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The 10 JLPT Commandments

Learning Japanese

For years the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) has been the official yardstick that non-Japanese people use to measure just how good their Japanese really is. Whether you’re taking level N5 or have the chutzpah to try for level N1, here are 10 universal laws to keep in mind when preparing for the exam.

Commandment 1: Thou Shalt Have Graven JLPT Images & Likenesses

Commandment 1: Thou Shalt Have Graven JLPT Images & Likenesses

If you’re really trying to ace your JLPT, no matter where you are on your learning journey, finding resources that closely mirror the test you’re taking can be a godsend (pun intended).

• Find books that do mock exams.
• Find workbook drills that model actual questions you’re going to be answering.
• Find listening practice that closely mirrors the style and speed of what you’ll be hearing on your test.
• Find grammar books that have challenging questions but great explanations.
• Being familiar with the types of questions you’ll be testing on will only make the exam that much more comfortable when you take it.

Commandment 2: Thou Shalt Know Thy Level

Commandment 2: Thou Shalt Know Thy Level

Easy is relative. No two people have will have the exact same Japanese proficiency, no two people will have studied the exact same amount or even in the way. Be honest with yourself about your abilities, even if you’ve been in Japan for a while.

Please don’t get caught up in “peer pressure testing.” If your buddies are in "ikimasho (let's go!) mode" and they’ve all decided to team up and get N2 trigger happy, but you secretly feel more confident at N4, go with the test YOU are comfortable with.

Yes, there are exceptions to this rule of course.

Some people do thrive under the pressure of doing something way beyond their limits, but I think that’s rare. I like to think most people can handle challenges within reason, especially if you’re putting the study time in. Knowing your true level can easily translate into better JLPT scores.

Tip from the Heavens: “My child. Tarry to thy favorite bookstore, walketh to the testing section and flippeth through some questions to see how much you can answer/understand. Findeth a level where you can grasp at least 40-50 percent (more if you can) of the questions and test. This will give you several months to worketh on what you don’t know. Ganbatte.”

Commandment 3: Thou Shalt Have a Study Plan

Commandment 3: Thou Shalt Have a Study Plan

Study, study, and study some more. As much as I want to say you should study a little bit every day, everyone has different study habits. I used to be a habitual crammer until I started trying these JLPT tests.

For some reason, Japanese prep is different for me, mainly because it can be a lot to memorize. To study and retain I try to put in an hour-and-a-half to two hours a day to keep me from pulling out my own hair (did somebody just make a bald joke?).

I treat it almost like a weight-training split, doing grammar/reading/listening on Monday, kanji/vocabulary/writing on Tuesday, etc. (take a look above!).

Find a study plan that suits your style, and for God’s sake STICK TO IT!

Commandment 4: Thou Shalt Not Take Thy Test Date in Vain

Commandment 4: Thou Shalt Not Take Thy Test Date in Vain

Please don’t think you have more time than you do. I only say it because I’ve been there!

You only made it halfway through your study materials and you just looked at a gigantic chunk of unknown kanji at about 3 a.m. the morning of the test in a heroic, all-night study attempt.

There are few worse feelings than walking into an exam knowing that you’re about to become a burnt human sacrifice.

Test dates will creep up on you like serpents in a magical garden. If you’re serious about taking the test, why not start studying well in advance? It can mean the difference between passing and failing.

Commandment 5: Thou Shalt Covet Other Study Materials

Commandment 5: Thou Shalt Covet Other Study Materials

Having a base Japanese textbook to help you build a vocabulary, kanji, reading and listening foundation as solid as a stone pillar is a wonderful idea. BUT, I do think it can be helpful to look at other books on occasion, just to be sure you don’t have any major information gaps.

When’s the best time to do this? WAY before the test. The earlier the better. Flipping through another level-appropriate textbook a few days before the test and realizing “I don’ t know any of this stuff!” can be a real confidence buster.

Try doing this several months out, while being consistent with your main textbook, and I think you’ll really surprise yourself in a good way.

Want to find out the rest of the Commandments? Head over to The Japan Guy to learn the righteous method of passing the test!

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