Notes on the JLPT

I took the first JLPT of the year (2017) on July, 2nd. It’s been almost a year now since I’ve started learning Japanese (with some previous knowledge of kanji thanks to Chinese that I learned years ago) and I have decided to challenge myself with the N2 level. I don’t really care about succeeding or failing at the JLPT so I thought that a higher level would be more attractive and encouraging. Here are some personal thoughts about this session.

The N2 session is divided in two. The first half contains the vocabulary, the grammar and the reading part. The second half is only the listening part.


I think that the vocabulary part is a straightforward one that does not require a lot of thinking and time: either you know the word, its kanji, its pronunciation and how it is used, either you pick an answer randomly. You really can’t afford to lose time for the vocabulary.

I wasn’t good at this section, and there are two reasons, I think:

Not enough words

First, I don’t know enough words. You may have heard that N2 requires around 6000 words. The problem is that nobody knows what those 6000 words are. Each preparatory book presents a set of words that the author considered to be the more relevant, but it is only a guess. Even after completing the vocabulary book of the So-Matome series, you still can feel like a complete idiot during the test. I guess that the only way to prevent this is to know more words than required. The more words you know, the less you have to rely on luck.

My goal: add 1000 more words until December, when I sit the JLPT N2 again.

Passive knowledge vs active knowledge

Second, I know my vocabulary only passively. I really thought that it was okay because the JLPT is only testing passive knowledge. There is no writing or speaking test. BUT, concerning the vocabulary, it is not entirely true. In fact, I think that the vocabulary part is not just a question of passive knowledge. Being able to recognise a word or guess the meaning of an unknown word from its kanji is not enough. It is sufficient to read a book but not to pass the JLPT.

I will give an example from yesterday’s test. You had to complete a phrase with the appropriate word. The phrase was about a weather being neither cold nor hot and without rain or wind. You had to choose between 4 words that all could describe that kind of mild weather, but only one is actually used in this context. One of this word was 穏やかな・おだやかな that I learnt only as “calm”, “gentle”, “quiet” for a person. Now, let’s supposed that I read in a novel something about a 穏やかな気候・おだやかなきこう, I would not have previously known that 穏やかな is used to describe a mild climate but I would have guessed the meaning of this expression without a problem. But during the JLPT, it’s not about recognising and guessing, it is about knowing or not. If you don’t know which word is colloquially used with climate expressions, you have to pick randomly or try some perilous guess like I did. (In French, the word “clément” which describes a person, is also used to describe a mild weather, so I thought, why not in Japanese, too?)

I guess that’s why someone who reads novels could fail the JLPT vocabulary part.

My goal: learning more expressions, either by learning them from a preparatory book (the Kanzen Master series seems to be a good choice for this purpose), either by completing my Anki notes when I encounter a known word in a new context.


The grammar part was okay to me. Contrary to vocabulary, having gone through the grammar book of the So-Matome series is enough to go through the test in confidence. That seems natural, as there are only a certain number of grammar points of N2 level. If you have had enough time to study them all, it should be sufficient.


I was really happy and satisfied with myself concerning the reading section. I didn’t specifically study the reading part for the JLPT but my main goal in learning Japanese was to be able to read novels. As a consequence, I have been focusing on reading for a year, and my efforts paid off!


I completely failed in the listening section. I know that my listening skills are not good but to that extent… 😨 The thing is, if I read the script of the listening part, I will understand everything. Even without reading the script, if I can listen again and again to the same audio, I will eventually be able to catch everything. The diagnosis is simple, the problem is not the content, it is the listening process.

How to fix it?

I will have to set myself new goals in order to improve my listening skills. I guess that listening to a lot of Japanese media is the best and simplest way to do it. But even if I know that I should listen to at least some minutes of Japanese every day, I am not doing it and I don’t even know why. It does not require much effort, like reading. It does not take time as one can listen to anything in Japanese while commuting or cooking or getting ready in the morning. So I really don’t know why I am so lazy 😫.

Maybe, one reason is that I don’t know what I should listen to, or the material is not readily available. So my goal is to: 1- define a list of materials I want to listen to (finding a nice podcast for example), 2- make all my listening materials easily accessible, 3- take the habit of listening to Japanese every time I do something that let a part of my mind available, 4- walk my way through Japanese movie by watching more Japanese films. (Sometimes I wish I could be an anime fan…)


I don’t take the JLPT because I need it, but because it’s like making an X-ray of my current level. I know that it does not truly capture one’s Japanese abilities because it is such a formatting test, but for someone who self-study a language, it remains a good indicator. Now I know that I have to work more thoroughly my vocabulary instead of just relying on kanji I remember from Chinese and more importantly, I have to listen to a lot of Japanese.