such as eating or travel, and with accompanying example sentences. It goes on to give simple quizzes at the end of each chapter to test your knowledge.
The grammar book groups similar grammar points together with in-depth explanations and plenty of example sentences. Each book covers about 100 grammar points and the second half is filled with exercises to help you get familiar with all of this grammar.
The kanji book has lists of need-to-know kanji, as well as exercises for practicing the readings of each in different contexts. It also has short passages for which the appropriate kanji reading should be selected by the learner.
The listening book has exercises similar to the actual JLPT, along with answer strategies, skills necessary to understand the 5 different types of listening questions and a mock test.
Finally, the reading comprehension book is filled with advertisements, pamphlets, informational publications and business documents. You’ll become familiar with all types of reading material, along with how to read and identify important points in the text and how to select correct answers in the multiple-choice questions provided.
Who It’s For
“New Kanzen Master” is perfect for someone who has a lot of time to really look into each vocab word, kanji character or grammar point as thoroughly as possible. If you want to know the ins and outs of the language, then you’ll probably like this. Since the explanations are entirely in Japanese, it requires a bit more time and patience, but it gives you a much deeper look into the Japanese language itself.
Nihongo Sou Matome
The “Nihongo Sou Matome” books also come in 5 book sets, based on JLPT level. The difference between these and the “New Kanzen Master” series is that they’re structured in a way for you to do a little bit of studying every day.
The books are divided into days of the week. The first 6 days have a couple of grammar points, a small list of vocabulary words, short readings or listening exercises and a small quiz to help you remember them. The 7th day is a quiz that tests the previous 6 days’ content.
Each book is a 6-week course for the JLPT level you’re studying for. Another difference in these books are the English, Chinese and Korean translations, for a quick way to understand each concept.
Who It’s For
If you’re a full-time student or worker and don’t have very much time for Japanese every day, these are the books for you. The daily lessons are relatively short and to the point, compared to other study texts.
It can also be a great review tool if you have already studied most of the information and you need a refresher on some of the vocabulary or grammar that show up on the JLPT.
Pattern-Bestu Tettei Drill
At its core, the “Pattern-Bestu Tettei Drill” textbooks are just a series of quizzes and practice tests, set up almost exactly in the style of the JLPT.
Unlike the other book series, there’s just one book per JLPT level that includes vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening exercises. If you can only afford one book to study for the JLPT, and you need to work on your all-around score, this would be my recommendation.
The book gives examples of all the different types of questions on the JLPT, along with answers and simple explanations.
Who It’s For
If you’re a learner who likes to constantly test yourself to see what you need to work on, this is a great book for you. If tests get you excited, if counting up your score makes you motivated and if you like to quantify your progress with exact numbers, you’ll enjoy the “Pattern-Bestu Tettei Drill” series.
After trying so hard to stay motivated to study for the JLPT, this is the book that really turned a corner for me. Being able to track my progress in numbers and percentages was like a game, and it improved my progress in studying.
JLPT Official Practice Workbooks
The JLPT official practice workbooks are made by the Japan Foundation, which is in charge of administering the JLPT all over the world. These are fuss-free workbooks that cover N5 to N1, with each book consisting of sample exams.
All of the workbooks have four sections, following the structure of the JLPT: vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening. After going through the sample exam, you can check the answer at the back of the workbook. You can look at sample answer sheets and the scripts for the listening portion too.
Unlike the other books listed here, the JLPT official practice workbooks can be downloaded for free on the JLPT website. But there’s also the option to buy the hard copies if you’re more comfortable practicing with pen and paper.
Who It’s For
I’d recommend these workbooks for anyone who’s planning to take the JLPT because they’re the most official sample exam materials that you can get. Best of all, they’re free! Since the workbooks are essentially mock exams, consider them as supplementary material–you’d likely want another reference for detailed explanations and test-taking tips.
Whatever JLPT level you’re aiming for, you’ll get a better idea of what to expect from the test (and where you can still improve) by going through the workbook for your level.
Why Take the JLPT?
Passing the JLPT takes a lot of hard work. If you’ve researched it online, you’ll most definitely run into a lot of people who say things like: “Only the N1 level is useful,” or “The JLPT is not a good test to measure your skills.” Neither of these opinions is completely wrong, but they’re also omitting a huge part of why the JLPT is useful.
If you live in Japan, the benefits of taking the exam are quite obvious. You open up a whole world of opportunities for your personal and professional advancement.
Even if you don’t live in Japan, one benefit of taking the JLPT is it pushes you to study harder because it’s a standardized test with a set date. Also, in America, the JLPT is only held once a year, on the first Sunday in December. This means you can have a set goal every year and you can clearly see how much you’ve accomplished within that year.
Obviously, the best way to measure your progress is to start with the easiest level, (N5) and work your way up to the hardest (N1), progressing one or more levels each year. The JLPT is pretty comprehensive, so it can be an incredible all-encompassing study tool to improve your Japanese.
Ultimately, there’s really nothing better than finally getting the certification, proof of your knowledge and all the hard work you put into learning Japanese.
So find what you need to work on, grab one of these books and start studying! On top of these textbooks, you’ll also want to round out your studying with authentic materials, such as Japanese articles, podcasts or videos on FluentU, which have transcripts and annotated subtitles.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
For more on the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, don’t forget to visit the official webpage here.
And One More Thing...
If you love learning Japanese with authentic materials, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.
FluentU naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You'll learn real Japanese as it's spoken in real life.
FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos as you'll see below:
FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.
All definitions have multiple examples, and they're written for Japanese learners like you. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.
And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.
The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You'll have a 100% personalized experience.
The FluentU app is now available for iOS and Android, and it's also available as a website that you can access on your computer or tablet.