Sweat the Small Stuff: 5 Tips for Passing the JLPT

Don’t be a stressed mess, learn how to pass your next level test on your journey up the Japanese language proficiency ladder.

By 5 min read

The first time I took JLPT2, I was amazed at how quickly my time ran out. It seemed like I had barely started the reading section of the test before the one-minute warning came up. After flunking spectacularly, I asked my teacher what had gone wrong and she said something that stuck with me: “As you progress further into your Japanese study,” she explained, “Exam technique is actually as important as learning the grammar and vocabulary points.”

Where I’d gone wrong is that I had become too used to taking my time answering questions. Almost anyone can find the correct answer to a question when given unlimited minutes and hints from the teacher, but being able to do it in the limited duration given for the test is another thing. Therefore, it’s important to learn the correct timings, then get out a stopwatch and time yourself these strict time limits.

The last JLPT test date was July 1, but the next one is Dec. 2 of this year. Depending on the level of test you’re tackling, the time allotted varies but in general it takes around 2 ½ to three hours, More information on the test dates and times can be found on the JLPT official website.

That said — here are five tips for acing level two of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. And while we discuss the JLPT2 specifically in this post, the main advice can be applied to all levels.

1. Schedule your time

The schedule that my teacher and I worked out for the JLPT2 exam was as follows:

  • Sections 1, 2 & 3: three minutes
  • Section 4: two minutes
  • Section 5: one minute
  • Section 6: five minutes
  • Section 7: six minutes
  • Section 8: five minutes
  • Section 9: 10 minutes
  • Section 10: three minutes for each exercise, 15 minutes total
  • Section 11: seven minutes for each exercise, 21 minutes total
  • Section 12: 10 minutes
  • Section 13: 10 minutes
  • Section 14: five minutes
  • The remaining time to be used for a quick review

As you can see — this is a pretty strict time schedule to keep

During the actual exam, following these intense time limits, you run the risk of feeling the stress of the test and that can cause fatigue to set in. This leads me to technique number two: train your brain like you would train any other muscle.

By this, I mean that you need to train for endurance as well as for power. Sure, you may be able to answer questions in a short period of time, but can you maintain that effort for almost two hours without mental fatigue? Make sure that you train for being able to answer questions quickly and to endure at least an hour of answering similar questions without flagging.

2. Know your strengths

A similar, but related, point is to know your strong points. Generally speaking, my vocabulary is where I excel. That and the skimming and dipping parts of the exam are my other strengths. Therefore, I try to race through these parts first and make sure that I get the points, then head onto the harder parts.

While I always look out for the words and parts that I struggle with, I recently became aware that these words are the same ones that most people likely find tricky. Of course, these are exactly the ones that examiners love to include.

As soon as I saw the word ゆずる (to hand over or bequeath) appear in my JLPT2 textbook, I immediately made a mental note of it. It seemed like such a strange word. Sure enough, no prizes for guessing what came up in my actual test…

3. Study unusual forms

This leads me nicely to my third point. Although it may sound somewhat counterintuitive, make sure that you focus more on the obscure Japanese words as you progress up the levels. Look for unusual uses, readings and verbs of kanji, look for those easily confused words and weird rules about a grammar point.

At the JLPT2 level, this means things like ところだった, which can often mean that something almost happened, but didn’t (for example in the sentence: うっかりわすれるところだった), ものの (although) and ばかりに (often associated with unexpected results). At JLPT levels one, two and three, pretty much all grammar has situations where it is and isn’t used.

4. Expect the unexpected

This point may sound strange, but learn to expect terrible opinions. As you move up the levels, the chances of the opinion being a standard opinion becomes less and less. Expect people to change their minds in the middle of sentences or say the exact opposite of what most normal people think. Luckily for test takers, the examiners will often throw in little sentence markers to mark these sudden changes with things like:

  • すなわち (that is to say… )
  • はっきりえば (to say that more clearly… )
  • ちなみに (incidentally… )
  • ようするに (in brief… )

5. Differentiate spoken and written Japanese

As a final bit of advice, remember that it’s important to pay attention to the differences between spoken and written Japanese. Spoken Japanese will employ a lot of useful forms to say things, such as:

  • もん often replacing もの
  • しなきゃよかった replacing しなければよかった (I shouldn’t have done it)
  • べちゃった and べてしまった (I ate)
  • いとく replacing いておく (to place something somewhere).

These are just some of the things that helped me when I took the JLPT exams one and two. Of course, there are countless exam techniques and tactics out there, but these worked for me.

Are any of these similar to ones that you use or do you have any of your own? As always let us know in the comments and good luck in the exams, test takers!



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