How to Pass the JLPT N2 on Your First Try

*Updated November 15th, 2020

Is it possible to pass the JLPT N2 on your first try?  You bet it is.Taking the JLPT N2

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) has struck fear in the hearts of many, but it doesn’t have to. I passed it on my first try and actually enjoyed studying for it.

If you have the time and willingness to put in just a little bit of study time, you can pass it on your first try too.

The 5 steps in this guide are what I used to pass the JLPT and improve my level of Japanese.

If you want to work as a foreigner in Japan, most companies look for someone with at least a business Japanese level, and/or someone who has passed the JLPT N2 or N1.  At the very least, passing the JLPT is a nice feather in your cap.  Since it costs money to take the test each time, let’s look at 5 ways to pass the JLPT N2 on your first try.


5 Ways to Pass the JLPT N2 (or Any Level) on Your First Try


Step 1:  Are you Studying the Right Materials?Studying the Right Materials for the Test

There are tons of JLPT N2 study guides, books, and even apps out there.  Which is the best?

I have asked around, done research, and tried many materials out.  If you’re looking for the best JLPT books, the “Sou Matome series” and the “Kanzen Master books” are my top book recommendations.

If you can afford it, get both.  If you can only afford to go with one, get the Kanzen Master books.  The Sou Matome books are nicely organized into daily lessons, so it is really easy to study.  However, the material in the Kanzen Master books is more thorough and detailed.

If you want to learn real-world Japanese as well as grammar, words, and vocabulary for the JLPT, my highest recommendation is the Japanesepod101 course.   Especially if you are taking the JLPT N2, N3, N4, or N5.  The material on Japanesepod101 covers the grammar you need to know, as well as shows you how to use it in conversation.  You can read my full review of it here.


Step 2:  Studying in the Right Order

Most study guides and books break up all of the material into 5 parts: vocabulary, grammar, kanji, reading, and listening.Easy Way or Hard Way

I feel that the longest and most difficult part of the test is the reading section.  So you should spend a good amount of time studying reading.  However, before you do, it will make your life much easier if you study the kanji, grammar, and vocabulary books first.

Using the sou matome books mentioned above, you could do one lesson each day for each book (grammar, vocab, and kanji) and be finished in 2 months.  After doing that, spend most of your time practicing the reading.

By learning all of the vocabulary, kanji, and grammar first, you’ll be able to read and understand a lot more of the problems in the reading section study guides.  So you can concentrate on increasing your reading speed and comprehension.  The good news is that if you studied all of the vocabulary, kanji, and grammar, you’re well on your way to passing the JLPT.  If you can understand and answer more than half of the questions in the reading section, you’ve got a great chance at passing.

For the listening section, you could get by without studying at all if you hear Japanese on a frequent basis.  I didn’t practice for the listening section at all.  However, if you only hear and use Japanese in class, you should study for this section.  Both the Sou Matome and Kanzen Master series have a listening book that comes with a CD.

Either way though, I feel that the listening part is the easiest part to study, and should be studied last.  If you are confident in your listening ability, study this only if you have time after studying everything else.


Step 3:  Taking the Test in the Right Order – IMPORTANT!Have a Strategy for Test Taking

This is huge.  The way you take the test can make you or break you.

The JLPT N2 test has two parts.  Part 1 consists of the grammar, vocab, kanji, and reading sections.  This takes a LOT of brain power to get through.  You’ll probably feel mentally drained but very relieved that it’s over.

Part 2 is the listening section.

The entire test is made up of multiple choice questions, so even if you don’t know the answer, you’ll have a chance that you can get it right.


What Section Should I Do First?

For part 1, most people answer the questions in order, which means they do the grammar, vocab, and kanji part first, and then do the reading section.  I think that this is the wrong way to do it.

Unless you are a fluent in Japanese and can breeze through the reading section without any problems, it will take up most of your time and give you the most problems.  It also takes a LOT of concentration, which makes you fatigued.

I feel that you should do the reading part FIRST.

That way, you will tackle the most difficult part of the test while your brain is still fresh and alert.  After you finish the reading section, the grammar, vocab, and kanji section feels super easy.  I’m not saying that the questions are easy, but compared to the reading section, it is much simpler.  The questions are much shorter and are very direct so you can answer them quickly.

Part 2 is listening.  Since all you have to do is listen, you can kind of relax.  There were a few questions that tripped me up, but for the most part, I knew most of the answers.  Some, if not all of the questions only have 3 choices, so you have a 33% chance of getting it right by just guessing.

What makes the listen section difficult is fatigue.  You might be so tired from finishing part 1 that it can be difficult to concentrate.  That’s why taking a practice test in step 4 is so useful.  You can get a feel of what it will be like answering so many questions in what seems like a very short time.


Managing Your TimeRacing Against Time to Success

You only have 105 minutes to finish part 1, which has around 75 questions (approximately 32 vocab/kanji questions, 22 grammar questions, and 21 reading questions).

So that means you only have a little over 1 minute to complete each question.

Since the vocab/kanji part is either “you know it or you don’t,” you’ll probably finish each question within 10 seconds or so.  If you don’t know the answer, skip it.  Finish the entire test first before you going back to any questions that you’re unsure of.

However, the reading section is a completely different monster.  There are around 21 questions, which doesn’t seem like a lot.  But believe me, these 21 questions will take up most of your time.

This is because for each page (or more) of reading you do, there will only be 1-5 questions for it.  I would say that the average is two or three questions per page of reading.

This means that you’ll have to read 7-10 pages of Japanese in order for you to answer  those 21 questions.  What’s worse is that most of the questions are not straightforward.  You will have think about the answers, and understand subtle differences in the text.

Some of the stories were only a paragraph long, but it still takes time to get through it.  Most people will spend way more than 1 minute to answer each question in the reading section.  So this means you will have to speed through the grammar and vocabulary section to finish the test in time.  No pressure though 🙂

Summary:  Part 1:  Complete the reading part first, and then do the grammar and vocabulary section.  For the grammar and vocabulary section, skip any question that you are not sure and go back to it only after you finished everything else.


Step 4:  Take a Practice TestPractice Makes Perfect

In addition to studying the right materials, it would help you to take a practice test.

The JLPT offers real N2 tests that were used in the past.  There are also many N2 level practice tests that you can buy.

Some of these practice tests can be quite difficult.  In fact, I found these practice tests to be harder than the actual N2 test.

So even if you don’t pass these practice tests, that does not necessarily mean you’ll fail the JLPT. I did pretty poorly on the practice tests, but aced the actual JLPT N2 test.

Is this absolutely necessary to pass the test?

No, definitely not.

If you study and learn the material, you probably don’t need to take a practice test.  But you know the old saying, “practice makes perfect?”  Well, it’s true.  You’ll get a feel of what it will be like to take a timed test and feel a little pressure.  So when you take the real JLPT test, you’ll feel more confident and prepared.


Step 5:  Slow and Steady Wins the RaceSlow and Steady Wins the Race

This is by far the most important strategy for passing the JLPT N2.  Give yourself LOTS of time.

This is common sense, but very few people do this.  If you give yourself 6 months to study, that is more than enough time to pass the test with flying colors.  What also matters is HOW you study.

You NEED to make a schedule for studying and STICK TO IT. Whether it’s an hour a day or 30 minutes 5 times a week, make sure you create a routine for studying.

Whatever you decide, stick with it and make studying a HABIT.  Studying on a consistent basis is the SECRET to becoming fluent in Japanese.

Also, be sure to keep your study sessions short.  If you want to study for a hour or more at a time, be sure to take small breaks every 15 to 20 minutes.  This will help you to retain information better and keep you motivated so you don’t get burnt out.

An Important Tip…


Do Not Study JUST to Pass the JLPT N2!

Unlike the JLPT N1, the JLPT N2 material has many useful words, grammar, and kanji for the real world. If you study for the sole purpose of passing the test, you probably won’t remember much.

However, if you put in the time and effort to really LEARN the material, not only will you have a much better chance of passing the test, but you’ll also increase your Japanese level by leaps and bounds.

I use or hear words and grammar from the JLPT N2 on a daily basis.  I see many of the kanji being used all over Japan.  So study with the attitude of learning the material so that you can use them in the real world.


JLPT N2 Study Resources

Here are a couple of sites to help you with your studies:

JLPT Sample Questions Page:  Take the sample quiz questions on this page to see the types of questions you’ll find on the actual test.

JLPT Gakushuu Site:  This offers quizzes for all levels of the JLPT.  They have kanji, grammar, and vocabulary quizzes for each level of the JLPT.


Video Grammar Lessons

Check out this videos covering the JLPT N2 material.  Using these videos to supplement studying with a good JLPT book can help you understand the material better.


Listening Practice

Here’s a video that is a good example of what to expect for the listening section.  Take the test for yourself to see how well you can do.


In ConclusionIt seems impossible until done

The whole secret to passing the JLPT N2 (or any level) is preparation.

Study the material well, because it contains Japanese that you’ll actually use if you ever go to Japan.  Here is a quick list of the steps you need to do to pass the N2 on your first try.

  • Give yourself lots of time to prepare (6 months or more)
  • Study for short periods of time and take breaks
  • Study the right materials
  • Study the material in the right order
  • Take a practice test
  • Take the test in the right order

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.  Thanks and good luck!

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