JLPT Kanji: How to Study Kanji for Your Level

JLPT Kanji: How to Study Kanji for Your Level

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There are far too many kanji to study them all before taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test! That's why you need to break it down and only focus on the specific JLPT Kanji for your level.

This is part of Krys Suzuki’s ongoing series on preparing for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and the second to focus on kanji. The first kanji-related JLPT article can be found here. Links to the rest of the series follow at the end of the article.

What You’ll Need to Study JLPT Kanji

  • JLPT Kanji study guide
  • Grid notebook
  • Multi-colored pen
  • imiwa? app (or similar kanji dictionary)
  • Anki app
  • Optional: Kanji Poster
  • Optional: Kanji Flashcards or Index Cards

Only Study JLPT Kanji for Your Level!

While there are plenty of great kanji study books out there, you want to get one that’s specific to your test level. The reason is to avoid spending extra time studying extra kanji that won’t appear on your test.

Luckily, there are just as many great JLPT-specific books and tools out there to choose from! You can use the Kanji guide from any of the JLPT study guides I mentioned in my previous article. Then, make sure you have enough time to study them all! (I go more into detail on designing a study game plan here). 

Number of JLPT Kanji You Should Know By Level

  • N5: ~100 kanji
  • N4: ~300 kanji
  • N3: ~650 kanji
  • N2: ~1,000 kanji
  • N1: ~2,000 kanji

What’s On The Test?

Note that there isn’t a specific kanji-only section on the test, rather kanji questions are peppered in with vocabulary, grammar, and reading. I recommend previewing a sample test or two to get an idea of what you might see at your level.

Kanji Questions You’re Likely to See:

  • Reading: you select the correct reading (in hiragana)
  • Meaning: you select the correct definition for a kanji compound
  • Word synonyms: you select the word with the same or similar meaning
  • Similar kanji: you select the correct kanji from a list of similar ones 
  • Reading section: kanji questions may also appear in the reading section

Note: The reading section is in natural Japanese, meaning there will likely be a lot of kanji there, too. Though there may not be specific questions about the kanji readings or meaning, knowing kanji WILL help you breeze through the reading section easily, as well as understand the contents and questions.

Using Your JLPT Kanji Guide

For the purpose of this article, I will be showing examples with my book of preference, JLPT日本語能力試験ターゲットN1漢字 (JLPT Target N1 Kanji). (If you’re studying for the N1 or N2 level, I highly recommend this series! Unfortunately, they don’t have books at the N1, N2, or N3 levels).


There are three important things you should be looking for when choosing a kanji guide:

  • On-yomi (Chinese reading, usually written in katakana [カタカナ])
  • Kun-yomi (Japanese reading, usually written in hiragana [ひらがな])
  • Meaning (preferably with example vocabulary)

As a bonus, if your study guide also includes information on radicals, then you’re all set! If they don’t, however, don’t fret – that’s why we’re also going to talk about one of my favorite apps, imiwa?. 

Break down your kanji study session into manageable parts. I personally study 10 kanji per day for about an hour. Below I detail how I divide and arrange that time. 

Note: The following is just a guideline. You may need to devote more or less time to any one of these areas depending on your level, progress, and available time.

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Krys Suzuki

Krys is a Japanese-fluent, English native speaker currently based in the US. A former Tokyo English teacher, Krys now works full time as a J-to-E translator, writer, and artist, with a focus on subjects related to Japanese language and culture. JLPT Level N1. Shares info about Japanese language, culture, and the JLPT on Twitter (SunDogGen).

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