Suggestions to improve reading comprehension at N1 level?

Hi guys, at my current state I tend to be able to read most but not all, and mainly practice myself with the reading lesson books, i.e. kanzen, somatome, etc.
However, reading is just one thing. The problem is I tend to struggle a lot with comprehending the whole context unless I take it very slow to look words one by one. Even by doing that I still could struggle to understand them.

Do you have any suggestion to improve reading comprehension, particularly at N1 level?
What other things would you suggest besides practice more reading?
Do you typically read, look up the words, and take time until you understand the whole context?


While I can’t help specifically I definitely recommend checking out this thread (specifically this post)
It’s a similar thread of conversation that might have some wisdom for you there too


(Disclaimer: I’m definitely not N1 level, but did pass N3 in December 2019 and have improved my reading speed and comprehension drastically since then.)

Reading more is by far the most important thing. Knowing grammar and kanji and vocab from textbooks and artificially made texts will only get you so far. At this point you need to find books and ideally series that you are interested in, and read consistently. Finding a series is helpful, as it allows you to get used to an author’s style for an extended period of time. On the other hand, reading a variety is also important so you don’t get complacent.

I look up a lot of words. I did this when I read physical books, but it’s much easier now that I’m reading on a kindle. However, I don’t always try to understand everything. It depends on the word and the situation. I look up words that I don’t know if they seem important for understanding the context, if I want to double check the reading, if I want to understand the nuance better, etc. For example, I almost always skip onomatopoeia words, as they are rarely important to the story or character development. If they do seem important I look them up anyway, but for that class of word it’s rare. I do go back later and add many (but not all) of the words I looked up / highlighted on my Kindle and study them on Taking that with words I pick up naturally from just seeing them repeatedly, it becomes easier for next time since I know more than before.

Most importantly, you have to balance comprehension, learning, and enjoyment. You won’t read consistently if it’s not enjoyable, but that doesn’t mean you should read rapidly if nothing is making sense. Similarly, look up what you need to for both comprehension and enjoyment, but don’t let that become a hindrance to your enjoyment by doing it too much.


I don’t really have much to add to @seanblue’s great answer. Just reading a ton is the best way to improve. Especially books and native material, not just textbooks. I also have trouble not looking up words, as I don’t think you need to check everything. Often I inferred it correctly from context anyway, and the lookups eat away reading time. I think it may even improve reading skills more if you don’t look up everything, since then you actually have to try to piece everything together with incomplete information. You could say that’s a separate skill altogether.

How did you fair with time management in N1, since it requires you to read quite fast? If that didn’t pose too much problems, you’re probably already pretty quick to comprehend.


Having (barely) passed the N1, I can tell you that I still can’t read very well. The study material from kanzen et al. did help with getting information extraction techniques and coming to an answer much quicker, but I still did not understand why the answer was so.

After much trial and error, I found out that trying to read stuff that has no particular interest to me is murder for my motivation. Instead, I try finding articles and topics about stuff that interests me: science, history, nerd culture, classical music, dogs, cooking, computers, programming, guitar, etc.

Reading a variety of sources, from twitter to blogs to academic journals really helps for the N1 test as the reading section doesn’t delve into such esoteric grammar as much as people think.

However, I am still jealous of people who can read quickly! I still have much to do.

Good luck with your studies!


This might be part of your issue. I’ve used the sou matome and kanzen master N1 dokkai books just to see what kind of stuff they had and the text has a different feel from normal books. I can’t really put into words what it is, but there’s definitely a difference. I would try focus on reading actual books if you haven’t already.

But yes when it doesn’t just naturally come to me I look up words (or grammar) and try to understand it. If you’re looking up a lot of words, you could try srsing more vocab. People generally say N1 requires 10000 words and I’ll tell you with only 10000 words you’ll still have plenty of words you don’t know in a medium difficulty novel.


(Disclaimer: I definitely don’t think I’m N1 level, especially if you count listening… but I’m happy with my reading habit and the comprehension growth I’ve gotten from it, and feel gratified someone linked a post I made)

The main solution for me higher-level-wise was making looking things up easier and quicker so it feels like less of a big deal.
The dictionary I use (Takoboto) is on my phone, so I can use it the same with literally any source, and I end up looking up a ton of words, that get put into word lists that eventually get exported to anki once I’ve looked them up at least twice (or just like the word).
Because using the app is so in-grained in my muscle memory at this point, it feels a little less like a jolt out of the world of the sentence and a little more like a ghost whispering a meaning in my ear… (I guess? That simile got weird…) and because it will eventually wind up in the anki hopper I don’t have to worry about it at all past that in the moment.

That strategy though muddies the waters JLPT-wise since I’m genuinely not sure how much I rely on quickly looking things up, and I’m probably overreaching my “natural” grasp to some extent.
But I don’t worry about that too much because with the SRS I can feel stuff (slowly) getting in-grained over time and amount of look ups (slowly) decreasing even over the course of a single book.

Otherwise, like others have said, I think the best thing is just reading more, and especially reading more sources that aren’t study books.
Some especially useful sources for me ended up being video games. Long RPGs and visual novels (I’m thinking particularly of Yakuza 7 and 428: Shibuya Scramble) did a lot for me to not be intimidated by huge walls of text and break out of like, “I need to pause and dissect this reading sample” mode to “I can scan this in one go and move on.” The interactivity + still being incredibly wordy helped a lot for that.
But novels and really any non-specifically-made-for-practice source would definitely help with that as well.

Not sure how helpful that is, since really I’m right along there with (or behind) you! But good luck!


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