Studying for the JLPT N4

So, I took the JLPT N5 last year, which was one my goals. I don’t know if I passed or not yet, but I’m going to guess probably not. I don’t feel bad about it though, since the point was to take it.

This is not a guide for everyone

I learned a lot about my own abilities, and about what kinds of things I should be studying. This blog post is my own meandering about how I’m going to study for this next test. It’s not for people dropping by to find out how they should study. I can’t answer that, you need to find your own best methods.

What went wrong

The number 1 thing I messed up on when studying for the N5 was not taking the vocabulary seriously enough. I ended up knowing a lot of vocabulary I didn’t strictly need, and ended up cramming the stuff that was on the test. I didn’t give myself enough time for Vocabulary.
I overestimated the difficulty of the Kanji. Truth is, once I got going and started to learn how to learn Kanji, they got easier. The reason this was a mistake is that it affected the rest of my studying. I assumed my ability for Kanji was a good barometer of my general ability. Nope.

Things that were hard

  1. Stamina – things that shouldn’t have been hard were harder since I wasn’t used to going that hard for that long at once. I’ll need to train up so 3 or 4 hours IN JAPANESE the ENTIRE TIME isn’t too bad.
  2. Listening – You get one go at hearing and understanding the dialog. I need to practice this more directly, with some kind of listening practice or practice questions. I was missing things because I was trying to translate them and getting behind.
  3. Similar-looking Kanji, or incorrectly written Kanji – I’ll need to study writing the Kanji much more. I got complacent on that.
  4. Kanji I “don’t need to know yet” – Knowing all the Kanji for all the vocab would be ideal. Though the more the better.

Mistakes I made in studying for the N5:

  • Not consistent enough across the year.
  • Too much time spent on general study, not enough on test prep like specific vocab. I knew a lot I didn’t need to at the cost of things I did need to know.
  • I didn’t put much effort at all into listening practice.
  • I didn’t train my translation speed enough.

General schedule


Taking a break. I’m using this time to get things in line and focus on other things while I have the longest time until the next test.

February – June

General Study

General study is still important, since the end goal is literacy, not just passing the tests. So here’s the plan.
  • Finish Genki I
    • I’m 7 chapters in (4 remain), and I should pretty easily finish Genki I. I probably should have finished it last year, but oh well.
    • Each chapter takes me about 6 – 10 hours to dig through as completely as possible, a chapter could take two weeks along with other study methods.
  • Genki II
    • The goal there was to get another 5 chapters in, but we’ll see. It really depends on how long things take.
  • Other Workbooks
    • I have Japanese in Mangaland and Kanji in Mangaland. They’re not the best resources in the world, but repetition is the key to mastery, so I might as well.
    • I’m already on volume 2 of Japanese in Mangaland. I don’t have a particularly detailed plan for going through this yet, but I’ll sort stuff out. I’m thinking 1 – 2 lessons a week, depending on how intense the study is that week. This would be in addition to Genki I, which will be the focus.
  • Translating
    • Hir@gana times
      • I’ve been getting these for a while. The plan right now is to translate every story, then compare with their translation.
      • I have no idea how long this will take, since there will be a LOT of words and such I don’t know
      • I’ll also plan on pulling out notecards of words, phrases, and so on that seem like I should know or are otherwise interesting.
      • This comes after all the study resources.
    • Imported Manga
      • If I have time and energy, import some relatively simple manga and do my own scanslations (but don’t distribute it, since that’s illegal).
      • If it’s something with an official English translation, I could compare

May – November

N4 Kanji Study

Study time is going to start ramping up in May, since I’ll be adding on Kanji study specifically for the N4.
  • Anki and Memrise seem to be the best way for me to learn. I had pretty good success with memrise, so I might even start there this time.
  • The goal is to have the entire deck memorized backwards and forwards by some time in October.
  • Should be able to draw and recognize every Kanji
  • Review the entire deck every week from mid-October until the test.

July – November

N4 Vocabulary

Use Anki and Memrise to learn the vocabulary. Also, preferably, I’d like to know all the Kanji for the vocabulary, though that’s not as important. The goal is to be able to go between Japanese and English without having to think too hard. It should be instinctive.

N4 Grammar

Use Anki and Memrise to get some of the basics, but using flash cards for grammar wasn’t very effective for me.
So, I want to find some resources like textbooks or workbooks or something I can use to practice grammar much more and get this stuff down. I’ll figure this out when I get closer to July.


I want to make a point of practicing listening. I’m not sure what resources exist here, but I should be able to find some. Preferably focused on the N4 level content in this case. I’m even considering getting some kind of live tutoring online or in person if I can find some for a reasonable price.


Don’t forget to register for the exam.

October – November

I want to be at least 90% there by the end of October, since NaNoWriMo is in November, and based on last year it seems like it’ll take about half of my free time that month. Kanji and Vocab should be more or less done in October, and November should be primarily reviews and practice tests.

Practice exams

  • Find unofficial online tests to take, and evaluate positions once a month, starting in July.
  • Should be hitting 80 – 90% consistently by October
  • After NaNo, take the official practice N4 exam
    • Do it again every week, to get the habit down







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