Preparing for the JLPT N1 Test

  • September 25, 2017 / Lily Cernak

The N1 is the most difficult level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). To pass JLPT N1, you will need to know about 2,000 kanji and about 10,000 vocabulary words total.

If you memorize all 2,000 recommended N1 kanji, you will be able to read most Japanese language books, newspapers, subtitles, and etc that you come across. (The main difference between a native Japanese person and a N1-level learner is likely to be vocabulary, particularly specialized vocabulary).

Differences Between JLPT N1 and N2


  • The general structure of both the provided texts and the questions in the reading sections of the N2 and the N1 are quite similar.
  • In both the N1 and N2 reading sections, you must interpret and understand various 1/3-page- to 1-page-long text blocks to answer both straightforward and somewhat abstract questions. (Varying from the fairly simple “What did the author mean by ‘that’ in this sentence?” to the more complex “What is the author trying to say in this article?”).
  • The N2 and N1 listening sections are very similar in structure and in the types of audio files they use


  • To pass the N1, you will need to know approximately twice as many kanji as you did to pass the N2, and about 4,000 more vocabulary words. This is quite a jump compared with the jump between the N3 and the N2. 350 kanji and about 2,500 vocabulary words separate the two.
  • The primary differences between the N2 and N1 reading sections are the number of possible grammar patterns, vocabulary, and kanji used.
  • The primary differences in the listening section are the increased number of possible vocabulary words and grammar patterns in the N1 audio files.

Resources for N1 Prep

Preparing for the N1 can be daunting. There is quite a bit of content to cover and once you have reached the point of studying for the N1, you may have run out of mainstream textbooks to use.

1. You can use advanced textbooks like the ones published by the Japan Times. And depending on your current level these may be a good place to start. We have not used these textbooks so we can’t review them personally. But if you visit the intermediate/advanced page of the Japan Times Book Club site you can check them out.

Aside from textbooks, there are also a lot of other resources you can use to prepare for the N1.

Because the vocabulary list for the N1 is so high, the reading sections can include articles on all sorts of unexpected topics. When preparing for the N1, it is good to broaden your vocabulary as much as possible. And get experience with seeing real-world usages of those vocabularies.

2. The websites of Japanese newspapers (such as the Asahi Shimbun and the Yomiuri Shimbun) have a huge amount of articles on them for free. They can be a good place to start.

3. Reading novels is also good, although potentially a little more frustrating. News articles are usually short, and it is usually clear what they are talking about even if there are individual sentences that are not clear to you. But in an unfamiliar novel, it is possible to become somewhat lost.

4. Getting a book of short stories, or a translation of a book with which you are somewhat familiar in English, can be a great way to learn. You can practice grammar, vocabulary, and kanji recognition. It can make the story clearer to follow and give the vocabulary in the story more definitive context.

Preparing for the Reading Sections

It is possible to pass the N1 without knowing all 2,000 kanji. Especially if you are good at gleaning the nuances of sentences that contain unfamiliar words. And if you are handy at guessing at the meanings of unfamiliar kanji (or kanji combinations).

But, you should definitely go into the N1 knowing as much kanji and vocabulary as you can. Since it is unpredictable which of those 2,000 characters will be on the test you take.

For information on the types of questions that will probably appear in the N1 reading section, please see our N2 article.

As we suggested in our N2 article, Japanesepod101.com and Maggiesensei.com are invaluable when preparing for any of the JLPT levels, including the N1. Particularly if you are struggling with a particular grammar pattern.

Kanji Study Tip:

It is possible to gain Japanese vocabulary gradually through reading, much as you did with English as a child and adolescent. But what to do about kanji? 1,000 kanji is a lot to memorize.

1. Try and memorize the kanji based on usage, rather than as individual characters.

For instance, rather than trying to memorize 振 as being pronounced “シン, フ.ル, ふ.る, ぶ.る, ふ.り, or -ぶ.り” and having the meanings “shake, wave, wag, or swing,” memorize it as its verb form (振る) and as one or more compound nouns (such as 身振り).

Having an awareness of its other readings is also necessary. But it will be easier to remember those readings and the meaning of the character if you link it to specific words. Then, you can read example sentences using that word on dictionary apps such as Imiwa? (on iOS) or Imi (on Android) to help lock the character, its meaning, and its usage into your memory.

Then, choose one or more of those example sentences, copy them into a Word document, and try reading them again later.

You can find a list of N1 kanji on http://www.tanos.co.uk/jlpt/jlpt1/.

2. Become familiar with what the parts of the kanji mean.

Learning the meanings of radicals as well as other pieces will make kanji easier to remember. It will help you to develop mnemonics for memorization.  

For example, we write the kanji for “alone” () with the radical meaning “beast” and a left-hand part that means “insect.” So, you could create a mnemonic such as “When you see beasts and insects in the wild, they are usually alone.”

Websites such as Kanji Alive have very thorough lists of kanji radicals. Many of which also frequently appear in kanji as just a piece of the kanji rather than as the radical.

Preparing for the Listening Section

For information on the types of questions that will probably appear in the N1 listening section, and advice on preparing for advanced-level listening, please see our N2 article.

The listening section is arguably the easiest part of the N1 test. The vocabulary used in the listening section tends to be less strenuous than in the reading sections.

That said, it is certainly still advisable to hone your ear ahead of taking the test. And practice holding many Japanese sentences in your mind at once. (For some parts of the listening section, you will not know what question you are answering until after you have heard the whole audio clip. This is true of other levels of the JLPT as well).

Listening Tip:

Watch both familiar and unfamiliar movies in Japanese with no subtitles.

Watching the same parts of the films multiple times, much as you would with the audio portions of a textbook is a good exercise. It will help you accustom your ear to pick out and understand all the words and grammar patterns you are hearing.

Japanese live TV (such as variety shows and interviews) can be good for practicing conversational listening comprehension. But television dramas and movies may be better for practicing for JLPT listening comprehension. 

People on live TV tend not to speak very clearly or to speak in full sentences, which is good to gain experience with for interpersonal interaction. But it is an unnecessary complication when focusing on preparing for the JLPT. (While the JLPT listening sections do include quite casual or colloquial speech, the sentences are usually fairly complete, often relatively long, and very clearly spoken).

We hope that this article has been helpful to you in your N1 studies!

Have you taken the N1? Are you studying for it right now? If you have any favorite study materials we did not list in this article, or if you have any questions about the N1, leave us a comment below!



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