Just made level 60 and failed N1 a second time

Hi guys,

As the title explains, I got wrecked on N1 again after attempting it a second time (Dec 17, Jul 18). I’ll be continuing until I pass.

Dec 17 – (Took this test after hard work but tons of luck got me N2 in Jul 17. I was completely overwhelmed at the jump from N2 to N1)
(Vocab/Grammar) 18 / 60
Reading 11 / 60
Listening 21 / 60

overall --> 50/180

Jul 18
(Vocab/Grammar) 26 / 60
Reading 8 / 60
Listening 31 / 60

overall --> 65/180

I forget what level WK I was when I took it in Dec, this time I was maybe low 50s. My score increased on the listening and vocab/grammar. Reading score went lower - I got absolutely decimated. Although my overall score increased 15 pts (improved on grammar, and kanji due to WK).

Not surprised or upset by the score as it’s what I expected. I never study vocab (lists and such) and I honestly don’t read anything Japanese (in fact I use Eng at work and ingest lots of English although I live in JP). I don’t speak Japanese much either. Pro tip anyone who thinks just “living in Japan” will help - it wont. its still your effort.

Although I’m 60 in WK, when I view kanji in a book, or newspaper native material – I see this wall of kanji, esp in weird fonts or vertical like in newspaper, my brain just shuts down. It’s been so long (2 yrs living here) and this still happens. How do you guys get around this? I know if my effort, confidence, and mood/outlook improve I can pass.

Plans –

  1. Reviewing Tae Kim as I have weak fundamentals which cause my speaking to suck surprisingly bad although I have N2. Listening/Understand is good, speaking embarrassingly bad.

  2. Read more novels. I’m not into anime/manga and want to avoid stylized language. I hope this will improve vocab, reading speed, and overall comprehension. Sometimes I’ll read a sentence, know all the vocab, understand, but somehow still not “get it”. This happens tons during the JLPT.

For #2, has anyone found a way to overcome this mental block of sorts? It’s the only way I can describe it. If I can be positive; and if I feel if I can “trust” my mind that i know the majority of the kanji I can progress fast. Trusting myself that I comprehend instead of constantly second guessing my own comprehension.

Sorry if I’m rambling a bit. Stream of conciousness. I’d really like to pass N1 this Dec 2018.

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I’ve never taken the JLPT and would probably just scrape by on N4, so take my advice as you want, but here it goes…

Manga is a good source of different fonts though. All the ones I’ve read (not that many) have different fonts depending on the character or context. So if that’s something you’re actually interested in improving on, maybe try some manga and see how it goes.

Also, you can install the Jitai script to change the fonts during WaniKani reviews, though that’ll only help so much since you’re already level 60. If you do try that script, you should install several fonts on your computer so the script can use them.

This should improve with practice, so reading novels is a good idea. If you’re interested, you could try reading 魔女の宅急便, since there are existing book club discussions and vocab lists and you can ask questions there for people who have already read it. Though the fact that it doesn’t use the appropriate kanji may make it not a good choice.

Yes, for stuff I know well. Stuff I used to get stuck on I now read without hesitation. But there’s plenty else that I still second guess myself on, even when I’m pretty sure I know the meaning. So again, it comes down to practice and reading until it becomes second nature.


Have you considered perhaps that you’re rushing a bit? Do you have a reason to pass N1 right now? Because it may be better to study some dedicated vocab and read like crazy for a year and take the test again in July 2019 instead of December 2018.

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I mean, the way that I got over the “it’s just a wall of kanji” feeling was more reading.

Just whatever interests you. And lots of practice questions / mock tests. I would time myself on the questions and keep a record of how long it took me to get through them.

To be fair, I haven’t passed N1 yet, but I just recently scored 54/60 on reading for N2, so I feel better about my reading ability now.

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You are at a very different place from me, but I think if I was in your position, I would start really pushing myself to do more dedicated practice every day. Reading practice is really important to help move vocabulary and kanji knowledge out of WaniKani and into the “real world”. I would probably set aside a block of time each day to read books or newspapers in Japanese. Write down any new or unrecognized words/kanji so you can review them again later, using an SRS program or manual review. Since you live in Japan, you probably know some people who could double-check your reading comprehension too. Try reading a newspaper article, manga, or short story, then write out a brief translation. Ask your friend to check how well you did.

For listening and speaking comprehension, try pushing yourself toward full immersion. Actively avoid using English when you could be using Japanese. Watch Japanese tv and interact with more Japanese-speaking people. Utilize your location to its fullest and seek out fun ways to integrate Japanese into your daily life.

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I don’t think that “mental block” is the way to think about it. when you learned to read in english as a kid you had to practice a lot.
I remember trying and failing to read newspapers when I was a kid, and going through school and reading progressivly “harder” books and novels. Trying to read something above my level felt just like what you are describing. I could read the words, I knew what most (all) of them meant, this was my native language, and I still didn’t “get it”. This feeling honestly continued for me through college. I could read novels in high school, but couldn’t read a book of modern philosophy and feel like I could understand it.
It took thousands and thousands of hours of practice (and years) to get comfortable reading adult material at speed with high comprehension.
I don’t know if it is reasonable to expect that you would develop the facility to read japanese without putting in some comparable level of time (or at least a lot of time).
I guess i’m saying that it is probably the “i don’t read anything in japanese” part, more than a “mental block”.

So maybe the downside is there is work to do (you have to read alot of japanese), but the upside is I don’t think there is any trick to it. Just do it. Just read stuff, use reasources to understand what you are reading, and you will see your comprehension improve.

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Haven’t taken the JLPT and have no intention to, but it seems to me that you’ve identified the areas of the language that you need to work on. Get better at them by doing those things. You mention that you have an issue with speaking (producing verbally) the language; is it specific to speaking (ie, you can write sentences perfectly well) or is it production in general? If it’s the latter, then starting out writing and getting somebody to check over your sentences would probably be a good place to start.

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My Japanese sensei once told me that the jump from N2 to N1 was so difficult, in part, because they introduce a lot more technical/stylized vocabulary, though I can’t remember from what field she said… I want to say something like engineering, but I don’t think that’s right. If you are interested in knowing, let me know and I’ll ask her again.

As for a way to get more reading practice in (which is really the only way to improve reading IMO), you could check out LingQ. It’s a paid resource, but it’s specifically designed to get you reading lots of different materials in your target language from authentic resources. You can check out reviews for it on Youtube to see if it’s something that would work for you.
Good luck in your studies!

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It seems like your grammar and how fast you can read/recognize things is what is holding you back, what has helped me the most with this is:

  1. Speaking with Japanese people whenever possible.
  2. Reading Japanese books that are slightly above your level, choose a book with vertical styled typing
  3. If you have review left, take the advice of seanblue above about jitai, I use it and installed handwriting-styled fonts

For 1) I’ve experience it too where Japanese people want to speak in English with you because they want to practice too but you need to make an effort with them that you want to speak in Japanese at minimum half of the time.

For 2) Finding something slightly above your level is important because it allows you to learn without being overwhelmed

For 3) To me the handwriting fonts look bizarre, especially at first, but my Japanese friends say that these are pretty normal looking to them which tells me its an important skill to learn

My personal difficulty in Japanese has been Kanji/vocab which I’m trying to shore up here on wanikani^ but these things helped me a lot with my grammar and speaking.

Best of luck!

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The struggle is real! I totally understand as I’ve seen people who lived here for years (and have gotten married) and still can’t speak or read.

You’re right to review grammar from scratch so that you know your foundations are solid. During that review, you should add an additional element that will help reinforce/confirm what you’re currently going through. For example, creating sample sentences and reading through them aloud or making a point of using what you’re reviewing in conversations you have. There’s a variety of things you can do to reinforce review, so be creative and be sure to include some kind of production. Also rather than using Tae Kim, consider a Japanese only resource? Sometimes having a different kind of explanation particularly a monolingual one helps to flesh out how grammar is conceptualized. I like using Nihongo no Mori.

You mentioned that your speaking is also lacking, so do you have a conversation exchange partner? If you do, it’s time to use more Japanese or strive to stay in Japanese when it’s time to practice Japanese. If you don’t, it’s high time to get one. Perhaps get a couple of people as that reliability tends to be an issue. If not conversation partners, you should get involved in an activity that requires you to use Japanese. If that process to be difficult, you can start with shadowing. It’s great to help develop speaking and listening comprehension skills (even though you said your listening was fine).

Though, you’ve mentioned that you’re good on listening, you’re certainly not the first to post about a game plan to pass the test. So this is for anyone else who feels its useful for them. For listening, try watching TV, YouTube, or some other entertainment source extensively and intensively. What I mean is find something you like to watch/listen to and consume a lot of it every day don’t worry too much about 100% comprehension (extensive study) and then choose a resource that you’d like to study in depth; listen to that repeatedly until you can catch everything–be sure to study all the vocabulary you don’t know.

In addition to what people said about reading, I think that you’ll learn a lot. Perhaps consider making a reading group on forums if you need more support.

My personal opinion is that it may be best to give yourself some more time before going to the test again, but it’s up to you regarding that. Wish you the best with your studies!

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Thanks so much for the in depth reply.

Though the fact that it doesn’t use the appropriate kanji may make it not a good choice.

What do you mean by doesn’t use the appropriate kanji? Do you mean the author’s style of writing, etc?

Regarding the JLPT, I do think I am rushing a bit. This is due to a few things. I have plans for my career etc, my age, etc.

However, I also don’t see how waiting and skipping a test will help. The test is only twice a year, so the way I think about it is it helps by giving me something to look forward to. If it was every month or something maybe it’d be too pressing and frequent and hinder my learning but I don’t think twice a year hurts. Even after I get N1, I might still take the exam once a year just for my own barometer and to ensure I continue studying.

Also, I live in Japan and having N1 is going to help me transition into other jobs. It doesn’t measure speaking ability (mine is still very lacking and I’m working on that outside the studying), but it will help applying and resumes. I know some people are super keen to get a great score or perfect but I dont really care about that. If I can get a solid or decent score, even a bit low I’m OK with that as companies just see “N1” on the resume. If I pass by like 1 point, I’d be bummed but still a pass.

That’s awesome and an excellent score on N2 for only being level 28 in WK. Better than mine I barely passed N2

Thanks, though my level is a red herring, I guess… I already went to level 60 once and started over again.

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you probably know some people who could double-check your reading comprehension too. Try reading a newspaper article, manga, or short story, then write out a brief translation. Ask your friend to check how well you did.

Thanks Destiny,

I think its interesting you characterized moving away from WK and into the “real world”. That’s exactly what it feels like. WK has been a great and amazing program and I’ll continue to use it - it has helped immensely for reading on the JLPT.

But not only are there far too many words (around 6k I believe) to remember just through using an SRS imo (without using tons daily like you mentioned) but the words we learn in WK, many of them, the jukugo words in particular are not used in daily speech and when you try to use them you will be misunderstood and looked at strangely. I have had this experience tons of times and even written about it here.

Some of the words help and the vocab is great. But that move into the “real world” is still very real. WaniKani primarily teaches you to read kanji and I think its important to remember its focus is on that very tiny part of language learning.

Hi Rje,

For both the N2 and N1 they use lots of technical, scientific, and generally newspaper or academic type texts. So it could come from any sort of field. I’ve seen things about science and the metamorphosis of bugs for example which came out on the Dec 17 N1.

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You mentioned that your speaking is also lacking, so do you have a conversation exchange partner? If you do, it’s time to use more Japanese or strive to stay in Japanese when it’s time to practice Japanese. If you don’t, it’s high time to get one.

Hi Lucas,

I have a gf here with whom I only speak Japanese and one thing I’ve noticed is that it feels like I try to speak quickly, as I would in English, but I cant and I end up just train wrecking my speech. It’s extremely frustrating- I want to get my idea across but I dont have the ability yet to do this quickly. If I am successful, I have to spend several seconds constructing the sentence. This will usually do the trick enough for my idea to transmit (although errors will still be present) but ill have less errors.

She says its because we dont see each other enough, and talking on LINE isnt like being in person which i think may be accurate. Although i also think this is just a ploy to try to move in with me and slowly move the bar to get me to get married (but thats another conversation lol)

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Why did you decide to reset?

The book is intended for younger audiences, so it doesn’t use complex kanji. If a word is normally written with more advanced kanji, the author just uses kana instead, which is unfortunate. It would have been better if they had just used furigana, because it’s actually harder to read in kana. It’s still good for practicing grammar and reading comprehension, just not good for practicing kanji and normal word recognition.

I felt rusty on the early content and it seemed like it would be beneficial. I think it has been.

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I feel you there. I work in an Japanese only environment so I totally understand not being able to get my words out so that my coworkers can understand what I’m trying to say. Although having a Japanese girlfriend is great, it can also be a trap (not in the sense of getting pushed toward marriage either, haha) in the sense that you get used to one style/register of speech. The longer you’re with people the able they are to interpret your mistakes, but with other people to speak with regularly, it will also help force you to different speaking styles and registers. In my case, I regularly speak with four different people: two older and two younger. This forces me to use both polite and casual speech, not to mention listen to more dated expressions as well as more colloquial expressions. Since you live in Japan, your opportunity to come across new speakers is much more robust than those who live abroad.

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Reference: I got the N1 two years ago with 51/60 in reading.

And yeah, the trick was indeed to read. A lot. Looking at my reading list, I was going through a novel every 10~14 days in the months before I passed the N1.

@seanblue got you covered on most of what I would say, but just one extra thing about the wall of text and

Well, the thing is that manga usually have much smaller chunks of texts at a time, compared to novels. Illustrations also help a lot your understanding. Mango are basically training wheels for reading comprehension. Since it’s about training, I feel like you don’t really have to love it, just to not totally hate it. You can stop when you’re ready for the next stage :woman_shrugging:

Also, if you pick a slice of life manga, you’ll notice that the language is fairly normal, so you don’t have to worry about the stylized language.

As an intermediate step between manga and novels, blogs online are pretty nice. There’s enough diversity to find something you like, and you get practice on an actual wall of text, but a short one. My experience with reading Japanese is that it’s pretty much endurance-based. It’s very satisfying to be able to get to the end of a text, giving you that extra motivation boost to come back for more.

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