JLPT N4 – Study Method and Resources

So for those who don’t know I’ve talked previously about taking the JLPT but I felt like I was a bit vague when it came to beginners as there aren’t actually that many specific text books for the lower levels because there are plenty of others that cover the basics of Japanese. As a result I wrote this post on taking the JLPT N5 with what the exam is, resources and study methods (which is why the two posts are very similar, and by very similar I mean practically identical but with the links updated and text changed slightly).

This guide is exactly the same expect with JLPT N4, what you need to know, where you can find that information and how you can study for the exam.

teach yourself japaneseWhat do I need to know to pass JLPT N4?

N4 is very very similar to N5 but a bit tougher. First of all it is slightly longer than the N5 exam, where the N5 was 1hour 45mins, N5 is 2hours 5mins. The exam is split into 3 multiple choice papers covering vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening. There are NO speaking exams in the JLPT, and N4 onwards doesn’t have a spelling section which N5 does have.

N4 Language Knowledge(Vocabulary) 〈30min〉 Language Knowledge(Grammar)・Reading 〈60min〉 Listening

Vocabulary knowledge covers: kanji reading, the kanji for words in hiragana, using the correct word in context, and paraphrases, and usage in sentences.

Grammar knowledge covers: grammar forms, sentence composition, text grammar.

Reading knowledge covers: comprehension/understanding of short and mid-length paragraphs, and retrieving information.

Listening covers: task based understanding, key point understanding, verbal expressions and quick responses.

You can see a full list of the breakdown in more detail here.

N4 is marked in the same way as N5. The Language Knowledge sections marked between 0~120 points (for vocabulary, grammar and reading), of which you need a score of at least 38 to pass (so only 31%). And the Listening section is 0~60 with a pass mark of 19 (31%). But you need at least a total of 90 out of 180 (50%) to pass the entire exam (which is 10points more than N5). So even if you don’t feel confident about absolutely everything, it’s worth giving it a go as you might surprise yourself.


What you actually need to know:

1500 Vocabulary (including the 800 for N5 level) – Nihongo Ichiban has a good list of what you need to know, and if you’re into Memrise JLPT Bootcamp has a vocab/kanji guide, as does ngupatricklam. They’re each slightly different so you need to find one what works best for you.

Personally I think Bootcamp has a more complete list of vocabulary, but it also teaches the learner unnecessary kanji that is at a much higher levels. Which I suppose is great, but it means you’re learning stuff that doesn’t appear on the exam. The other has a weird layout and tries to teach you the meaning to the kanji before the reading of the kanji (which to me doesn’t make sense, but I guess it depends on the person learning).

UPDATE: J-Talk Online now has a memrise course with all the N4 VocabularyThis consists of vocabulary only which you study using the kana only. This helps with remembering vocabulary itself rather than just learning to recognise the kanji and associating it with the English.


teach yourself japanese284 Kanji (including the 103 needed for N5) – You need to be able to understand the readings for kanji based words, they don’t test on the individual readings for a single kanji (although you can see a list of them here), so getting a list of the kanji and learning all the readings won’t help much (unless that’s how you enjoy studying). Another problem with learning a list like the one on Nihongo Ichiban is they put it in alphabetical order, which gets very boring very quickly.

I recommend learning the vocabulary so you know the meanings for words, and then learning the kanji that go with the necessary vocabulary. If you need a text book I recommend  the Basic Kanji Book volume 1&2 which each covers 250 kanji (so 500 kanji across 2 books), as well as their vocabulary, readings and writing (which helps you memorise how to recognise them)

I have a post on methods for Learning Kanji from Beginner to Advance.

UPDATE: I also now have  JLPT N4 Kanji Memrise course which takes about 4 weeks to complete and helps you learn kanji through vocabulary.


– Grammar – You need to know grammar forms for verbs, adjectives and particles. You can see a list/guide to the grammar on the wikipedia page for JLPT but I strongly recommend Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide where he doesn’t teach grammar by JLPT level, but in a logical way mixing verbs, adjectives and particles together so you’re not cramming the same kind of grammar into your brain. This helps as it also allows you to learn what you previously learnt when you learn something new. Again, if you’re a Memrise fan someone’s putting together his guide on Memrise for people to practice: Japanese Grammar Guide – Memrise.

UPDATE: Now you can study JLPT N4 Grammar using Memrise with J-Talk Online! Each section covers a particular grammar point to help you understand and drill grammar needed for the test.


– Reading – Reading will come last and be a good way to practice everything you’ve learnt. The best way to practice this is actually through past papers, which I’ve put some links to below. If you’re worried about this JLPT Bootcamp has a good walk through of the layout of this part of the test.


How long will it take me to learn everything?

This really does depend on you. It apparently takes about 300 hours to learn all the materials for N4 (including 150 for N5). But this can vary from person to person. If you only study Japanese 1 hour a week it will take you 300 weeks (which is about 5 years). If you do 1 a day that’s only 300 days or about 10 months. I recommend doing an hour a day and then more at the weekend including reviewing. This doesn’t have to be 1 whole hour in one go, you could do 15-20 minutes 3-4 times a day!


How do I study for the exam?

There are many different methods that vary depending on how you enjoy learning.

If you are not a highly motivated person (who aims to study an hour a day but finds themselves not doing anything for several weeks); I strongly recommend investing your money into at least 1 hour a week lessons with a private teacher. This will keep you working on your Japanese, and have a native person who can correct basic mistakes. Even if you aren’t a person who get’s distracted easily having someone once a week can really help in the long run.

When you’re studying at home on your own I recommend working through the vocabulary first, then alongside the kanji. Alternating study helps to not bore your brain.

As I mentioned, the more you practice, the faster you’ll learn, and the more you will remember through regular use. Even if it’s just 20 mins a day and then a few hours at the weekend, every little helps!

I find it helps to build your own schedule and goals. These might not always go to plan, but it’s not the end of the world and it’s worth trying the test even if you don’t feel very confident. Base the plan on how much time you have before the exam, break it down by what you need to study (giving yourself time to review), how you’re going to study them, and have realistic daily/weekly/monthly goals.

Here’s an example 6 month schedule for N4 JLPT:

  • Month 1: Re-cap ALL N5 vocabulary and kanji (especially those you were stuck on before) This leaves you with 700 vocabulary and 181 kanji to learn! Yay!
  • Month 2: Learn 350 vocabulary; begin to study kanji (aim for 100 vocabulary a week, or 15 a day)
  • Month 3: Learn 350 vocabulary; learn kanji using previously covered vocabulary (aim for 100 vocabulary a week plus 10 kanji a week with their vocabulary); begin going through grammar
  • Month 4: Learn kanji using vocabulary (10 kanji a week with their vocabulary); learn one new grammar a day
  • Month 5: Review vocabulary and kanji from scratch (focus on ones you don’t know well); Practice reading
  • Month 6: Practice reading; review vocabulary/kanji/grammar; do one practice exam a week

JLPT N4 estimated study time is 300 hours, but that includes the estimated 150 hours needed for N5, so you need to work for another 150 hours to pass N4.


Nihongo Challenge Series

About a month before you take the test try doing some practice exams! Even if you haven’t covered everything. JLPT Bootcamp has links to practice exams and JLPT website has some example questions.

You can also get practice exams and questions through books such as Nihongo Challenge for N4 and N5 and Goukaku Dekiru.

That might seem daunting and intense, but when you break it down it could just be 20mins -1 hour a day which can really build up.





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