10 JLPT Tips for Test Day (So You Don’t Fail!)

Bubble World JLPT tips
A bubble sheet, not too much unlike the one used for the JLPT // Photo by Benjamin Chun

A week ago, I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test at the N1 level. If I could go back in time and hand myself these JLPT tips, I totally would. And then after that, I’d go even further back to the Jurassic Period. I mean, who doesn’t want to hang out with dinosaurs? As long as I didn’t get eaten, I’d be back in time to get my JLPT test results.

These ten things (well, except #2) are all things I should have done, and that I want you to do. Don’t do as I did! And, good luck on the test!

JLPT Tips for the Test Day

1. Sleep

Duh. Instead of getting a full night’s sleep, I stayed up until 2 am studying. I don’t think it helped. Please sleep.

2. Bring Your JLPT Confirmation Mailing

You should have gotten a postcard in the mail from the JLPT people about two weeks before the test. The mailing will have the location of your testing site as well as a slip with your registration on it.

If you don’t bring the registration confirmation slip, there’s a chance you won’t be let in the testing room, even if you have an ID. So, this is seriously important. This was the one thing I actually did remember. Go me!

3. Bring a Pencil

There are really only two things you need to bring to the test: your confirmation mailing and a pencil (preferably with eraser).

I forgot one of these, and if you read #2, you should know what it was. So I had to run to the convenience store for a pencil before the test. I felt pretty dumb, but at the same time, I had a nice, new pencil to use on the test.

4. Bring a Watch

The test is strictly timed. Sometimes there is a wall clock in the testing room, sometimes there isn’t. Or, in my case last year, there was a clock, but it was at the front of the room on a desk, so only the first few rows could see it. It was more frustrating than there not being a clock at all, but I digress.

Take care when choosing your watch. I chose an awesome kobito watch. But, awesomeness is not everything. The watch shouldn’t have any alarms, or at least, the alarm absolutely shouldn’t go off during the test.

Also, brush up your time-telling skills, because the watch must also be analog — no digital watches (don’t worry, I had to look up “analog” too just to double check).

I didn’t remember to bring a watch the first time around that I took the JLPT, but I certainly remembered the second time. Aren’t you proud?

5. Take the Battery out of Your Cellphone

This is one of those 致命的 (chimeteki/life-or-death) JLPT tips! If your phone vibrates or rings during the test, you could be given a warning or even thrown out of the test. I turned my phone off during the two times I took the test. I was lucky — a friend told me that with some phones, if you have an alarm set, then it will sound even if the phone is turned off. The only way to make completely sure something like this doesn’t happen is to take the battery out of your phone or triple check that you don’t have any alarms set.

6. Mark Answers as You Go

On the language knowledge section of the JLPT, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to only mark answers I was fairly certain I knew were correct. This was a mistake. I had to go back and mark a lot of blank answers, which was confusing.

On top of that, since I was running out of time on the test, I ended filling in a lot of the bubbles without even looking at the again question. What I should have done was fill in an answer to all the questions, no matter how uncertain I was. Then, in the booklet, I should have marked the ones I definitely wanted to re-check if I had time with a star or something.

This is one of those JLPT tips that falls under the “test-taking strategies” category.

7. Don’t Get Stuck

Of course, this is good advice for any test. Instead of wasting time worrying over one question, it’s a good idea to mark your best guess quickly and move on. If you want to make sure you re-check the question if you have time, you can always put a star next to the question in the booklet, like I suggested in #6.

I got stuck on a question near the end of the N1 test and ended up having to guess randomly on the last four questions without even having time to look at the page that the questions were on. It still bugs me — what the heck was the last passage?

8. Eat

Another thing I forgot was eating. This is incredibly sad because I love eating. You might not expect eating to be part of any JLPT tips, but it is important!

I had only a bit to eat before the test, which was normal, since I don’t normally eat breakfast anyway. But, unfortunately, I forgot to take into account that the test would take all afternoon — I would have very little time to eat lunch, much less go grab some.

On top of that, the nearest convenience store to my testing site was 15 minutes away, which meant I couldn’t get there and back before the break was over. So I just grabbed a hot cocoa from the vending machine and wished I had made a sandwich. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

9. Restroom Break

By now, you can probably see that I’m selectively unprepared. I planned two weeks ahead how to get to my testing site. Yet I didn’t think to go to the restroom during the break between the language knowledge and listening sections of the test.

Having had a hot cocoa during the break and not using the restroom meant that I had a very uncomfortable second half of the test. So please use your break wisely by eating, restroom-ing, and maybe a little last minute studying or relaxing.

10. Streamline Note-Taking

During the listening section, I often take irrelevant notes in long-hand. In the future, I’m going to try to streamline my note-taking.

For example, if a man and woman are talking in the dialogue, instead of writing “man” and “woman,” write “M” and “W.” Then, write short, one-word essential notes next to those markers.

For another example, if the dialogue mentions age, it isn’t necessary to write “40 y.o.” — “40” will suffice. You only need short reminders to jog your memory once the question is asked. This is very different from traditional notes one takes in a class. So it is worth thinking about the purpose of taking notes during the listening section and then take the notes in a way that fits the situation.

Those are my ten tips I’d give to past-me and of which I hope future-me will take heed. What are your favorite test day tips?

Reflections on the December 2012 JLPT

On Failure and the 2012 JLPT N1

JLPT 2013: Reflections on the December Test

10 thoughts on “10 JLPT Tips for Test Day (So You Don’t Fail!)

  1. nielyngrce says:

    hi i’m taking n4 tomorrow at momoyama gakuin and i’m really glad i found your tips. thank you for sharing them. i’m not well prepared but thanks to this i think i’d be able to do better on my test. thanks again

      1. Chad says:

        LOTS of great tips crammed into this short post.

        An efficient and worthwhile read.


        1. chad says:

          I didn’t mean to make my previous comment a reply to another user. Please move it to the top level. Thanks.

  2. Mike says:

    Hello L.,
    My name is Mike.
    I have just arrived in Japan as an English teacher at Mainichieikaiwa (http://www.mainichieikaiwa.jp). I took the JLPT n1 twice in the US, but I failed.
    I am planning to take it again this year. Your pieces of advice are very useful. Thanks indeed!

    1. L. says:

      Hi Mike,
      I’m glad the article is useful! Good luck on the N1!

  3. Gab says:

    I noticed that your comment section could not recognize kana, just like what happened to my name in my other comment.
    Anyway, yesterday, I took the N3 exam, and so the watch did slow me down a bit because I kept looking on it, but at the same time it kept me on reading and reading because I know that I only have N minutes left for still quite a number of questions.

    1. L. says:

      Tonight, I’ll definitely check out how to get Japanese characters to display in the comments and posts.
      I get what you mean about the watch. Last time I took the test, I looked at the watch lot. In the end, while keeping the time is kind of nerve-wracking, I think it’s useful for pacing. I should have checked the time more on the 2013 JLPT.

  4. Michael Chinen says:

    These are good notes. I accidentally brought a 100 yen digital watch, but luckily they didn’t notice. This was my 2nd time taking the N1 and the biggest help was on listening, actually pay attention to the examples instead of looking at pictures/kanji ahead of time – these are easy enough. The reason for this is to practice and get mentally prepared for the new format of questions. That, and remembering to focus hard on the initial part of the question – I found it so easy to doze off and be like ‘wuh?’

    1. L. says:

      Thank you for the compliment and comment!
      Oops — I’m glad to hear they didn’t notice about the watch. I was going to go for a 100 yen watch initially, but I just couldn’t resist a watch with a cute/ugly character on it.
      That’s really good advice. I certainly made the mistake of trying to get a head start during the example. It’s too easy to get lost by trying to read ahead.
      It’s such an unfamiliar situation to have to concentrate on listening to something for so long. My friends and I always talk about having that “whu?” moment multiple times during the listening section.


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