It has been two weeks now that I am studying with the Shin Kanzen Master series for the preparation of JLPT N2. I am amazed by the quality of these books and totally satisfied.
This is a review of these two weeks.
As I have enough time to study, it is no problem to follow the program that I designed for myself two weeks ago. I must admit, however, that having no day off in the week is a little tiring, especially concerning the kanji. Instead of learning 10 kanji a day, I will certainly learn 14 kanji a day from Monday to Friday and rest during the weekend.
My strategy for vocabulary and kanji is to enter everything in my Anki decks with tags. I have a tag “N2” if I want to revise the whole vocabulary of N2 and a tag per lesson to make daily focused revisions. I totally rely on Anki to learn vocabulary and kanji.
Concerning the grammar, I list the grammar points in a notebook with explanations in French and all the important characteristic related to this grammar. Even if I can understand the Japanese explanations of the Shin Kanzen master book, I still feel like I don’t want to read them again some days before the exam. I can make an effort to read grammar explanations in Japanese when I am studying the grammar in question, but I don’t think that I will want to re-read them again when revising. Taking notes in French also allows me to verify if I understood the grammar correctly or not.
As for the reading and listening parts, I consider that practice makes perfect and just follow the activities of each book. For listening, however, I bought another N2 book which is entirely devoted to listening. There are no lessons, no explanations, no exercises, just a great amount of listening tests from past years. I listen to the audio, again and again, trying to understand every single word and repeating each phrase, too.
First impression of the books
This book is challenging because every lesson comes with an extensive list of words and expressions to remember. But the words are well classified and often come associated with other words. Instead of just presenting a list of words out of context, the book presents phrases with contains the new words in bold.
For example, instead of listing the words “適度な”, “休養”, the book gives you the phrase “適度に休養を取る”. Another example: “徹夜して睡眠が不足する”. The words you want to learn are in bold.
The book also brings similar patterns to your attention. For example, the pattern ～上がる which appear in “立ち上がる”, “起き上がる” or “飛び上がる”.
The last part that precedes the exercises consists of 4 phrases which each contains an adverb. It means that you can learn 4 adverbs per lesson, which is a correct amount in my opinion. You also see them in context and can grab their meaning easily. In the So-matome series, the adverbs were all presented at the same time in several consecutive lessons. You had to learn the same day very similar adverbs, and I gave up remembering them all. As a consequence, I appreciate very much the way adverbs are presented in the Shin Kanzen Master series.
Then come a lot of exercises that I only started today (because I want to leave a two weeks gap between the day when I learn the new words and the day when I do the exercises). I will review them later.
To me, this is the best book of the series. I am able to fully understand grammar points that seemed very similar when I first studied them with the So-matome series. Back then, I remember that I could not completely understand the differences or nuances between some grammar that were introduced in the same lesson.
Each lesson introduces 5 or 6 grammar which meaning are more or less similar. The meaning of the grammar is given along with several examples. What I find the most useful is the complementary explanation that is provided for each grammar. The book explains exactly when this grammar is used and the things you should pay attention to when using it. By only reading and understanding this explanation, you should be all set, but the double-page of exercises that comes with each lesson will make sure that you understood 100% of the grammar.
I do think that the people who prepared these exercises are some kind of genius who are perfectly aware of the difficulties a language learner encounter. These exercises do not ask you to choose the right grammar point. They are dedicated to each grammar you have just learned so that you know that these questions will all concern this grammar. The exercises focus on the points you have to be aware of to master the grammar fully. For example: Is this grammar used in a positive or negative context? can the speaker express desire, hope or will with this grammar? can a noun precede the grammar? if we talk about time, should it be something that is done daily, something that is done once in a life time, a far away past, etc.?
Being able to answer this questions is a kind of guarantee that you master the grammar.
The book is divided into two main parts: the first part is just a list of kanji to learn and the second part is a series of exercises.
Concerning the kanji list, there isn’t much to say. The kanji are divided into three levels of difficulty and ordered by alphabetical order in each level. They are provided with all possible readings and words which contain the kanji.
It’s a little boring to study kanji in alphabetical order, and I much preferred the So-matome kanji book which presented kanjis in context, each lesson being defined by a theme.
On the other hand, the exercises seem to be useful and different from other kanji exercises I have made so far. But, same here as for the vocabulary, I have just started them and will review them later.
I have only made two lessons of the book, but they were both very interesting and useful. The lessons help you to analyse two texts by focusing on a particular point (comparison, for example). The analysis is well made, it helps you extract the main information of the text and answer the question correctly. You are then left alone to read a few more texts and answer the questions. The answers provide some more information about the general purpose of the text and why the wrong answer didn’t fit.
I like this book as much as I like the So-matome reading book.
Here again, I haven’t gone very far in the book, but the first lessons were very useful and enjoyable. Each lesson or part of the lesson, focus on something (intonation, who is doing the action, etc.) with interesting explanations and several listening exercises. To give an example, you learn to distinguish “これじゃないと思います” from “これなんじゃないかと思います”.
Comparing to the reading book, which requires a lot of concentration, the listening book is entertaining!
The So-matome series was very pleasant to study with lessons never exceeding one double-page and illustrations, but the Shin Kanzen master series is very thorough and challenging. I have no doubt that completing this series is the key to get N2 with a good score.
If you can afford both series, then I would recommend starting with the So-matome series which has English translations and explanations and a reasonable amount of information in each lesson. When you feel more confident, you can attack the Shin Kanzen Master series which is only in Japanese and very challenging, especially concerning the amount of vocabulary to learn.