December JLPT N4 Morale Support Thread / General Discussions

I’m taking JLPT N4 in 2 weeks’ time and I have a slight concern around vocabulary.

I’ve pulled an unofficial list of JLPT vocabulary (such as Wikipedia JLPT Vocab - Kanshudo) that shows against Wanikani level and used that to figure out what I’ve learned / know.

At the moment I’ve got 362/654 words that I ‘know’ from the N4 vocabulary which seems low to me.

I’ve further looked through the list and checked off ones that would be easy to guess or I believe I will have learned via WaniKani before the test date, which still leaves me at about knowing 490/654, but this still seems quite low.

Wanikani does seem to be the best and most efficient method for me learning new words, however there’s lots of vocab obviously that I need to work through that isn’t part of the N4 test to ‘tick off’ N4 vocab, so lots of grinding through non-N4 grammar to get to the N4 grammar.

I’ve learned all the onyomi readings for the N4 kanji except for 4 which I’m working on and should be fine by the exam.

For grammar I’ve made Wanikani like SRS cards (complete with ‘Apprentice 1…2’, tabs I’ve been marking off with my pen or erasing if I get wrong, and marking when I did each one adhering to 4 hrs / 8 hrs / 1 day / 2 days / etc.).

I’ve been studying parts the practice exams but haven’t sat down in complete silence and given it a full go (timed and everything). There’s been a few words / nuances that have thrown me off where I would have benefited from knowing the meaning. I’ve also found some sections have words that I know written in Hiragana, and finding it hard to recall without the Kanji reading / mnemonic. I’ve done a few audio practices, some I struggle with and others are fine.

For N5 I’ve generally got the grammar sorted, got all of the Kanji readings and know 586/653 of the vocab (I didn’t actually do the N5 exam, although studied optional / elective courses at University that would prepare you for N5).

So I guess my questions are:

  1. What are your generation thoughts on how I’ll do based on above… am I doomed unless I accelerate this?
  2. Opinions on whether to keep grinding through Wanikani or try something else? I’m probably going through about 150 new grammar items a week which is a lot more than I normally do (it’s been building up somewhat over the last few levels).
  3. Where would you focus your efforts / energies if you were me with 2 weeks left, i.e. WaniKani lessons, more focus on practice exam, more focus on actual grammar patterns, etc.
  4. Any other general tips for int he exam (sorry probably threads for these already but throught I’d throw these in). For example what’s the best way to work through the exams - low hanging fruit first? Do you scribble down notes during the audio sections (in English??). etc.

Thanks in advance!


To be honest, it’s hard to predict how well you will do because the test is different every time and is adjusted to account for inconsistently difficult or easy elements. I wouldn’t stress out too much about knowing all the vocabulary or kanji. To my knowledge, there aren’t any official lists for vocabulary, but rather the list (as we know them) are cobbled together by words that have historically appeared in previous tests.

To be honest, when I was taking the JLPT, the times I spent focusing on “learning Japanese” was when I had no problem passing the exam. The one time I focused on studying for the exam was when I actually failed!

I’m not sure if you’re referring to WK (regarding ‘going through 150 new grammar items a week’) or not here because there aren’t grammar items provided. However, whatever source you’re using to study grammar, it’ll be helpful regardless. If you find that you’re spending a disproportionate amount of time on WK, perhaps you should focus more on other language skills such as listening and reading (both a potential challenge if you haven’t had a chance to work on these skills).

I think it’s important to know about the exam so that you aren’t wasting time reading directions or wondering what you need to do. As long as you are familiar with the types of questions that show up on the exam, you should be set.

One thing I would recommend is learning a little bit about keigo (the honorific register) as that there will probably be a couple questions testing about this and kana-only vocabulary. One thing I remember from taking the N4 was that I was thrown off by the lack of kanji in the beginning of the test. Getting accustomed to seeing and processing vocabulary that you know in kanji in the form of kana will probably help you not go crazy before the reading section.

I’d bring a watch just in case you site doesn’t have a visible clock to help you keep time as well.

As for test taking techniques, I’m not the one to ask because I’m not good at taking tests. Perhaps others responding will have great advice to give you in that respect.


I passed N4 when I was around level 11 on WK, so you’re already ahead of where I was!

What I did to supplement WK was to note vocab that popped up often in practice tests to study, and I think that was enough. Good luck!

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I’d recommend getting to know how words function in a sentence and which require a certain particle etc. That was my main issue. Not a lack of vocab (though my WK level was over 25 at the time)

@LucasDesu @Kuropanda_meow @nednettinc Thanks for all the tips and encouragement!

@LucasDesu I will focus a little more on Keigo in that case, had only done a light study of it based on Genki :slight_smile:

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I wish you the best on the exam. Don’t sweat it too much with the keigo. As long as you know the basic substitutions for the common words. Here’s a site that explains the basics (this should be more than enough for the exam). I wouldn’t worry about memorizing everything just be familiar with them. If you you’ve already done practice exams, then you’ve probably seen the extent keigo is covered in the test.


(I’m not OP but am having the exact same N4 worries lol)

This was a super helpful explanation for keigo! Thank you very much for sharing.


@cineebon you doing the N4 in 2 weeks as well?

Yep! I’m in grammar cram mode hell at the moment and had the same question about vocab recognition without kanji.

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Not sure why they do this. Furigana would make it much easier for many people. At least, in my opinion.

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So I just did my first proper practice exam runthrough, thought I’d share my findings with everyone as a kind of self-diary to reflect and perhaps it may help others taking the test.

Too long; did not read - my key learnings from my practice run

  • Build the foundation: Knowing the N4 vocabulary rules / conjugations is not good enough, you need be able to do this quickly and on the flow, and recognise / decode conjugated words for N4 grammar as quickly as you would for N5 grammar (i.e. 食べません).
  • Time management is key: Time is tight and time management is key, particularly if you have gaps in certain areas you’ll need to be clever about keeping an eye on the watch, skipping trickier questions, etc.

The conditions were: I had all papers from the practice exam that came out in 2018 printed out, including the proper answer sheet. Strictly stuck to time, so pens down when I hit the time limit for a certain section (2018 exam here: Japanese-Language Proficiency Test Official Practice Workbook | JLPT Japanese-Language Proficiency Test). No pausing etc, as close to the exam as I could make it (though I didn’t have a pencil available!).

Marks in practice test
In summary I… did pretty badly. I would have either just passed or just failed - impossible to tell as they use some sort of funky scaled scoring in JLPT that assigns the questions total mark based on how difficult it is in relation to others (don’t ask me about the algorithm). If I ignore that and assumed all questions were weighted equally, I’d have gotten:

Vocab: 45 / 60 (74%)
Grammar: 31/60 (52%)
Total: 76/120 (63%)
Total pass mark for these sections combined: 38/120 (31%)

Listening: 24/60 (40%)
Total pass mark for listening section: 19/60 (31%)

Total: 100/180 (55%) (the fact I got 100 is a pure coincidence).

So not great, if you consider a few of my answers were guesses the scaled scoring may have pushed the total below 90/100, or listening below 19/60.

What didn’t work well

  • Time - I ran out of time in every section (paper) without fail. Vocabulary (which was my highest mark) I had to rush toward the end, Grammar I had to rush in the middle and basically had to random guess the last few questions as I ran out of time. Listening I generally had a hard time on in each individual question.
  • Not knowing certain words (vocab) - As per the whole thing that started this post, there were quite a few times where I just came upon a word I’ve never seen before, or isn’t part of my Wanikani level and can’t remember well. While I think it is possible to guess any vocabulary given knowledge of the other grammar and enough time, as above time is not of the essence.
  • An example that threw me off was 見学 (けんがく) which apparently can mean visit, inspection, field trip or study by observation - not on Wanikani, doesn’t seem to be in the Genki II index, not in the N4 vocab lists I’ve used and according to the nifty KanjiStudy app I have is normally N2 level (not having a rant here, I know the idea is you are meant to have general language of the test rather than study lists etc. :)).
  • Grammar - I think I was “okay” in “getting” grammar, but it just took me too long. Generally I think I’ve been too focused on the grind and not spending enough time working through Grammar, (I’ve primarily been using Genki II), which to be honest is quite tedious and hard to do when you’re doing this solo on the side with no classroom time. To fix this I’ll try power through more Genki II exercises to build the ‘foundation’.
  • Listening - The problem with Grammar above was compounded in the listening sections, since I literally have no time to interpret this. An example massive word that popped up was ‘返さなければなりませんか’, by the time I had even started decoding this in my head the passage was over.
  • Some of the listening questions have diagrams labelled with Katakana which are kind of like ‘A’ ‘B’ ‘C’ ‘D’ in English, and the answer might be like 1 アイエ, 2 イエ, 3 エ (i.e. multiple options in each multichoice answer). The first time I seen this was in this specific practice exam and I had no idea how to answer when it came up (and probably get these questions wrong)… good thing I’m doing practice runs!

Silver Linings / What worked well:

  • Kanji / Kanji Vocab: Flew through all Kanji questions and only got one vocab one wrong (thanks Wanikani). The one I did get wrong (試合) is sitting in my lesson backlog… and my educated guess didn’t cut it.
  • Knowing the format: Having ran through a few practice exams slowly without a ticking time bomb made it useful in quickly getting into the nuts and bolts of the question. Especially some questions, like the ‘reassemble the sentences in the right order then answer in your multi choice which one the star should be at’ question are confusing unless you’ve done them before or are already some Japanese guru. I expect I should be able to shave off a few more minutes in the exam now I’ve done a full practice.
  • For practice and to avoid spoilers when doing tests in full, I used the ’ “New Japanese-Language Proficiency Test Sample Questions” (published 2009)’ - don’t get confused by the name in thinking these were the previous test format, they were a sample put out of the new format before it was published.
  • For the listening questions, you generally have to listen to the question (not on paper), I found scribbling down the question word in english (nan, nani, douyatte, etc.) and then the verb was enough to go on (normally the question will be like 'ri- san, or otoko no gakusei, which is easy to remember and not worth writing down).
  • A few of the questions had passages / answers listed out on the book, so I was able to race ahead during the examples (例 れい) and scribble down key vocab that would take me a few minutes to decode.

Thanks for reading, feel free to share any of your own experiences leading up to the exam.


Good luck to everyone tomorrow!


I had been thinking of jumping straight to the reading section and doing those questions first. I did two Udemy practice exams, first straight through and then doing reading first. I did much better going straight through. Not very scientific but enough to convince me just to do the questions in order. I wish I could do that section of the test faster though.

I’m not sure what the actual points assignment would look like, but i’m wondering whether the cost-benefit is worth it for those long reading sections. I’ve now done 2 full practice exams and both times I ran out of time and didn’t make it upto them… I’d be worried if I focussed on them

By the way, does anyone know if the Language (Vocab) and Language (Grammar) booklets are handed out separately, when the time is up for each respective section, e.g. I am assuming we don’t have 90 minutes to do both sections, rather they’ll take the booklet and hand us the next one when the time is up.

Also, I never did N5 so, what’s the general pace between sections (if they take the booklets). Do we have a bit of time to take a breather at our desks?

I also read something about a break from the person running the exam, but I assume this means after the exam… correct?

You have a break between each section. So Vocab section (30m) and then a short break. Grammar section (60m) and then a short break. Finally, listening (35m) and then you’re done!

They hand the three booklets for each section separately. So you have the entire vocab booklet, and only, that, for the vocab section.

There should be a schedule of times on your test info slip for your specific test site!

Here’s a photo of my schedule this past summer as an example:


You get a break between sections. The booklets for each section are collected at the end of that section.

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