Views on JLPT Exam and misconceptions

Since I now passed JLPT N1 with score 147/180 in the 94.6% percentile ranking, I’m now in a better position to comment on it.

Vocab types and size

There is NO such thing as “vocab size” for any level, and therefore it is unwise to depend on any single vocab list for any level. However, the easier levels (N4 N5) tend to test on words that are more concrete and close to daily life, such as 冷蔵庫、鉛筆 in Hiragana. In other words, PRIMARY SCHOOL KIDS Vocab Level.

As level goes higher, the words tend to be more abstract, and in N1, it can be any Kanji and 外来語 (but no trendy words, yet)。So my advice is, instead of using a commercial word list book, read a lot and don’t confine to certain genre. Personally I learn a boatload of vocab from Anime, AVG Games and light novels, but later I found that NHK’s written materials are also excellent as learning materials.

Archaic grammar

It is a misconception introduced by some famous Mock Exam compilation, while the actual official exam is NOT that archaic. There is another possibility that one may be skipping certain type of literature. The most odd-ball and hard-to-comprehend articles come from sorts of “reader digest”, and 文庫 that is unpopular among younger generations. Mock exams often cite those materials making them insanely hard. Nowadays, the official JLPT often use material from actual news, or materials from NHK or Asahi, that is sane and “daily-life”. Anyway, if you can handle those crazy mock exams, the actual JLPT should not be a big issue.

Note that I’m not discouraging anyone from using those mock exam and grammar books, they are useful for training on the “phrase re-ordering” part and prepare you for unexpected challenges.

Logic Skill Matters

Your reading and comprehension ability in your Native Language MATTERS! If you sucks in school for Reading and Comprehension, you WILL be in trouble with the JLPT reading part, especially at higher levels. Conversely, if you are good at R&C, and you read a lot, the reading part should be straight forward and easier than mock papers.

Techniques on doing Multiple-Choice-Questions

  1. Try to skim through and memorize the questions, and have a look at the source of the artice, before dwelling into the long passage
  2. Use elimination, before you have to guess
  3. Finish the easy parts first

(P.S. If the article came from news, NHK or Asahi, it should be straight forward. If it comes from some unheard publication, be alerted)


I lost most of my marks in N1 from Listening. Putting equipment and the lengthy exam issues aside, there is ONE key advice:

  • Get used to BOTH Female and Male voice

In particular, male voice is a lot more difficult to resolve due to low and flat pitch (mumbling). So find a variety of material and don’t just watch Anime only or Drama only or NHK News only. The CVs for JLPT are a lot worse than usual drama, anime, games and news, but closer to variety shows and reality.


The average score for JLPT N1~N3 is similar with average at 88 and stdev 30, meaning 95% people fall in the range 29~147. At 30% pass rate, that means the pass mark is around 104 (one-tail z-value at 0.52), assuming the score is more or less a normal distribution. With full mark of 180, you SHOULD NOT aim for this average (or you will fail). To me, a consistent 30% pass rate is obscene for any public exam. This probably means a lot of people took this test without proper preparation, or their schools make them feel over-confident. Over the years, I have seen otakus being over-confident with their Japanese ability, and then end up failing multiple times in N2. I passed N2 and N1 each time in one go, so I can say to you arrogant ass “Do Your Homework”. Specifically, get a few mock papers and complete them within time-limit. N4 N5 mock papers seems to be easier than official, while N3 to N1 are more difficult than official exam in general. Anyway, you can’t assess your ability without taking some real challenge, don’t fool yourself. N4 and N5 still have a mere ~50% pass rate, meaning a significant portion of test-takers did not really study.

No Pain No Gain

This this THE motto of learning of my time, while gradually disbanded among schools after the millenia… what a pity. To attain ANY skill to useful degree, hard work is ESSENTIAL, particularly for languages since

Learning a language == Training a new conditional reflex

Your goal, should be aiming to be able to think in the target language. You should rarely need to “translate” in your head as you should be generating the words directly from your idea. Failing to achieve this means you have not master the language yet.

Written on September 24, 2017