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JAPANESE LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY TEST FIRST AND SECOND GRADE STUDY

GUIDE
BY ED JACOB
DECEMBER 2001
(Bold text indicates specific tips on studying and advice for taking the actual test)
WHAT IS THE JLPT?
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).
WHO SHOULD TAKE IT?
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 dont, 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 cant get a job with them, you cant 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. Theres 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 know.
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
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: http://www.iijnet.or.jp/jpf/jlpt/contents/main-e.html
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 6 th 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
OVERVIEW OF THE TEST
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 life.
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 pointspassing 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 pointspassing 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 years practice test is
not a guarantee that you will be able to pass this years 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 dont spend too much time thinking.
GENERAL TIPS FOR STUDYING
Take a practice test before you start studying. You can buy a copy of last years 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:
http://www.alc.co.jp/mag/njback.html (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.
KANJI AND VOCABULARY SECTION
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.
KANJI AND VOCABULARY STRATEGIES
You do not have to be able to write a single kanji in order to pass this test, so dont
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 Rikai.com, 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:

express
surprised

with the help of the


teacher
proof
repeat
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 youre
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.
LISTENING SECTION
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 cant 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.
LISTENING STRATEGIES
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 score.
I find that taking notes doesnt 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 wouldnt 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 tests.
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 dont have to waste time while Im 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 dont have to waste time while listening.
STUDYING FOR THE LISTENING SECTION
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 CDs everyday on my
walkman on my way to work, and started leaving the TV on all the time when I was at home. I dont
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 Id 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 pagelong 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, youre 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 dont.
Although they call it a grammar section, its 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 youve 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 youve 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.
Heres 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 passages
meaning and gives you a sort of foothold for understanding the passage. Youll 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.

APPENDIX 1: BOOKS
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. Its a really excellent series of books, though, and helped me tremendously.
Shimbun De Manabu Nihongo (Nihongo Through Newspaper Articles) by Osamu and Nobuko
MizutaniThis 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 Tsutsui
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 hadnt found it for 1000 yen at a used bookshop I wouldnt 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 Lets 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 doesnt repeat
them often enough.
INTERNET RESOURCES
http://www.iijnet.or.jp/jpf/jlpt/contents/main-e.htmlThis is the official homepage or the JLPT but
except for listing the official test dates and application deadlines, it is almost completely useless.
http://www.thbz.org/kanjimots/jlpt.php3Vocabulary lists
http://www.thejapanesepage.com/kanji/jlpt.htmA good essay about the JLPT. The Japanese Page
(http://www.thejapanesepage.com) is an excellent resource with lists of Kanji and vocabulary that you
need to know for the test.
http://rikai.com--Rikai.com 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.
http://www.kanjistep.comThis is another very good place to study kanji online.
http://www.kanjisite.com/index.htmlA list of kanji you need for the 2kyuuvery impressive.
http://www.mlcjapanese.co.jpThis 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.
http://www.geocities.com/easykanji/-- E-Kanji 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, monara,moda
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) cold.
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If you have any tips or studying strategies for the JLPT please send them to me at
edjacob@tky3.3web.ne.jp. I also welcome questions, comments or criticisms.
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