If you are learning Japanese, you may have come across ASK Publishing’s books more than once. They have published a lot of material to study Japanese, with some really good methods to take the JLPT. Their most famous series is certainly the So-matome series, which prepare test takers for any level. They also published 多読ライブラリー, which a fantastic series to start reading Japanese, even at a beginner level.
Each volume is composed of two complete tests, so if you buy the two books, you have 4 practice exams to do.
Structure of the book
First, each book comes with a “how to use this book” section. I don’t know why, but I really appreciate this kind of introduction. It makes me feel that the authors of the book really had a progression course in mind and want you to use their book as it was intended to. The explanations are available in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean.
Understanding the JLPT
Then, each volume takes you through the type of questions that will be asked during the exam, with sample questions. Again, the explanations are given in 4 languages. In volume 2, the explanations are more detailed, with more sample questions and strategic advice, including things you should particularly pay attention to, how you should proceed and in which order do things and so on. In volume 1 similar advice are given at the end of the separate booklet.
Each volume provides you with two tests. If you have trouble managing your time, I recommend practising with one of these books. The book tells you what amount of time you should devote to each type of question. This is a very good way to see where you are losing time and check if you are quick enough on the “language knowledge” questions to be sure to have enough time left for the “reading” section.
The book also has a “tag” system to easily find a part or know where you are when taking the practice test.
Listening script, answers, score, explanations and answer sheets
Note: In volume 1, the listening scripts are provided at the end of the book. In volume 2, they are incorporated in the answers’ explanations, in the separate booklet.
Each book has a separate booklet with answers, explanations and a table to calculate your score. I like to be able to calculate my score for each part because I can compare it to the results I got when I took the JLPT N2 in July and see if I made progress or not.
Then, the booklet goes through each question with detailed explanations. To me, this is by far the greatest advantage of these books. There is nothing more frustrating than to check the answer, see that we did wrong, but not understanding why. The explanations provided in these two books are clear and go to the point. I never had difficulties understanding why my answer was wrong after reading them. I also appreciate having these explanations in English (they are also written in Japanese, Chinese and Korean) because even if I could understand them in Japanese, it would take me more time and maybe even discourage me from reading them at all. After studying with the Shin Kanzen series, where everything is in Japanese, reading English explanations is quite a relief!
Finally, advice and strategies are given at the end of the separate booklet in volume 1, whereas in volume 2, similar advice was integrated into the part that presented the different question types.
I almost forgot, but each book comes with 2 audio CDs, one for each test. They are not mp3 files, which I find convenient because I can play them directly on my CD player without using my computer. It may sound strange, but I feel more in “exams conditions” in this way. I can remove my phone and my computer from my desk, play the audio and resist the temptation to play a track two times.
If you are looking for practice exams, these two books are a good choice because they provide detailed explanations for the answers. On the website of the JLPT, you can find references for JLPT Official Practice Workbooks. Their advantage is to have a decent price, but if you can afford one of the two ASK books (1,600 yen each), I would opt for this choice because the JLPT Official Practice Workbook has no explanations whatsoever relative to the answers. It’s useful to test yourself and see what score you can achieve, but without explanations, it is hard to understand one’s mistake and thus, progress. Plus, having two tests instead of one allows you to see if you progressed or not.
As for which one to pick, I would say that the contents are the same but I find the structure of volume 2 a little more practical. It’s best to have the strategies and advice together with the questions presentation and the listening script together with the answers’ detailed explanations.