General Test Taking Tips (JLPT or other)

Hey folks, since all of you have been so helpful in my own learning journey I wanted to offer some help back to you, if possible. I’m a Professor (not of Japanese!) and in my academic career was pretty good with tests after having take so many of them, so here are some test taking tips for people who are thinking about going for JLPT in December and beyond. Other people on here will have better things to offer about the actual test itself; these are general strategies to improve your likelihood of good outcomes overall, especially for those who get nervous or psyched out.

The fundamental idea here is that the JLPT actually is testing two things:

  1. Your ability to understand Japanese, but even more so…
  2. Your ability to do the JLPT.

And while you’ve likely been working on #1 for months or years, chances are you’ve been working on #2 just by taking practice tests. But as you know, taking the actual test is really only one part of test day. The rest of the day usually screws people up way more than they realize. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed or not perform your best if you include a bunch of new variables, e.g. the test is on a Sunday but you usually do practice tests on weekday nights, you usually do listening in headphones instead of on a speaker, you’ve never been to the testing center and you’re thinking about making sure you get there on time and where is the actual check-in area? Where is the bathroom? What’s your plan on eating? Etc…
NONE of these things have to do with your ability in Japanese but all of them will sap valuable mental and emotional energy which will take away from your ability to perform your best come test day, so the biggest recommendation I can offer is to try to knock out as many of them as possible by creating a really tight routine in the weeks leading up to the test.

These are some ways to think about creating strong routines that will help eliminate some of these extra variables so you can focus on the test when the big day comes:

  1. Figure out what time of day on Sunday the test will happen. Travel somewhere each Sunday, arriving by “test time” and do a practice test or at least do focused Japanese studying. Go to a library or a school building or whatever you can that gets you closest to the environment you want to recreate but do it at the same time so that come test day you are accustomed to leaving your house on a Sunday and going to work on Japanese. Do you have a good mix you listen to each Sunday on the way? Or maybe Japanese content? Cool, just be consistent about it in your routine.

  2. Eat and drink relatively consistent things at consistent times on that Sunday trip. OK you want to eat before the test, so make a routine to eat ______ on Sunday morning before working on Japanese and have the same snacks or drinks for breaks or after (for me, eating part of a Snickers bar = you finished a section, this relationship is hardwired into my head even years later). You want to have little things like that to remind you that this is just like you practiced and because you will know how your body reacts to those foods and drinks you can avoid any issues with bathroom/digestive/anxiety/etc… On that front, try to not go too hard on the caffeine as it can significantly ramp up your anxiety, which you probably won’t feel on the average Sunday but definitely can on test day when your anxiety is already high.

  3. Consider having a physical aspect to your routine to get yourself in the right mental place. Amy Cuddy has a TED talk about “power posing” and how it can help us get in the right mental place to perform. You can believe it or you maybe you don’t, but just having that be part of your routine (the same way that basketball players have a routine before each free throw, or soccer goalies before a PK, etc…) is a way to do a hard reset on your mental state to get you ready to perform.

Even if that’s not your cup of tea, try to include stretching in the morning so you are feeling more relaxed, especially since you’ll be stuck in a chair for a while. Bonus points for yoga to bring up your focus and bring down your anxiety.

  1. When taking practice tests, try to match the key elements as much as possible: if you can use a speaker, do it. If you’re only allowed a certain amount of paper/have to use pen or pencil or whatever else or if it’s on computer, then do it that way. You want this to all feel as natural as possible, and doing something in a totally different way definitely won’t help (e.g. on the GMAT they give you a laminated sheet and a dry-erase marker instead of pen and paper – so practicing with pen and paper is practicing for something you wouldn’t have! I’ll leave it to JLPT folks to describe what things are like there).

  2. Then, after you’re done with your Sunday morning routine, reward yourself somehow. Make sure you celebrate the hard work in some way, even if small, and then on test day know that you will do the same thing. It’s important to give yourself that good feedback loop with respect to hard work and it will help you “ramp down” from the tension of test-taking.

  3. On the Sunday the week before the test, travel to the testing center if possible to get used to the trip. If you’re at all nervous about time it will screw you up the night before or you’ll rush the morning of, and that definitely isn’t going to help.

  4. The day before is for rest. At that point trying to get anything new in your head is like pouring new water into a boiling pot – you mess up your rhythm and it’s unlikely you get anything worthwhile from it. You can do some light stuff earlier in the day, but ideally just try to have a relaxing day, get some nervous energy out however you like (exercise or whatever else, choose your own adventure) and get some rest.

Then wake up, do your routine, kick some ass and get that cert. You’ve earned it.

You can train to be a better test-taker and you can get through your test anxiety, but it’s not enough to talk about it and it’s not enough to just study Japanese. Make this stuff a routine and you will own it instead of letting it own you :slight_smile:

がんばろう, y’all.



Very sound advice.

Even if you don’t do any of the things above, at the very least visit the test venue the day before the test using the transport mode you’ll be using on test day. Ideally, as described above, seven days before so you know how the traffic is on Sundays. But again, this is the bare minimum: you should 100% know how to get there (down to the room if possible) and give yourself ample time to reach the venue in time.


I didn’t finish reading your whole post yet, but I can confirm that this happened to me during the past JLPT haha.

My biggest problem was eating before the test and during the breaks, since I had a long commute to the test center (about 3 hours by public transport, even more amazing is that there was a lot of construction work only at that day so it was terrible) with the test starting around my regular lunch time. As a result I felt hungry during the first part and got a bad stomach ache (i have some stomach issues that arise when I don’t eat regularly/healthy). Then of course I felt quite bad so this took a lot of energy. Not to come up with an excuse, but especially during reading this messed with my concentration, also because the texts were more boring than the texts I had on practice exams (this is just bad luck, during the N3 I loved all texts and during a practice N2 I liked most texts as well)

Either way I am continuing to read now, but I would like to emphasize again that I really underestimated these random variables

Edit after reading the tips: I really like them and ideally I could stick to them, but for many a trip to the test center is not doable more than the one time it is actually necessary. It could also become too expensive. I do agree that it’s better to at least create some kind of routine, so maybe just taking the sundays before to walk a lot or something that gives you the sense of moving somewhere to get used to it? (also in japan the test centers are revealed only a short time beforehand I think)

Food is really important like you said. Do check the test times and prepare accordingly.

I’ll definitely use your tips if I ever take the JLPT again!!


Great point – they certainly don’t offer the test everywhere, so that part is not feasible for everyone. The routine of doing some travel at consistent times should help but I could be more clear about that :slight_smile:

Also, sorry to hear about your challenges on this one, but on the plus side after that experience it sounds like you will be more than ready to take this thing down on the next effort!

Thanks for the helpful comments and good luck, @NathaLire!


I can totally relate to this. I felt prepared for the test, but the testing environment was totally new and threw me off. I live in Kanagawa, and the test site was at a college campus. It was my first time taking the JLPT, and the sheer number of people and sort of loud/disorganized atmosphere surprised me. I knew the line for the woman’s bathroom would be long, but it was so long that I didn’t get a chance to go, which wasn’t great.

Also, I second the suggestion of doing practice tests outside of your home. I did most of mine in my apartment, where there were no distractions, good air conditioning, etc. During the actual test I wasn’t used to other folks being around me and I got distracted by people fidgeting or mumbling. Someone’s phone started buzzing during the test too, but the proctors didn’t notice and it went on for a bit.

I would also suggest having a buddy on test day for moral support. I went by myself, and I definitely felt lonely among all the groups of people who came together. It would have been nice to have company after the test/on the commute home.


Exactly! In that sense I learned most from actually taking the JLPT :blush: thank you again for your tips!!


Love the idea of having a buddy on test day, great idea!

It was so loud (those who were going to sit the exam) when I went to take the N4 in summer and I had to wonder if they didn’t read the rules on the paper (although I didn’t take note of test room and went to another floor first lol!)

I used the bathroom during the last break and made it back just some minutes before :no_mouth: I’d like that to not happen again and hope nobody has to go through that

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This is a strange suggestion, but I’ve taken the JLPT twice in Japan, and I’ve gotten into the habit of going to the nearby shrine first. Obviously doesn’t work for all countries, but I really like doing it (even though I’m not religious).

It lets me get to the test site early, and take my time walking around getting a feel for the place instead of rushing straight to the test building, which really helps me control my stress.

More importantly, I find going up and “praying” really helps me focus. The first time I just prayed for the test to go well, but the second time I specifically prayed for the ability to do my best - to not be distracted and to be able to perform equal to my actual ability.

When I actually went to the test, I was actually really calm. Going through those motions let me focus on what was actually important, and I found small noises or distractions didn’t bother me nearly as much as usual. I think I performed better than I did on my practice tests actually.


Great idea! Having a routine that gets your head in the right place, whatever that ritual is, can be key to getting the best performance. And I especially like the part where you need to build in extra time to perform this ritual – this stops you from having to be manic in trying to rush there (which is a recipe for making your test day much worse).

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So many of these tips are really about managing the stresses and variables that you CAN manage. A big part of that is that there are a bunch of variables that you won’t be able to manage ahead of time, so ideally this creates mental space for you to be able to deal with those things rather than have them push you over the edge.

Waiting in the line and not being sure if you’re going to be able to go / get back in time would be really stressful and is a great example of the kind of stuff you can’t control but might want some extra mental space for! :grimacing:


Another general test-taking tip I’ve found helpful – take the easy test first. Go through and answer the questions that come to you in a few seconds; any longer than a 10 count, move on. This helps leave more time for questions that demand greater brain power as well as – and this is important – checking your work. If you’re going to drop points, do so because you don’t know the material, not because you were momentarily distracted by the air conditioning (or lack thereof) and filled in the wrong bubble. Time allowing, three passes should do the trick.


This can be a nice way to build some momentum/confidence which is super key to performing well (and then you’re also less likely to have the opposite effect where you get stuck on one question that shakes you up when it’s worth the same amount of points as the easy ones anyway!)

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Good tips, especially the “go there before D-day” tip. I’m pretty easy-going with getting lost… er, taking the less efficient route places, and I can read a map, but the pressure of needing to BE somewhere OR ELSE used a lot of mental energy.

If you can’t go there, at least trace all the steps over and over with google street view until you know where you’re going by sight.

Be careful with the buddy thing. A friend volunteered to be my buddy, but then we got there early, it was FREEZING in Yokohama, all the school buildings were closed, and there were no obvious places she could wait hours for me, not even a coffee shop. I tried not to worry about her during the test. (She was fine, though, found a McDonalds to loiter in, and they didn’t kick her out.)

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