When studying for the JLPT, you’ll find plenty of lists and resources for vocabulary and kanji. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find such a list for grammar! Unfortunately, there is no cookie-cutter method for learning JLPT grammar. Unlike kanji and vocabulary, grammar requires an actual understanding of how the language works. As you will soon see, how (and how much) you study JLPT grammar will depend on your current level of understanding.
Preparing to Study JLPT Grammar
Before diving into grammar, there are two important things you should do.
The first is to be aware of when and how grammar questions appear on the test. Remember, they won’t only show up on the grammar section! Grammar sets the foundation for the entire test!
The second thing is to review grammar from previous levels if aiming for anything higher than N5!
What’s On The Test?
There is no official JLPT grammar list. This is because grammar is cumulative, meaning that to pass level N3, you will need to remember grammar from N4 and N5, and so on. A quick review will make sure those are fresh in your mind.
Before you design a grammar study plan, take a look at some practice tests to get an idea of the kind of questions that may come up.
Here are some of the most common grammar questions you will see on the JLPT:
- Multiple choice, fill-in-the-blanks: select the correct grammar point to complete the sentence.
- Multiple choice, fill in TWO blanks: select TWO words/grammar points to complete the sentence.
- Sentence structure: unscramble four words to complete the sentence, then select the word that corresponds to a specific blank.
- Reading selection: select the correct word that fits in the blank in the passage.
- Remember: you will also encounter questions on the reading and listening sentence that will require an understanding of specific grammar points in order to answer them! (I’ll discuss those more in-depth in the upcoming articles).
How JLPT Grammar Differs from JLPT Vocabulary
As I mentioned earlier, studying JLPT grammar requires a focus on understanding rather than memorization. Curve-ball questions are also very common with grammar questions. If you can’t remember when and how to use に, は, が, or the dreaded られる form, you could be in for a shock!
You need to be able to quickly figure out what is being done to who, and how different people’s actions affect one another. Because of this, I recommend studying grammar in conjunction with reading and listening so you can get used to seeing and hearing it in context.
JLPT Grammar in Context
Studying JLPT grammar is a great way to kill two birds with one stone by brushing up your reading and listening skills at the same time!
Because grammar requires a different level of understanding than kanji and grammar, it also requires a different study approach. Textbooks and flashcards like Anki certainly help with remembering patterns, but what really makes grammar stick is seeing and hearing it in different settings. (This also means that for higher levels, a study guide alone may not be enough).
To help you decide which method might work best for you, I tried and tested several different study methods (using five different books!)
First, we’ll take a look at everyone’s two favorite JLPT textbooks, So-matome and Shin-kanzen. Then I’ll introduce two new books I found, as well as the supplementary tool I use to really help the grammar stick.
JLPT Grammar Books
Shin-kanzen is notorious for being thorough in information but lacking in explanations. While this is fine for kanji and vocabulary, I’ll have to disagree with this approach for grammar. This is because in order to learn the subtle nuances between similar points, it’s imperative to understand their equivalent in your own tongue!
Each chapter consists of four pages. The first two introduce the grammar points, and the last two are full of example questions. However, in typical Shin-kanzen fashion, any explanations are in Japanese only, and there are no translations of example sentences. The answer key only provides the correct letter, also with no explanations.
I did not personally spend a week using Shin-kanzen. However, if you choose to do so, prepare to spend extra time looking up notes and examples.
Shin-kanzen is a GREAT series, and I love their guides for the other topics; however, unless you have many hours to look up individual examples in your native language on your own, you may want to pass on Shin-kanzen for grammar.
Many people choose So-matome over Shin-Kanzen because of its easy-to-follow structure and English explanations. So-matome groups similar grammar points together, complete with English examples and explanations. However, while it outdoes Shin-kanzen in that regard, because of the brief lesson structure, there isn’t much space for examples.
So-Matome is good for getting a basic grasp on a number of grammar points. I spent an entire week studying JLPT grammar with So-matome, and appreciated the streamlined approach. But again, in order to really drill them in, I needed to put in a little more work.
Each lesson is only two pages long, introduces about four grammar points with two example sentences, and ends with seven practice questions.
The way I studied with So-Matome is as follows:
Daily: Write down each grammar point in a notebook along with the translation, usage notes, and Japanese explanation. Then, mark or highlight the important points. Next, go to youglish.com, and listen to some examples. Finally, complete the practice questions, and review any you got wrong. Repeat for the rest of the week’s lessons.
Bonus: I also created an Anki deck for the more difficult points, highlighting tenses, particles, etc., and including example sentences. Feel free to do the same!
JLPT Jitsuryoku Up!
This is the series I used to pass the N3 and N2 (both on my first try!) some years ago, with no supplementary materials. However, due to the difficulty of the N1, I’ve realized that this book alone won’t be enough.
Like So-matome, this series groups together similar grammar points, but what I like about this one is that it dedicates two pages to each grammar point, which means more room for explanations and more examples. However, when compared to Shin-kanzen and So-matome, it has fewer grammar points in total, so I’d only recommend it if you already have a super-strong grasp on grammar from previous levels.
The way I studied from this book is similar to how I studied with So-Matome (above), however instead of daily, I focused on one group of grammar points twice a week (Monday and Thursday). And as usual, I would look up each grammar point on youglish.com for examples!
Two New JLPT Grammar Books!
Okay, maybe they’re not totally new. But the next two textbooks happened to catch my eye while I was browsing JLPT grammar books, so I decided to try them out for the first time.
N1 Grammar and Reading Comprehension: A Complete Guide
What I like about this book is that instead of providing random sentences as examples, you can read each point in action! This book combines grammar and context with full-length passages, and includes full translations in English, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
Since you will encounter the most challenging grammar questions in the reading and listening section, this is the best way to study. The N1 book has 45 lessons. Unless you have 45 weeks to study, I would divide it into 2-3 lessons, per week, reading one story every few days in conjunction with your regular studies.
This is an example of how I spent a week studying with this book.
Monday: Review the grammar list at the top of the page. Read Lesson 1 straight through, marking the grammar points, as well as any new words and kanji. Then read the English version, and write the translations of the grammar points. Finally, read it a third time, then study the grammar points on the next page. Use a grammar dictionary for a more thorough explanation, and youglish.com to hear it in use.
Tuesday: Review Monday’s grammar points. Read the passage again and see if you can remember the meanings without the translation. Review your notes, and look for more examples on youglish.com.
Wednesday-Thursday: Move on to the next lesson, and repeat Mon-Tues structure.
Friday, weekend: You can repeat the same 2-day sequence on Friday and Saturday, using Sunday to review, or spend the entire three days reviewing the previous two lessons.
Listening Comprehension Grammar Training (耳から覚える文法トレーニング)
If you’re in the Shin-kanzen crowd, you will probably enjoy this one. It’s like Shin-kanzen but with audio! This book includes a CD with audio examples of each grammar point in a sentence.
There is no English, however, so you’ll still need a grammar dictionary or study guide for explanations. But it does have plenty of examples to work with! A headphones symbol next to a sentence indicates which one you’ll hear on the CD.
The CD bundles each grammar point together onto one track, so, unfortunately, you can’t listen to each point individually. For that reason, I recommend progressing by unit, spending about a week on each one.
This is how I structured my week studying from this book:
Monday: Listen to the unit’s track while reading along in the book. Copy the sentences in a notebook (only the ones with audio, to save time), as well as the meaning (look up in grammar dictionary). Then, look them up in a grammar dictionary, and jot down how to use them (verb form, tense, etc). Replay the track again, this time without reading along. If you need more examples, feel free to look them up on Youglish.com.
Tuesday: Listen to the track and complete the dictation activity. Review and correct any mistakes. Listen one more time (bonus points for repeating aloud), and write flashcards for any difficult ones. Finally, review the other example sentences (the ones without audio).
Wednesday: Return to the Unit page, review all examples. Note any differences in each example (verb forms, tenses, etc). Refer to grammar dictionary if any still confuse you. Listen to audio again.
Thursday: Complete the Unit practice section. It consists of four parts of questions, ranging from fill-in-the-blanks to multiple choice. Grade yourself, and review any you got wrong.
Friday: Spend this day for review. Review sentences you got wrong in the practice sections, along with the correct answers. Refer to a grammar dictionary to understand any mistakes.
Weekend: Review the week’s grammar again at your own pace. Look for even more examples on Youglish!
My Secret JLPT Grammar Weapon!
As you’ve probably noticed, there’s one thing I included without fail to each of my study methods: listening to audio examples on Youglish.com! I find that whatever I am learning sticks really well when I hear it in normal, real-world situations. So after studying each point with the book, I search for each one on Youglish and listen to several more examples in different contexts. Depending on how well I grasp the point, I’ll listen to anywhere between 3-10 sentences! (The most I listened to for one point was about 25!)
Listen to as many as you need to to really make it stick!
Now, let’s round off our study with some apps. In general, most of the apps I recommended last week for vocabulary study also include grammar, so you can stick with those to avoid overwhelming yourself with hundreds of apps. If you missed it, or for a refresher, read that article here!
Some I’d like to highlight are as follows:
JLPT N1 Test
This app is a series for which you must download each level individually. What I love about it is that it includes quizzes for each part of the test (grammar, vocab, reading, listening), and has a variety of examples. For grammar, you can practice grammar structure, sentence building, and understanding grammar within paragraphs. To use all the features, you will need to upgrade to premium; however, at only about $5 for lifetime access, I find it a worthwhile investment!
PORO Japanese Grammar
This app includes all levels. Each level has a checklist of grammar points with examples that you can mark off as you master them, and at least 10 practice tests. I use this one every once in a while to review old grammar points, as well.
I introduced Renshuu in an earlier article, and it bears mentioning again for its easy-to-use structure, quizzes, and games. Each grammar point includes instructions on usage, several examples (both written and audio), and mini-quizzes at the end of each lesson. Grammar lessons and quizzes are available for all users, but you may have to upgrade to premium to use all the games.
Anki Flashcards for JLPT Grammar?
If you want to use flashcards, go right ahead! But I recommend using them only as a supplement, and not as your main study method. As I mentioned, rote memorization is usually not very effective for understanding grammar, so try to spend more study time reading and listening to examples rather than flipping through flashcards.
JLPT Grammar List
Before we wrap up, there’s one more thing I’d like to offer that may help in your JLPT grammar studies: an (almost) comprehensive list of all JLPT grammar points – by level!
As I mentioned earlier, there is no official JLPT grammar list, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one, even online. Even if you go through every JLPT guidebook or download every JLPT study app, you will notice a big discrepancy between what points they cover!
After going through the five guide books above, as well as reviewing the So-Matome and Shin-Kanzen books for each level, I put together this (semi-) comprehensive list of ALL the points covered in ALL the books, for ALL levels! This may be the closest you will get to an “official guide” (for now!)
How to Navigate the File:
Select your level from the tabs on the bottom. (The file includes all levels).
Each level includes each grammar point from the JLPT guides in Japanese and romaji, plus their respective page number in each guide. You can arrange the list by Japanese alphabetical order (current default), or by page number. Simply select the column you’d like to arrange (Step 1 below), then select ‘Sort A-Z’ (Step 2).
To sort by page number, select the book column, and ‘Sort A-Z’. (Please note that only N1 is in English alphabetical order (ABC Order), and only N1 includes extra books).
Levels N2 through N5 only show grammar points from So-Matome and Shin-kanzen, though I am working to update it gradually in the future as I review more study guides.)
Unseen Japan’s Recommended Study Guides
Study guides for every level are available for purchase HERE!
Other Pieces in Our JLPT Series:
See the rest of Unseen Japan’s JLPT Study Series HERE!
Recommended JLPT Study Resources
- Official JLPT Study Guides: https://jlpt.jp/e/reference/books.html#book2012
- JLPT Self-Evaluation:https://jlpt.jp/e/about/candolist.html
- JLPT Practice Tests: http://www.jlpt.jp/e/samples/sample09.html