How I passed N4

Greg – Bank of New York

I started studying Japanese with Udagawa-sensei in November of 2005
without having had any formal lessons in Japanese prior to this. A
general interest in Japan and Japanese was my sole motivation…

I’ve been to Japan 3 times, but never for more than 2 weeks. I picked up a
few words through self-study on the internet but certainly had no
knowledge of grammar or sense of structure. However, I have studied
other foreign languages as well as linguistics at university.

A few
months in to the lessons I decided to take the JLPT exam simply as a
benchmarking exercise. However, during the Summer months…about 6
months into my lessons….Udagawa-sensei and I decided to aim for JLPT 3
rather than 4. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I trusted
Udagawa-sensei and looked forward to a slightly tougher challenge.

addition to the weekly 2 hour lessons (I have a full time job at a bank
that requires me to travel frequently plus my wife and I also had our
first child in Feb 2006), I was able to get some studying in on flights,
on the tube, and on weekends. I found that for the kanji, the
flashcards from white rabbit press were quite good

For general vocabulary I simply
wrote out lists and used Udagawa-sensei’s materials. Lastly, I used
prior Level 3 exams to test my progress and record areas that required
further study. Beyond that I can’t say I did anything special.

Udagawa-sensei guided me through the various grammar points that the
exam would cover as well tested me on the listening part. Finally the
day of the exam arrived…approximately one year after starting

Truthfully, I could have better prepared myself (but work was
very very busy).
I missed a couple of kanji that I should have known
but I also did much better on the listening part of the exam than I had
I found the reading/grammar part also went quite well. I
didn’t approach the exam in any special way…I did every question in
order and found that I generally had 5-10 minutes to go back and check
some of the questions I wasn’t sure about. Of course, there’s no time
go back on the listening section.

When I finished the exam I wasn’t
quite sure really how I had done…it seemed as if I knew the majority
of the questions…but I thought the same for some of the practice exams
only to find out I hadn’t scored so well.

However, this time, I really
did know the answers:
81/100 kanji/vocab
70/100 listening
170/200 reading/grammar
321/400 total (80%!)

Thank you Udagawa-sensei!


Udagawa sensei,
perhaps like many of your other students have already done, I’d like to tell
you the result of my JLPT (Level 3) exam:

Vocabulary: 72/100
Listening: 48/100
Reading-Grammar: 141/200
Total: 261/400 (65% – pass)

My initial reaction was of course very relieved to see the big envelope at
home this evening, but then it did shock me to learn that the marks for P2
was quite a lot lower than I expected; I was equally surprised (in the opposite
sense) that my score for P3 was higher than I had expected.
However, I trust that scores are accurate and I must have done better than
I just wanted to say a big thank you again for all the kind help you have
given me in preparing for this exam, also for your time in travelling to Reigate
twice a week for the extra lessons!
I am confident that having achieved this pass my company will have no objection
in letting me extend my lessons, but am still unsure when they will give approval
for my JBP book, and god forbid, the CD sets as well! A sincere thanks again
and looking forward to our next lesson.

Regards Simon

Valerie Michele – December 1998

grade 4 (1997) and 3 (1998). I made hundreds of cards for kanji, vocabulary
and grammatical functions. Each vocabulary card carried just one entry, the
meaning of which was clearly illustrated by one or two examples.Valerie
The example
cited were both from both the past exam papers and the workbooks chosen by
Kazuo. The grammar cards had just one function on each card, and carried brief
and clear definition of each function in English, plus some examples to illustrate
this function. ,
some phrases from relevant materials to illustrate the meaning, and a brief
definition of its meaning in English. I chose not to cite any kanji or its
example from cards commercially available from Japanese bookstores in London
because some cards had the irrelevant kanji and examples.
I worked very hard
from September to early December by taking two two-hour private lessons. I
did listening practice only in the class with Kazuo
because I believed that
I could not do it properly on my own.
In the exam, the time allocated to was
very tight, so I did not have enough time to ponder. I really had to jump
from one question to another. I did not remember so much of what I had answered
after the exam.
Everyday I went over these cards to learn new things or refresh,
and revise what I had learned in the previous months in the run-up to September.
Card making was a very time-consuming process but I knew I could only remember
well what I had written myself.

Tom Low

  1. June 2006

    I have decided to take sit the JF grade 4 exam this coming December.
    Tom Law
    The reason for this is that I feel it would focus my studies and give me something to work for.
    Another good reason is that I now have no excuse for putting off learning Kanji! I originally wanted to learn only to speak Japanese, so when I had memorised all the Katana and Hiragana I thought it would be enough to get by.

    Udagawa-sensei recently told me that if I ever wanted to get past the reading standard of a 5 year old I should begin to learn Kanji – this really put it into perspective for me!

    There are 77 characters to learn for the exam and the plan is to learn 3 a day and hopefully get them done by halfway through August.
    I’ve also got to make a start on the vocabulary. I worked out I know only about half of the recommended 667 words required, so there will be a lot of memorising to do.

    As for the grammar and listening, this should hopefully be something I can work on in my lessons. I could also get my partner Naoko to only speak Japanese to me but I think that may get a bit boring for her. We’ll see how it goes!

  2. Feburary 2008
    I chose to sit the grade 3 exam last December as I enjoyed working towards the 2006 grade 4 exam and it seemed to be a natural progression.
    Looking back I could have been a lot more prepared, and to be truthful there was a fair bit of guess work going on (even in the exam).
    One thing I was fairly organised with was memorising the required kanji. Going over and over the flash cards I made was really helpful, and I was a bit more meticulous with this than last year.
    One slight regret is not learning to write the kanji I could read, as now I am faced with the task of going right back to basics to do this. It seems obvious now, but learning to write them really makes you take in every single stroke which therefore makes reading them a piece of cake!
    For the grammar and listening parts of the test I sat a past paper every week for about 2 months prior to the exam. This was a great way to get used to the kind of grammatical functions they will test you on, and you can try to learn from your mistakes from week to week.

    75/100 kanji/vocab
    43/100 listening
    146/200 reading/grammar
    264/400 total (66%!)

  3. Tigger Mills – December 2000

    As far as preparation for the exam went I principally used the past paper
    that you gave me, as well as books of 3 kyu type exams that I had – it was
    a case of going through each one in the time allowed and correcting them then
    looking up reasons why things were wrong. For the kanji I used flip cards
    that I made (very useful), as well as some kanji test/game programs that I
    had on my PalmPilot.
    One was called King Kanji and the other one was called
    The first one goes through different levels of kanji characters and
    gives you a multiple choice as to the meaning of the character.
    The second
    one goes does something similar but has romaji/hiragana/english choices. Having
    said that the hardest part of the exam for me was the listening and I would
    probably have like to have spent more time working on that. You don’t realise
    how quickly it goes and since you only get to hear it once, if you lose your
    concentration you’re messed up for the following questions.
    I hope that this
    is of some help.

    Sturt Newman – February 2007

    Having not taken the Japanese Proficiency Test Level 4 I was initially taken aback by the extent of grammatical structures that were necessary to learn for level 3.

    However Udagawa sensei and I started early on this preparation and I found that over time it was quite manageable.

    From April to July we studied Mina No Nihongo book 2 and I reinforced the grammatical structures I was learning by incorporating them into short stories that I was writing each week.

    I extended this further by downloading and printing the list of necessary grammatical structures from Udagawa sensei’s website and practising these structures by writing my own example sentences.

    This was mainly done in isolation to my lessons and I started to find it a bit mind boggling; basically it lacked clarity.
    During this period I spent a fairly short amount of time on vocabulary and kanji although I was listening to the Mina No Nihongo book 2 CD (this is a separate book to the main text but covers the same language) and completing the related activities in the book.

    I tried to do about 15 minutes a day but I have to admit this was quite sporadic. I continued to do this up until the exam itself.

    From September until the exam Udagawa sensei and I worked on past papers and once we started this, my studying became far more focused.

    At first I continued to concentrated largely on grammar (basically, after living in Japan and learning largely in social settings I had never built a grammar foundation and this was the area that needed most attention – especially as I had to get over some bad habits that I had formed) and I was determined to improve my score in this paper.

    Over time my grammar scores did improve and my focus had to change as my listening and vocabulary were beginning to become the weaker areas.

    I started making flash cards for vocabulary, taking the words directly from the past exam papers I had already practised.
    I made 3 cards for each word – one in English, one in hiragana and one in kanji – then played games such as snap to match the relevant cards (I forced myself to say an example sentence for each word I matched).

    I later extended this to grammar functions and just before the exam I was lucky enough to have a Japanese friend come to England who spoke very little English. This further tuned my listening and improved my confidence going into the exam.

    On a final note, I find it imperative to study vocabulary and kanji in unison, for many reasons.
    For one, kanji gives visual clues to a words meaning and I sometimes find I revert to kanji for meanings to a new word until it is familiar.
    It also prevents kanji becoming daunting as you learn it at a similar pace to vocabulary.
    65/100 kanji/vocab
    65/100 listening
    150/200 reading/grammar
    280/400 total (70%!)


    Exam Diary – Stuart Newman

    1. June 2006

      I’ve decided to take the JF level 3 exam this December.
      I have been learning Japanese, fairly casually, since I first went to the country in October 2002 however I have never taken any exams, although I know there are a lot of holes in my knowledge as most of my study has been self study.

      I’ve only recently realised how many structures I have to learn for the exam and the extent to which my vocabulary and listening has to improve.
      Regardless of this, I am still confident that Level 3 can be achieved and I’m studying hard to reach that goal.

      I’m using study cards for vocabulary and kanji (with a slightly higher weighting towards vocabulary as opposed to kanji as I think this needs more work), I’m writing short stories to use the grammar structures that I’m learning in class and I’m reading text books and listening to pod casts.

      I’ve also been practicing my verb conjugations recently to make sure they are up to scratch.

      Luckily I work in a Japanese company so I always have opportunities to practice Japanese, and there are always reading materials around, though most of them are way above my level!

    2. July 2006

      This month I have mainly been focusing on grammar structures that are fairly new to me.

      Udagawa sensei and I have decided that in order for me to fully prepare for my test,
      I have to work on both my knowledge of all the structures needed and my accuracy
      ( I’m afraid I’m a victim of what Udagawa sensei calls pseudo fluency).

      I decided to tackle this by finishing ‘Mina No Nihongo’ book two by the end of July,
      to gain a better understanding of some of the structures I will face.

      Presently, much of my time is taken up by studying each chapter chronologically
      and writing example sentences that relate to the grammar points being taught.
      I am still practising and extending my vocabulary with flashcards and I bought a book for a CD for more focused listening practise.

      Once I have completed the book my intention is to work through the 80 sentence structures needed for the level 3 exam.
      I had previously printed this sheet from the japanese4all website and although I am familiar with some of the structures, I really do need to focus on the particulars of each one – not least the verb conjugations that each sentence structure employs.

      I am also intending on revisiting past tests to assess my mistakes and the actual answers as I feel this will further develop my understanding. I am also considering categorising each question into one of the 80 sentence structures, but I need to assess time restraints more thoroughly.

      The one area that I haven’t focused on recently is kanji.
      I am confident that my kanji is at a fairly good level for this exam, although there is room for improvement.

      My main concern at present is to bring my accuracy up to the same level as the rest of my Japanese skills. Once I have done that then I feel like I will have more time to devote to improving my kanji.

    3. August

      Udagawa sensei has been away this month so I haven’t had any lessons.
      I’ve tried to keep up my studies by writing a lot, but it’s much more difficult when there is no one to go to to check your work.

      The writing I’ve been doing is based around the Mina no Nihongo book 2 chapter summaries that Udagawa sensei has posted on his website. I would like to finish them by the end of August but I doubt I will be able to.
      Further to this, I’m going to America for 10 days at the end of the month. I’ve coincided the holiday with Udagawa sensei’s so that it has the minimum disruption to my lessons. I would like to study a little bit each day on holiday but I’m not sure if it’ll happen.

      We’ll see!

    4. September

      A tip for anyone studying for any Japanese exam: go on holiday AFTER the exam!

      At the very least, study whilst you’re away.
      I didn’t and it was over a week off and I feel like I’ve gone back a month! I’m going away again in October and I’m quite nervous about the effect it’ll have. More fool me,
      We’ve started our mock exams this month and I’ll be doing an exam a week until December. I actually quite like doing the mocks and I’m hoping to see an improvement in my grades over time.

      I’m still writing a lot and I’ll be getting Udagawa sensei to check this. I want to improve my grammar for paper 3 (which carries the most marks) and this is my main focus at the moment.

      On another note, I started my study group this month (I had wanted to start it ages ago but just didn’t put the effort in). There aren’t too many of us (3 and 1 maybe) but it has been good so far. The idea is to meet other students of Japanese and to only talk Japanese. The members are myself, a Chinese girl and a Korean girl. I’m not sure where the other guy comes from. We meet on a Monday night after work for about an hour and a half and just casually talk about anything. I did it in Japan with some other foreigners and I found it really helps my confidence, listening and general vocabulary as you have to describe things in other ways if you don’t know the Japanese word.
      I’m hoping we can keep it up, and if you want to come along then get in contact!

      Until next month (or a Monday night)c

    5. October

      Determined not to make the same mistake twice, I spent at least half an hour (usually more like an hour) of every morning, on the beach studying. I feel better for it and although there was a slight dip in my Japanese when I came back after a week, it was nothing like the sharp fall I experienced after America in August. Also, it was quite nice to have the beach to myself and study (not many people are on the beach in the morning).

      My study group is still going and I’m finding that my focus is turning more and more to vocabulary. I’m not sure if the level of my vocabulary has fallen or if it just hasn’t risen at the same rate as the rest of my Japanese, but at any rate, it’s something that needs work.

      As such, for the first time in a long while, I’m not writing so much. I’m fairly happy with my test scores, other than one week when I unexplainably flunked to a huge degree, and they have been increasing, but only very (very) slowly.

      I feel better about my Japanese right now and I’ve had a nice little surprise this month: A friend from Japan has come to England for 6 months to study English. We always used to speak Japanese and that has continued, although I feel a little bad speaking Japanese when she is learning English. I’ll make up for it after the exam.

      I meet some of her friends and it has been really nice to talk casually with Japanese people outside work (it’s often more difficult at work because the topics are more advanced and my boss speaks so fast I have trouble understanding in English, let alone Japanese).
      Well roll on December, I’m looking forward to getting the other side of 3 kyu right now!

    6. November

      I’m into my final month of studying for the exam and although I’ve been scoring a fairly consistent 70% in practice exams (with a terrible week in between), I’m still quite nervous and doing as much study as I can pack in.

      I’ve decided to go through old tests and write down every word I didn’t understand and every structure I’ve had a problem with. I started with the word idea last month, but only went through one paper 1 and that kept me going for a while. It’s something I wish I’d been doing since September (when I started the mock exams with Udagawa sensei) as my vocabulary is now my weakest area and once I have all the words/structures written on flash cards, I find I can really speed up the learning process.

      About 3 years ago a friend of mine did a test on me to see how I learn and thus choose a good way to study. The test was very simple and there were 3 sets of ten numbers, each of which I had to remember and recall in different ways. I found that I learn best through games and very active processes, which is why I’ve always enjoyed writing as a means of study. As such, now I have a whole host of flash cards I use them to play games.

      For vocab I have 3 cards for each word, one each for English, Hiragana and Kanji (if the word has Kanji), and no matter how difficult the kanji I always include it as I find Hiragana and Kanji can bounce off each other to aid your memory.

      With these I play snap, spider solitaire, timed matching games and any thing else that springs to mind. It may sound childish but it’s the variety and the point of having a task that helps.
      With the structures, I have been focusing on verb uses within different structures (for example a past tense verb is always used with ‚Ü‚Ü). I then time myself to categorise these. I haven’t been doing this for so long and I think I might change the game soon (I like variety) but I’m expecting it to help.
      I have also spent at least 15 minutes every (weekday) morning listening to a CD from Mina no Nihongo’s task 25 book. This has been helpful but the results are slow.

      Lastly, I have been meeting with my study group on a Monday after work and we have only communicated in Japanese. This has had mixed results as it’s not focused study at all, but I do think it has improved my listening a little and it is always good to talk to people who experience similar language problems. I have also tried to meet Japanese friends at least once a week, but this carries a downside, as sometimes the conversation goes out of my league and I realise just how much further I have to go to reach fluency.

    7. Still, the story continuesc
      P.S. this is my last installment before the test, so wish me luck!

    Nobert Fogarasis – December 2001

    I passed this test with a 60-70% score after 15 months of regular (2×1.5
    hrs/week) study in Japan, 6 months of less regular study (1 hr/week) in London
    and 2 months of intensive practice of prior years’ tests. Again, a key part
    of my success was working through meticulously the previous years’ tests and
    listening to the tapes in a simulated examination environment. Some tips for
    each of the sections:

    (a) Kanji/Vocabulary:
    The amount of studying I did in this area was not enough, so I threw away
    a lot of points here. I scored the lowest in this section, even though with
    relatively small effort, I could have picked up more easy points. For the
    kanji, find a method that works for you. Again, the list of kanji is well
    defined and published. I used an associative grouping method to learn which
    didn’t work so well. I think writing kanji cards would have allowed me and
    motivated me to spend more time on this.
    As for vocabulary, I don’t have a good shortcut recommendation. I took this
    test prematurely, since I didn’t complete the recommended 300 hours of classroom
    work and this came back to bite me in this section.

    After a certain amount of practice, you will see your practice scores converge
    to a certain level somewhere between 60-90 percent. Once it stabilized at
    that level, it will be extremely difficult to move it, unless you actually
    live in Japan and can make a spectacular improvement.
    However, you will see that your score on the test will be roughly the same
    as where you converged. I was lucky because I spent enough time in Japan at
    the early stages of my study in Japan that this score was around 85%.

    (c) Grammar:
    I found this to be challenging, but less tricky than for level 4. Again, I
    used the previous years’ tests as my source, together with Udagawa sensei’s
    database which has the questions sorted by the grammar-type which they test.

    This gives you a good indication of what to expect on the test, and tells
    you what to spend time on.
    Again, it is important to not spend too much time early, as there are some
    easy pick-ups towards the end.
    Surprisingly, I found that I finished this test well in advance though, so
    I had a lot of time to go back and review my answers.I hope this helps – good
    luck for your exam!
    Cheers: Norbert

    Arthur Pollock – December 2002

    As you go through the Japanese for busy people books write the grammar
    down especially or words you dont know on a separate pice of paper then refer
    continaully to that as well as going through the books. It then only takes
    about 30 mins to do all the grammar this way wheras it takes hours to go through
    the book. Every time you go through the book is really important. Keep going
    through it but make sure you read everything aloud to yourself . Try to do
    a little every day.
    Do the tapes every day for at least an hour- you could be listening to the
    tapes much more than you think. If you do it regulary it is far easier to
    remember new things as your brain is far more tuned in.
    The kana version tapes have shorter phrases which are better for practising
    for the aural paper as they are random like the aural exam and make you more
    mentally flexible. The workbook tapes are best when you know all the words
    then you can just concentrate on the grammar.

    Listening-Paper 2:
    In the aural exam write down who is talking: for example a boy and girl and
    then make sure you make notes of the choices becasue you wont be able to remember
    if its one of the longer questions. Make a note of the question number too!
    You defineltey wont have time to do back and check your answers without this.
    When the exam starts forget about listening to the examples go straght to
    the questions and study the differences in the pictures especially the difficult
    ones which have those four pictures or numbers. You can then work out the
    question ahead of time and give yourself more time to think about the answers.This
    will help avoid getting stuck not knowing the differences in the picture which
    would then make it impossible to answer. Write down as many things as you
    can to help you get to the answer quickly when you come to it. Use the introductions
    to scan ahead too. Really listen hard in the exam as it is quite muffled.
    Practise with the tapes turned down really low it will make you listen better
    on the day. Dont panic on the day if the questions look hard. Only think about
    the next question if you are struggling-it may be a really easy one!

    Grammar-Paper 3:
    On the grammar paper you have to really motor. Be careful if you are skipping
    questions that you are filling in the right lines on the answer sheet but
    this is the corect thing to do. Really push on this and then come back to
    the ones you dont know. It’s unlikley you will know them later so dont waste
    time on them .Do the ones you know first Do section five and six first as
    they carry higher markes and are relatively easier.If you are short of time
    then you wont be throwing away so many points.

    Kanji/Vocabulary-Paper 1
    On the kanji paper do section six first it carries alot of points and you
    need to nail them. If you are short of time you will probably panic and get
    it all wrong if you leave it to last. Then do sections three four and five.
    If you do the kanji last you wont panic so much and it wont matter as much.
    Either you know the kanji or you dont,theres nothing to work out if you are
    short of time so its much better at the end and they dont carry so many points
    anyway. Its better to study grammar and voabulary rather than kanji for the
    exam. They have easily the highest time of study per one mark in the exam.

    Paper 1 (Writing-Vocabulary) 67/100
    Paper 2 (Listening) 67/100
    Paper 3 (Reading-Grammar) 161/200
    Overall 295/400=Pass

    I hope that these are helpful to pass the exam. – Kazuo