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Japanese Language Proficiency

Test First and Second Grade Study

By Ed Jacob

December 2001


The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is an

examination given by the Association of International Education
every year in December in locations in Japan and all over the
world. The test focuses on vocabulary, reading, listening and
grammar. There is, at present no interview section (although
plans are being made to drastically revise the test in 2003) and
you do not have to be able to write kanji in order to pass it. The
test has four levels ranging from beginner (level 4) to advanced
(level 1).


Before you decide to take the JLPT, you should do some serious
thinking. Ask yourself if you really need to take it because if you
don't, you will be putting yourself through a lot of aggravation
for nothing. In fact, a lot of people will tell you that taking the
third and fourth grades is a complete waste of time. You can't
get a job with them, you can't use them to get into university,
and the only people who will be even vaguely interested in your
having them are other Japanese students or teachers. If you just
want to "Find out my level" or "motivate myself", then see if you
can talk to a Japanese person or set some other goal like
reading the newspaper. There's no reason to waste $50, fill out
your name and address 17 times on the mind-bogglingly
complex application and take a two hour train ride to the middle
of nowhere just to motivate yourself or find out how much you

You will find the occasional job advertisement asking for

someone who has passed the third grade, but they are very few
and far between. The second grade will help you to get a job
working for a Japanese company if you have some other
marketable skill to go with it, and it is important for people who
want to work in the tourist industry.

Until the year 2001, the JLPT first grade was a requirement for
anyone who wanted to attend a public university in Japan, but
from 2002 it is going to be replaced with the Nihongo Ryuugaku
Shiken (which is said rumoured to be easier and more practical).
The JLPT will continue to be important for people who want to
be translators or work at Japanese companies.


The application form costs 510 yen and is available at most

major bookstores in Japan after the beginning of August.
Overseas, it is available from the testing institution. For a list of
overseas test sites, visit the official JLPT homepage at:

Although the test is usually held on the first Sunday in

December, the application deadline is sometimes as early as the
beginning of September. In 2001, the deadline was September 6th
in Japan but the deadline varies from country to country and
year to year so check carefully.

The test itself costs 5200 yen and must be sent by registered
mail which costs another 600 yen, bringing the grand total to
over 6000 yen.

The address is:

Japanese Language Proficiency Test, Testing Division,

Association of International Education, Japan

POSTE RESTANTE, Meguro Post Office, Tokyo 152-8799


There are three sections in the JLPT. First is the kanji and
vocabulary section (Moji Goi). Next is the listening section
(Chokai), which is the easiest part of the test. Last comes the
reading and grammar section (Dokkai Bunpo), the section where
you are most likely to have the first nervous breakdown of your
The test starts around 10 am and finishes around 4:30. There is
a two hour break after the first section and a one hour break
after the second section.
The entire test is multiple choice and each question has four
possible answers.

First grade (1kyuu):

Total score: 400 points--passing score 280 (70%)
Vocabulary 10,000 words
Kanji: 2000
Generally requires about 900 hours of classroom study
Kanji and Vocabulary (Moji Goi): 45 minutes, about 35 kanji
questions (one point each) and 25 vocabulary questions (two
points each)
Worth 25% of the total score
Listening (Chokai): 45 minutes, about fifteen questions with
pictures and fifteen without pictures (all questions worth one
point each)
Worth 25% of the total score
Reading and Grammar (Dokkai and Bumpou): 90 minutes about
21 questions based on reading (worth 5 points each) and about
35 grammar questions (section four worth one point each,
section five and six worth 2 points each)

Second grade (2kyuu): Total score: 400 points--passing score

240 (60%)
Vocabulary: 6000 words
Kanji: 1000
Generally requires about 600 hours of classroom study
Kanji and Vocabulary (Moji Goi): 35 minutes, about 40 kanji
questions (one point each) and 25 vocabulary questions (two
points each)
Worth 25% of the total score
Listening (Chokai): 45 minutes, about fifteen questions with
pictures and fifteen without pictures (all questions worth one
point each)
Worth 25% of the total score
Reading and Grammar (Dokkai and Bumpou): 90 minutes about
21 questions based on reading (worth 5 points each) and about
35 grammar questions (section four worth one point each,
section five and six worth 2 points each)

General Strategy
The JLPT requires you to be familiar with a lot of vocabulary and
grammatical patterns that you never hear in everyday
conversation and almost everyone who takes it expresses
frustration about how many useless things they had to learn in
order to pass it. The listening section is full of trick questions
and the test often includes somewhat archaic Japanese. If you
have not taken practice tests and prepared specifically for the
sorts of questions asked on this test, you are almost guaranteed
to be in for a shock, no matter how good your Japanese is.

Most people who did not grow up in a country that uses Kanji
will have to go to a full-time Japanese school in order to pass
the JLPT. Learning Japanese is not like learning French.
Learning to read is so difficult that it is not something that most
people can do in their spare time. I started from a low-
intermediate level and had to study reading and grammar for six
months before I could pass the 2kyuu.

The JLPT gets more difficult every year. A lot of people say that
the present 2kyuu is as difficult as the 1kyuu was when the test
started. Just because you can pass last year's practice test is
not a guarantee that you will be able to pass this year's test. The
good news is that question formats do not usually change from
year to year so you can improve your score a lot by taking
practice tests.

At the 1kyuu and 2kyuu levels, the JLPT is basically a

vocabulary test. Of course you need to have a strong foundation
in basic grammar, but it is not actively tested, and people with
large vocabularies and bad grammar do a lot better than people
with good grammar and small vocabularies. That means that to
prepare for the test, you should concentrate on reading,
memorising kanji and vocabulary.

There are usually two answers that are obviously wrong so once
you have eliminated them, you have a fifty percent chance of
getting the question right. Using a process of elimination is a
very good way to get difficult answers but don't spend too much
time thinking.

General Tips For Studying

take a practice test before you start studying. You can buy a
copy of last year's test for around 1200 yen from most large
Japanese bookshops. Find out what your weak-points are and
work on improving them.

Get the Nihongo Journal. They have practice tests every month
(alternating between the 1kyuu in even numbered months and
the 2kyuu in odd numbered months). It is available at most large
bookstores in Japan. You can get a subscription from overseas
by visiting any bookstore that sells the Nihongo Journal or you
can buy back issues over the internet at: (This page is in Japanese
only). Each issue costs 1,180 yen and a yearly subscription
costs 13,400 yen.

There are hundreds of textbooks, tapes, and workbooks to

prepare you for the JLPT. I have included a list of useful books
in appendix 1.


The Kanji section of the test is surprisingly easy. If you can read
a six or seven hundred Kanji, you can pass the 2kyuu kanji
section by doing some guesswork and using logic. There is
always plenty of time for this section and you usually have time
to go back and check at least some of your answers.


You do not have to be able to write a single kanji in order to

pass this test, so don't bother wasting your time studying how
to write when you are studying. Writing out Kanji hundreds of
times is NOT an effective study method. I have found the two
best ways to study are:

1. Do a lot of reading. There are some fairly decent textbooks

like Shimbun De Manabu Nihongo (Nihongo Through
Newspaper Articles) by Osamu and Nobuko Mizutani, and
Authentic Japanese: Progressing From Intermediate to
Advanced by Osamu Kamada, Machiko Yamanote, Fusako
Sugimoto, Yoshiko Tomiyama, and Atsumi Miyatomi. Another
great way to study is by using, a homepage that will
load in any Japanese homepage, and show you the
pronunciation of every kanji. It even does family names and
place names.
2. Make Kanji worksheets for yourself. I made some that looked
something like this:



with the help of

the teacher



a fire breaks out

Print them out and fold the paper in half. Then write out the
pronunciations of all the kanji in the centre column and check them
when you are finished. I learned three or four hundred kanji a month this
way when I was studying for the 2kyuu. I made around 40 worksheets
with about 30 kanji on each. For me the secret to learning kanji is seeing
them over and over in a short time period so I would put about 15 new
kanji and 15 kanji from previous sheets on every page and found it to be
a very effective way of studying.

The vocabulary section is, surprisingly, more difficult than the kanji
section. If you're like me, you have a lot of trouble remembering
onomatopoeic words like harahara, dokidoki, etc. If you just try to
memorise the meaning of each word, you may find that you do not retain
them well, or that you get confused when presented with two words that
sound similar or have similar meanings. Instead of just memorising
words, try to remember a short phrase that expresses the meaning of
the word. I also put these short phrases in my study sheets, and find
them to be very effective in helping me to retain vocabulary.


In the listening section, they play a tape over a portable PA system.

Although the listening section is the easiest part of the test, it is also the
most stressful. If you can't get one question, just guess at it and go on
to the next one. This seems like common sense, but a lot of people say
that they have trouble listening to questions because they are still
thinking about the answers to the last one. Once a question is finished,
forget about it.

Most people agree that the listening section is the easiest part of the
test. If your reading is weak, you will need to get a very high score in
this section to compensate. Here are a few hints that will improve your

I find that taking notes doesn't help me at all and actually lowers my
score because I tend to miss key points because I am concentrating too
much on individual words or am concentrating on writing the last
sentence. I also miss a lot of the trick questions when I am writing.
Sometimes you start concentrating so hard on what you are writing, that
your brain stops thinking and you make mistakes that you wouldn't if
you were just listening intently. The only time I take notes is on the
questions where they throw a lot of numbers and information at you.
You can learn to recognise these questions by taking a few practice

Watch out for the graphs and maps. Most people agree that they are the
most difficult part of the listening section. Also, the pictures in this test
are NOT used to give you hints about the content of the questions as
they are in other tests. They are there to confuse you and make the
questions harder. Most people get better scores on the non-picture
section than they do in the picture section. When the tape is playing the
example questions you would be well advised to flip through the
question book and familiarise yourself with the pictures carefully. I
always find the graph questions and circle the points where lines
intersect and write the numbers that correspond to the points on the
lines so that I don't have to waste time while I'm listening. Sometimes
they have charts with lots of Kanji on them, so you should check the
Kanji and write them in hiragana or romaji so that you don't have to
waste time while listening.


The key to getting a high score in the listening is to immerse yourself in

Japanese. About a month before the test I stopped watching English TV
and asked all my Japanese friends and acquaintances not to speak
English to me. I listened to Nihongo Journal CD's everyday on my
walkman on my way to work, and started leaving the TV on all the time
when I was at home. I don't think it matters that much what you watch,
as long as you are hearing Japanese all the time).

The Nihongo Journal includes a CD every month and it has a lot of good
listening practice.

Reading and Grammar

Get ready for the shortest 70 minutes of your life (or 90 in the case of the
1kyuu). Everyone who takes this test says, "I could have passed if I'd
just had more time." Unfortunately the test was designed for Chinese
and Koreans who have grown up reading Kanji all their life. You have to
answer 21 questions about nine reading passages and 35 short answer
grammar questions. There is one page-long reading passage that you
have to answer seven questions about and then two slightly shorter
passages in section two, which have three or four questions each. Then
there are six more relatively short passages which have just one or two
questions each.

Grammar Strategy:

Do the grammar questions first. Give yourself a strict 20 minute time

limit (although 15 is preferable ) because if you spend more than this,
you're going to be in big trouble during the reading section. Remember
that the reading questions are worth five points each, making them far
more valuable than the grammar questions. If you get stuck on one
grammar question do NOT spend a lot of time on it. Just guess and go
on to the next one. The grammar section is only worth about 20% of the
test and you either know it or you don't.

Although they call it a grammar section, it's actually more of a

vocabulary test. There are a few questions where they test your
knowledge of passive, causative forms and polite language, but they are
not a major part of the test and you can get away without a superficial
knowledge of them. I find the best way to learn grammar/vocabulary is
by learning short phrases rather than individual words. I had a terrible
time remembering the difference between koto and mono until I
memorised a few sentences that expressed the meanings of these
confusing words.

How to study For the Grammar Section:

There is a list of all the grammatical points which have appeared

more than three times on the previous tests. See the appendix
for the list. You absolutely have to know these cold. Especially
important are: mono, koto and wake (and all the different
expressions they are used in), kagiri (and all its forms), ni
taishite, ni tsuite, ni kanshite, and mai.

There is a great book called Progressing from Intermediate to

Advanced published by the Japan Times. It has all the
expressions that you need for the 2kyuu. For the 1kyuu, you are
going to need to buy a copy of Donna Toki Dou Tsukau Nihongo
Hyougen Bunkei (see appendix 1 for details). It has explanations
of 500 terms you need to know for the 1kyuu and very good
practice exercises. There is also a workbook that goes with it
which you will need. For practice, I also recommend Nihongo
Noryoku Shiken Chokuzen Taisaku: Mogi Testo Zen 15 Kai
which has fifteen practice tests.

Reading Strategy:

The most important thing here is time distribution. For the

2kyuu you have 55 minutes for the reading after you've spent 15
on the grammar. Spend 15 minutes on each section and that
leaves you a five minute margin if you have trouble with one
section or want to check some answers. I like to do the short
reading passages first because they are easier, and I can build
up my confidence. For the 1kyuu, once you've finished the
grammar (20 minutes), spend 15 minutes on section one, 25
minutes on section two, and ten minutes on section three.
Remember that the reading questions are worth five points each
making them far more valuable than the grammar.

Here's a really important tip for the reading. My scores went up

about 10% when I discovered it: READ THE QUESTIONS FIRST.
(especially the final question, which typically requires you to
summarise the article). Just having seen the vocabulary and
having been able to imagine what the story might be about from
the words, gives you a big hint about the passage's meaning
and gives you a sort of foothold for understanding the passage.
You'll be surprised what a difference it makes.

Another important strategy is to familiarise yourself with the

sort of reading passages and questions that are going to be
asked. Common themes for the reading passages are: how the
author learned something about himself or a friend or family
member; a scientific explanation of something; a letter to a
friend (they usually ask why the letter was written); a question
about a graph (these are easier than they look); a question
where you have to put a scrambled reading passage in order.

How to Study For the Reading Section:

There is a list of textbooks that will help you study for the
reading section in Appendix 1. Doing practice tests will improve
your score tremendously too.

Donna Toki Dou Tsukau Nihongo Hyougen Bunkei 500 (500
Essential Japanese Expressions: A Guide to Correct Usage of
Key Sentence Patterns) by Etsuko Tomomatsu, Jun Miyamoto,
and Masako Wakuri. This book has 500 expressions that you
need to know the grammar section of the 1kyuu (You only need
about 300 for the 2kyuu). The grammatical explanations are all
in Japanese so you will need someone to help you if you are
studying with this book. It notes which expressions are for the
2kyuu and which are for the 1kyuu. There is also a workbook
that goes with it, which is a very good investment. This is
probably the most important textbook for students who are
taking the JLPT.

2kyuu mondai shuu: Nihongo Nouryoku Shiken Taisaku by

Nozomu Tanaka. Published by Bonjinsha. This is a workbook
for all sections of the test but it is slightly easier than the real
thing and because it was published in 1995, lacks some of the
new question formats. No English. This is another really helpful
resource as it will help you find your weak points and fix them.

Nihongo Noryoku Shiken Chokuzen Taisaku: Mogi Testo Zen 15

Kai which has fifteen practice tests for each section of the test.
This series is very good but it is a little old so a few of the
question formats have changed. It's a really excellent series of
books, though, and helped me tremendously.

Shimbun De Manabu Nihongo (Nihongo Through Newspaper

Articles) by Osamu and Nobuko Mizutani. This is a great book
for improving your reading. They have about 60 very short
Newspaper articles ranging in length from 200-400 characters.
Every kanji has furigana, and all the difficult terms are explained
in English. There is also an English translation of every article,
making this textbook great for self-study.

Authentic Japanese: Progressing From Intermediate to

Advanced by Osamu Kamada, Machiko Yamanote, Fusako
Sugimoto, Yoshiko Tomiyama, and Atsumi Miyatomi. This book
will improve your reading and grammar tremendously. They
have a most of the expressions that you need to know for the
JLPT 2kyuu test. It is very easy to use and comprehensive.

A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar (Nihongo

Bunpou Jiten Chuukyuu Hen) by Seiichi Makino and Michio

This is a good book with detailed explanations but it only has

about 200 expressions. It is also fairly pricey at 3700 yen. If I
hadn't found it for 1000 yen at a used bookshop I wouldn't have
bought it.

Kanji in Context: A study System of Intermediate and Advanced

Learners (Chuu, Jyoukyuu Gakushusha no Tame no Kanji to
Goi) by Koichi Nishiguchi and Tamaki Kono. This book is so-so.
It is better than the "Let's write out the kanji a thousand times to
memorise it" books because it gives you a bunch of example
sentences to read, but it introduces too many new kanji to fast
and doesn't repeat them often enough.

Internet Resources is the
official homepage or the JLPT but except for listing the official
test dates and application deadlines, it is almost completely
useless. lists good essay

about the JLPT. The Japanese Page
( is an excellent resource with
lists of Kanji and vocabulary that you need to know for the test. is one of the most impressive sites

on the internet. If you cannot read some kanji on a web page,
just enter the URL of the homepage you want to read, and Rikai
will open it up for you. Then, whenever you run your cursor over
a Kanji, its pronunciation will be displayed along with a
definition in English. Rikai even does place and family names!
You can also paste text into Rikai and it will allow you to read it.
Somebody should give David Ruddick a medal. is another very good place to

study kanji online. list of kanji you need for

the 2kyuu--very impressive. is the homepage of Meguro

Language Centre. They have lists of all the vocabulary, kanji,
and grammatical expressions that you need to know for the
JLPT. is a website
designed to help students of Japanese improve their reading. It
consists of reading passages, in which every Kanji is hyper-
linked to a pronunciation key and a definition of the word to
make reading easy. No more Kanji dictionaries. No more giving
up on a reading because of one or two difficult kanji.

APPENDIX 2: Grammar structures that have appeared more than

three times on the 2kyuu test:

kara to itte, arinagara, no sei de, okagede, ni taishite, o megutte,

dake atte

tokorode, sae, ireba, uchi ni, to itte, you ni, tame ni, kara to
itte, ni kanshite wa, wake ni wa ikenai, toshitara, dakara to itte,
ni hanshite, no sei ka

toshite, kara ni wa, wake, zu ni (eg. shirazu ni), nagara mo,


toshite mo, dokoro ka, nai koto ni wa, koto ni wa, dake atte,
toshite mo

You should also know mono vs. koto vs. wake (and all their
various forms like kotonara vs. mononara, koto vs. koto da, etc)

If you have any tips or studying strategies for the JLPT please
send them to me at I also welcome
questions, comments or criticisms.