JLPT N1: Practice test!

I took my second practice test for N1 this weekend!

This time, I bought a Korean collection of 5 practice tests. The book is called JLPT 일본어 능력시험 실전모의고사 and is published by 동양북스.

The second volume is for the answers, the scripts, Korean translations and explanations. Even though they devoted an entire book for the answers, I find that the explanations they give are often superficial.

Choosing practice tests

「so-matome practice tests N1」の画像検索結果

I was very tempted to buy the collection of practice tests published by So-matome. I know that there are two volumes, each containing two tests.

I saw on Amazon a comment in English saying that this book was too easy. From what I read from other test takers and Japanese learners, the actual test tends to be harder than the practice questions found on the official JLPT website. It looks like the test has become harder over the years (especially the listening section) so a book published in 2010 might be too easy.

As a consequence, I decided to ignore the So-matome practice book and bought this Korean book instead. It was published in 2018 and contains new tests designed by the authors (not former real JLPT tests) so I hoped that they would be difficult enough.

My results

Taking a practice test is great, but it is better to also analyse why some of our answers are wrong. This is what I will do in this post.


There are 4 types of questions in the vocabulary section.

The first exercise asks you to give the reading of a kanji word. I did well in this section, I just got one answer wrong. I think that my Anki deck for kanji is bearing fruit because the words I answered well were words that I have learned through it.

Score: 4/5

The second question asks you to choose a word to fit in a sentence. For some questions, I had to choose randomly. The reason why I find this exercise hard is that all the words are given in hiragana. Sometimes, I don’t recognise a word that I would have known if it had been written in kanji. In this exercise, you are also likely to find onomatopoeia and adverbs, both my weakest part when it comes to vocabulary.

Score: 4/7 but among the good answers, 2 were chosen randomly. So my score could have been 2/7 with bad luck.

The third exercise is to find a synonym. Here again, I have a hard time with onomatopoeia. I also made one stupid mistake.

Score: 5/6 with 2 good answers picked randomly, so it could have been 3/6.

The fourth and last question is the hardest to me. You are given four sentences using the same word and you have to tell which sentence is correct. I will be honest with you, I got only one question right and I chose it randomly. In fact, I chose all the answers randomly because I could answer none. I didn’t know these words well. If I had met these words in a novel, they would not have bothered me because I more or less know what they mean. But I don’t know how to use them.

Score: 1/6 but it could have been 0/6

What I learned from this test:

I am very glad that I took this test because I know in which direction I must go to study vocabulary. I will continue to learn the kanji with my Anki deck because it seems to work. I need to learn more onomatopoeia and adverbs and I should start now. I am also happy to see that my decision to add sentences and phrases in Anki (rather that words only) was a good one. The reason why I messed up the fourth question is because I have learned words on their own until now. From now on, I will add more sentences in Anki and be sure to know in which context a word is used.


There are three different questions in the grammar section.

The first question is to choose the right grammar. I didn’t do well in this section but it is not entirely my fault. First of all, I am very glad to say that I answered correctly every questions featuring a grammar I had learned in So-matome. Among the questions I could not answer, most of them featured grammar points that were not in So-matome (I have checked). I think that only one was in a lesson towards the end of the book that I still haven’t studied. So even if I had finished the So-matome textbook for grammar, I could not have answered more than half of the questions. This confirms one thing: the So-matome textbook for grammar is far from covering all the advanced grammar you need to pass the JLPT N1.

Score: 4/10

The second question asks you to put in order four parts of a sentence. I got two answers wrong, but to me it was more a problem of vocabulary than grammar.

Score: 3/5

The last question is to find the right grammar in a long text. The two questions that I answered wrong are: one with adverbs (I am really bad at remembering adverbs) and one that features N2 grammar points, which I had forgotten.

My score: 3/5

What I have learned from taking this practice test:

The So-matome textbook is not enough! In fact, I knew it before, but now I know it even more. I will have to use other textbooks, but this is what I had planned to do anyway.

And of course, I need to review the N2 grammar!


The reading part of this textbook was very strange. I know that the questions can be tricky, that even if you understand the text, you might have a hard time answering the questions. However, in this practice test, the authors seem to have got a little carried away. I find several answers very questionable. It is sometimes more a matter of subjectivity and sometimes I just cannot understand why an answer is wrong or right, or to be more precise, I understand but I disagree. I think that for some answers, you could easily argue that this answer is right and this one wrong when the authors said the opposite.

The texts in themselves were not very difficult, I was able to read them quickly and understand them without problem. However, I didn’t score as high as expected because of these tricky questions.

Score: 17/25

What I learned from the test:

I found none of the texts difficult to understand, but I need to practice answering the JLPT questions. While I do criticise some of the test’s answers, I know that the JLPT questions for reading are tricky. This kind of test forces me to think more before answering.


Listening is the real reason why I bought this book. As I mentioned previously, the listening part of the JLPT seems to have become harder and harder with time so if you practice with an old test, you will find the listening section too easy.

I was hoping that the listening section will be difficult in the book I bought, but it was not, and I am very disappointed. Listening is my weakest point, I really need to practice with questions that have the same level of difficulty than the actual test.

First, my score: 31/37 😮

This is not possible!! This test is telling me that my listening is better than my reading?? 🤨

To me, this listening test sounded easier than the actual N2 test I took in 2017. The main reason is that it had almost only casual conversations, and they were easy. What I call “casual conversations” are the discussions involving friends, students, family or even colleagues talking about daily life problems. Usually, I find these conversations easy, and I can answer the questions. On the contrary, speeches in formal context, discussions involving technical terms or work-related discussions are very hard for me.

When I took the JLPT N2, there was almost no casual conversation. I was desperately waiting for friends to talk about the report they have to give to their professor, or colleagues who would talk about the best way to relieve from stress. But no, it was only technical or work related contexts.

This Korean test contains essentially casual conversations, which is why I scored a relatively good score. During the listening part, I even thought I had bought the book for N2 by mistake and quickly checked the cover!

The first two types of questions were especially easy.

The third type of questions is certainly the hardest (you hear the questions only after hearing the text), and it is where I lost most of my points.

The fourth question was obviously and ridiculously too easy. It is the question where you hear someone say something (a short remark), and you have to find a correct answer between 3 possibilities. In this test, you could almost guess the right answer by the tone of the speaker. The three answers were so different from one another, that the right one was obvious.

The remaining questions were also easy.

What I learned from the test

I need to find other listening material to practice listening.


Taking this practice test has motivated me to go on studying vocabulary and grammar. I still have time before December, and I am more and more confident that I can get a good score if I continue to study seriously. More than anything, I am very happy with my new Anki format (sentences rather than words), and I cannot wait to see the results (I guess that I will be ready for December!).

I am still worried for the listening part… why is every practice test too easy? I always consider that a practice test should actually be harder than the real test… if you know a practice test with a decent listening difficulty, please let me know in the comments!

Blog anniversary and new schedule

I am a few days late, but my blog turned two years old!

I take the opportunity to announce a change in my blog schedule. I find it very hard to post twice a week as I had planned to in January 😔. Obviously, the preparation for the JLPT is taking too much of my time.

I also want to change a little the direction of my blog. As it is now, my blog is very personal, I use it mainly to record my own progress, write a language journal and stay motivated.

While I will continue to write this kind of posts, I will certainly write them less often. I found that it was easier to talk about what I was doing to learn Japanese last year because I had time to explore several methods and experience new things. This year, I don’t really have much to say other than “I finished the 20th lesson of my JLPT grammar textbook”, haha.

What I really want to do now is to write posts that could be useful for other language learners like learning tips, textbook reviews, novels recommendations and so on. These kind of posts will certainly take some time to write, but this is the direction in which I want to go.

To sum up, you will find on my blog:

  • Personal updates of my Japanese learning journey. I think that I will write when I feel that there is something interesting to say rather than forcing myself to write once or twice a week.
  • Longer posts about things that can be useful to learn Japanese. I have several ideas of upcoming posts, but they take a long time to write.
  • Book reviews, as usual.

Unfortunately, I cannot really schedule these posts, but I will do my best to write as often and regularly as possible.

Thank you for following and reading my blog!

Language diary #8: changing things in Anki

If you follow my blog, you know that I am studying for the JLPT N1. This year, I feel that my language learning activity is divided into two parts:

  • JLPT preparation
  • Reading books and learning new vocabulary through Anki (which what I was doing last year)

While I am quite satisfied with all the JLPT related things I am doing, my regular Anki deck is becoming more and more annoying. First of all, it is full of leeches (cards you keep forgetting), and I think that I should change the way I add the words in my deck.

Until now, I added as little information as possible for each word: the kanji, the pronunciation and the meaning in English. A card looked like this:

The advantage of minimalist cards is that it is easy and fast to create them. My goal was to know as many words as possible to progress in reading. Also, I didn’t want to spend too much time studying Anki, this is why I didn’t add too many pieces of information in a note.

To sum up, I focused on quantity (roughly know as many words as possible) rather than quality (know a word well, know how it is used, in which context, know all its different meanings).

However, studying for the JLPT made me realise that I could not pass the vocabulary section with a rough knowledge of what a word means, at least not for N1. It also made me realise that I should not have completely discarded learning colloquial expressions, or even words in sentences. Given that I am learning words to read and not to speak or write, I thought I could do without it. But in the end, I realise that it is much easier to recognise a word in a sentence if I have learned this word in a similar context, instead than on its own.

Another good point in favour of expressions rather than word only is that it is much easier to remember. This card above, 逸脱, is a leech, I keep forgetting it. Worse, I keep confusing it with 経緯. They don’t share the same kanji, and they have different meanings, yet I keep confusing these two words…

The reason why I cannot remember some words is always the same: I do not really understand what the word means. This is particularly true with words like 経緯・いきさつ which means “the state of affairs”, “circumstances”, “situation” or “conditions”.

As a consequence, while I was keeping my cards simple to study Anki faster, I kept forgetting the same cards, I was loosing time on leeches, I didn’t really know what I was learning.

One solution would be to add sentences and expressions. For example:

For me, this is much better. The meaning of the word is obvious and I can remember it more easily. I know in which context I am likely to find this word.

The problem is that it takes a lot of time to create the note. Obviously, it takes time to write, but what is really time consuming is to go through all the example sentences in my dictionary and choose the ones I want to add to Anki. On the other hand, reading the example sentences and selecting only the most relevant ones is part of the “studying a word” process, it helps me to remember and understand the word.

If I add several sentences for the same word (to know all its meanings and the different contexts in which it can be used), I will end up learning less words, but I will know the ones I learn better.

The question is whether I should go for more quantity or more quality… The answer is certainly to do both and add sentences and expressions only for the words that I have trouble remembering or have an abstract meaning.

Anyway, these are the thoughts that enter my mind every time I sit down and study Anki. I think that I will change the way I add new notes and see if it helps me to 1) remember the words better, 2) recognise and understand them quicker when I see them in novels and 3) helps me for the JLPT.

Book Review: 『メゾン・ド・ポリス』by Miaki KATO (加藤実秋)


Title: 『メゾン・ド・ポリス』(maison de police)
Author: Miaki KATO (加藤実秋)
Published by 角川文庫

There are three books so far in the series 『メゾン・ド・ポリス』. The first book was published in 2018 and the third one just came out (February 2019). There is also a drama adaptation.

『メゾン・ド・ポリス』is a novel but it contains 5 different stories, all devoted to a different case.


Hiyori MAKINO is a young female police officer who struggles to find her place in the criminal division (刑事課) where she has been working for only 3 months.

“Maison de Police” is a house where several retired police detectives live together as flatmates. They have left the world of crime beyond them, but when Hiyori comes to consult them on an old case, they start to investigate again.

Review: Light and easy read, interesting characters

I loved『メゾン・ド・ポリス』, it is one of my favourite books in Japanese.

First of all, I liked the unique setting of the book: with its bunch of retired detectives, it felt new and refreshing.

I also liked the overall tone of the novel. It is a light read, the author does not give a realistic account of a police investigation with all its different procedures, which can be burdensome to read in a foreign language. In this novel, the headquarter is the Maison de Police, and its inhabitants work much like private detectives to help Hiyori solve mysterious cases.

As each story is short (around 60 pages), the author focuses on the plot, without much descriptions or introspection, which makes it easy to read.

Another thing that I really enjoyed is that the cases are serious ones. When mystery novels have a light tone, they sometimes have light mysteries to crack, and I don’t feel very committed to them. In 『メゾン・ド・ポリス』, Hiyori works at the criminal division, so reading this novel feels like reading a police/detective fiction rather than simply mystery fiction, if that makes sense… I find that the author cleverly managed to mix a light tone and serious cases, and I loved the book because it has these two dimensions.

The characters are very interesting, and I felt I wanted to know more about them and their past. I will definitely read the second tome of the series.

To sum up, I would say that this novel is a good one for Japanese learners. It is relatively easy to read, it contains five short stories so you can take a break between them. The stories are suspenseful enough to encourage you to keep going even if reading in Japanese is challenging.

Note for Japanese learners: while I found the first 4 stories easy, the 5th one is more difficult. The writing style is the same, but the case is more complicated. But if you have read the first 4 stories, you will be able to read the last one too!

I also recommend to make a list of the main characters and a list for each story, or you might be overwhelmed with names.

I made a quick sketch of the cover to remember the names of the main characters.

Trailer of the drama:

JLPT: First Milestone

I started studying for the JLPT N1 on January 1st (my aim is to pass in December), so I have been studying for three whole months now. I think that now is the perfect time to take a small break, ask myself if I am going in the right direction and eventually change my strategy.

I will certainly do two or three similar “milestone post” during the year.

The things that I have done and the things that I have to do


I am working with the So-matome textbook; it has 56 lessons, and I have studied 22 lessons. I still haven’t reached the half of the book, but this is what I had planned. I still need a little more than two months to finish this textbook so I should be ready to start a new textbook in June. I will certainly go for the Shin Kanzen or check what is available in Korea. In any case, I don’t think that the So-matome is enough so I will definitely use another textbook in June.


Here again, I am using the So-matome textbook, and it also has 56 lessons. I have studied 32 lessons which is great. If I can finish the textbook at the end of May, I will have enough time to study with another textbook, either the Shin Kanzen or something else. I really do feel that the So-matome is suspiciously light when I compare it to Korean textbooks for N1 grammar for example. So-matome is a great textbook to get started, but I feel that I will have to use another one before December.

I will also have time to practice with drills.


I am studying with the 日本語単語スピードマスター (Quick mastery of vocabulary), it has 69 units, and I have only studied 25 lessons. I am only studying two lessons per week.

As far as vocabulary is concerned, I have planned to study with this textbook only so I don’t mind working with it until late in the year. When I have studied all the units, I will spend my time reviewing and practicing with drills.

Reading and listening

Let’s be honest, I am not doing much for listening at the moment. My lack of listening practice is such an issue that I will certainly write a post devoted to it.

As for reading, I am reading novels as usual, and I have started reading the news again. I also started practicing with a N1 textbook.

What worked well

Two things really worked very well for me: the physical flashcards for the grammar and my Anki deck for the kanji.

I will stick to the system of physical flashcards until December. To me, it is the best method ever to review the grammar regularly and actively. After three months of use, I can say that this method works, that it is enjoyable and brings me a sense of achievement.

I love my grammar flashcards!

My new Anki deck for the kanji is also something I like. I love playing with Anki to find the best layout, and I have tried to create cards that fit the JLPT questions style. I am confident that it will help me get a good score at N1 and allow me to rush through the vocabulary/kanji questions and save time for reading.

I love my Anki deck for kanji!

What didn’t work and what I have changed

What didn’t work so well is the vocabulary. I have been thorough in following my study plan, and I have studied two new units per week. The problem is not to learn new words, but to review them regularly.

While I do like this book, I don’t open it often enough!

I figured out that part of the problem came from the book itself. It is a compact book of 350 that cannot possibly open flat, and I didn’t like studying it.

I usally don’t like writing in my books, even textbooks, and they often look new even after I have studied them for several months. I always take notes on a separate notebook. With the vocabulary book, however, I realised that I had to really get to grips with it and make it mine. I broke the spine, got rid of the cover, and start scribbling in it.

Writing in the book is a big improvement, I can add information where the textbook falls short, especially when it comes to the translation in English. I also add synonyms and highlight the words that I need to review more often and so on. I should have done it sooner!

I bought these Pilot Frixion in Tokyo, as you can erase them, there are great for people like me who are afraid of writing in books.


I am glad to see that the study plan I had designed in January works well. As a result, I will stick to it and keep going in this direction. The strategies for grammar and kanji are perfect for me, and I hope that the change of strategy for vocabulary will help me to review more regularly.

I still need to work more on listening, I have to think of a way to include more Japanese audio in my schedule. I have plenty of things to listen to, it is a problem of time.

Last advice…

If you are following a yearly study plan or if you had goals for the year, why not take some time now to see how far you have gone during these first three months. If you feel that you haven’t been able to stick to your initial schedule or study plan, it is maybe time to review it and understand what didn’t work and why. Don’t be discouraged if you feel that you haven’t studied enough. Keep what worked well and change the rest, find new strategies and review your goals if necessary!

Book review: 『切り裂きジャックの告白』by Shichiri NAKAYAMA (中山七里)


Title: 『切り裂きジャックの告白』(Confession of Jack the Ripper)
Author: Shichiri NAKAYAMA 中山七里
Editor: 角川文庫
355 pages.

Shichiri NAKAYAMA is a prolific author of crime fiction. 『切り裂きジャックの告白』is the first novel to introduce the police detective Hayato INUKAI (犬養隼人).


The novel is exactly about what its title refers to: a serial killer who calls himself “Jack”, murders similar to those of Jack the Ripper, a police investigation to find the killer.

But there is also more in this novel than a simple chase of the murderer. The story addresses the topic of organ donation and transplantation and contains several discussions on this topic.

Review: Very interesting, difficult to read and not very suspenseful.

First of all, I found all the debates and thoughts surrounding the medical and ethical aspects of organ donation both interesting and difficult to read. This book was definitely not an easy read, both because of its topic and its language level. There was a good amount of vocabulary I had to look up, especially all the medical terms. For example, there is scene that describes how organs are removed from a donor, and needless to say that it was full of specialised terms that I was not familiar with.

While I found the debates around organ donation interesting, I also found that they were sometimes artificially introduced in the novel. For example, one of the characters would watch a television debate, and the author just transcribe this debate. I like when a novel contains ethical questions, but I don’t like when it is artificially introduced in the story. In 『切り裂きジャックの告白』, I sometimes felt that the whole police investigation was a pretext to talk about organ donation and transplantation, and the pace of the story was often broken by considerations on this topic.

These are the books that the author consulted to write his novel. Sometimes it felt that the author read a lot about this topic and wanted to put as much knowledge as possible in his novel.

As for the investigation in itself, I found it good but not very suspenseful. Maybe too realistic? I didn’t really feel the thrill of hunting down a murderer (which is certainly the reason why we read such books…?), but it was still interesting to see how the investigation is conducted, how the media are involved and so on.

Last but not least, while this novel is the first of the Hayato INUKAI series, I don’t feel that I really know this character. Strangely, all the other characters were well portrayed, but I found that Hayato INUKAI was a little insipid.

Despite all these criticisms, I did enjoy the book. I think that the book’s value mostly lies in its topic (organ donation), so if you are interested in this question, you will certainly find this book interesting. However, if you are looking for a suspenseful thriller, there might be better options…