It’s right around the corner, that essential test to get into any Japanese translation or interpretation job out there. The Japanese Language Proficiency Test has been around since 1984, and it has a very simple objective: “to evaluate and certify proficiency in Japanese of non-native speakers.” Yet the task of us test takers is anything but simple.
Everyone has there own different way of studying for the test. Some people simply take the practice tests over and over again to get a feel for the test itself; some people focus on vocabulary and grammar drills; while others try the more “natural” route of listening to Japanese music, watching Japanese TV, and talking in Japanese everyday. Regardless of the method, getting the right materials for the test can be daunting for a first time test taker.
Probably the most popular JLPT test prep series, Nihongo-So-Matome breaks down lessons into daily study parts that culminate in a weekly self-taken test on the study material. Each book focuses on a different aspect of the test from mastering kanji to the listening section.
I personally love how these books are set up. Not only are they great for the test, but even for just studying Japanese in general they’re very useful. Each lesson is based around a theme, such as “family life” or “cleaning up.” Because of the easy to follow themes and the way the test is broken down into more easily absorbed sections, I put this book series at the top.
Unfortunately, the series only does N3-N1.
That’s where Nihongo Challenge comes into the picture. Made by the same people behind the Nihongo-So-Matome series, these books are for true beginners. I actually recommend if you’re already in Japan to go ahead and skip N5. That level is so very basic, and honestly N4 won’t take long to beat. Basically made with the same idea of the previous books, these have some romaji and more helpful English grammar tips than the advanced series.
The JLPT Test Practice Questions Books
The JLPT Test Questions Books are best to save for closer to testing time. If you want to time yourself and see how well you can pass with what you know, these are the books to buy. You can get these for all levels. These books will give you a feel for what you’re up against, but keep in mind not to memorize the answers. Unlike some test study prep material given out in other countries, the test questions for the JLPT will be different from the ones in the study books.
A Dictionary of (Basic/ Intermediate/ Advanced) Grammar
At the moment I’m currently using the Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar. However, there are three different books, one for beginners which is the Basic book. This would be for people who intend to take the N4 or N5 level of the test. Intermediate is best suited for N3 people. I’ve been told there’s a big gap between N3 and N2, so perhaps Advanced is best for N2 and N1.
These books help explain grammar structure, how it can be used, and how it can’t be used. Unlike most other books on this list, the grammar is put in dictionary style, as in alphabetical order instead of theme. They are a bit on the pricey side, but well worth the money in the end, especially if you’re a person who focuses on grammar structure more so than vocabulary.
Quick Mastery of Vocabulary: In preparation for the JLPT
The Quick Mastery series is much like the grammar dictionaries, but focuses on vocab only. If you’re like me and kanji is your worst nightmare, these books are for you. Also, the books have red writing below them with hiragana and/or katakana. The book comes with a red plastic filter so you can’t see those words, which helps readers to memorize the Japanese words in the kanji form.
These are grouped together by theme, too, so they’re wonderful supplementary materials to utilize in combination with the Nihongo-So-Matome and Challenge series. In general, though, I’m always recommending that people learn more vocabulary than anything else. If you’ve got the words, you can figure out the context, and then grammar will come more naturally. But then again, that’s how my mind works and different people learn in different ways.
Best of luck to everyone studying! May we all pass with flying colors.