JLPT review: So-matome grammar N1

Now that I have finished the textbook So-matome Grammar for N1, I thought I would do a little review!

Reference: 日本語総まとめ Nihongo So-matome N1, grammar, ask publishing.

Warning: As I write this review, I still haven’t taken the JLPT N1. But I will update this post as soon as I have!


If you are familiar with the So-matome series, you certainly know how they advertise that you can study the whole textbook in only 8 weeks or so. I personally completely ignore this recommendation. It might be possible to go through this whole textbook in only two months, but I doubt very much that you can actually digest and remember all the grammar points in such a short time.

The textbook is divided into 8 parts (or weeks), and each part contains 7 lessons (or days). With 4 (rarely 3 or 5) grammar points introduced in each lesson and with the 7th lesson being only composed of exercises, the textbook introduces around 224 grammar patterns.

The idea behind the So-matome series is to learn similar patterns together or, as the textbook says, patterns that are commonly confused. To give you an example, you will learn the patterns:

  • … 限りだ
  • … を限りに
  • … に限る
  • … に限ったことではない

… in the same lesson. These grammar look similar because they all use the word 限る, but they have very different meanings. I would personally prefer to learn patterns with similar meanings together rather than patterns which looks similar, but it is better than textbooks that don’t go beyond the alphabetical order.

What this book is and what it is not

Before you decide whether to go for So-matome or not for your N1 preparation, you have to know what you will exactly get with this textbook.

In my opinion, you need two things to prepare for N1 (as far as grammar is concerned):

  • First of all, you need to learn and master the so-called “N1 grammar”, that is a series of grammar points labelled N1.
  • You also need to master more basic grammar patterns and structure like passive/causative forms, particles, and so on. Honorifics should not be a problem either. To sum up, you need to review everything you have learned before.

It would be very convenient if there was a determined amount of N1 grammar to know and if the test would only test you on these points. But even if I haven’t taken N1 yet, I fear that it will not be the case.

The So-matome grammar textbook for N1 will only help you to learn new grammatical patterns. It presents around 224 grammar points. I don’t think that it covers all the possible N1 grammar patterns you could encounter during the test, but it is still a good starting point.

But that’s it. The So-matome textbook does not contain anything else apart from these grammar points. No review lesson on intermediate grammar or more fundamental grammatical structure, and no N2 grammar.

I don’t have the Shin Kanzen textbook for N1, but I know that the Shin Kanzen N2 had a whole section on various grammatical structures that an aspiring N2 student is supposed to know already, but which are so difficult to master that reviewing them can do no harm. I also have a Korean textbook with a similar section in the end.

To sum up, So-matome is a textbook that will allow you to learn a decent amount of N1 grammar points. However, if you need to review the N2 grammar, if you need to consolidate your knowledge of Japanese grammar in general, if you have forgotten half of the honorific expressions and if you still mixed up particles, the So-matome will not help you.

In other words, if you are looking for a comprehensive textbook that will guarantee you to pass the grammar section of N1, So-matome will not be this textbook. If your goal is to buy only one textbook and study it entirely without looking anywhere else, I don’t think that So-matome is a good choice.

If, however, you are ready to go beyond your textbook, So-matome will be a good companion.

How to study with the So-matome grammar

As I said before, you will have to study by yourself the things that you don’t feel confortable with. Personally, I need to review and learn more conjunctions, words that connect two phrases or sentences together, and I also need to review some N2 grammar.

As for studying the grammar points in the textbook, you will certainly need some complementary work too.

The reason why So-matome can introduce so many grammar points in a very thin textbook (less than 150 pages), is because each grammar point is introduced only very briefly.

For each grammar point, you will have two example sentences (rarely more), the translation of these sentences, and an equivalent of the grammar in easier Japanese. There is also, of course, explanations as to how to construct this grammar pattern.

There are some things that I don’t quite like in this layout:

  • First of all, I think that two example sentences per grammar is not enough. So-matome groups together grammar patterns that are “commonly confused”. I think that seeing them together is not necessarily a bad idea, but there should be more explanations and more example sentences to be sure to differentiate these similar grammar from each other. If you learn similar grammar at the same time but do not have enough example sentences for each, chances are that you will end up mixing them up.
  • There are no explanations (neither in English nor in Japanese) as to when to use the grammar. It does not explain what the grammar really means, why it is used, what nuance it conveys, what it says about the speaker’s feelings, and so on. I would be okay with the lack of explanations if there were more example sentences.
  • Moreover, the layout is too rigid: each grammar is roughly allocated the same space and the same number of example sentences, regardless of their difficulty. Honestly, some grammar points are easy, even if they are “N1” grammar, they are easy to understand and remember. But some are incredibly confusing and make you think that you’re not an intelligent person after all. However, except for some exceptions (grammar with more than 2 example sentences) those easy and confusing grammar will have the same amount of space.

What you should do is hunt for more example sentences on Internet or any other material available. I personally use a Korean textbook, my grammar dictionary 『日本語文型辞典』 and the Internet.

For each grammar point that I don’t understand or feel uncomfortable with, I take notes or explanations in my mother tongue. And of course, I add as many example sentences as necessary.

Then you have to let these grammar patterns grow on you. If you review them often, if you have added more example sentences and re-read them regularly, an obscure grammar will eventually begin to make sense and become evident. But this takes time. I started in January and I finished in May. It took me 5 months to go through this textbook, and I have reviewed regularly everything that I have learned. The grammar I learned in January or February seems evident to me now (in June). But some of the grammar I learned in May or even April still feel very strange.

To sum up, this is how I advice to study:

  • Look for additional example sentences on the web or a grammar dictionary every time you find it necessary (that is, when you don’t understand a grammar)
  • Take your own notes and explain the grammar in your own words.
  • There are only two example sentences per grammar in So-matome, but they are good examples. I recommend to study them over and over until you almost know these sentences by heart. (I personally used flashcards).
  • Take your time. Some grammar will look very strange at first, but if you review regularly, they will become more and more familiar. I think that having at least half of the year to study this textbook thoroughly and get used to the grammar points is not too much.

Conclusion: why I loved studying with So-matome

The So-matome textbook for grammar is not the perfect textbook and I could point out many weaknesses or things that I didn’t like. It does contain a lot of grammar points, but it is not a comprehensive or thorough textbook that will guarantee your passing N1. If your goal is to pass the test no matter what, maybe you should look at other textbooks like the Shin Kanzen.

As for me, I am studying Japanese as a hobby. I am using the JLPT to get a deadline and force me to learn new vocabulary and grammar. Of course, I would love to pass the test, but to me, the preparation process and all the things I learn through it are more important than the test itself. My real goal is to improve my Japanese (reading level), not to get the JLPT N1.

Moreover, I want Japanese and learning Japanese to stay fun and relaxing. After all, this is what hobbies are here for. What is great with So-matome, is that I never felt overwhelmed. The layout is pleasant, there are illustrations, and you don’t learn too many things at the same time. As I mentioned earlier, the textbook is very thin (150 pages). The downside is that I had to do a lot of complementary study, but I somehow enjoyed it, and I did it only when necessary. If my textbook was 400 pages thick, I would certainly have been discouraged half way.

With the So-matome only, I may not be enough prepared for the JLPT N1… The July test is in two weeks now, so we will see then how well I do. But even if I don’t pass, I have learned a lot of new grammatical patterns during the 5 months I spent studying with So-matome, and I often see these patterns in novels that I read: my goal is already achieved!

Update 1: After taking the test (July 2019). I will write an update here as soon as I take the test!

Update 2: My results in the language knowledge section (July 2019). I will write an update here when I get my results.