The most challenging part about writing a series on the best mobile apps to studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) isn’t finding the applications to download — but rather wading through them!
I was surprised by the sheer amount of applications available specifically targeted toward the JLPT, but one thing was certain: they all felt derivative of one another. I realize it’s no small feat to create a new way to study for a dry standardized test, but surely there has to be a “best” way — even if they can’t “gamify” studying Japanese for these standardized tests.
I started my hunt tracking through the numerous free apps first, hoping that there had to be a diamond in the rough. Nothing’s worse than paying a premium for an app you think may be worth it only to find you could have learned the exact same information for free and with a similar user interface on another app. It’s important for us to remember that — for those with longer term plans in Japan — the JLPT is important not only for our personal goals but also for our career.
We need something useful, mobile and on our person that can challenge us as well as keep our interest in studying, even when we inevitably get discouraged or bored. We’re human after all. We also need something JLPT-specific, on top of apps that we may already be using to learn basic Japanese.
The JLPT has five levels, with level five (N5) being where you’ll most likely test first if you’re new to Japanese. You’ll be tested on your vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening skills. If you’re new to either hiragana or katakana writing systems, I’d check out my previous article on mobile apps to help you improve your Japanese kana and kanji on the go before digging into JLPT preparation.
Note that the test is only twice a year: once in July and once in December, so plan accordingly and be honest with yourself on how much time you’ll need to prepare because — as you know — life happens.
This year, the JLPT takes place in Japan on July 7 and Dec. 1 across all 47 prefectures. However, the actual testing locations won’t be announced until the date is closer. If you’re confident you want to take the test, you can register on the JLPT site and sign up for a MyJLPT login. Here you can also find information on requesting proof of certification once you pass the exam. The fee for the exams is ¥5,500.
The sections you will be tested on — and the time allotted for each — varies depending on what level of the JLPT you are taking. For JLPT 5, there are 110 minutes set aside for vocabulary, grammar, and reading. Listening will take an additional 60 minutes.
Now, you may be wondering what kind of time frame is good for you? If you’re diligent in your studying and already know hiragana and katakana, then maybe you can prepare in six months or sooner to take the JLPT 5. Personally, I like setting a goal of one year per level, since I know I get busy and am not always the most diligent student.
Having said that, maybe I could make better use of my time studying with the help of these four mobile applications. Give them a try and see if they work for you!
1. MOJi N5
The biggest selling point with MOJi N5 is that you can customize your study plan, and when doing so the app displays how many words per day need to be studied as well as how long it should take. I can absolutely dedicate 20 minutes a day to learning new vocabulary and then another 20 on my own to review previous words. This is amazing when planning for the JLPT once you know the date of the exam. If it helps, think of your daily commute as a very convenient time to study.
At the top of the main page a random phrase appears daily, I was fortunate enough to get この世の終わり (“the end of the world”) once. MOJi N5 is great at giving you a grammar list that has an actual explanation. It was amazing the amount of applications out there that feel alright skipping this. There are also example sentences in Japanese with the accompanying English, as well as audio. Lastly, MOJi N5 boasts 12 mix and match testing modes, so you can find what compliments your learning methods with a little experimenting. I’m sorry to say Moji N5 is only available for iOS.
Our take: Not sure if the JLPT is something you want to conquer? This bird’s-eye view will let you know if the JLPT is for you. MOJi N5 is available on iOS.
Bunpo is for you if you haven’t studied any Japanese — ever. You’ve the option of learning hiragana and katakana before even touching any N5 material. Bunpo acts as a digital textbook that allows you to flip pages containing explanations and very thorough examples. If the example isn’t clear enough, you can tap the text bubble on the top right. This allows you to reach out to a real person who can help make things clearer for you — although replies can sometimes take a few hours. Sentences are shown to you in Japanese with an option for audio to the left and, if need be, a hidden sentence below that shows the translation in English.
Lessons are divided up into easily digestible grammar categories, along with new adjectives, demonstratives, particles, adverbs and more. Learning new vocabulary is not an issue — with the tap for definition interface, the word then is revealed in kanji, hiragana and English. Additionally, when supplying answers via keyboard, it converts the English keyboard into Japanese for you.
Testing exercises include the likes of filling in the blank particle, finding the correct word order and more. It has such a clean, clear interface and the rest of the JLPT material for you to look over once you master the N5 level. Currently, Bunpo is only offered on iOS but you can email email@example.com to get notified once the Android version is out.
Our take: A stunning app for beginners and a breath of fresh air if you’ve lost motivation studying for the JLPT. Bunpo is available for iOS.
3. JLPT Encyclopedia
Once you get some grammar and vocabulary under your belt, you’re ready for JLPT Encyclopedia. With this app, Each JLPT level is available for study via lessons or actual JLPT tests. Under lessons, you can study very well explained grammar points, each with many example sentences. Vocabulary is broken up into sets of 10 words and each set comes with flashcards for study, as well as multiple choice exercises. One of the most intimidating things for JLPT takers is the amount of new words required for each level. JLPT Encyclopedia does an amazing job helping you divide and conquer the joy of memorization. Kanji is also offered for study in all the same ways vocabulary is.
The JLPT Test category has a multitude of example tests for grammar, reading, vocabulary and kanji sections. Once done with the multiple choice section you are given your score and an option to review the correct answers. The questions and answers aren’t ever translated for you, though, so if you’re a bit lost take it as a sign to study more vocabulary and grammar for this level of the exam. The only complaint I have for this application is that an ad will pop up every so often as you go between lessons or tests. I completely understand the need for ads and would have no problem buying the app because I enjoy it so much — yet there is no apparent way to purchase an ad free version.
Our take: Bite size bits to memorize for those that don’t need anymore intimidation about taking the JLPT. JLPT Encyclopedia is available on iOS.
4. JLPT Practice N5-N1
This application does exactly what it says on the tin: practice JLPT exams. There are both official JLPT exams from past editions and practice exams from which to choose. You have the ability to select vocabulary, grammar, vocab and grammar and other grammar and vocab combo practice exams.
In practice exams, once you make your selection you are shown right away if you’re correct and if not you’re shown the correct answer along with its English translation — same for the JLPT exam section. It’s a very simple and straightforward application, but an amazing way to start understanding how you will be quizzed and what you can anticipate. It may also help calm the nerves seeing some real, in depth examples before taking the actual exam. This application has samples for all five levels of the JLPT, so keep it around and do some review during your commute. If you can ace this exam while also sandwiched between a salaryman and a squirmy kid — I’d say you’re ready.
It goes without saying that if you’re serious about taking the JLPT you should also crack down and invest in some books and workbooks to study alongside with your app of choice.
Conveniently, the JLPT Official Practice Workbook Vol. 2 was just published in 2018. The JLPT Official Practice Workbook Vol. 2 and the PDF worksheets can be downloaded on JLPT’s website for free. For more review, the original 2012 workbook is also still available on their website — also for free.
The convenient thing about all of the above apps is you can take what you’ve learned and apply it on the go — whenever you find yourself with a few spare moments. We spend so much time on our phones as we begrudgingly go to work, regret last night’s nomihoudai in the bathroom, and while we avoid making eye contact during a Tinder first date. We have no excuse when it comes to finding time to study. Especially if the material is already quite literally at our fingertips, and who knows – maybe that Tinder date would have gone much better had you known more Japanese.