Use the Kanji Kentei to improve your Japanese

Kanji Kentei 漢検What is the Kanji Kentei?

The full name of the Kanji Kentei is actually the 日本漢字能力検定 (Nihon Kanji Nōryoku Kentei, shortened to Kankei by Japanese people) or the Japanese Kanji Aptitude Test, and is an exam that tests your kanji ability. The thing about this exam is that it’s designed for Japanese people by Japanese people and so is can be very hard, even for Japanese people, but can be passed, even by foreigners.

There are 12 levels of the exam each testing you on kanji’s reading, writing, on’yomi, kun’yomi, stroke order, the ability to use them in sentences and more.

Even if you don’t take the exams it is worth studying for them to greatly improve your understanding and ability to use kanji, and therefore your writing and reading abilities. These are especially useful for advanced learners as the Kanji Kentei tests beyond the JLPT N1 ability, testing up to 6000 kanji!


Kanji Kentei Levels

Wikipedia has a more detailed breakdown of each of the levels, the following is a brief summary what each level tests on.

Kanji Kentei examLevel 10:
80 Kanji

Level 9:
240 Kanji

Level 8:
440 kanji
Tests on’yomi, kun’yomi, stroke order, how to write kanji, use them in sentences, names of radicals, homonyms and antonyms (opposite words i.e hot/cold)

Level 7:
640 kanji
Tests on everything in Level 8 including idiomatic phrases and kanji compound words.

Level 6:
825 kanji
Tests on everything in previous levels and three-kanji compound words.

Level 5:
1006 kanji
Tests on everything in previous levels and four-kanji compound words.

Level 4:
1300 kanji (write about 900)
Tests everything in previous levels and radicals required to use a kanji dictionary.

Level 3:
1600 kanji
Tests everything in previous levels and ateji (当て字) (phonetic readings of characters), special or unusual kanji readings.

Pre-Level 2:
1940-2136 kanji (all joyo kanji)
Tests everything in previous levels and “complex” radicals

Level 2:
All of the joyo kanji + 284 kanji used in names
Tests on everything in previous levels and “special” compound kanji words

Pre-Level 1:
Read and write 2965-3000 kanji
Tests on everything in previous levels, kanji unique to the Japanese language, and classical Japanese proverbs.

Level 1:
Read and write 6355 kanji
Tests on everything in previous levels, unusual kanji readings, place and country names, and “the ability to recognize relationship between modern and ancient or old character forms”


Kanji Kentei step books


Study Materials and Methods for the Kanji Kentei

Some of the best people to get advice from about studying Japanese is not native Japanese people, but foreigners who have gone through the process of studying themselves. Such as Bret Mayer, aka Bu Sensei, an first foreigner ever to pass level 1 of the Kanji Kentei (in 2012). He has recently started a youtube series where he aims to help others study kanji, and take and pass the Kanji Kentei exams.

Here’s his advice:

Core Textbooks:

  • 漢字学習ステップ (Kanji Gakushu Steppu) (buy from
    Introduces all new kanji for that level (not previous levels): readings, stroke numbers and order, radicals, meanings, compound words and vocabulary.
  • 漢検 分野別問題集 (Kankei Bunyabetsu Mondaishu) (buy from
    Practice questions that covers all problems the test might throw at you.
  • 漢検 実物大過去問 (Kenkei Jitsubutu Dai Kakomon) (buy from
    Larger format of past exam papers (with less practice exams but closer to the exam formatting).
  • Another optional resource are the various DS games for the Kenkei. There are a number for the DS and 3DS, but you will need a Japanese 3DS if you want to play the 3DS ones (regular DS is region free). (buy from

Here are some more of Bu Sensei’s videos looking at specific parts of each level:

Level 10:

  1. Part 1 Basics
  2. Part 2 Reading
  3. Part 3 Stroke Order
  4. Part 4 Writing

Level 9:

  1. Part 1 Basics
  2. Part 2 Reading
  3. Part 3 Writing
  4. Part 4 On’yomi and Kun’yomi
  5. Part 5 Stops and Hooks
  6. Part 6 A Stroke Order
  7. Part 6 B Stroke Order

Level 8:

  1. Part 1 Basics
  2. Part 2 Reading
  3. Part 3 Stroke Order
  4. Part 4 Kanji Opposites
  5. Part 5 Homophones
  6. Part 6 Radicals

These will be updated as he updates his video but you should subscribe to his channel if you want more!

The best way to study the kanji, their readings, stroke order, vocabulary etc, is to write them down and read them out loud. Don’t forget the importance of repetition and frequent study.


Even if you don’t take the exams studying for them can be incredibly useful for improving your Japanese.


Study Kanji Kentei, Learn Kanji, Profit
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