I have this bad habit of avoiding grammar every time I study for the JLPT. I’ll either avoid it altogether or leave it until the last minute. But now I’ve found a great way to study grammar for the exam! It takes a lot of work but is really effective. This is, I think, the best way to study grammar for the JLPT.
1. Buy Yourself a JLPT Grammar Drill Book
Even if you don’t like spending money it’s well worth buying yourself a grammar drill book. Do this asap! I suggest starting this at least a month before the exam (not 1 week before like I did…). If you’re not confident with grammar and/or don’t have much time to study, then start even sooner (2-3 months beforehand, especially at the higher levels).
You can also buy yourself another grammar book from series like Shinkanzen Master or Try!. but I strongly suggest holding off on those and starting with the drill book before a work/textbook (I will explain why).
- Nihongo Power Drill Grammar 日本語パワードリル 文法
N3 – ISBN-13: 978-4872177848
N2 – ISBN-13: 978-4872177831
N1 – ISBN-13: 978-4872177824
- Drill & Drill Grammar ドリル&ドリル日本語能力試験 文法
N4 – ISBN-13: 978-4896894974
N3 – ISBN-13: 978-4896894868
N2 – ISBN-13: 978-4896894769
N1 – ISBN-13: 978-4896894790
You may notice there are no books for JLPT N5. I’m not sure why but I think it’s is because there is no complicated grammar in the N5 exam (and arguably N4) and they just test your knowledge. So you can easily study the beginners grammar for the exam using online resources.
Levels N3 and up gets a lot more complicated. Not only that but the exam will try to trick you with made up grammar and complicated combinations. Often these tricks don’t turn up in exercise books, but they’re sometimes used in drill books.
2. Work Through the Drill Book
One important thing before you start is do not write in the book. I think you should avoid writing in Japanese study books anyway (even if they’re workbooks), but there’s a particular reason this time.
- Grammar drill book
- Lined notepad
- Computer w.internet
What to do:
- Try and answer the questions for a page/section (even if you don’t know the grammar).
Write your answer in the notepad.
- Check what you got wrong/right.
- Write down any grammar you don’t know in the notepad while looking up the meaning for the grammar online.
(japanesetest4you is a great site for easy to understand grammar definitions＊)
Write a short meaning (in a way YOU understand) to the left of the grammar (i.e in the margin).
- Cover the English meaning and try to remember it.
Drill by handwriting any grammar you got wrong.
- Repeat with the next page/section.
It may take you an hour+ just to do one page/section, BUT it’s worth it.
+ Try and do at least 2 pages/sections a day.
+ Make sure that at regular intervals you go over previous grammar notes and re-test yourself before moving on.
+ If you find yourself constantly re-learning the same grammar points then I suggest making flashcards or another sheet of paper specifically for those for you to drill.
By the time you’ve gone through most of the book you will know all the grammar and how to answer the questions.
＊One quick note: Sometimes online websites or textbooks don’t explain grammar very well. I find it helps to look at the example sentences and pick one phrase out that will help you remember the meaning/usage of the grammar. As I said in Studying Japanese Grammar When You Hate Grammar: you need to explain the grammar to yourself in a way that YOU understand.
3. Go Through the Book Again the Week Before the JLPT
Before the test go through the entire grammar drill book from the beginning to end. Or at least as much as you can.
This is why it’s important not to write in the book! If you write in the drill book you’ll give your future self answers and hints that won’t help you practice.
Do not write any notes this time, just try and go through as much as you can before checking your answers.
Make sure you make notes of any grammar you got stuck on when you go through the answers so you can re-learn those.
Why Not Get a Grammar Workbook/Textbook First?
I have bought grammar books and gone through them a few times. My favorite series is definitely Try! Bunpou kara Nobasu! (which I write a review of here), although there are the Shin Kanzen Master and Nihongo Soumatome series. But these books lack a few things:
- Definitions of grammar, but they aren’t always clear definitions which you will understand.
- Practice exercises, but not that many and not to the same level of the tests.
- Takes a long time to work through books (you can spend the time more productively).
- Doesn’t go over past grammar (the exam has a mixture of grammar from all previous levels).
After you’ve gone through the drill books it can be good to go through one of these grammar books if you have the time. They have give more specific detail about the uses of grammar. Such as grammar that’s only used in formal or casual situations etc.
Why This Works
- Learn to distinct grammar from similar grammar.
- Learn most common grammar points.
- Learn you previous level’s of grammar you might not know/have forgotten. (You won’t get this in a specific JLPT grammar textbook)
- You learn to associate the grammar to the context rather than the English meaning alone. (In other words, if you just learnt the theory without the practice you’ll probably get more of them wrong)
- Learn to recognize grammar from incorrect grammar made to trick you.
- Learn to recognize grammar in complicated forms.
- Practice difficult grammar questions (sentence reshuffles, grammar in readings, etc.)