Preparing for the JLPT N2 Test

  • July 31, 2017 / Lily Cernak

The N2 is the second-to-hardest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). To pass the N2, you will need to know about 1,000 kanji and about 6,000 vocabulary words total.

Native Japanese speakers enter middle school knowing approximately 1,000 kanji. Because of this,  it is highly effective to practice JLPT using books and study materials created for the final years of elementary school or the first years of middle school.

In this article, we will be discussing where to access such materials (many of them free!), as well as N2 prep strategies.

For additional articles on the JLPT, please visit the JLPT section of our Blog here.

Differences Between N2 and N3

Compared with the N3, the N2 contains very little furigana. This can be quite intimidating. But, the gap between N3 and N2 is actually not that different from the gap between N4 and N3.

To move up from N4 to N3, students need to learn about 350 kanji and about 2,000 vocabulary words. And to move up from N3 to N2 students again need to learn about 350 kanji and about 2,500 vocabulary words.

The general format of questions in all the sections of N3 and N2 is relatively similar. But the reading comprehension questions in N2 tend to be less straightforward. It also requires a higher level of interpretation of the text and understanding of how the parts of the text relate to one another.

The audio content in the N2 listening section is more complex and varied than in N3. And while the audio in N3 primarily focuses on fairly ordinary conversations, in N2 the audio may also take other formats such as an imitation news report.

Resources for N2 Prep

Note: In addition to this list, please also see our list of resources that you need to use in preparing for all levels of the JLPT (coming soon).

1) “An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese” OR “Tobira: Gateway to Advanced Japanese”

These textbooks can be used as semi-sequels to the popular Genki I and Genki II textbooks. They will give you a solid foundation in intermediate Japanese kanji, vocabulary, and grammar.

The transition from Genki II to either of these books is not completely smooth. Students may need to do some independent studying between the final chapter of Genki II and the first chapter of these books. But if you master the kanji in either IAIJ or Tobira, you will know a significant percentage of the kanji you need for N2.

2) Workbooks for Japanese Elementary/Middle School Students

You can order a variety of published workbooks online or purchase them at Japanese bookstores. Many of these workbooks, especially ones for grades 5 or 6 of elementary school or grade 1 of middle school, are good for N2 study.

Japanese bookstore chains with locations in America include Sanseido, Kinokuniya, and Book Off.

3) News Stories and Online Articles for Japanese Elementary/Middle School Students

News articles written for children and/or preteens are a great way to practice your reading comprehension for N2 and gain vocabulary.

a) Gakken Kids Net is an educational website that mainly has Q&A style articles about humans, animals, and the world. These articles are relatively easy to read, and are a good for students who have begun their N2 studies fairly recently:

b) Yahoo! Japan Kids has lots of free news articles, as well as articles and resources about other topics divided by grade:

c) NHK for School contains countless videos on a huge range of topics, all divided by grade level; and is an excellent resource for listening comprehension practice. It also contains quizzes, including grade-based kanji quizzes:

Japanese newspapers such as Asahi Shimbun can certainly be good for practice as well, especially if you are looking to take N1 after N2. But they can be frustrating if you are just beginning your N2 studies.

Many newspapers such as Asahi Shimbun also have kids’ editions. But while the regular newspapers have lots of free-to-read-online articles, the kids’ version, unfortunately, has few free online articles.

Preparing for the Reading Sections

What is it like?

Here are the formats of questions asked in the reading sections (note that this list is in no particular order, and may not be 100% complete):

  •         Choose the correct pronunciation for a specified word containing one or more kanji (multiple choice)
  •         Choose the correct kanji for a specified word (multiple choice)
  •         Fill in a blank space with the correct word, part of speech, or sentence piece (multiple choice)
  •         Choose the word that is most synonymous with an underlined word (multiple choice)
  •         Choose the sentence that features the most correct usage of a specified word (multiple choice)
  •         Arrange four given pieces of a sentence in the correct order
  •         Read a paragraph or multiple paragraphs, and answer questions about them (e.g. what was the author’s opinion regarding ___? What did the author mean by [word/phrase]?) (multiple choice)
  •         Read a diagram/flyer/etc, and answer questions based on the information it gives (multiple choice)

How to Prepare

To prepare for the reading section, it is a good idea to get as much experience with seeing words and kanji in context as possible.

After you have finished a textbook such as Tobira or IAIJ you will have a general awareness and ability to recognize a large portion of the kanji used in N2, but you may be lacking in vocabulary.

In addition, many JLPT questions are about fine differences in meaning between vocabulary words (or grammar points) that are very similar but not identical in meaning or usage.

To gain an understanding of nuances, it is important to see those words and grammar points used multiple times in real sentences. The books and websites in the resources section of this article are one good way to increase your vocabulary and get experience with usage.

In addition, reading chapter books, short novels, and comics written for elementary/middle school students can be very helpful.

If you find that you are struggling to understand the nuance of a particular grammar point or pattern in contrast to similar ones, try a search for that pattern in the Grammar section of Kawa Kawa’s Blog. When learning a new pattern, seeing as wide a range of explanations and examples as possible is very helpful; so you may also want to visit sites such as or to read their articles on the pattern in question. 

Preparing for the Listening Section

What is it like?

This is the format of questions asked in the listening section (note that this list is in no particular order, and may not be 100% complete):

  •         You get time to read four potential answers (if applicable). You then listen to a question, followed by an audio clip. At the end of the audio clip, the question gets repeated
  •         You will listen to a short explanation of a situation (e.g. a man and his teacher are talking, an announcer is speaking, etc), followed by an audio clip. At the end of the audio clip, you listen to a question. Then, you listen to the potential answers
  •          There is also a sentence to listen to, and then there are four potential replies for that sentence. You then choose the reply that makes the most sense or is most appropriate
  •         You will listen to a short explanation of a situation, followed by an audio clip. After the audio clip, you listen to a question. Lastly, you listen to the potential answers

How to prepare

One method for practicing listening comprehension is to first listen to an audio clip once without pausing. Try to get as complete an understanding as you can of everything said.

Then to listen through again, pause and rewind whenever necessary to make sure that you understand every word and sentence. Then to listen one more time without pausing. Try to hear and understand anything you did not the first time.

During the times that you are practicing by listening without pausing an audio clip, try not to let yourself become distracted if there is something you do not understand or a word you do not know.

If you can mark that spot as a blank in your mind but still take note of the other parts of the surrounding sentence(s) (verb tense, subject, time words, etc), you will sometimes still have enough information to answer a question about that audio clip.

and before we forget..

To pass the N2, the key truly is experience.

Use kanji and grammar checklists such as the ones in the JLPT sections of This will help to make sure you are covering all that you need to cover.

Expose yourself to as much Japanese written and audio material as you can. This will increase your vocabulary, your understanding of language usage, and your familiarity with complex sentences.

It takes time and hard work to get to there, but once you’re around the level of the JLPT N2, you will be at a very exciting and rewarding point in your studies. You will be able to participate in in-depth conversations, and you can begin fully accessing teen- and adult-level books, articles, and other media! 

We hope that this article has been helpful to you in your N2 studies!

What are your favorite N2 study materials? If you have already taken the N2, what were your thoughts on the test? If you have any tips, resources, or experiences you would like to share, please leave us a comment below!


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