Taking N1. Extremely worried on my current reading comprehension ability. Any word of advice?

I am taking N1 next round and the qualification does mean a lot for my situation and job, so I am seriously panicking if I could even pass the reading section. Out of all sections, reading has always made me worried all the time.

My reading speed is alright. General daily news is pretty much okay to get the main idea, but for goodness sake, every time I practice using the N1 reading textbooks (which contain random topics just like the actual test) I barely could comprehend the meaning at all, seriously… regardless I tried to read slow to digest every single bit of it, or read fast just for practicing speed for the actual test, or read the questions first, etc. I feel so underqualified and feels like doing something wrong.

Do you have any word of advice to generally improving reading comprehension ability? or tips for during the test as well?


You’re so over my head, it’s laughable! I failed N5 in Dec. 2019, but am trying for N4 or N3 this December…

But as far as test taking in general … I recommend that you “scope out” the questions, to attempt to discern which portions of the passage you should pay more attention to; whether they are asking you to compare etc. Underline or circle things. Make a margin notes summarizing interpretations as you go (just for speed).

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Do you read in general? I think you might highly benefit from that because you will get used to more complicated sentences etc while having fun :slight_smile:

If you don’t know what to read, make sure to check out the Intermediate and Advanced book clubs:


Honestly you’re at the point where the only way you can get better at reading is to read.

You’ve outgrown graded readers and you’re ready to consume media aimed to Japanese natives.

You have to just dive in and tough it out for a few months.


Just keep practicing. When you come across a passage you don’t understand, break it down, look up whatever it is you didn’t grasp.

The more you do it the better you’ll get. And the more you go into it with the mindset of breaking things down to understand them, like accepting that it will be challenging, the less it’ll feel like pressure or that you’re underqualified or whatever else.


My usual process for reading comprehension assignments is as follows:

  1. read the questions and answers
  2. skim the text and identify the paragraphs that seem to match the questions
  3. read the paragraphs more carefully and try answering the questions
  4. if no paragraphs match for some questions then it probably means you need to infer the answer from the whole text
  5. eliminate answers that are clearly wrong
  6. if I have time re-read the text or relevant sections and pick the most likely answer
    (7. if I still don’t know the right answer - pick at random)

Plus, practice answering questions. A Shin Kanzen Master Reading N1 can be a good resource for you.

That is if in general you understand the texts quite well, meaning there are very few unknown words/grammar points. If you can’t answer the questions because the texts are too difficult then you need to study the N1 vocab and grammar I guess.

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OK, I think that means that it’s time for you to start delving into the details. I’m not at the N1 level yet for Japanese, and I think it’ll take me a while (perhaps another 3 months of concentrated study, which is time I don’t have right now) before I get close to it. However, this is what I did to reach the C2 level for French, which is at least as high as the N1, if not higher. (C2 basically means fluency across all domains an adult native speaker would handle plus the ability to handle technical material in a specialised domain like science or the humanities. The reading-writing section of the C2 test included reading a 2000-word set of documents that needed to be used as the source of arguments for a 700-word essay. The listening-speaking section was listening to a radio interview followed by a summary, presentation and discussion with the examiners):

  1. Read news articles every day on topics that interested me, especially on technical topics (in my case, it was usually French politics or news on scientific research)
  2. Look up every single word I didn’t know in those articles without exception:
    I had to learn everything. It didn’t matter if I forgot a few words afterwards, as long as I was very focused during the reading and look up sessions. I would read a sentence, stop when I found a word I didn’t know, look it up, and then continue reading.
  3. Use a monolingual dictionary as much as possible, and read dictionary entries in their entirety:
    If necessary, I would look up words within the definitions that I didn’t know inside the monolingual dictionary as well so I could learn them all. I would only use an English-French dictionary if the definition hyperlink chain was becoming too long (say… more than 5-10 lookups within lookups). The reason I suggest reading all the definitions for each word is that you will get a much better understanding of how the word works in general, and you might even pick up useful expressions. Plus, this will allow your dictionary reading to become reading practice as well.
  4. Consume media for native speakers in the target language whenever possible as long as it interested me:
    I often watched science programmes on ARTE, which is a French-German channel, and also listened to science broadcasts on Radio France Internationale. I also bought a quick guide to cellular biology for university students in French so I would be able to get familiar with the words used.

When the final preparation period came around, my main problem was listening comprehension, not reading comprehension, so I spent the month before the exam watching MythBusters in French.

In your case, you should probably focus on news articles for now while acquiring as much new vocabulary and grammatical knowledge from them as you can. If you want, you can also take a look at documentaries in Japanese or perhaps dig around in the high school catalogue of NHK for School, because that will probably expose you to complex topics in Japanese in a more interactive fashion that might be easier to follow. You should probably also try to see if you can find any patterns in the sorts of topics that come up in your practice passages so you can be sure that you’re choosing articles of a similar level when you’re doing your own reading.

That’s about all I can think of for now. All the very best! :slight_smile:


Echoing all the advices above, especially the need for consuming native material (news articles). Don’t give up on those practice questions no matter how frustrating. Do as many practice questions as possible. If possible, ask a native or someone good at Japanese to explain why the answer is what it is.
Sometimes the answers are not in the exact wording of the passages i.e. they restate them so you have to know the meaning of related words. Keep an eye or eyes out for contrasting words/ themes (e.g. long ago vs now, society vs individual etc). Comprehension books like Shin kanzen Master has those tips.
Personally, I don’t mark or make notes in my books because I want to complete the same tasks as if I’m doing it anew. You could also record your progress.
Other than that, pray hard and keep your chin up!

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I think that the best way to get really good at reading is to just read, as overly simple as that may sound. If you are comfortable with books then the n1 will be…well…hilariously easy*. Realistically though, if you have time constraints and care more just about passing that part of the test than your actual skill, I would just stick to n1 dokkai books like from sou matome and kanzen master. While you may learn less overall, it will still better prepare you for the actual taking of the test in my opinion. Really go through it and when you don’t know how they got the answer they got, dive deep and try to find out what you were missing. Getting an answer wrong in one of those workbooks is just as helpful as you getting one right since it points out something you can learn to potentially get a higher score on the N1.

*My knowledge of N1 test difficulty comes from mock exams and practice books and not the actual test.

Shiet, with your detailed replies I had assumed you were past N1. TIL


Well, pretty much like people have mentioned, reading actual content is essential. Over the 8 months or so prior to passing the N1, I read as many books as I could (not exactly as preparation, just because I like to read I guess :sweat_smile:). I don’t think you need to focus on the news or anything, just native content that you like (and volume; I read about 15 books during that period).
I scored 51/60 on the reading section, so it’s not like I did perfectly, but it’s still more than enough to pass.


Hahaha. Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I don’t think I’m there yet because there are plenty of N1 grammar points I don’t know (about half the list on Japanesetest4you.com). That aside, I have kanji and on’yomi knowledge thanks to Chinese and just happen to have a relatively easy time with grammatical terms, which allows me to research my answers when necessary. My vocabulary could probably also do with expanding since my main form of exposure to Japanese is watching anime.

I admittedly haven’t tried any mock tests yet though, so I don’t know how I would do. I just have the impression I’m not quite there yet, especially since I’m still a little slow in conversation.

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