The Ultimate Study Guide for the JLPT show

The Ultimate Study Guide for the JLPT

Summary: The JLPT Boot Camp podcast covers tips and tricks for the JLPT or Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Every week I go over a different aspect of how to study and what to do for the test. I cover all the tests, N5, N4, N3, N2, and N1.


 JLPT BC 52 | Using Japanese-English Dictionaries | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 14:16

I recently went through teaching an intensive program with some students. It involved a few 12 hour days with me being the classroom for about 10 hours. Needless to say it was exhausting and I didn't get that much studying done during that time. I did, however, get a lot of Game of Thrones reading done. Unfortunately that does nothing to improve my Japanese skills. I did manage to recover from all that mess though. I slowly eased myself back on schedule and I'm back at it. It was definitely a bit hard at first to get myself started again, but after a did my routine for a few days it all came back to me, thank goodness. Lately, I've still been busying myself with the old kanzen master N2 grammar. I just finished it and now I'll probably do a practice test next weekend and see where am at. I hope to be able to do an old pre-2010 practice test and a new post-2010 practice test to see how big of a difference there is in levels. A suspect there will be a bit of a contrast. Using Dictionaries Using a language dictionary is a fact-of-life for those learning a language. No matter what you do when learning a language you will inevitably have to look a word up. You will probably have to look up several hundred or thousand words over the course of your language learning. So language dictionaries are a vital tool for language learning. You may probably think that you are already have the fine art of dictionary looking-up down pat, but there are a few things to keep in mind when you look a word up in the dictionary. Things that totally slipped by me, my first couple of years of language study. Make Sure the Word you Look Up is the Word you Think it is Usually, over the course of natural language studying, you come across words you don't know. They might be in some reading you are doing or something that you are listening to. You may also want to express something, but don't have the words to do so yet, and want to know how to say something in Japanese. In all of these cases you need a language dictionary. And, typically, you look up the words in the dictionary, take a few brief moments to read the word in English and then go about your day. It's fairly straight forward process, or at least I used to think it was. Now, for common words, like 'blue' and 'car', this is a perfectly fine way of doing things. But, if you look up something with a slightly more abstract meaning you are going to start to run into trouble. Take a word like 'demand' for example. The noun form of 'demand' has at least 3 common words in Japanese: 要請 (yousei), a request or demand, 要求 (youkyuu), a strong demand, and 需要 (jyuyou), economic demand. That's just for the nouns. There are other words used for the verbs. How to Combat the Problem First, be sure to check out the sample sentences if your dictionary has them. If you are still using a paper dictionary you are a bit out of luck here, but almost any kind of electronic dictionary (on the web or otherwise) have a plethora of example sentences for you to read through. Reading through these example sentences briefly can help you see how it is used. You may also want to do a reverse look up of the word. You can do this by look the word up in reverse to see what other meanings that same word has. For example, if you don't know the word for blue you can look it up and discover that blue in Japanese is 青い. But, if you look up 青い you'll find that it means both green and blue. So, the next time someone says 青い in conversation you know that they either mean green or blue (and not just blue). Lastly, you can ask a native speaker about it. You can try out a few sentences using the word and see if you are using correctly. Usage is important when you learn a word. To truly know a word you must know its meaning and usage. Also, the vocabulary usage section of the JLPT is one of the more difficult sections of the test, so it pays to be prepared for it. What has tripped you up?

 JLPT BC 51 | Getting Back on Track | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 16:13

Recently, I've switched my focus from vocabulary to grammar. Back in July, I took the N2 and failed the test, and one of my strengths was vocabulary. I also scored all right in grammar (B), but I feel like I'm getting a little bit rusty lately. So, I've actually gone back and started studying one of the first books I ever got to study for the N2, my trusty old Kanzen Master book. It is surprisingly still in print and for good reason. It is incredibly comprehensive and has plenty of tricky exercises to sharpen your skills. I've been going back through it and taking the practice tests in it. Then, going back and making cheat sheets with the grammar points that I got wrong. I've come to realize that I am familiar with a lot of Japanese grammar but I haven't really mastered it all yet. Busy Little Bee I've also been incredibly busy recently because I am teaching an intensive where I have to work 4-12 hour days, which involve 10 hours of being in the classroom and working with students. To say this is exhausting is an understatement. I do this every year and it completely takes over my life for the week. Everybody gets busy now and then, maybe you have a busy season at work, family commitments, people visiting from out of town, or it's just simply one of those weeks when you can't get anything done. You get busy. Also, we all have disruptions in our lives like moving somewhere new, getting a new job, getting married, or simple shifts in your schedule that can affect how you study. It can be incredibly difficult to stick to the books during these times of disruption. The Problem of Being Busy and Disrupted The reason for this is pretty simple – it interrupts your study pattern. I've talked before a few times about how after only 21 days a new study habit can cement itself into your daily routine, but if some big change comes along or you get incredibly busy, you can lose that pattern. I've seen good students, who study every day and do their homework, vanish from my class in a matter of a few weeks once they've started a new job or even moved somewhere different in the city. It's a bit heart-breaking to see, because I know how much effort they've put into studying the language and now they are going to lose a lot of that by letting it go. Don't Walk Away So, if you find yourself in one of these situations, don't walk away from studying. At the very least, try to squeeze in a little bit of practice during your breaks or other times. Even if you are just looking over a few flashcards, it'll be enough to remind you of the language and remind you to get back into a pattern once things have calmed down a bit. I would also recommend not jumping back in at 100% again. Try to ease back into studying if it has been awhile since you last cracked the books. Also, be a little lenient on the rewards at first, too. If you are able to study for 30 minutes, go watch TV for 30 minutes as a reward. Then, over time, increase your studying time and decrease the rewards. In the case of SRS, or spaced repetition systems like Anki, you might be coming back to 400+ cards after just a week away from it. This can be intimidating and might lead you to either just walk away or simply flip through the cards without much focus. Neither of these things are going to do you much good. What I do is set the session limits in Anki to make sure it is something that I can handle. Then, stick to that pattern of studying. This will probably involve you studying a little bit more than you did before. Don't worry about working your way through those cards, they can wait. Your head on the other hand, can only take so much memorizing in one day. Leave Your Mark How do you rebound from a disruption or a break in studying caused by being busy? Let me know in the comments below. P.S. Do you want to keep from getting distracted from studying? You should join my newsletter! P.S.S. Do you think this podcast is totally awesome? Me too!

 JLPT BC 50 | Where do I go from here? | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 11:49

First off, I can't believe this is my 50th episode! Thanks everyone for making the podcast a success and for supporting me and the site through this process. I hope to be delivering another 50 podcasts with better than ever quality of content. Recent ...

 JLPT BC 49 | Japanese Mnemonics | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 14:23

I have almost completed the 試験に出る読解 that I've been talking about over the last couple of weeks. It only took me about 3 or 4 weeks to complete and it has been a really tough book. There is a lot of vocabulary that can't be found on any N2 vocabulary list that I've seen, which makes it more difficult than the So-matome Reading Comprehension book. Overall, it is a good buy for someone that is studying for the N2 and will eventually study for the N1. I'm still not entirely sure why they have material for both tests in one book, but, oh well. I've also being reading a reader's digest type magazine called PHP, that you can find in almost any bookstore in Japan. It is full of essays similar to the type that you might see on the test. Some of the essays are incredibly well-written and so are rather difficult to read. Some of the essays are written in simpler language and so are right at the correct level for someone studying for N2. PHP,  which stands for Peace and Happiness through Prosperity, is a bit a of touchy-feely kind of company, so a lot of the essays are inspirational in nature.  Some of their Japanese publications are sometimes featured in reading comprehension practice books for the N2 and N1.  Some of the essays are thought-provoking opinion pieces which are like what you see on the test from time to time.  They also usually have furigana for anything that is above N2 level. It can be a bit de-motivating to read it because my progress with it is a lot slower than with my movie novelizations. However, reading native material more difficult than the actual test is really good prep for the test in my opinion. Mnemonics – Stuff to Keep Words Glued in your Head The basic definition of mnemonics is anything that helps you remember something. They can be stories, phrases, or images. Anything that will keep that information stuck there in your head. I personally used to think that using mnemonics was a bunch of hog wash and not worth my time. I guess part of me was lazy and the other part of me just wanted to learn and use the language not make up stories about it. It took a lot of time for me to come up with a story when I first started studying Japanese and so I abandoned using mnemonics pretty early on. I thought that it would just be easier to shove the words into my head via brute force, or just acquire the words naturally. But, mnemonics do have their uses, if you use them properly. To Make a Mnemonic or to not Make a Mnemonic that is the Question There are more than a few people out there that probably share my old opinion of mnemonics and also think they are a waste of time. And they would probably be right if you look at it on the surface. It typically takes about 5 to 10 minutes to make up a crazy story to help you remember a word, and then even after all that work it might still fall out of your head anyway. So, why even bother with all that story telling? Well, with practice, the process of making these mnemonics up gets easier and easier. I started gradually using them about 6 months ago and I've increased my use of them over the last couple of months. I use them now to help me remember those long complicated words that I have been picking up out of my native reading materials. And, I haven't been making up a mnemonic for every new word I encountered either. What I usually do is try to pick it up first through regular memorization. Then, if on a subsequent review my mind goes blank for the word's meaning, I'll make up a mnemonic then. At an intermediate to advanced level, a lot of the time, you simply need to be exposed to word in order to learn it because, for example, you already know the kanji that make up the word, so you can guess at the meaning. Or the sentence is so clear that you see it in, you can easily remember the meaning. But more abstract words, or words that are one word in English and several words in Japanese and vice versa can get a bit troublesome.

 JLPT BC 48 | Different Forms of Language | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 14:52

I'm still chugging my way through 試験に出る読解N1/N2 (Reading exercises on the test), which is a pretty difficult book. Again, not for the faint of heart. There are numerous words in the essays that probably should have definitions, but just don't. I don't mind this too much because I'd like my practice to be more difficult than the actual test, but be sure that you know your N2 vocabulary pretty well or you are not going to get a lot out of this book. I've also started timing myself. I used to think my reading speed was pretty good, but since I ran out of time on the last test, I've been rethinking that a bit. So, I've started doing a lot of timing and a lot of reading. I have been falling behind on numerous occasions, but I've also been doing it on the train where there are plenty of distractions. Different Forms of Language Anyone that has studied Japanese probably knows that there a few different forms or levels to the language. You were probably taught (even before you really needed to know) that there is casual, polite, humble, and respectful, etc... forms of the language. But, there are other things to be aware of about a language. Something that I didn't really notice until later, was the difference between spoken and written Japanese (or any language really). When I first started studying for N3+ it didn't really occur to me that a majority of the new grammar was for the written language only and not for the spoken language. If you think about it, we have this same thing going on in English, too. Because reading is a more prepared and thought out way of communicating it tends to lend itself to more complicated forms of grammar and vocabulary. Spoken language is more spontaneous, so the language is generally more simple and to the point. N3 is the Dividing Line In the lower levels of the test (N5 and N4) the grammar that is tested over is usually present throughout the test in the reading and listening sections. So you can't really see that big of separation between the two forms. However, starting at N3 the grammar becomes more written grammar. There is still some more complex spoken grammar added in, but I'd dare to say that a lot of the new grammar is used more in the written form of the language than in the spoken. So when I first started studying for the upper levels, I erroneously assumed the grammar I was studying would be in both the listening and the reading. But, it isn't. The simpler and short grammar tends to be more in the listening and the longer, stiffer grammar tends to be more in the reading. Those are some broad generalizations, and there are exceptions to that rule, but that is the basic idea. Reading Section vs. Listening Section In the reading section you will find a lot of the grammar you typically see in a grammar prep book like the So-matome series or New Kanzen Master series. These textbooks not only cover what is going to be in the 'grammar' section of the exam, but also the reading section. Especially any kind of linking words like それでも、それに、そのうちに, etc... These linking words are crucial for quick comprehension. But in the listening section, you will find that they use more phrases and vocabulary that is used in nuanced ways. They won't test you over the obvious meaning, but try to trick you with negative questions and hypothetical situations. Also, they will test you on your raw skill of listening and being able to focus on main points. This is where anyone with ADD is going to have issues with the test. You can't let yourself get distracted as they discuss topics or decisions. You have to follow the entire conversation because one word could change the whole meaning of it. Be on the look out for hypothetical situations or quotes, too. Something that has caught me off guard before is the use of ~け and だって. The first is used when the speaker is trying to recall information and the latter is used when someone is reporting what someone else is saying.

 JLPT BC 47 | Learning Japanese with Video Games | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 14:56

I started a new reading book for the N2 (and the N1) called 試験に出る読解 (reading comprehension that is on the test). It is definitely an amazing book, but not for the faint of heart. The book is entirely in Japanese, including the advice and explanations of the key points, which is a great challenge in my opinion. The book is basically broken out into 40 days of activities. The first 10 days of the book focuses on some fundamental training, and then the remaining 30 days contains reading exercises of different types. Take note though that the last 30 days are split pretty much 50/50 N1/N2. So, about 15 of the days are for only N2 and the other 15 days are for only N1. This makes the book a great buy because you have your reading comprehension book for both N1 and N2. However, It doesn't have all that many exercises to practice with. I recommend doing this book after you do the So-matome Reading Comprehension Book for N2 because the So-matome book is easier than this one, but 試験に出る is a lot closer to the real level of the test. The book also contains two 模擬試験 or mock tests, one for N1, and one for N2. They contain a complete set of questions like what you would see on the reading comprehension section of the actual exam. Anyway, if you are having trouble with the reading comprehension section of the N2 or N1 exams it might be worth picking up. I'm getting my money's worth at least. Learning Japanese from Video Games I'm always on a constant quest to increase my exposure to Japanese. I find the more exposure you have with the language the more comfortable you become and more things seem to just come naturally to you. Exposure doesn't exactly increase your vocabulary or make you speak better, but it does help reinforce and strengthen what you already know. It's helped clarify a lot of different meanings of words and grammar when I see it in several different contexts. One easy way to increase the amount of Japanese exposure you are getting is to replace all the things you normally consume in your life with Japanese versions. So, if you watch a lot of TV shows in English, just swap them out for TV shows in Japanese. If you listen to a lot of music, start listening to Japanese music and so forth. I happen to like to play video games from time to time. One game that I've grown up with my whole life is Civilization, now in its 5th incarnation, Civilization 5. So, I figured I'd try to play my favorite game in my favorite language to learn and see what happened. Just to give you a brief description of what the heck Civilization 5 is, it's a civilization building strategy game. In the game, you must build cities, research new technologies, and build armies. You can eventually win the game by dominating the other nations, doing a lot of research, or having a great culture. It's a bit of a cerebral game to say the least, with a lot of reading to do, which I figured would make it a great candidate for learning Japanese. Motivation to Learn Baked Right In Another reason why I thought video games would be an excellent way to practice Japanese is that motivation to do well is baked right into the game. In order to play the game properly, you have to understand what your advisers and heads of nations are telling you in the game. At certain times you have to negotiate carefully with other leaders or risk going to war. So, it's important to figure out what the heck they are saying otherwise you will meander carelessly through the game and that isn't all that fun. On top of that, you need advise from your advisers as to what to do with your nation. This, too, is written in all Japanese. That's all Good but, … The game uses a lot of obscure kanji, especially for a lot of the different kinds of military units. I've spent a lot of time looking these characters up stroke by stroke, which can be a real drag, as it slows down game play. Also, you might have already guessed this but,

 JLPT BC 46 | July 2011 Test Results | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 18:32

I just got my results back from my July JLPT. In short, I failed the exam, but not spectacularly. I feel like 75/180 isn't terrible. At least it is better than some other attempts I've seen. Also, due to the odd nature of the grading system they use...

 JLPT BC 45 | My Eureka Moment | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 18:13

I just put some finishing touches on the Ultimate JLPT N5 Anki Deck v1.1. I'll try to get out a full post with all the details soon, but basically I combined a lot of cards that had similar meanings. I'm still keeping some words with several different meanings as different cards though. So, for example, 本(hon) has three cards, one for the noun of the kanji – book, one for the prefix of the kanji – head, main, and one for the counter of the kanji used for long cylindrical objects. The principle behind this is that the less you have to remember the better, so I reduced the number of cards and hopefully made it so they are easier to remember. If there are any problems with the cards though let me know. Or if you have any suggestions on how to make them easier to work with also let me know. I'd like to hear about it. Starting Out with Japanese Whenever you start learning any language it is easy to stay motivated at first. You can see your progress very easily. It seems like every day, you can look back and remember some new phrase or group of phrases that you learned and can be proud of. I remembered when I first starting learning Japanese I could at the end of the day tell you what kana or kanji I learned, what kind of situation I practiced, or some new phrase that I could use. I was excited to try to use my Japanese (very poorly) with native speakers. I could barely make 2 or 3 sentences, but still wanted to go out and use it just because I had it. At the Intermediate Level Now, I can probably comfortably say that I'm at an intermediate level of Japanese. This is where studying becomes more difficult. It's incredibly easy to get de-motivated at this level for a variety of reasons. First, you are no longer starting out, so the small things that you learn every day don't seem like much in comparison to the large body of knowledge you already have of the language. So, you can't see a whole lot of progress. Second, you still aren't fluent. I can watch most movies and TV shows and understand major plot points (except maybe period pieces with classical Japanese), but I can only really understand the main idea of a news story, usually none of the details. I can read books meant for elementary school kids, but not the newspaper. I recently bought a copy of Civilization 5 in Japanese, thinking that it was just a game and wouldn't have all that difficult of kanji in it. I was completely wrong, I'm not even sure if some of the kanji in the game is N1 kanji. It's still a good challenge though. I personally study for about 2 or more hours a day along with exposure to Japanese at work and chatting with family and friends. Still, even with all this studying, it is hard to see solid proof of my progress. Take a Leap However, I've begun to realize I'm a lot more capable then I think I am. It's easy to fall into a rut of just thinking you are a certain level with the language when really you are much higher (or in some cases much lower). The important thing is to believe in yourself and make it happen. Nobody ever learns anything if they don't challenge themselves. You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone and make mistakes. There have been plenty of times I've made foolish mistakes with my Japanese and people laugh at me or look at me strange. I think it is moments like that where you learn the most. The JLPT is definitely something that can test you and bring you out of your comfort zone, but there are other ways to do that to. Journey out of your Comfort Zone If you haven't already started, I highly recommend using native materials of some kind in your studying. Even if it is just for a small portion of studying, it will really help you see how the language is actually used. The sooner the better with this. Web resources are especially useful because you can use rikai-chan (or rikai-kun for Chrome) to help you read the Japanese before you've learned it. So,

 JLPT BC 44 | Premium Japanese Grammar Blend | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 14:28

I released the Ultimate JLPT N5 Deck onto Anki a few weeks ago, and it looks like it's already due for a version update. As you may know, it is currently in beta, so I might be making a lot of changes to it over the next few months. My hope is to make ...

 JLPT BC 43 | Can’t Live without my Japanese Grammar | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 13:25

Over the last few months, I've been working with on creating some official decks to be used with their system. These decks are a bit of a mix of several word lists that are available online as well as a few JLPT apps that I have. I've combined them all together and hand checked the words in these decks to make sure they are accurate and appropriate. I also made an Anki version available that you might want to check out. I've started to play test the deck and have to say it is really useful. I'm looking forward to the changes they are planning on making to over the next couple of weeks in order to implement all of the new features. I'm also still interested in hearing any feedback you have on the decks, so that we can make the best decks possible to study. Grammar is Absolutely Necessary In last week's episode, I argued against using Japanese grammar to learn the language. I went over how grammar textbooks are a waste of time and instead you should be learning all of your grammar from complete immersion in the language. That is one opinion on how to best learn a language, but today, I'm going to argue the other side of that argument. Today, I'll be firmly in the pro-grammar camp, which is sometimes considered a bit of a traditional way to study a language, but it has its merits. Doing grammar drills or completing grammar exercises in your workbook might not be your idea of fun, but it can help you learn and use a language well. Adults Learn Differently than a Baby The argument for not studying grammar specifically is usually that babies don't learn grammar explicitly, so why should you? But, this is a bit flawed because as adults, we learn things completely differently. Since we have a lot of previous knowledge with us already about our language as well as the ability to already speak a language, we can use those as tools to learn another language. Recent studies actually demonstrate that babies might learn how to use a language not by tons of exposure, but actually just one clear example of the use of the grammar or vocabulary word. This makes a lot more sense than the alternative that babies are actually using lots of examples of the particular grammar point or vocabulary word to make an educate guess at its meaning. So, if babies learn a new word or grammar point from one clear example of its usage, then why can't you shortcut that process by just reading and using a lot of clear examples along with a set of rules to help you when you encounter the grammar in the future? Wouldn't this be simpler? You CAN Pick up Grammar through Textbooks Yes, it is indeed possible to learn how to use and understand grammar from a textbook. Granted most textbooks give you very generic 'safe' examples, but these will prepare you for more difficult examples of the grammar point in the future. You just have to extrapolate the grammar rules. If you have issues with a particular grammar point, you can still go and ask your teacher or tutor to clarify what is going on in the sentence. Also you can try your own ideas with the grammar point as well. The important thing is to not just drill through the textbook, but instead get out and use the grammar that you've learned that day. Drilling might be a little boring and dull, but it'll give you the confidence you need to use the grammar when you need it. Also, you'll be a lot more confident answering test questions after you've drilled it enough to be confident in it. This will help you speed through the test and answer the questions quicker. Go Ahead and Say It Do you love grammar? Do you think studying grammar from a grammar textbook is the way to go? Let me know in the comments below. P.S. Can't get enough Japanese grammar? Then, sign up the newsletter to get more info on how to study effectively sent free to your mailbox. P.S.S. Are you a grammar fanatic? Great, go tell iTunes about it.  Or if you have comments or suggestions for the podcast,

 JLPT BC 42 | Japanese Grammar, What is it Good for? | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 13:30

I've started using my new computer completely in Japanese. This is a pretty big departure from before as my old computer was all in English with an English keyboard. Simply having a Japanese keyboard is a big boost because I don't have to keep clicking...

 JLPT BC 41 | Transitive vs. Intransitive Japanese Verbs | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 13:38

The anticipation is starting to mount for those July test results. We are only about 3 or 4 weeks away from hearing back about our test results. The tension is starting to really get to me. I hope the weeks fly by between now and then. I did get a n...

 JLPT BC 40 | Studying Japanese on the Sly | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 12:10

This August has been an incredibly busy time for me.  I've been doing a lot of extra work at the school because one of my co-workers has been out of the office for a few weeks.  So, I've had a bigger class load than usual. Also, it's summer time and...


Login or signup comment.