I took the JLPT N1 on Sunday 1st. This is what I took with me on that day:
Tag / JLPT
JLPT: Practise reading and listening!
Only two weeks left before the JLPT of December! It might be too late to digest tons of vocabulary and grammar, but it is not too late to practise listening and reading.
Practise to improve your concentration
Contrary to the “language knowledge” section, there is something you need in order to beat the reading and listening section: the capacity to stay concentrated in Japanese during more than one hour for each section.
Strangely enough, this is something that is often overlooked during the preparation for the JLPT. We tend to focus on being able to understand written or spoken Japanese, but what is also difficult is to understand Japanese for one hour long.
I have taken enough real tests and practice tests to know that my concentration will not stay on top during the whole listening and reading section. When I reach half of each of these sections, I begin to feel tired and not only does my comprehension weaken, but I am also tempted to pick an answer randomly and be done with it.
Comprehension and concentration are two different things
I could spend the whole day reading detective novels in my mother tongue, but not in Japanese. I can read around 30 pages in a row, but then I start feeling tired. This has nothing to do with my capacity to understand Japanese because I can understand what I read without problems. But I feel exhausted. The story might be suspenseful, and yes I want to know what will happen next, but after 30 pages I disconnect, and I don’t want to read anymore.
This proves that the capacity to understand a text in a foreign language and the capacity to read in this language for long periods of time are two separate things. As a consequence, you need to work on both. Being able to understand what you read or hear does not guarantee that you will be able to do so for one hour. Reading in a foreign language or listening to something in a foreign language is exhausting. If you don’t work on your stamina, you will be so tired and fed up during the JLPT that everything will seem harder than it really is.
To sum up: 1) Keep learning new words and grammar points to be able to tackle difficult texts/audio. 2) Practise reading to improve your reading speed: if you read a lot, you will be able to read quicker and to make up for unknown words by guessing the meaning from the context. Practise listening to improve your capacity to recognise the words you learned and to be able to process information quicker. 3) Practise reading and listening for long periods of time to be able to go through the 12 texts (N1) and numerous audio of the JLPT. Concentration is a skill on its own, don’t neglect it!
How to practise?
To me, the best way to practise for the JLPT is to combine two different exercises:
- Short but intense practice: study a short passage of a text or audio to improve your comprehension.
- Train your concentration by reading or listening to Japanese for a fixed period of time.
The first exercise will improve your capacity to understand difficult texts or audio. Take any short text or audio and study it in depth. For example, you can:
- Written text: read it several times and try to understand, look up unknown words and check difficult grammar patterns, translate the text in your mother tongue.
- Audio: listen several times until you understand as much as you can without checking the script, then look up words with the script, listen again to the audio until you can identify every part of it. I would even go as far as to say: listen to it until you know it almost by heart.
If you don’t know where to find audio with scripts, I recommend checking the NHK Radio News website or podcasts. I am sure that a lot of Japanese learners know this podcast, but what you might not know is that journalists are often simply reading articles that you can find on NHK. They will sometimes omit a sentence or rephrase something, but most of what they say is the article unchanged (at least for the 7am broadcast, the only one I listen to). The easiest way to find matching articles is certainly to check the website in the morning. Listen to the first broadcast at 7am and check the website. You should find the articles read in the audio on the homepage or the section 新着ニュース一覧. If you check later in the day, the articles will be harder to find, and you will have to search for them using keywords.
To give you an example:
Another thing that you can do if you can afford it is to buy a book and its audiobook. You can find audiobooks on the website audiobook.jp. I recommend looking at non-fiction because it will be closer to what you will encounter during the JLPT. It might be expensive, but once you have the audio and the physical (or digital) versions of a book, you will be able to get a lot of practice out of it.
The second exercise that I mentioned above is here to train your stamina. The idea is to read or listen to Japanese for a fixed period of time. Start with a short period of time like 20 minutes and slowly increase the time you spend reading or listening. Aim at 1 hour.
You don’t need to study what you read or listen to, but you should definitely try to understand it. It is different from passive immersion. It will not do if you listen to Japanese for one hour while doing other tasks: what you want to train is your concentration, not your Japanese. Even if you are bored or want to stop before the time is out, force yourself to keep going until the end.
To sum up, make intense study sessions with short texts and audio to improve your reading and listening abilities in Japanese. The more you practise, the easier it will become to tackle difficult texts. At the same time, be sure that you can read or listen to Japanese for around one hour by training your concentration. The JLPT does not test you on your capacity to understand Japanese only, it also tests you on your ability to deal with Japanese material for a long time. Not only that, but you also have to answer questions and deal with time and stress during the test. All of this will be exhausting, so improve your concentration and focus before the test!
Practice with Korean mock tests (even if you don’t read Korean)
I live in Korea, which might be the best place in the world to buy JLPT textbooks!
The big majority of JLPT test takers are in Japan and China, but South Korea comes third, with 54,611 inscriptions and 41,972 actual test takers for the JLPT of December 2018. (source) As a result, publishers regularly come out with new textbooks.
You can use some of these Korean textbooks even if you don’t read Korean. Reading and listening textbooks especially are often collections of practice tests, so you can definitely use them without any knowledge of Korean.
I know that it is not easy to buy Korean books from other countries, but I found that some JLPT textbooks are available on the Google Play store as e-books.
I already mentioned them in a previous post, but I really think that these two textbooks are worth getting if you want to practice listening and reading with JLPT materials:
- To practice listening: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 청해
- To practice reading: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 독해
In the Google Play store, just copy-paste the title you are interested in (with the level you want). N4 and N5 are together in the same textbook. 청해 means “listening comprehension” and 독해 means “reading comprehension”. It is the only word that changes in the title of the textbook.
I have the physical copy of both for N1 and studied them entirely. These books are composed of practice tests only. They are very different from Japanese textbooks like Shin Kanzen or So-matome that have lessons and exercises.
This is the composition of each book:
Listening: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 청해
- Task-based comprehension = 9 tracks
- Comprehension of key points = 9 tracks
- Comprehension of general outline = 9 tracks
- Quick response = 29 tracks
- Integrated comprehension = 9 tracks
- Final test = 3 tests
Reading: (4th EDITION) JLPT 콕콕 찍어주마 N1 독해
- Comprehension (short passages) = 12 texts
- Comprehension (mid-size passages) = 10 texts
- Comprehension (long passages) = 7 texts
- Integrated comprehension = 7 texts
- Thematic comprehension (long passages) = 6 texts
- Information retrieval = 7 texts
- Final test = 2 tests
“Final test” is the reading or listening section as it would appear in the real test.
In the reading book, the text and the questions are translated in Korean. There is also Japanese-Korean vocabulary. In the listening one, you will find the script of the audio in Japanese with furigana, its translation in Korean and again, some vocabulary Japanese-Korean.
I recommend checking the free sample of the reading textbook as it gives you access to a generous portion of the book (you can actually practise the whole 12 texts of the “Comprehension (short passages)” section and the 5 first texts of the “Comprehension (mid-size passages)” section).
As for the listening books, you can download the audio for free on the website. The only issue is that you will have to create an account to be able to download or listen to the mp3 from your computer, and this can be a hassle if you don’t read Korean. However, the good news is that you can listen to the mp3 files on the website without login in if you access them via your phone (at least, this is how it works with me). Just copy-paste the title you want on the website http://www.darakwon.co.kr/ and look for the “mp3” button. You could also just listen to the audio to practice your listening skills with JLPT material, without answering the questions (if you don’t have the textbook).
While I find that the language knowledge section (vocabulary and grammar) is very straightforward (either you know the answer or you don’t), I think that a lot of factors can lower your score at the reading and listening sections: have you slept enough the previous night? are you tired? are you focusing too much on the clock? Even if your Japanese level is high enough to pass the test, you could lose precious points just because you cannot stay concentrated until the end… Practice is key!
Comic: Only one month left before the JLPT!
JLPT N2: Shin Kanzen Master vs Nihongo So-matome
In 2017, I have taken and passed the JLPT N2 twice. From January to July, I studied with the So-matome series, and from July to December with the Shin Kanzen series. I didn’t know which one of the two series was best for me, so I ultimately bought and tried them both.
As I have the whole set of each method, I thought I would make a comparison of the two to help you decide which one you should buy if you are taking the test.
Don’t forget that there are a lot of other textbooks available, you are not limited to So-matome and Shin Kanzen!
Go for the Shin Kanzen Master series if… you want to pass the test no matter what and want to get the highest possible score. Overall, the Shin Kanzen series is more thorough and has more content. On the other hand, it also asks a lot of work on your part to digest it all. If you are serious about the JLPT and willing to put enough time and effort in it, the Shin Kanzen will be your best companion.
Go for the Nihongo So-matome series if… you would like to pass the JLPT but your life does not depend on it, you don’t care about the score and don’t think that it is worth stressing about. If you take the JLPT to know your level, challenge yourself or give you a goal, the So-matome will be a decent companion. It might not be as thorough as the Shin Kanzen, but it is more digestible, pleasant and light. If you study with the So-matome only, chances are that you won’t feel at ease to answer all the questions during the test, but I personally passed with the So-matome only so… Also, if you are not taking the test at all but are using JLPT textbooks to study Japanese, the So-matome is certainly a good option.
You don’t have to stick to one method for the 5 textbooks. Let’s compare each one of them separately:
So-matome vs Shin Kanzen: book by book
I will try to be as thorough as possible in this comparison so that you can decide by yourself which one is best for you. I will also give my personal opinion.
147 pages – ENGLISH TRANSLATION – around 1400 words
There are 8 chapters. Each chapter contains 7 lessons: 6 lessons introduce new words and have two series of exercises. The seventh and last lesson of each chapter is composed of JLPT questions only. The book allows you to learn around 1400 words.
The number of new words per lesson varies, but it is usually between 20 and 30 words. Most of the time, new words are introduced in a short sentence or phrase, so that you can see how they are used and in which context they are likely to appear. Most of the time, So-matome does not give you the translation for the word itself but the translation of the sentence in which the word appears (it’s not a problem to catch the meaning of the word).
Some lessons are devoted to a topic (work, money, computer…) but other lessons have a non-topical approach. For example, you will have lessons that introduce adverbs only.
The last three chapters introduce words that look similar. It is the まとめて覚えましょう approach of So-matome. For example, you will learn all the N2 words that contain the kanji 物, the kanji 日, and so on. You will also learn together words that have a similar meaning or you will learn the different meanings that a single word can have depending on the context.
The exercises that accompany each lesson are okay, but not enough in my opinion. You will only see JLPT questions at the end of a chapter, that is, when you study the seventh lesson. If you want to have a good preparation for the JLPT, you might want to study with a book of vocabulary drills.
While the So-matome has a pleasant layout and is easy to study with, it does not introduce enough words. It does introduce a little of everything (adverbs, onomatopoeia, idiomatic expressions, and so on), but it does not cover all you need to know to pass N2.
When I took the test in July 2017, I had studied with the So-matome textbook only. I found the questions of vocabulary very hard and I kept stumbling across words that I didn’t know. I felt a little betrayed and irritated because I had bought and studied entirely the So-matome, I had read that it was one of the best textbooks available and yet, I had a hard time answering the JLPT questions. This being said, I did pass. My conclusion is that the So-matome can make you pass the test, but it is not guaranteed. It certainly depends on the amount of vocabulary you already know or learn outside of the textbook. If you want to be sure to pass the vocabulary section, the So-matome textbook is not enough in my opinion.
207 pages + 32 pages (answers) – NO ENGLISH – NO TRANSLATION – NO DEFINITION IN JAPANESE – A lot of exercises – 2283 words
The book contains 37 lessons. They all have a similar structure: first, the lesson introduces new words. You don’t have any translation for them, but they often come in an short phrase, so that you can learn them in context and see how they are used. Then you have a whole set of varied exercises to see if you remember the words. The exercises have unique and interesting questions as well as JLPT questions. You will learn 2283 words.
I want to stress that you have several serious exercises coming with each lesson (contrary to So-matome which had interesting exercises coming only once per chapter). I think that you will have a solid preparation for the JLPT.
Be careful that the lessons are huge in terms of new words count. Most lessons introduce up to 60 words (twice as many as a lesson of So-matome)! It will also take you some time and energy to go through all the exercises. This is something that you should keep in mind when you are designing your study plan. You will certainly need more time than you think to go through the whole textbook.
My personal opinion:
First of all, the lack of English translation is annoying when it comes to vocabulary. This means you have to check all the new words in a dictionary which is extremely time consuming.
The Shin Kanzen introduces many more words than the So-matome. No matter the chapter (adverbs, expressions, vocabulary by topic…) the Shin Kanzen will have more words than the So-matome. If we compare the two, the Shin Kanzen makes the So-matoe looks very pale.
But, I found this textbook overwhelming. The exercises are great, and it is a solid preparation for the JLPT, but you know, having a good textbook is not all… you have to study it! If you find this textbook too overwhelming, you might end up not studying it, and worse, you could give up the idea of taking the test altogether, thinking that it is too difficult or that the preparation is taking too much of your time.
If you are studying Japanese as a hobby, and if the JLPT is not that important for you, listen to my advice: Instead of buying the perfect textbook and never open it, it is way better to buy a so-so textbook and study it entirely. Even if you don’t pass the JLTP, you will have learned hundreds of words during your preparation and improved greatly your Japanese level. Isn’t this what counts in the end?
But… if you need to pass the JLPT for your studies or work, then you can rely on the Shin Kanzen.
Kanji is certainly the part where both textbooks differ the most.
159 pages + 15 pages (answers) – 739 kanji – around 2200 words
Here again, 8 chapters, each chapter contains 6 lessons of new kanji and a seventh lesson of JLPT questions. Contrary to the vocabulary book, some new kanji are also introduced in the seventh lesson.
Each lesson introduces around 12 to 14 kanji. For each kanji, you have the “on” and “kun” reading with words containing the said kanji. There are up to 4 or 5 words given for one kanji.
Each lesson corresponds to a theme, and I think that this is the best point of this method: the authors made a real effort to group the kanji by topics so that you can remember them more easily. Personally, I think that it works.
Another good point is the number of new kanji per lesson: you won’t feel overwhelmed. The downside is that there are not enough kanji in this method, only 739 (the Shin Kanzen has 1046 kanji).
It is interesting to note that the textbook does not give the core meaning (or any meaning at all) for the kanji. The only thing you get is the translation of the words containing this kanji. It personally suited the way I learn the kanji (exclusively in words, not by themselves), but it might be frustrating if you are used to learning your kanji with its core meaning. In this case, you will have to use extra resources like a kanji dictionary.
Also worth noting, the textbook does not show you the stroke order. If you planned on using a JLPT textbook to learn to write the kanji, you might want to reconsider your plan.
Each lesson of new kanji comes with some exercises, but they are not enough to prepare you for the test. The lesson of exercises (the 7th lesson) that comes at the end of each chapters does contain JLPT questions.
The So-matome adopts a light formula, and is perfect if kanji is not your thing. The way kanji are grouped together is great, the illustrations are also useful to remember some words, and overall, it was pleasant to go through the lessons (rather than a list of kanji). I also liked how they focus on introducing the kanji in context, it really suited the way I like to learn the kanji.
79 pages (list of kanji and words) – 121 pages (exercises) – 38 pages (answers) – 1 CD (exercises) – 1046 kanji
The Shin Kanzen textbook for kanji is very peculiar. The main part of the book is composed of exercises only. There are two separate booklets, one with the list of 1046 kanji that you somehow have to learn on your own, and one with the answers to the exercises.
First of all, let’s see the list of kanji.
The list is divided into sections, each section corresponds to a series of exercises. What you want to do is to study the kanji of one section then do the corresponding exercises.
You don’t get anything more in this booklet to learn the kanji, you are entirely on your own: No core meaning, no translation for the words, no topic, nothing but a list of kanji classified according to their “on” reading (in alphabetical order).
What is great in this textbook is the main part: the exercises. Once you have remembered the kanji of the list, you can test your knowledge with interesting and unique exercises. Each section has a double page of exercises, but they are not, for the most part, JLPT questions.
Note that some exercises ask you to write down the kanji by memory, so you might not find this kind of exercise appropriate to you if you don’t learn how to write the kanji. Also, note that the exercises are a little more challenging than JLPT questions. JLPT questions are multiple choice questions, but the Shin Kanzen exercises are often open ones like: “give the reading of this word”.
I don’t like the list of kanji. I feel that I could have found this list on internet. If I am buying a textbook, it is because I expect the authors to help me to remember the kanji, for example by sorting them by topic and showing them in context through illustrations like the So-matome textbook does. Moreover, I hate the sorting by alphabetical order.
However, I love the exercises. It feels a little schoolish to be honest, but I think that this is the reason why I like them. I am not sure whether they are the best way to prepare for the JLPT, but they certainly are a good way to test your knowledge of kanji.
To sum up, this textbook is challenging, you have to learn a list of kanji in alphabetical order. The exercises will also ask you to write some of them. It is a good method if you like playing around with kanji and are looking for exercises. If you find it hard to remember the kanji on their own and need more context, then go for the So-matome.
So-matome and Shin Kanzen have a similar structure when it comes to grammar, but if you look closely, you’ll see that they each have their distinctive features.
146 pages – 191 grammar points – English translation
There are 8 chapters, each contains 6 lessons introducing new grammar points and one lesson of JLPT questions. Each lesson introduces 4 grammar points so you will learn around 192 grammatical patterns in total (I think the exact number is 191).
Something worth noting is that the grammar patterns are grouped according to their structure/appearance. Grammar patterns that look similar (but may not have the same meaning) will be grouped together in the same lesson.
For example, you will learn in the same lesson these three similarly looking grammar points, although their meaning is different:
Some people might like to learn similar patterns at the same time, but others might find it extremely confusing.
Each lesson also comes with two types of exercises, they are okay, but it is not enough to feel that you master the grammar.
For each grammar point, you get two or three example sentences, the translation of the sentences in English and an equivalent in easier or casual Japanese of the grammatical pattern. There is also an indication on how the grammar is used (with which form of the verb or adjective and so on).
What you don’t get is an explanation of the grammar: what it actually means, when it is used, what nuance it brings and so on. Usually, the example sentences are enough to understand the meaning of the grammar, but sometimes, you might feel a little lonely with your textbook. For example, some grammar might seem similar, and you would like someone to tell you how they differ. If you use the So-matome, you should be ready to check online to get more information about a particular grammar or use a grammar dictionary.
I like the So-matome for grammar and particularly enjoy the equivalent they give in easier Japanese. To me, this is the best feature of the book.
I don’t like the way grammar are grouped together, to me it makes things really confusing, and I had a hard time remembering the difference between similar patterns because I had learned them at the same time.
Sometimes, I also felt that I needed more explanations concerning a grammar point. I guess that So-matome suits learner who can easily get an “intuitive” knowledge of what something means by seeing it in context…? Personally, I am more on the “explanation” side, I like things, especially grammar, to be explained to me. I would also have liked to have more example sentences per grammar.
211 pages – 211 grammar points – additional lessons on grammar – no translation
The Shin Kanzen introduces 211 grammar points. There are different parts and chapters, and some chapters are really useful to pass the JLPT.
First, you have 26 chapters that introduce the N2 grammar. Each chapter contains 5 to 6 grammar points. The grammar points are not classified by pattern (appearance), but by meaning, intention or nuance. For example, the grammar points that mean “but” or “if” will be in the same chapter. Same for grammar who allows you to emphasise what you want to say, or show your emotion.
To compare with the So-matome textbook, in the Shin Kanzen, you will find the following grammar in different chapters:
- 上に in the chapter 6 with grammar meaning ～だけではなく・それに加えて
- 上で in the chapter 3 where you find grammar meaning 後で
- 上は in chapter 17 with grammar meaning ～だから (理由)
For each grammar, you have an explanation of the grammar’s meaning in Japanese. It is short and easy to understand. There are also further information concerning when to use or not use this grammar, what is likely to come next in the sentence, what nuance it brings, what it tells about the speaker’s intention and so on.
There are also indications on how to form the grammar (with verbs, adjectives…) and 3 or 4 (sometimes more) example sentences.
Each lesson comes with a double page of exercises that are similar to JLPT typical questions. These questions are often tricky and are an excellent preparation for the JLPT. Same as for vocabulary, I would like to stress that you have a whole set of great exercise coming with each lesson. (So-matome has this kind of exercises only once per chapter).
Following, you have 7 chapters that come back on some of the grammar points you learned but taking a different approach. For example, they will put together the grammar using もの and the ones using こと so that you can be sure you will not mix them up during the test.
After that, you have 3 lessons that focus on the construction of the Japanese sentence and show you what comes after the grammar points you have learned. For example, some grammar points are necessarily followed by a negation, some are followed by a noun…
Finally, 12 additional lessons will deepen your overall knowledge of Japanese grammar. You will not learn new patterns, but review the things you think you already know. For example, transitive and intransitive verbs, direction (くれる・あげる) and the like, the utilisation of こ・そ・あ or は・が.
Lastly, you have two mock tests (only the grammar part).
To me, the Shin Kanzen grammar is a very solid preparation for the JLPT, especially if you can go through all the additional lessons. From my experience, I would say that it is not that difficult to tell which grammatical pattern you should use in a sentence. What I find very hard in the JLPT is when they ask you whether you should use こと, もの, わけ or ところ. Similarly, it is often hard to tell which particle you need between は, が, に or で. It sounds easy, but it’s not!
In comparison with the So-matome, the Shin Kanzen has more grammar points, more explanations, more example sentences and more exercises. It is way better in every aspect. The only thing that I like more in So-matome is that they give an equivalent in easier Japanese.
The down side of the Shin Kanzen is the layout. You have a lot of information on each page, and studying it might feel discouraging at times.
Reading and Listening
First of all, I would like to give a personal advice: you will pass the reading and listening sections if you are used to reading in Japanese and to listening to Japanese in your everyday life. I don’t think that going through one textbook only, especially if you start some weeks before the test, will allow you to pass.
Contrary to vocabulary, grammar and kanji, the reading and listening skills are not something you can learn by heart, it is something that you acquire through practice and time.
My own experience is that I got 60 points at reading when I took the test in July after my preparation with So-matome. And I got 59 points in December after having gone through the Shin Kanzen. No matter which textbook I chose, I got a good mark because I was reading a lot in Japanese outside of my JLPT preparation.
On the other hand, the listening part of the test was a nightmare. I felt that I understood nothing and picked half of the answers randomly. It was a nightmare in July (So-matome), and it was a nightmare in December (Shin Kanzen). I had this feeling even though I had studied two textbooks of listening preparation. The reason is simple: I don’t listen to Japanese regularly, I don’t watch drama, I don’t watch anime or TV shows.
So my conclusion is this: how well you do during the test depends on your usual routine, on the amount of spoken and written Japanese you absorb in your daily life. It does not depend on the textbook you choose.
Of course, you still want to pick at least one textbook or simply do practice tests because it is vital that you get used to the type of questions you will have, especially for listening. For example, the last questions of the listening part will demand you to take notes or you won’t remember important information. It is not difficult, but you have to get used to it before the test.
So a lot of practice on a daily basis + one textbook or practice tests to get used to the JLPT format. But once again, the textbooks are not magic, they cannot make up for a total lack of daily immersion, studying a whole textbook before the test will not guarantee you to pass.
Now let’s compare the two methods:
You have 6 chapters, each contain 6 lessons that teach you how to read difficult texts and a seventh lesson that contains JLPT question.
So-matome tries to make practicing reading as pleasant and painless as possible. Let’s say it plainly: practicing reading for the JLPT is not amusing. So-matome makes things easier with different layouts, strangely shaped characters that accompany you throughout the book, various fonts, illustrations…
It also takes you by the hand with step by step lessons. First you have some vocabulary or other pieces of information that will be useful to understand the text, then you read a dialogue between two people discussing the topic. And then you have the text in itself with questions. It is a progressive, step by step formula.
If reading is not your strong point and if you find N2 texts intimidating, So-matome is a great way to learn how to tackle those texts. But once again, don’t rely entirely on the textbook and read as much as you can in Japanese.
Contrary to So-matome, Shin Kanzen does nothing at all to make JLPT readings more enjoyable. On the other hand, it offers a much better preparation.
The book is divided into 4 sections.
The first section teaches you how to recognise key elements in argumentative texts: you will learn how to spot comparisons and metaphors in a text, understand when and how the author reformulates something or uses examples, and so on. It teaches you to read the text in order to answer JLPT questions which are often “what does the author want to say?”.
The lessons have a text and one typical JLPT question. The textbook takes you by the hand to help you answer the question. It shows you step by step how you must read the text: what are the key words, how the author used stylistic devices, how we can sum up the text… In addition to these guided question, you also have practice texts where you must answer on your own.
The second section is all about finding key information in notices, mails or commercials. Here again, you have lessons with step by step answers and practice texts where you must answer on your own.
The third section is a series of practice texts that you will find in the JLPT.
The fourth section is a practice test (reading section only).
I find that the Shin Kanzen book is extremely well structured and has very good content. At the N2 level, reading questions are tricky. It is not enough to be able to say what the text is about, you have to understand what the author really wants to say. The Shin Kanzen textbook is a good preparation. However, don’t forget to practice reading outside of the textbook. If you never read in Japanese, going through the Shin Kanzen textbook will be challenging and might even be discouraging. The textbook is mostly composed of texts that you have to read. If you feel at ease to read in Japanese but find the JLPT questions tricky, this textbook is perfect for you. If you don’t feel at ease to read in Japanese, go for the So-matome.
In other words, So-matome helps you to learn how to read difficult texts in Japanese. The step-by-step guideline is there to prepare you to read the text (first learn key vocabulary, then read a dialogue about the topic, then read the text). On the contrary, Shin Kanzen helps you to answer the JLPT questions. The step-by-step guideline is here to prepare you to answer the questions (first read the text, then learn how to extract important information). You also have a lot of texts that you must answer on your own.
My personal advice to pass the reading section would be to read a lot of things in Japanese in your daily life (light novels are a perfect choice) and study with the Shin Kanzen to get used to the JLPT format and practice reading argumentative texts.
If you don’t feel like reading tons of JLPT texts and just want to improve your reading skills during your preparation, then the So-matome is good.
There are 5 chapters, each contains 5 to 7 lessons. In each chapter, the last lesson is a series of exercises that are not JLPT questions. The 5th chapter is composed of a set of JLPT questions, there are no lessons in this one. The book is very thin, only 70 pages. There is also a supplement of 54 pages for the scripts and answers.
The first chapter starts with the basics. You will start with exercises on how to correctly recognise pronunciation, grammar or spoken expressions. The following lessons are more interesting and start to give you advice for the test. The third chapter in particular has a strategic approach and shows you what kind of dialogues you are likely to find during the JLPT N2.
The fourth chapter is also useful because it gives key expressions and terms you are likely to find in a given situation or place, for example: if the dialogues happens at the dental clinic, these are the words and expressions you might hear.
I think that the So-matome is well structured and has good content, but it also looks very light. For example, the part where you learn expressions likely to appear in this or that place/situation is a good idea, but you won’t learn enough vocabulary and expressions in my opinion. So-matome is a great textbook if you want to practice listening in a pleasant way, the lessons are short and you can finish the textbook relatively quickly. However, if you study with this textbook only, I think that you will be surprised by the actual JLPT test when you take it. You will find it much harder than anything you have learned in So-matome. If you want to study with this textbook, I recommend that you also listen to as many JLPT practice tests as possible and study with them in parallel.
The book has 103 pages + 46 pages of script and answers.
The book opens with a detailed presentation of the JLPT listening section. It might sound like a detail, but I highly recommend that you read it carefully.
The structure of the book is a little complex, but let’s say that it has an overall strategic approach. The book teaches you how to find the information you need depending on the type of questions you will get. For example, some questions will ask you what a person needs to bring to a certain event, and you will have specific exercises on this topic. Another lesson will make sure you can find relevant information in a dialogue or information that matches certain conditions (for example, someone needs to book a reunion room, but it has to be so and so).
The textbook also teaches you how to take notes while listening, and overall, how to be active while listening. It contains a lot of exercises that are not JLPT questions, but targeted exercises to improve different skills relative to listening.
There is also a mock test (listening section only)
My personal opinion
I would say that the Shin Kanzen is more thorough, it has a lot of exercises and a strategic approach to the JLPT. I have a personal preference for the Shin Kanzen when it comes to content, but here again, So-matome has a more pleasant layout and is easier to go through.
But to be honest, I find that both textbooks are too easy. In 2017, I found that the real JLPT test had almost none of the situations and dialogues I had studied in the textbooks (casual conversations between friends or colleagues, discussions inside the family, between teacher and student…) As I recall it, the dialogues of the real test were almost all work-related or had technical terms in them.
No matter which textbook you choose, you should also listen to as many practice tests as possible and to study the dialogues that you did not understand well. Listen to the dialogues several times, try to repeat what they say, read the script and look up unknown words, understand what you did not understand and why, and even, learn the dialogue by heart.
What would I choose today if I were to take N2 again?
If I were to take N2 again, I would choose a very different approach than I did in 2017…
For vocabulary, I would definitely stay away from the Shin Kanzen. This textbook demotivated me, going through it was a nightmare, and I couldn’t bear to open my Anki anymore. However, I find the So-matome a little too on the light side. So for vocabulary, I would go for the So-matome first and then use another more thorough textbook, or I would use another textbook altogether.
I would also simply skip studying the kanji. This is a very personal approach, but I don’t like to study the kanji for themselves (learning a list of kanji, their pronunciation, their core meaning, and a bunch of words in which they appear). I prefer to simply learn words and if an unknown kanji appears in these words, I will check it out in a kanji dictionary, see what its core meaning is and in which other words it appears. (Or sometimes, I would simply just learn the words and don’t really care whether I know the kanji in it or not.) This is something that I can do using a vocabulary textbook only so I don’t think that I need a kanji method.
For grammar, I would definitely use the So-matome first. It can be daunting to learn so many new grammar points in some months only, and the light, pleasant layout of the So-matome makes things easier. However, I don’t think that it is enough. After completing the So-matome, I would certainly pick another resource, either the Shin Kanzen grammar, or another one.
For reading and listening, I would go for the Shin Kanzen textbooks, but I would also be sure to practice a lot by using practice tests, especially for listening.
I hope that I was able to give you some kind of insight into these two methods.
To me, the Shin Kanzen series is a much better series to prepare for the JLPT than the So-matome. It is perfect for learners who really want or need to pass the test or students who major in Japanese.
However, we are not all willing to spend hours studying Japanese. Some of us would like to pass the JLPT, yes, but will never sacrifice the fun and joy of language learning to it. You might be learning Japanese as a hobby and take the test to check out your level or get additional motivation. Maybe you cannot afford to spend several hours per week to study Japanese. So-matome is designed for self-taught learners and fits a wide range of learners and learning styles.
Once again, if you are studying Japanese as a hobby, what is the most important thing? Pass the test or improve your Japanese? If you choose a good but challenging textbook, you might feel discouraged and demotivated after 1 or 2 chapters, give up the JLPT and your preparation. In the end, you will not have taken the test, you will not have prepared for it, and most importantly, you will not have improved your Japanese by preparing for the test.
On the contrary, if you choose a pleasant and light textbook that you can study entirely, you will have learned tons of vocabulary and grammatical patterns and practiced reading and listening during your JLPT preparation. Even if you don’t pass the test, your Japanese will have improved a lot.
So ask yourself what kind of learner you are, what amount of time and effort you are willing to put into the JLPT preparation, and what your ultimate goals are. And don’t forget that there are a lot of other good textbooks for the JLPT, you don’t have to stick to one series!
I passed the JLPT N1!
This is a long post about me taking and passing the JLPT N1 for the first time. I will talk about:
- my scores, section by section;
- what I did during my six-month preparation for N1, what was useful and what was useless;
- why I am going to sit the test once more in December and how I am going to study for it.
But first, some context:
The JLPT and me
I took and passed the JLPT N2 twice in 2017. The following year, I took a break from the JLPT, and I am back now in 2019 for a new JLPT challenge. My idea was to sit the JLPT N1 in December 2019, but I also took the test in July as a warm-up exercise… and I passed!
It is interesting to note that the scores I had for N1 this time are very similar to my results of July 2017, when I took N2 for the first time:
|2017 = JLPT N2||2019 = JLPT N1|
|Language Knowledge: 34/60|
|Language Knowledge: 36/60|
|Language Knowledge: 48/60|
Scores, section by section
Language Knowledge: 36/60
I consider 36/60 to be a very decent score, but it also means that almost half of my answers were wrong… It seems that some people have a “detailed” score for vocabulary and grammar (noted A or B), but I can’t seem to find it on the Korean site for the JLPT. This means that I don’t know if I lost the points in the vocabulary or in the grammar section.
The vocabulary questions were as expected: a lot of unknown vocabulary and a lot of words that I didn’t know well enough to answer the questions correctly.
As for the grammar section, it baffled me. It was very different from what I prepared for. There were very few questions about typical N1 grammar points (the ones I had learned in So-matome). I answered the questions not using my knowledge of N1 grammar, but using my intuition. I mean, I could not relate the questions to a particular grammar point that I had learned, so I could only answer what I felt was right. I would really love to have my exact score for the grammar section, just to know if my general knowledge of Japanese syntax is enough, or if I need to study more.
I think that my score at reading is very interesting, it shows how difficult the reading section for N1 is, and that it is much more challenging than the reading for N2.
In 2017, I had a perfect score at reading, but not this time. This is strange because I can assure you that my reading level has improved a lot since 2017. I am reading many more novels now than two years ago, I am reading faster, I struggle less, and I read more difficult things. I also spent a lot of time in 2018 reading the news in Japanese. What I mean is that I would have expected my reading level to have largely reached the N1 requirements. Of course it did because I still got a good score. But I scored less than for N2, so there must be a considerable gap between the N2 reading and the N1 reading level.
Same as in 2017, my listening score comes as a surprise. I mean, it is much better than I thought it would be. You could almost say that my listening practice for the JLPT amounted to zero, and I felt very distressed during the test. Given all that, I am very happy to have scored 37!
Listening is very hard for me, and when I see people getting 60/60 at listening, I’m so very impressed!!!
Looking back on my JLPT study
I have been thinking about what had been the most useful (or what has been useless) during my preparation (from January to June) for the JLPT.
I have studied with the So-matome textbook for kanji, and to be honest, this has been completely useless. I stopped after a while and never completed the textbook.
I am not saying that you should skip studying the kanji altogether, but I personally didn’t see what studying with a kanji textbook brought me what studying with a vocabulary textbook didn’t. The JLPT N1 does not really test you on kanji but on vocabulary, words and how to use them. When I studied the kanji, either I already knew the words they were in and felt that I was losing my time, or they appeared in words that I didn’t know, and I had to study these words anyway as part of my vocabulary session.
I wish I hadn’t spent so much time with this kanji textbook and learn new words instead.
I studied with the 日本語単語スピードマスター. It is a very good resource, but I was not using it well enough. I simply learned the vocabulary I didn’t know, but I didn’t work enough on each word.
The problem is that I know a lot of words just so so. I kind of know what they mean, and they certainly would not bother me if I encounter them in a novel. But my knowledge of the words is not good enough for the JLPT. Ideally, I should have worked on two things:
- Learn vocabulary
- Solidify my knowledge of the words that I already know
I only worked on the first point. As a result, I sometimes found myself looking at four words that I knew, but I could not decide which one was correct for the given sentence. It is so frustrating to know that I would understand any sentence containing these words if it were in a novel, but to not be able to answer the JLPT questions.
The term of “language knowledge” describes exactly what the JLPT is. The JLPT test your knowledge of the language, more than your capacity of using the language, at least when vocabulary is concerned.
My advice: Just learning new words is not enough. It is important to know the words well. When you learn a new word, you should really learn it in context (for example, learning short sentences or phrases instead of words) so that you know exactly in which kind of context it is used.
Even if you learn by heart an entire vocabulary textbook such as 日本語単語スピードマスター, you are still likely to encounter unknown words during the test. It seems impossible to know all the words the JLPT could test you with. While it is important to learn new words regularly, don’t forget that you should also master the words you already know. If you feel that you are running out of time with your preparation, work on the words you think you know, make sure that you know in which contexts they can be used and what is the difference between them and synonyms or words that share one same kanji. It will certainly be more useful than hurriedly learning some more new words a few days before the test.
To me, learning vocabulary for the JLPT is quite a different mission than learning vocabulary to read novels. To be able to read novels without struggling, I always go for quantity over quality. The more words I know, the better. I only need to know the general meaning of a word, but I don’t need to know in which context it can or cannot be used. Similarly, I don’t even need to know how to pronounce it because recognising the kanji is enough.
On the contrary, when you study for the JLPT, you should opt for quality over quantity, because even if you know a word (you can associate it with one or two English equivalents) but don’t know how it is used, you will have a hard time answering the JLPT questions.
I have entirely studied the So-matome textbook for grammar and I have reviewed the grammar regularly during all my preparation for N1. Having been through the whole textbook has been more than useful for my Japanese level. I keep seeing N1 grammar in novels I read, and I am sure that I made a lot of progress thanks to it.
However, I would not say that it had been super useful as far as the JLPT is concerned. To me, the So-matome does not correspond to the JLPT questions, it looks like there is a gap between the actual test and the textbooks, as if the tests had changed over the years and the textbooks not. I am not saying that the JLPT is harder than what the So-matome teaches you, but it is different. Similarly, don’t expect the JLPT to be a copy of the drills you find in the 日本語パワードリルN1文. (But keep in mind that I have taken the JLPT N1 only once.)
This being said, I still think that it is necessary to study a book like So-matome because some of the grammar points contained in it did show up in the JLPT, and you cannot know which ones. But most of the questions had nothing to do with what I had learned in So-matome.
To be honest, I don’t know how I can study the grammar. I think it would be useless to buy another textbook similar to So-matome. I don’t feel that I need to learn even more “N1 grammar points”, so if a textbook only lists grammatical patterns, it might not be what I need. I wish I could find a grammar textbook that would fit the contents of the JLPT…
I am sorry that I don’t have particular advice for the grammar because I don’t know myself how I should study…
I didn’t really study for the reading section, I just kept on reading novels in Japanese on a daily basis.
This method has worked because I didn’t struggle too much to understand the texts of the JLPT. Some were hard, but I could understand them after reading them twice. I remember that one in particular was very challenging, and I had to give up the idea of understanding it perfectly. Maybe I lost all my points on this particular text?
So reading a lot of native material instead of actively studying for the reading section of the JLPT allowed me to understand most of the texts of the JLPT. But there are two problems:
- Some texts (or even all of them) are much more difficult to understand than mystery novels
- Even if you understand the texts, it is difficult to answer the questions because it often seems that more than one answer could be the right one.
My advice: It depends on your level, but I think you should both study for the reading section (for example, with the Shin Kanzen textbook) and read a lot in Japanese, even easier things.
The questions of the JLPT are so tricky and difficult that having a good reading level is not enough to answer them correctly. You have to practice answering these kinds of question. I think that this is where reading and listening differ. In the listening section, if you understand what you hear, you will probably be able to answer correctly. But in the reading section, even if you understand what you read (maybe you could not translate the text, but you could explain what it is about), you might be puzzled by the questions. So you need to practice reading for the JLPT, not just reading for pleasure.
This does not mean that you should neglect reading for pleasure because reading a lot of native material, even if it is easier than the JLPT N1 texts, will help you to read faster. As you know if you have already taken the JLPT, time is key, especially for the reading part.
If you answer the questions in order, what will happen is that you will run out of time when you reach the very long texts, the comparative texts and the questions where you have to find information in a notice or pamphlet. This is a shame because I think that these last exercises are the easiest ones, the ones where you can answer right if only you have enough time to read them slowly and in a state of full concentration. The problem is that you certainly run out of time when you reach the last questions, so you are too stressed to read them thoroughly.
So what I recommend is to:
- Read a lot, even easier things, to improve your reading pace
- Practice with a JLPT textbook to get used to those stupid questions and the even more stupid answers that look like they are all correct.
- During the test, rush through the language knowledge section (either you know the answer or you pick one randomly, don’t lose time thinking about an answer if you don’t know it). Don’t forget that not having enough time for the reading part does not only mean that you won’t be able to finish it, it also means that you will be stressed, less able to focus on what you read, and that your overall performance on the reading section will suffer.
- I personally don’t recommend to start answering the reading section before the language knowledge section for several reasons:
- It will be harder to manage your time (when exactly should you start the “language knowledge” section if you feel that you are running out of time?).
- It will be a source of stress to know that you still haven’t done this part yet, and you will be less able to focus on what you read.
- I find that going through all the vocabulary and grammar questions is a good warm-up exercise. It can be tough to start with the texts. Going through the language knowledge section puts your brain on “Japanese mode” and it will be easier to understand the texts.
Given that I have done very little to improve my listening before July, I consider my score to be incredibly good. I even got a better mark at listening than at the language knowledge section even though I spent all these months buried under vocabulary and grammar! I don’t think that I am the best person to talk about listening tips so I’ll try to improve for December, and hopefully, I’ll be able to give you some advice this Winter!
I have taken several practice tests, and this has been one of the most useful things that I have done for the JLPT. You should definitely take at least one practice test before the actual test to get used to the questions, but if you have the time and can afford a book of mock tests, you should try to practice as much as possible.
The more you practice, the less intimidating the JLPT N1 becomes. At first, I found it very hard to stay focused during the whole test, and my capacity to concentrate would inevitably suffer during the reading and listening questions. But after taking several practice tests, it became much easier to stay focused throughout the whole test. In July, when I took the real test, I had no problem staying awake.
The first time I took the JLPT (N4), I was so intimidated that I lost a lot of time checking if my answer was right. I would read and re-read the question to be sure I understood it. Once I had answered, I would double check my answer to be sure I had the right one. Through this process, I lost a lot of precious time. Now that I am used to taking the real JLPT and practice tests, I have gained confidence and don’t lose time double checking everything.
Another good point is that taking practice tests has helped me with time. After taking two or three tests, you will know how to manage your time better. Don’t forget that you will need all your concentration to answer the reading section, so you cannot afford to dedicate a part of your brain activity to counting the time and stress about it. When I was taking the actual test, I would sometimes start to stress about the time, especially when I didn’t understand what I had read and knew I had to read the same text one more time. But then I would think: “I have been here before, and I know that I have enough time to read this text twice and slowly”. This helped me to put any time-related stress apart and concentrate on the texts.
Why I am taking the JLPT N1 once more in December
My real goal is to improve my Japanese level, not to pass the JLPT. To be honest, I don’t really care about having the JLPT or not because I don’t need it for my studies or work.
I am studying Japanese on my own, and I don’t usually have difficulties finding motivation to do things in Japanese and to slowly improve my level through immersion. What I find very hard to do is to really study Japanese: add new words to Anki, learn new grammar, etc.
Now that I have reached a level where I can enjoy a lot of mystery and detective novels (my favourite genre), it is very difficult to find the motivation to learn more things. It is so much easier to stagnate.
This is where the JLPT proves itself useful. I would never have learned so many words and grammar points without the prospect of taking the test. “I want to improve my Japanese” is unfortunately not a sufficient goal to me, I need something more concrete.
This is why I am thinking of taking the JLPT N1 once more in December and maybe… once every year! I know it might sounds strange, but I know I will never be able to read books on History or “literary fiction” if I don’t force myself to learn new words regularly.
I like the idea of having the JLPT coming every year in December. It will be a good concrete goal to keep in mind throughout the year. I will certainly not study as hard for it in the upcoming years, but I am sure that it will help me to find some motivation to learn new words, review the grammar and try to understand texts above my level.
My goal will be to get better scores than I did the previous time. Once again, I don’t really care about my score at the JLPT, it is just that I need a concrete goal.
Study guidelines for December
There are only three months left before December so I don’t think that I can achieve much before the JLPT.
I will focus on vocabulary because it seems to be my weakest point. I will continue to learn new words, but I will also try to study in a more JLPT-oriented way, and focus on synonyms and usage.
As for grammar, I don’t think that I will do much apart from reviewing what I had learned for July.
As far as reading in concerned, I know that I should work more on JLPT texts so I think that I will work in this direction. It just so happens that the novel I am reading at the moment has very difficult passages. This comforts me in the idea that working on challenging texts will be useful, not only for the JLPT, but for my reading level in general.
Finally, I don’t think that I will manage to work more on my listening, but I do listen to more Japanese now, mainly because I have a Netflix subscription. I don’t know if watching anime will help me to improve my performance at the JLPT, but it can hardly be worse than when I did no listening practice at all!
I have taken the JLPT four times and every time my Japanese level has greatly improved. I am sure that I would not be where I am now if I had never taken the test. I don’t need the JLPT to stay motivated with Japanese or even to study Japanese because I love doing it and it is my main hobby now. But if I hadn’t studied for the test, my progress would have been much slower, and I always tend to be discouraged when I feel that I make no progress at all.
The JLPT might not be a good mirror of your abilities in Japanese, and of course, having passed N1 does not mean that you can communicate in Japanese. But more than the test itself, it is the preparation it requires that I find so valuable: it forced me to be assiduous and diligent and to learn a lot of new things.
JLPT N1 round 2: Start!
Since January 2019, I am studying to pass the JLPT N1. My goal is to pass the test in December, but I also took the test of July to gain some practice. It was helpful, but it also gave me a sense of achievement, and it is hard to get back to the JLPT preparation now!
After the test of July, I went on holiday, but it has been several days since I came back, and I still haven’t done anything for the JLPT or my blog. This post is long due!
I have tried to identify what makes it difficult for me to go back to studying for the JLPT when I usually don’t have to struggle to study Japanese.
- First of all, waiting for the results (of the JLPT of July) is frustrating. It is hard to get back to the preparation of the JLPT without knowing where I should put my efforts. On the other hand, the results won’t come out before the end of August, so waiting would mean losing a precious month.
- In January, when I started my preparation for the JLPT N1, everything was new, particularly the textbooks. I just had to start with the first lesson. Now things are a little more complicated. I have started several textbooks, and I don’t always remember where I had stopped before I went on holiday 😅 It is less motivating to go back to an old textbook than to start a new one. I also feel that 1- I don’t know where I should pick up, and that 2- it does not matter anyway because I have forgotten everything I had learned before.
- Speaking of which, I have to go back to Anki and my grammar flashcards, and it feels like I haven’t touched them for years and have forgotten everything.
I find the second point very frustrating. I am obviously the same person now and before the test of July, but it feels like it was a complete stranger who prepared so feverishly for the JLPT back then.
Just one month ago, I knew exactly which lessons I had studied, which ones remained to be done, what I should learn next, how I should do it, and so on.
And now, after three weeks away from the JLPT, I feel like a newcomer who has been handed over a pile of files belonging to someone else and has been told to just continue whatever it was that this person was doing.
It is annoying, but… getting started is the most difficult step. After that, I am sure that everything will go smoothly again.
New study plan?
I don’t really have a study plan for the next four months.
Back in January, I had planned on studying with the Shin Kanzen series during the second half of the year, but I have bought several Korean textbooks since then, so I don’t think that I need the Shin Kanzen too. I am also wondering whether I need to study with a textbook for listening and reading, but I think that it is best to read and listen a lot to native material. I will wait until the results (of the July test) and decide then.
Focusing on native resources instead of textbooks is more interesting and motivating, but it is hard to measure one’s progress. If I spend one hour watching an anime on Netflix, have I studied for the JLPT? It will be hard to gain a sense of achievement and feel that I have actually studied.
I still don’t know how I will concretely study until December. I know that I need to increase my vocabulary, review the grammar, listen to more Japanese and read more non-fiction, but I lack a concrete study plan. I will try to put together a strategy, and in any case, I am back to studying Japanese now! Round 2 of this JLPT year has started! 🤜
Taking the JLPT N1 for the first time!
I have taken the JLPT N1 on July 7th (2019) for the first time, and I was not very surprised by my performance… I think that I might pass, but I also feel that I need the remaining months until December to increase my vocabulary and progress in listening.
Report on the July test
I found that the vocabulary part was not as hard as the drills I have been doing recently. I think that the Korean textbooks and drills that I use tend to be very demanding so that students are well prepared.
During the real test on Sunday, I was surprised to see that the vocabulary part was not that hard. I don’t mean that I answered everything right, of course, there were a lot of words that I didn’t know, and I picked several answers randomly. But I also felt that a little more work on vocabulary will be sufficient to ensure a good mark in that section.
The most surprising part of the whole test was the grammar section. I felt that all the grammar points that I had learned for N1 were more or less useless… I expected the test to challenge us on those grammar points (the ones that are labelled N1, and that you can find in the So-matome), but it was not really the case.
Before the test, I had been working with the 『日本語パワードリルN1文法』and these drills stay very close to the textbook So-matome. Each question clearly identifies one of the grammar patterns you have learned in So-matome. If you know your patterns well, it is very easy to answer the drills.
Duritng the test, however, I didn’t find many questions relative to N1 grammar points. The questions were more about your general knowledge of Japanese grammar. It is hard to explain, but instead of knowing 150 grammar points, it would have been best to have a very good and thorough understand of Japanese grammatical structure. More than identifying grammar points, you have to understand perfectly what each of the answers mean, and choose the right one to fit in the sentence.
As a consequence, you could say that the grammar part was easier than expected. I may be wrong, but my feeling during the test was that a student preparing for N2 could answer the questions. On the other hand, this is not what I prepared for, so I felt both confused and unprepared.
I think that going through textbooks of grammar is necessary but not enough. You need to be a lot in contact with Japanese to gain a sense of what is right and false. I felt that this N1 grammar section was not about how many grammar points you know, but more about how well you understand Japanese.
I found the texts of the reading section not too difficult, except for one or two. What I really found hard were the questions.
When I took N2, I would read the text only once, then read the questions (I always read the text before the questions). I remember that I could answer the questions without returning to the text. This means that one answer was obviously right and the others wrong.
I tried to do the same for N1, but it didn’t work. I read the text once slowly, but when I read the question and the answers, I found that several answers could be the right one. So I had to return to the text and re-read several passages before I could choose one answer. And even then, I was not sure if I had picked the good one because sometimes, two answers were obviously the right one??
Listening is my weak point, so there is no surprise here. I could not understand some of the dialogues (this means that I wasn’t sure of what they were talking about), and even when I understood the dialogues, I would often miss the crucial information to answer the question.
The most difficult part by far is the part where you hear the questions and answers after hearing the dialogues. I think that I picked everything randomly in this section!
I also find the listening section more stressful because it seemed to me that all the other test takers in the room were choosing their answer right after the audio had stopped playing while I was still trying to remember what had been said in the dialogues!
Time was not a problem as I had ten minutes left at the end of the vocab-grammar-reading section so I could go back to some previous questions and double check my answers.
How to improve and get a better score in December?
I will take a two-weeks break, and then I will be back to my JLPT preparation. My goal is to get a good score in December. (Actually, my real goal is to improve my Japanese, and I use the JLPT to achieve this goal.) So how should I study during the four remaining months?
There is no shortcut here, the more words you know, the easier it will be to pass this section. I will continue to learn vocabulary as I have been doing, looking for example sentences in the dictionary and systematically learning the words in context, which means, adding sentences to Anki instead of words only.
Instead of trying to learn even more N1 grammar points, I should focus on reviewing the N2 and even N3 grammar and be sure that I feel at ease with it. I will also try to be more attentive when I am reading in Japanese, and analyse why I don’t understand a sentence. I think that this kind of exercise will be useful to pass the grammar section of the JLPT.
I don’t know what I can do to improve my reading, because it was not the texts that I found difficult, but the questions. I am sure I would find them as difficult if they were in English! (And I wouldn’t be surprised if native speakers of Japanese said that the reading section of the JLPT N1 was difficult…) Maybe I should buy the Shin Kanzen textbook for reading and study with it?
Here again, no shortcut: I must listen to more Japanese! I feel very motivated to take on the challenge and try to improve my listening level before December. I don’t think that the dialogues use words that I don’t know, I think that the problem is that I just don’t recognise the words that I am supposed to know. Practice is key!
This is it for my JLPT report! I don’t know if I will pass, but I am confident that I will be able to pass in December if I study accordingly until then!
I will be away for two weeks, and I will be back to studying Japanese on Monday 22th! (And I will certainly post a book review in the meanwhile!)
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.
JLPT Journal: Grammar done, starting drills!
I can’t believe that the test of July is in a little more than one month. My real goal is to pass in December, and I am taking the test of July as an exercise. Nonetheless, I cannot help but feeling excited (stressed) for July, and I am focusing on making vocabulary and grammar drills.
So-matome Grammar: DONE!
I have finally finished the So-matome textbook for grammar. I had planned to finish it in May, so I am very glad to say that everything went according to plan.
I am aware that the So-matome textbook is not enough, this is why I will also study with a Korean textbook:
This Korean textbook is very thorough. It has a lot of example sentences, and it has a strategical approach, showing you the grammar in the context of JLPT questions:
I still don’t know if I will buy the Shin Kanzen for grammar or not… I remember that the Shin Kanzen was a little overwhelming for me when I took N2. More than once, I felt discouraged when studying with it…
Drills, drills, drills!
In order to get ready for July, I bought this two textbooks of drills by ASK publishing:
I think that making drills is a very good way to review and learn new words. My first impression is that the grammar drills are very close to the So-matome grammar textbook. I cannot say anything definite for vocabulary because I haven’t studied with the So-matome vocabulary book, but I would not be surprised if it were the same.
As a result, I find the vocabulary drills quite difficult, I usually answer at least one third of the questions wrong.
As for grammar, as I said, the drills seem to be very close to the So-matome textbook. This means that if you have gone through the whole So-matome grammar textbook, you will find these drills easy and answer most of the questions right. However, it seems that the drills will not test you on grammar points that are not in the So-matome textbook… I still need to make more drills to see if this first impression is confirmed.
I am still working with the 日本語単語スピードマスター, and I have reached unit 39. I had to admit that not using Anki was a bad idea… I thought I could learn and review the vocabulary using this book only, and while it did work during the first units, it became overwhelming with time. I have decided to add the words and example sentences to my Anki deck, which is better in the end.
I am still working with the So-matome textbook for kanji, and I must say that I am quite bored with it. I will continue until the end, but I feel that the lessons are not all useful. Sometimes, the textbook introduces words that are too easy, and I feel like I am losing my time. On the contrary, some lessons have difficult kanji, but they are introduced quickly, and I feel that I don’t master them even after I studied the lesson.
I am still reading in Japanese almost everyday, and I also do some JLPT reading practice from time to time. I am also glad to announce that I took the habit of listening to the NHK News every morning. I don’t understand everything but I feel that I am getting slightly better, which is very encouraging.
That’s it for this JLPT update! I hope I will be able to have decent results in July. I will certainly write another JLPT update before the test!
My method for the JLPT reading part
Last week, I got the results of the second session of the JLPT (December 2017), and I was happy and relieved to see that I passed with 156 points!
I thought that I would pass because, after the test, I felt that my performance was similar to what I did in July 2017, when I took the N2 for the first time. But precisely because my performance seemed to be the same, I was anxious. I thought that the four months I spent working with the Shin Kanzen Master series between August and November of last year were maybe not worth it…
In this post, I am going to see what these 4 months brought me and then give my personal tips to pass the Reading section (the only section where I feel entitled to give advice).
A year of JLPT N2
I started studying for the JLPT N2 at the beginning of 2017. I used the So-Matome series, which I really appreciated. I had time (6 months), and I didn’t really stress myself with the JLPT. As you can see, I achieved the full mark in reading, but I was not satisfied with the Language Knowledge (vocabulary and grammar) section. As a consequence, I decided to sit the test one more time in December. This time, I studied the Shin Kanzen series.
If my goal had been to pass the JLPT, then studying the So-Matome books would have been enough. But the JLPT is not as much a goal in itself as a way to stay motivated, create a deadline and help me boost my vocabulary. Studying the Shin Kanzen series helped me do all these and I don’t regret for one second having spent so much time on it. This being said, I can’t help but think that 14 and 11 points are not much in comparison with my efforts to finish the books of the series… Of course, I am glad that I improved my score. If I hadn’t, I would have been so cast down… studying more to achieve less… But I feel like extraordinary efforts (to me) have brought a not-so-extraordinary result.
Grammar, Vocabulary and Listening
To dig a little deeper, I would say that the real improvement was in the grammar section. I did feel more at ease in December than in July, and I would not be surprised if I had got the 14 points thanks to the grammar only.
On the contrary, I didn’t feel at ease at all with the vocabulary. There were still a lot of words I didn’t know. From my experience, completing the Shin Kanzen vocabulary book does not guarantee a full mark at the vocabulary section.
As for the listening section, I think that there are 3 things at stake here:
- Language knowledge (how many words one knows)
- Listening competence (the ability to recognize the known words and fill the gap of unknown words. In other words, the ability to understand a text or a dialogue even with unknown words)
- Note taking
My language knowledge certainly improved a little but what really made the difference is my capacity to take notes. In July, just the idea that I had to take notes paralysed me and I was not able to take notes while still focusing on what I was listening to. Thanks to the listening book of Shin Kanzen series, I learnt to take notes rapidly. In July, I could not answer the last questions because I hadn’t taken notes properly. In December, the last questions have not puzzled me so I might have won my points there.
As for the listening competence, I don’t think that it is something that improves through studying a textbook, no matter how good it might be. It comes from listening to a lot, which I don’t do enough.
The reading section
As I have been steady in my results for the reading section, I feel that the method I use works well for me and I will apply it when (if) I try myself at N1.
To pass the reading section, I think that one needs three things (like the listening part):
- Language knowledge, particularly kanji. There is no secret concerning improving one’s vocabulary: you have to learn new words regularly. But, recognizing kanji is something that can be improved a little every day. When you read in Japanese, try to pay special attention to kanji. You don’t have to know how to write them, just being able to associate them with a general meaning can save you the day of the test. Even being able to say if this kanji has a positive meaning or a negative one can help understand a whole sentence or avoid a counter-sense.
- Reading competence. Again, this is the competence that allows you to understand a text even when it is full of unknown words. The best way to improve this competence is to read a lot. Not just JLPT material, but anything you can find in Japanese. This is something that builds itself on the long-term.
- A method to apply the day of the test. This is what I want to talk about here.
What follows is the method I applied both time I sat the JLPT. These are just personal tips that may not work for everyone.
Start with the Language knowledge part but rush through it.
Use the language knowledge section as warm-up exercises
I don’t know if it concerns all levels of the JLPT, but for N2, you have a common amount of time allotted to do the language knowledge part and the reading part.
As time is an issue, a good idea would be to start with the reading section. By doing so, you are less stressed by the clock and can read all the texts. I tried this method once when I was doing a mock test and it didn’t work at all for me. Even though the first texts are supposed to be easy, I could not understand them and had to read them twice. At the end of the test, I had 5 minutes left that I used to go back to these “easy” texts. Half of my answers were wrong and I was able to correct myself, thus winning some points.
Why did it not work?
I need some time to adjust myself and pass in “Japanese mode”. If the reading section texts are the very first thing I do, I am still not focused enough and I have difficulty understanding them. Maybe it is just me, but I feel unprepared like if my brain needed some time to really start working.
On the contrary, after having been through the whole “language knowledge” section, my brain is warm enough to attack the reading part. I take the “language knowledge” part as warm-up exercises for the reading section. Our body needs warm-up exercises before doing an intense activity, our brain might not be different after all (or maybe I have a particularly slow brain? 😐)
Don’t lose time on vocabulary
As time is still an issue, we want to gain time on the language knowledge part. I think that you should rush through the vocabulary questions. Most of the time, either you know the answer or not and if you don’t, reflecting 5 minutes on it does not really help you get nearer to the answer. I would even say that your best intuition is often the right answer. This intuition comes necessarily from somewhere, maybe you saw this word in the past and, even if you cannot remember it clearly, one answer seems more natural than the others.
The same applies to grammar too, even if some questions do require time and reflection.
The best thing to do is to know exactly what minimal time you need to go through all the texts of the reading part. The day of the test, try to devote this amount of time to the reading part, no matter what.
Don’t watch the clock once started
This is just my personal method. Please do check the clock if not knowing the time should stress you more as knowing it!
Once you know that you start the reading section soon enough to be able to finish it, there is no need to look at the clock anymore. Of course, this requires knowing exactly how much time you need and be confident about it. The only way to know it is to have worked through at least two mock tests at home. If you can trust yourself to go through all the texts of the reading part in x minutes, then looking at the clock will only bring stress and a sense of urgency that will ruin your concentration.
To understand the long and difficult texts of N2 I really need 100% of my concentration. If 20% of it is busy thinking of the time left, I will have much more difficulty understanding what I read.
One can also say that if you are not going to finish the reading section, knowing it won’t change anything. Or if it changes something, it might make things worse. If you know that you won’t be able to finish, it’s not 20% but 80% of your brain that will be devoted to time. You will be tempted to read faster, thus missing information and end up having read a text without understanding it… resulting in having to re-read it and losing precious minutes.
Be a reader, not a test-taker
These are advice that helped me a lot. It might seem too simple to be useful but it changed everything to me.
Reading too fast is the best way to miss a piece of information here and there and end up accumulating gaps that will lead to a misunderstanding of the whole text. Sometimes, failing to recognize what is the subject of a sentence can blur the meaning of a whole paragraph.
Reading slowly does not only mean reading at a slow pace but also implies that one should not hesitate to re-read a sentence if needed. In other words, I don’t move to the next sentence if I don’t understand the one I am reading. I prefer to take the time to re-read the problematic sentence before moving on.
Before applying this method, I used to read the text until the end, no matter how good I understood it. I wanted to believe that something would help me grasp the meaning of the text, or that the end would be so enlightening that understanding the last paragraph would be enough to understand the whole text. But it rarely works this way. What systematically happens is that comprehension gaps will get bigger and bigger. If you don’t understand a sentence, there are chances that you won’t fully understand the paragraph. As paragraphs are often constructed in relation to one another, you compromise your comprehension of the whole text.
So what happened when I finished reading the whole text without having understood it completely? I would read the questions, have no clue what the answers are and would have no choice than to read the whole text again.
In the end, if I compare reading the text slowly and reading the text twice or more, reading slowly wins.
Don’t read the questions before the text
I know that most textbooks tell you to read the questions first and this is what I have been doing for a long time. The problem is that I am too focused on the pieces of information I need to answer the questions. Sometimes, I have the impression that a paragraph is not useful to answer the questions, so I tend to read it very fast and not bother if I don’t understand it. Then, two problems may arise:
- I realise that this paragraph was indeed useful to answer a question, and I have to read it again.
- Not understanding this paragraph makes the comprehension of the next paragraph more difficult.
Moreover, a part of my capacity to focus is busy recalling what the questions were while I am reading, and this left me with less concentration power to make my way through the text.
What I would advice to do, is to ignore the questions and read the text slowly. When I started reading the text slowly, I realised that I knew the text well enough to be able to answer the questions without having to look at the text a second time. Or, if I really needed to check something, I would know exactly where to find what I was looking for. So what I do is:
- Read the text slowly. This does take time, but the idea is that I read the text only once. I will not need to go back to the text to answer the questions.
- Read the questions and answer them without (most of the time) having to look at the text.
Make sure you want to know what the text is about
The idea is to become a reader who really wants to know what this text is about. You have to fake a sincere interest in the contents of the text. Forget that you are reading the text to pass an exam and read it for the contents it has to offer. If the author talks about his own experience, try to feel empathy for what he says or link it to things you yourself experienced. If the text explains something, feel interested in its contents, as though you decided to read it because you wanted to know what were the results of this survey or what were the social trends or latest scientific researches the text presents.
Having this kind of attitude boosted my comprehension of the text and my capacity to fill the gaps when too many unknown words showed themselves in the same paragraph. Forgetting everything about the test, in other words, ignoring both the time and the questions, and reading the text for itself, for its contents, boost our ability to guess what the author wants to say.
Even if I feel confident when starting reading a text in Japanese, there are times when I come to the last line of it and have no idea what it was about. What happened when I took my first mock tests was that I would read the questions and the answers, try to find the information in the text, look frantically through it, be unable to find the good paragraph, end up re-reading the whole text, re-read the answers I had forgotten, panic, look at my watch, draw a sharp breathe, skip this text and go to the next one.
To avoid this situation, I found my own method which can be summarized like this:
- Use the Language-knowledge part as a warm-up exercise
- Don’t lose time on the vocabulary part
- Know the time you need to finish the reading part, so that time pressure does not kill your focus
- Read slowly, don’t read questions first, and try to care about the text.
To summarize, the best thing is to have one’s own personal method to apply the day of the test! As you can see, my method is very different from the usually recommended ones. So my recommendation would be to not blindly follow other people’s tips (including this blog post!). Finding one’s own method is the key.