How to Study Vocabulary for the JLPT

Are you planning on taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)? Well, be aware that most people don’t pass – especially at higher levels like the JLPT N2 or N1, where most of the words you have to know rarely appear in everyday conversation. I, myself passed the N2 after just one year of studying Japanese. I had also planned to take the JLPT N1 last December but as you probably, know 2020 wasn’t the year of many people sitting in a room. Anyway, in this article, I will show you how to effectively study vocabulary for the JLPT.

Table of Contents

Study Vocabulary with Immersion

immersion to pass JLPT N1

If you want to have any chance of passing the JLPT or at getting good at Japanese in general, you must immerse yourself in real Japanese as much as possible. Being exposed to authentic usage of Japanese is key – not only to pass the JLPT but also to achieve fluency. There is no way around it.

As a matter of fact, when I first started learning Japanese, I didn’t consume any real Japanese media. As a result I didn’t understand shit and I couldn’t speak either. But when I started immersing myself in Japanese I finally started making big leaps in my Japanese abilities.

I’m planning on writing a post on how to effectively immerse yourself in Japanese, but for now just try to watch as much Japanese movies as possible, read Japanese novels, listen to Japanese podcasts, read the news in Japanese and so on.

Use A JLPT Vocabulary List

vocabulary list for JLPT N1

For the JLPT N1 you need to know about 10’000 words, many of which are quite rare. Therefore, the chance that you already know all of them is pretty small. That is unless you’ve lived in Japan for something like ten years or have been studying for that amount of time.

For this reason you should use a vocabulary list. A quick search on the internet will give you plenty of free options.

Study JLPT Vocabulary With Anki Flashcards

Well, now you know which words you need to know. But how can you actually memorise all that vocab for the JLPT?

If you’re not already using a spaced repetition system (SRS) like Anki, I highly recommend you start using one. SRS are not only proven to make studied vocabulary resistant to decay not they also offer an easy and quick way to learn a great amount of vocabulary in a short time.

However, don’t just study isolated words with the English translation. This won’t lead to fluency. Frankly speaking, no one should ever study isolated words. A much better approach is studying words in context, i.e. in a sentence.

This will not only show you one authentic way in which the target word is used, it will also give you a better understanding of what the word means and when you should use it. Because in Japanese there are plenty of words that are only used in very specific situations, many are primarily used in written form while others are exclusively used in speech.

But let me elaborate even more.

Make Sentence Cards Using YouGlish

As I said earlier, you shouldn’t learn isolated words but rather entire sentences containing the word you want to learn. You’ve probably heard of so-called “i+1”-sentences. Those are sentences where you understand all but one word. And these are the best to learn vocabulary.

But most JLPT vocabulary lists on the internet don’t include any sample sentences. So, where can you find any?

Well, you could wait until you encounter each word in a book or in a movie. Just kidding, that would take ages. You can find “i+1” sentences much faster and easier with the site YouGlish.com.

There you can look up a word, and the site will then show you all parts of videos where that word appears in the subtitles. This makes sentence mining so effortless. And in most cases the site finds over a thousand videos so even if the first couple of sentences aren’t “i+1”, you’ll eventually find one.

Example of How to Learn Vocabulary for the JLPT

My explanations might have been a bit long and hard to understand. That’s why I’m now going to show you how to study vocabulary for the JLPT step by step using an example.

First, you should prepare all the different windows you need:

  • Anki
  • a dictionary (browser)
  • the vocabulary list (browser)
  • YouGlish.com/Japanese/ (browser)
  • File Explorer
  • OBS (screen capture software [I )

I lay out the windows like this:

Let’s say you want to learn the word: 説得(せっとく, settoku, English: persuasion), which is part of the JLPT N1.

First, I look up the word on YouGlish and look for a video with the word 説得 in an “i+1” sentence.

Then, I use OBS to record the part where that sentence is being said. 

Next, I look up the word in a monolingual dictionary and copy the definition.

Finally I take the video file, the sentence and the video and paste them into the fields on the Anki flashcards.

And that’s how you can easily study more than 20 words per day to pass the JLPT test.

Thanks for Reading

In this post I showed you how I study Japanese vocabulary for the JLPT test. I hope it was useful and easy to understand. In case you have any questions feel free to ask me down below in the comments.

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