Even if you’ve been studying diligently for months, the JLPT itself is a completely different game from how you’ve been studying. JLPT practice tests are a great way to measure where you stand, pinpoint trouble areas, and get a feel for the actual test.
Preparing for a JLPT Practice Test
When taking a JLPT practice test, you want it to be as close to the real thing as possible. That means putting away all distractions, setting a timer, and focusing on the test for the next 3 hours.
Although phones are not allowed on the test, for convenience’s sake, you can set a timer on your phone. (But turn all other notifications off!) The first part, reading and grammar, is 110 minutes. The listening section is 60 minutes, but as it goes straight through the CD, a timer is not necessary. Fill out your answers either on a test sheet or directly in the book.
Also, you may not get bathroom breaks while the clock is ticking (and even if you do, why would you want to waste precious test time?), so be sure to take care of that business as well. Eat a good breakfast, but try not to drink too much liquids right before the test. If you live with others, ask for their cooperation not to interrupt you for the next 3 hours. From this point, you’re no longer at home – you’re on the actual test site of the JLPT!
What’s On A JLPT Practice Test?
Practice tests are designed to replicate the JLPT, although some comments I’ve seen online insist the practice tests were much harder than the real thing. Some study guides use actual exams from previous years, while others use original material in the same format. Regardless, think of it as the JLPT itself.
The structure of a good JLPT practice test should be exactly the same as the real thing.
Taking a JLPT Practice Test
Time begins… NOW! Set your timer for 110 minutes, but try to allot at least 70 minutes for the reading section. If there’s one mistake test takers make, its underestimating the reading section. (For more about the JLPT reading section, see my article HERE).
Note that there will be one or two short passages towards the end of the grammar section in which you must fill in the blanks. Don’t let this fool you! This is still grammar territory, and not the beginning of the reading section. Beware of spending too much time here and running out of time on the actual reading section (a mistake I made on my first practice test).
During the actual JLPT, you’ll get a 20 minute break between the language section and the listening section. Feel free to do the same during the practice test, but remember to treat it like the real deal – don’t go over 20 minutes!
For the listening section, play the CD straight through (no pausing or repeating tracks!) and practice focused listening and taking notes. The pressure is real with this one, so it’s best to accustom yourself now so you feel more relaxed during the test. (Refer to my previous article on the listening section for more tips).
Grading Your JLPT Practice Test
Now that your test is over, how do you feel? More confident? Or panicking because you couldn’t finish? Regardless of how you did, now comes the moment of truth – grading yourself.
The JLPT divides scoring into sections. For levels N3-N1, there are three sections: language knowledge (vocabulary/grammar), reading comprehension, and listening. Each section accounts for 60 points, for a total of 180 points. For levels N4 and N5, language knowledge and reading comprehension are combined for a total of two sections (worth 120 points and 60 points, respectively). Note that regardless of your score on other sections, receiving 19 points or less on any individual section results in an automatic failure of the entire test.
Most practice test guides have a convenient grading chart that breaks down point allotment. Use this to grade yourself, and to see which questions types you struggle with most. Please note that specific point-per-question allotment may vary by level.
Assessing Your Score
Don’t be surprised if your results were not what you expected. (Mine certainly weren’t!) Even if you understand Japanese really well, you may find you did poorly on a certain section. For me, it was grammar.
This was a big wake up call for me. As a translator who’s literal job is to read and understand hundreds of Japanese words every day, I was ashamed! However, reading is far different than producing from memory. While I recognize advanced Japanese grammar in the context of my work, I very rarely have to produce such sentences myself. Because of this, my weak point was sentence creation and grammatical fill-in-the-blanks. In order to improve, I went back and reviewed specific grammar points and their rules, such as what verb forms they follow, situational nuances, and changes in meaning due to particles.
Another point that threw me off, despite hours of practice, were similar words in context. (I get these correct all the time when using Anki!) But in context questions, many choices look similar and may even have similar meanings. Getting these correct comes down to understanding the nuances of each words, and how to use each in a sentence.
For this reason (and as I’ve mentioned previously in my vocabulary and kanji articles), it is important to study vocabulary in context with example sentences, and not only definitions. Sometimes an example sentence may be the only thing that helps you set them apart!
JLPT Practice Test Guides
Now we’ll take a look at some of the best practice test guides (according to me), in no particular order.
Official JLPT Practice Test Workbook
First up is the official JLPT Workbook. This is the first practice test I took. It includes one sample test, and lots of helpful information (in Japanese) about grading and the test itself.
As a simple guide, it doesn’t offer explanations at all, only an answer key and the scripts. If you like the Shin-Kanzen series, you’ll probably like this book. It is available for all five levels.
Hajimete no Nihongo Noryoku Shiken Gokaku
Next is a collection of three JLPT practice tests. (There are several similar guides available). These are the two I had my eye on to review for this article.
While both books contain three practice exams (all six tests are different) with explanations, I ended up going with the blue one (はじめての日本語能力試験N1合格模試3回分）because it had more English guidance.
The answer key includes definitions and explanations in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Vietnamese with examples. The grammar section includes explanations in easy-to-understand Japanese. My favorite part is the reading section. Not only do they include vocabulary lists, they also underline the part of the text where you would find your answer, complete with explanations (in simple Japanese). The listening section does the same with the scripts.
A Spreadsheet That Scores You Like A Real JLPT Test!
Another thing I love about this book is the downloadable spreadsheet that automatically grades you when you input your answers. It displays correct answers side by side, however, so please only use this AFTER completing the practice test. The spreadsheet shows which questions you got wrong, how many points each question is worth, how much you scored on each section, and how much you scored overall. This is a great way to understand point allotment, as well see how you’d fare on the actual test.
Separate spreadsheets are available for each of the three tests in the book, so be sure to track your improvement! I recommend taking each test one or two weeks apart, depending on how much time you have left.
Although I didn’t buy the brown book (The Best Practice Tests for the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test), I did skim through it. I was slightly disappointed that the cover says ‘with English translation’, but the only English I saw were vocabulary definitions. Explanations were primarily in Japanese, with only short English notations.
I’m not dismissing this book, however. It certainly looks complete, and I’m sure it’s a great choice for Shin-Kanzen fans. However, I recommend the blue book for those who prefer So-Matome, and those who want more guidance in their own language. Both books are available for all five levels.
Gokaku Dekiru Nihongo Noryoku Shiken
Finally, some guides include study elements along with practice tests. (This was the guide I used to study for N2).
This book focuses on test-prep by breaking down each question type with plenty of real examples. This is a good way to practice each question type before taking a sample test. The book ends with a ‘comprehensive practice’ section, which replicates a real JLPT exam. It includes an answer key and script, but no explanations. I recommend this guide if you’ve never taken a practice test before, and if you have plenty of time before the actual test. (However, if you’re planning to take the test next month, I recommend one of the above guides with actual JLPT exams and explanations).
Online JLPT Practice Tests
Although I have not taken a practice test online (because I have so many books!), I believe they are available. The official JLPT website also offers sample questions for each level. (https://www.jlpt.jp/e/samples/forlearners.html) However, from a personal standpoint, I wouldn’t recommend relying on these. Everyone should take a physical practice test at least once, whether from a study guide or by printing one out yourself. Aim to create a practice experience as close as possible to the real thing. I recommend online practice tests only as supplementary material.
JLPT Practice Test Apps
There are no apps (as far as I know) that reproduce the test in its entirety. However, many apps offer mini practice tests and questions from past exams. For the reasons above, I don’t recommend apps as an alternative to a physical practice test. I do, however, encourage using them as on-the-go supplementary study material.
My JLPT Practice Test Results
If you’re curious how I did on my practice tests, here are my results.
On my first practice test, I would’ve automatically failed, simply because I couldn’t finish the test. My score would have been 41/13/40, for a total of only 98/180. It was what I did next that made all the difference.
(Afterwards, I did complete it, raising that score to 41/40/44 for a total of 120/180. However, that took an extra 40 minutes, and that isn’t how the test works, so I don’t count that score).
I reviewed my weak points diligently, and looked up all the words and grammar points I got wrong. I also spent more time on reading drills to improve my speed. By the second practice test (two weeks later), I finished with one minute to spare, and managed to earn 43/35/44 for a total of 122/180 – a dramatic improvement!
As you can see, taking JLPT practice tests regularly and honestly assessing yourself can really make a difference! (I wonder how much I’ll improve by my next practice test?)
Other JLPT Resources
- Unseen Japan’s Recommended Study Guides
- Other Pieces in Our JLPT Series
- Official JLPT Website: http://www.jlpt.jp/e/
- JLPT Schedule: https://jlpt.jp/e/application/overseas_list.html
- JLPT Levels: https://jlpt.jp/e/about/levelsummary.html
- 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