Last year, only 42% of people who took the JLPT passed it.
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.
And don’t worry, we’re going to help you get ready!
What’s the JLPT?
For those who aren’t fully aware, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test or JLPT is a test that’s used all over the world to indicate a person’s progress in the Japanese language.
It’s split up into four sections: vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening. In these sections, participants are asked a variety of multiple choice questions and the points in each section are added up to indicate either a passing or failing grade. The tests range from N5, which is the easiest, to N1, which is said to represent near-native level fluency.
Why Take the JLPT?
If you’ve researched the JLPT 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.” While neither of these opinions is completely wrong, the people who write these things are omitting a huge part of why the JLPT is useful.
If you’re living in Japan, the reasons why to take the exam are quite obvious. You open up a whole world of opportunities for your personal and professional advancement.
But there are two types of Japanese learners that I would like to target with the following information: Self-studiers, and people who don’t live in Japan.
First of all, everyone who has ever tried self-study knows that the hardest part of Japanese isn’t the grammar or the kanji, or even those dreaded particles. It’s finding the motivation to continue. Without a teacher to push you, set tests, create homework goals and give out grades, procrastination and lack of motivation are the true killers for those of us who have tried to study on our own. For those who have the luxury of a structured classroom, but don’t live in Japan, gaining the motivation to study outside the classroom can also pose a problem.
Here’s where the JLPT comes in: The test will cost you around $50, depending on the level you take. I can’t think of any better motivation than spending your hard earned money, and making sure you don’t waste it by failing.
Once you sign up for the test, or even if you’re still planning on signing up, it doesn’t matter which level you’re taking—you can almost guarantee that you’ll be hitting the books harder and harder the closer it gets to the test date. A standardized test with a set date can be just the push you need to keep going. 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 covers grammar, vocabulary, reading and listening, so it can be an incredible all encompassing study tool to improve your Japanese.
Even if you are starting on the easiest level, with the study materials and motivation it provides, the JLPT can be a sure fire way to up your Japanese game.
The 3 Best JLPT Textbooks for 3 Different Types of Japanese Learners
Buying all the JLPT textbooks in the world won’t help you pass the test unless you’re going to use them, not to mention use them in a way that’ll help you remember the vast amount of information needed to success on the exam. Discovering how you learn is one of the hardest things for a Japanese learner to do, but it’s absolutely something you have to do.
I’ve scoured dozens of JLPT test prep books and discovered the 3 most popular, high-quality books out there. Each of these books is an amazing tool to help you master the JLPT. But what kind of learner are you? Which series would best help you pass the JLPT?
You can buy all 3 of these books at White Rabbit Japan, a cool online store that offers international shipping, and you can find plenty more JLPT books there to compare if you still feel the need to shop around.
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. Whether you like to learn by yourself, do only a little bit of studying per day or you need to see concepts in context, one of these textbook series will help you pass the JLPT.
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.
Type of Learner
The In-depth Student: If you’re someone who likes to figure things out for yourself, someone who relies on their own studies, someone who likes to take the textbook home with you even after the teacher has explained the concepts, these books are for you.
The way that the “New Kanzen Master” series groups similar concepts together and gives in-depth explanations 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.
Since the explanations are entirely in Japanese, it requires a bit more time and patience, but it gives you a much deeper look into, not only the point they are trying to convey, but also the Japanese language itself.
These books are great for people who really want to know the ins and outs of the language, for people who like to know the nuances between similar vocabulary or similar grammar points. If you’re one to ask a lot of questions, if you like to know exactly how everything works instead of going on feeling, pick up the “New Kanzen Master” books for studying.
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.
Type of Learner
The Consistent One: 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.
If you are someone who can consistently do a little bit of work each day, and don’t lose motivation, you can bet these books will give you results. Having only a couple of things to focus on each day, is a great way to build slowly and steadily on the Japanese you already know. You will have the time to really look into the information provided and gain a deep understanding before moving on.
Of course, reviewing is a must as you can go through the short lessons quickly. It can also be a great review tool if you have already studied most of the information and you need a refresher on the meanings and uses of some of the vocabulary or grammar that show up on the JLPT.
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.
Type of Learner
The Quiz Taker: 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 really 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 really improved my progress in studying.
As someone who learns best when they make a mistake and remembers concepts easier when seen in context, these were the books for me. If you’re someone who learns by seeing real-world Japanese, someone who learns by making mistakes or somebody whose idea of test prep is tons of practice tests, then this is the book for you!
Whatever your learning style, there’s most definitely a book or series out there that will help you study for the JLPT.
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!
For more information about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, please visit the official webpage here.
And One More Thing…
If you love learning useful Japanese in a very effective way, then I should also tell you about the FluentU app.
Like the site I mentioned earlier, the FluentU app takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news, and inspiring talks and turns them into Japanese learning experiences. It naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You’ll learn real Japanese as it’s spoken in real life.
The FluentU app has a broad range of contemporary videos—like music videos, dramas, TV shows, and TV commercials:
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 it suggests content and examples based on your vocabulary. You’ll have a 100% personalized experience.
The FluentU app is now available for iPhone and Android, and it’s also available as a website that you can use with your computer or tablet.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.