JLPT - a different kind of beast?

To people who’ve been studying towards the JLPT a little longer, do you also get the impression it requires a noticeably different focus than learning towards let’s say reading regular books, watching Japanese shows, anime and following news? And in the end is detrimental to overall proficiency?

I’ve been at it for the last 1.5 months in preparation for N2 and it feels like I got so lazer-focused on the exam material that whenever I see non-exam text, subjectively I feel like my understanding got worse than it was before.

I’m still managing my daily Anki reviews without a problem and have no issues reading more formal texts or articles, but book prose became a bit of an issue.


I can’t answer your question as stated, because I’m not studying for the JLPT, but I’m not studying for the JLPT for the reason that the Venn diagram between studying Japanese and studying for the JLPT might overlap, but not as much as one would think (in my opinion).

Like most tests, JLPT doesn’t actually test you on your Japanese proficiency in general, but on a test-convoluted Japanese proficiency.

Also, what you spend your time on are the things that are the easiest to do. This applies to mother tongues as well. If anyone asked me to write an essay in Swedish, I’d be dismayed at the level of Swedish I’d be able to produce, just from the fact that the only Swedish I write are sms/texts nowadays. And I haven’t produced any serious Swedish writing in over a decade…

Edit: To add a bit to my answer, to be a bit more relevant. When I was at Japanese school, the curriculum was based around JLPT levels. So the beginner classes taught N5, and then N4, etc. But it didn’t focus on learning it for the JLPT, but to use the Japanese taught (JLPT was more a framework to choose what to teach next). So while it got me proficient enough that I could have taken N4 (in a year’s time we went through N5 and N4, but only half of N3), I ended up not doing it.

I liked how even while making sure students could take the JLPT, the focus was not on studying for the test, but instead on using/learning the grammar/vocabulary for a certain level. It was recommended for those planing to take the tests to do additional practice outside class on actual tests/test questions (so the majority of study time would be spent on more general studies at a certain JLPT level). (We took one practice test in class.) That way we did learn what was needed for the JLPT, but the focus was more on an all-round use of Japanese than only studying for the tests.

So we studied the material of the JLPT but not in a JLPT test setting/fashion.

Edit 2: I realize I probably shouldn’t have posted this because you had a specific question, that I can’t actually answer, but since someone’s replied to my post I don’t want delete it (it makes discussions look so weird). Sorry. :sweat:


I totally agree with you. Even if you are native you can have a problem with writing science articles or something like that. You learn those things in school but in real life, we don’t use this form of writing too much.

In general learning for exams are boring and doesn’t give you real language in daily life.

I hope you understand what I mean. :sweat_smile:


My JLPT study was many years ago now, but: I think it is definitely a different focus in that it tends to look at non-fiction texts, often essays, whereas most self-directed learners are going to gravitate towards fiction. It’s also trying (as best it can given the format) to test for more than mere basic comprehension, in that it looks for some things you would need if you were writing texts (word nuances, choices of grammar form X rather than Y). So studying for the JLPT is going to push you into working on aspects of the language that maybe you’d have ignored if you were otherwise doing a mostly consumption-focused (TV, manga, books) programme. And because you only have so many hours in the day to study, time spent doing that is time not spent working on and reinforcing the aspects of the language that are most useful for that consumption-focused programme, so you won’t move forward as quickly there. Personally I think that’s a good thing – I think eventually all parts of the language and language study interlock and reinforce each other, and studying more broadly rather than narrowly is worthwhile. (Which doesn’t mean JLPT necessarily – you might aim for a broader base via other means. And it definitely doesn’t mean JLPT alone – JLPT is quite narrow and artificial in its own way.)


Definitely, especially at the N1 level. I mean, come on, most of the structures, especially the ones whose grammar is from 古文, are things I’ve never seen before and I have never needed for understanding anime, and they haven’t come up much in the Japanese studies or news articles I’ve read either.

However, see, I think the JLPT is meant to evaluate one’s progress in the sort of Japanese one might need to ‘adult’ in Japan in a formal context. It’s quite academic, and probably also includes (e.g. at the N1 level) a lot of vocabulary you’d only find in formal writing or relatively advanced books (fiction and non-fiction). To put it another way, it measures your potential to be able to understand a wide variety of things in standard Japanese. That’s it. It doesn’t test any other sort of Japanese, and doesn’t check whether you can communicate in Japanese either.

I wouldn’t say so. Everything I learn (provided I make it my own) will allow me to write better formal texts, understand more literary flourishes, and perhaps also help with understanding references to 古文 when they appear. Learning what one needs for the JLPT should be a plus, in my opinion.

However, if one only focuses on the JLPT and forgets everything else, then yeah, it might have a negative impact. Additionally, what one learns for the JLPT isn’t necessarily particularly useful for understanding anything that isn’t in standard Japanese. I learnt a lot of N2 grammar just by watching anime and looking things up, so one might say that studying for the JLPT would have allowed me to understand that, but all the contextual elements and slang I needed to understand the anime I watched have nothing to do with the JLPT. What I’m saying is that JLPT proficiency doesn’t necessarily translate to proficiency in whatever you’re trying to use your Japanese for. That’s the difference. But hey, it makes sense: JLPT certs are typically required by universities or companies, and those are the sorts of contexts in which JLPT knowledge is useful. Elsewhere though… it might not be what you need.

EDIT: To put it another way, I think that if you mastered everything on the JLPT up to N1 and were able to use it in your own Japanese with ease, you’d probably be considered ‘good’ in Japanese and also be fairly impressive. However, there’s no guarantee you’d be able to communicate comfortably in more casual, everyday contexts, or understand anime or manga.


Yes. This. While I count the last 2.5 years as my “Serious time learning Japanese” a lot of that was solely focused on the JLPT. I remember feeling like I studied so hard for the test but forgot the other elements of what I was trying to accomplish. Originally it was just to check my progress with Japanese, but then it just turned into my progress with the JLPT. I definitely improved from where I was, but it was at the cost of time I could have spent with a text book series focused on getting me using and doing things in Japanese a lot quicker.

JLPT materials have this allure that you will be taking the short way but I think it actually takes longer and sets you back a bit. Most of the material give the bare minimum explanations for grammar and vocab and you are just kind of guessing 1 through 4 your way to “proficiency” in test taking.

Going through Quartet 1 now I can say it wasn’t a complete waste, but I didn’t internalize a lot of it. Now when I write I can see “OH I can use this grammar naturally!” where as with the JLPT it was like “I got the answer right! NEXT!”

TL;DR Yes. It is different.


Big thanks for the answers to everyone! I have some time to finally respond to them :slight_smile: .

Which is as of right now my reasoning as well. I had some pretty decent successes with listening comprehension where both logic and the answer sheet agreed for the most part, but I begin to notice certain discrepancies in the reading section which make me think the exam is testing my preparedness for the exam and not my overall proficiency.

I think it makes sense. JLPT is after all a common point of reference for Japanese proficiency and maps reasonably well to the European A-C system if one excludes active usage of the language (writing and speaking). Also, at lower JLPT levels it seems to me it’s less important to navigate through the more cultural aspects of the language.

One could even argue it’s easy to tell a non-native speaker apart by how their command of the language is just a couple of marks above the context in which it’s exercised (Like right now :joy: ), because one has to be more prepared for exams than most real life scenarios dictate.

That’s fair and in a way good. Right now after the last couple of weeks I do feel I brushed up on aspects of Japanese that would’ve otherwise been left in the gutter, because enjoying fictional content is not as formal or grammar-heavy as JLPT prep.

And I guess other than deeper elements of keigo and interacting with formal documents one probably wouldn’t need to ever know, right? :frowning:

I think N2 is a good middle ground, because even in games aimed at teenagers one will see many many N2-level grammar points, kanji, etc.

I don’t mean having a very deep understanding of Japanese is a bad thing. If it’s interesting, it’s definitely worth the time. I have a more pragmatic approach and that’s why I decided to stop at N2 and not aim straight for N1 (prospectively next year).

I think that’s still fair and good enough. For a foreigner living outside of Japan being exposed to non-fictional, standard Japanese is definitely more challenging and I do greatly appreciate that the JLPT prep materials focus on that :slight_smile: . As you said, the exam is meant to test how good I am at “adulting in Japanese”.

Yes, I think that’s my current problem actually. It was going well so far and my brain was adjusting fairly quickly to JLPT-specific material (which for the most part is very realistic, especially the conversations in 聴解), but all that stopped when my 読解 book started serving me book/novel prose. It seems like comprehension of those JLPT-tailored snippets requires a combination of creativity most of the exam prep nearly killed in me and being 0/1 about language precision with respect to JLPT’s expectations. Which feels a little awkward, but that’s how it is :confused: .

I think I am in a very similar boat! My time spent “seriously” studying Japanese is also around 2 years or so. I started heavily focusing on JLPT at the end of April, but I would like that to stop after the exam for a while so that I can go back to actually using the language - games, books, novels, manga, anime, VTubers, etc.

I mean, they are very focused as exam prep materials should be :slight_smile: . But I agree on the “guessing to proficiency” part for sure. That’s how it felt doing the 文法 quizzes.

Hahaha I am looking forward to seriously confusing people with N2 grammar in the Japanese Sentence a Day thread :joy:


To be fair though, you could say this about learning literally any language. You learn a language in school, and you learn how to say things in very specific ways. When something deviates even slightly from the norm, it throws you off a lot, especially at low levels. Also, comparing any one kind of writing to any other (novels, manga, newspapers, scientific texts, test materials, etc.) is not exactly indicative of whether you understanding “got worse”. Even in one’s own native language, these things are not written using the same language and with novels especially, every writer has their own style. It’s just something that takes time.

So tldr: I don’t think it’s stunting your progress elsewhere, but when you’re so hyper-focused on one thing like you said (and I’m not harping on you as I’m doing the same thing right now), everything else will kind of suffer to some extent.

Not sure if you’re in Japan right now but talking in Japanese people has definitely helped me pick up stuff in more casual texts, but really that’s something that came with time, and really just happened adjacent to my more formal Japanese JLPT studies.


One of the things I am doing to bridge the gap between general functional Japanese communication and JLPT is writing my own sentences using the established patterns. If you think of a language as merely vocabulary (and lexicon), and communication as sentences, and sentences as vocabulary with grammar applied, then ultimately vocabulary and sentence patterns are the most important parts of language to learn (according to this philosophy).

When we ask someone if they can speak Japanese, we’re not asking them how many kanji, idioms or words they know. We are asking them if they can, for the most part, understand and respond to sentences with more sentences.

IMO SRS, textbooks and JLPT materials do help immensely, at the beginning, with making input comprehensible, but ultimately, I think input studying with sentences from day 1 and making that the lion’s share of your study gives better results for both functional Japanese communication and for test scores.

These are just the opinions of some guy, who is not a linguistic expert, so take them with a grain of salt.

Yes and no. A lot of the N2 grammar is SO USEFUL in every day life, but because this test is just plug n chug, I feel like I don’t really know it that well. It would be nice if it were like other foreign language tests, with a writing section and an interview portion (starting at maybe N3).

In the end, the JLPT is only a test. Part of passing it is knowing how to take the test. It’s a nice certification to have, but all of the skills used to take the JLPT cannot be applied to real life. (Some can, not all)

Once you finally pass (or even as a study tool before the test, if you have time!), I recommend doing what @MissDagger said about how they studied Japanese and find either a tutor or study group or friend who will help you use the grammar in a more “real” way.

I’m studying for N1 right now and up to this point, I have such a random mixture of grammar and words, I’m scared that when I talk I might sound like a weirdo. Which is why I always ask my tutor about every. single. grammar point “In what contexts can I use this?”

To be able to master any language, you need a balance of all 4 skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The JLPT only tests 2 of those.


Mmm. I feel like the JLPT works best if you’ve mostly been learning and improving by working towards other, broader goals, and then when you’re roughly at the right level you do a little bit of test-focused prep mostly to get used to the format before taking the test. But you don’t really need to do it at all. (The exception is if there’s some specific reason you need the piece of paper, like if you’re applying for a university course or a job in Japan and you need an N1 pass as a hard requirement for that. In that case you just do whatever you need to do to pass :-))

Personally I took the old level 2 because I’d just come back from nine months studying in Japan, and I wanted to consolidate what I’d learned and to be able to say “this is the milestone I reached from that”. Then a few years later I took N1 because it seemed like a useful goal and motivation to pick up on my Japanese studies which I’d kind of let lapse a bit in the interim. So I guess I did do a bit more test-oriented studying than I advocate above…


Yes, I agree! I’m also studying for N2 and it feels like so little of what I’m focusing on for the test (especially grammar) is useful in everyday conversation or daily life. I’m hoping to pass the test upcoming test, but afterward, I’m looking forward to focusing more on the stuff I’ve enjoyed learning more (reading fiction, watching anime, talking with Japanese people)…

Trying to judge the cost benefits of going for N1 afterward… :thinking:


FWIW I think most N2 grammar is not that obscure, and it’s not even mostly written-only grammar. Sure, it doesn’t come up in every conversation, and you can almost always express the same thing in some other way, but that’s just what makes it intermediate grammar rather than beginner level grammar. It really does come up in anime and written fiction, not just newspaper articles, essays and test questions :slight_smile:


That’s true. Unfortunately, my understanding of Japanese is not yet “flexible” enough to easily navigate through all written formats equally well. Some things (manga, anime) are easier, because I worked with them longer, but some harder mostly because my understanding of the language is not yet as deep.

Also, I’m getting serious FCE exam flashbacks from doing the reading comprehension exercises. :sweat_smile:

That’s the conclusion I reached today after chilling down a bit :wink: .

I’m not, but I try to speak to Japanese people in local shops to get some practice. It’s already getting better, because I’m not as afraid to speak as I was before.

What I figured out finally today is that the JLPT test format is extremely particular about how well the responses align with what’s said in 聴解 and written in 読解. Creativity is something I need to put aside for now :stuck_out_tongue: .

Yeah, my girlfriend keeps telling me the same thing :joy: . Also, I would then stop pestering Japanese 店員s with my attempts at communication.

Right, I jumped the shark a little bit, because I was limboing around N3 level without particular focus other than reading novels and watching anime. So I did manage to pick up a lot of vocabulary (way more than N2 actually expects), but my skills were very rough in certain areas which the test prep now is helping me shape up.

Not a particular reason now, but at some point I was sort of considering applying for jobs in Japan. I think culturally Japan is the place I would fit the most without getting overly annoyed at how people suck at social logistics, etc.

Definitely! I see tons of N2 grammar in a very toned-down teen gatcha with funny characters I’ve been playing so N2 is definitely not some super high level to expect to see in native material.

Yes, that’s something I realized as I was going through the Soumatome grammar book. N4 and later N3 still teach means of expression, but N2 is more of the same with slightly more elaborate grammar points or more nuance to differentiate them.