The Decision to Start
After studying Japanese for a while, you may, like I have, decide to test your 日本語 mettle by committing to take the JLPT. There’s plenty of arguments for and against taking the test; I personally wanted it as a motivational tool, as well as something to put on an application for enrolling to Japanese Language schools in Japan next year. It’s also super-cool to be able to put it on a resume. :)
Some reasons to take the JLPT:
- You have official ‘proof’ of your Japanese learning progress
- You can put it on your resume
- It may help you when applying for certain schools or programs
- It can serve as a ‘deadline motivation’ to study
Some reasons not to take the JLPT:
- It’s one part Japanese knowledge, one part learning how to take the test properly
- It can be expensive for some people
- If you are learning for fun and don’t need such tough deadlines to study
Making a plan
Once you’ve decided to persue taking the test, it’s best to come up with a plan for what and how often you will need to study. Will this be on top of your other studying, or will you focus your learning time entirely on JLPT content? That may be determined by how close you are to already understanding the content.
Take the sample test
Get a feel for your understanding by taking the official sample test: http://www.jlpt.jp/e/samples/n5.html
How did you do? Were you able to read the questions fairly quickly, or did you take a long time? Remember that the JLPT is timed and you’ll need to be able to read the questions at almost skim-speed to get through them (or so I’m told).
Practice your Kana/Kanji
Nothing beats memorizing characters like writing them down, over and again. Use thes pre-built stroke order practice sheets included in the resources below, or create your own at http://kanji.genkigeek.com.
Use Anki to drill .. everything!
Anki is simply the best flashcard SRS (spaced repetition system) out there right now. You can use it for free on your computer, but picking up the mobile app is highly recommended - and you’ll support development in the process.
Their getting started guide is pretty good, so I won’t go into the how-to of setting it up here, but I will provide you with my starter deck that I created for my own studying.
I’ll create a guide on effective Anki card building soon, but wherever you can, try to include an image and a sound byte.
You can find my decks in the resources below - I strongly encourage you to edit my cards with additional info (images, sounds, etc) that you find memorable, especially if a card is giving you trouble.
Write as much as you can
With so much tech at our disposal, it’s really easy to get lazy and just use a computer or phone. But writing is amazingly powerful for deep memorization! Take the time to write sentences that reenforce the grammar points you’re trying to learn. If you don’t have a teacher to help you with corrections, typing up what you wrote and posting to Lang-8 will get native speakers to correct you!
Listen to people talking
Repeating everything your parents said was one way you learned to speak your first language, and it’s not so different for your next one. Listening comprehension, and subsequently repeating what you hear helps connect the meaning of that word that much faster. Engaging as many senses as you can when you come in contact with new content will help you learn many times faster than just looking at text.
I use forvo.com as a way to look up the way words actually sound, and make it so they auto-play when I see the card in my Anki deck. Take this even further by repeating aloud that you hear, until you can mimic the speaker as accurately as possible!
Carve out time to regularly study
I struggle with this a lot, but it’s vital to make time every week (or every day!) to study. Make it reasonable so you don’t feel overwhelmed at the idea of studying 4 hours a day. Give yourself small goals and celebrate when you study for longer than that!
Some study goal ideas:
- 50 Anki cards completed
- 10 sentences, 20 kanji, or 20 kana written
- 1 hour before bed or after waking up
Test study guides
- The JLPT N5 Study guide on Amazon.com
- Reference materials from the JLPT website
- JLPT N5 Course on memrise.com
- Ultimate Anki desk study guide from JLPT Bootcamp