So this guide is made using those and other online advice for complete beginners wanting to take the JLPT exams whether it be for masochistic fun, to push your language ability, or for school.
- ・One is able to read and understand typical expressions and sentences written in hiragana, katakana, and basic kanji.
Which to be honest is NOT very helpful if you want to know what you actually need to know. So first of all I'm going to explain, for those who don't know, how the test is broken down and how it's graded at the end. In the exam the questions are ALL multiple choice. There are NO speaking or writing sections. There are 3 papers, one that covers your knowledge of vocabulary (25mins), one that covers grammar and reading (50mins) and a listening exam (30mins). This is from the JLPT website again:
|N5||Language Knowledge(Vocabulary) 〈25min〉||Language Knowledge(Grammar)・Reading 〈50min〉||Listening|
Vocabulary knowledge covers: kanji reading, vocabulary spelling, using the correct word in context, and paraphrases (they give you an example word and you select the word that means the same thing).
The Language Knowledge sections are 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%). So you need at least a total of 80 out of 180 (45%) to pass the entire exam. 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:
- Katakana and Hiragana - These are the basics of studying Japanese and the sooner you can get them under your belt the better. I have constructed 2 Memrise courses to help with these where instead of just drilling the symbols you actually use them by practicing them with vocabulary. So if you're rusty on your kanas or a complete beginner I recommend giving them a go. Memrise Hiragana / Memrise Katakana
- 800 Vocabulary - This might seem like a lot, but as you work through them you find it's not that bad as they break down into nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
Nihongo Ichiban has a good list of what you need to know, and if you're into Memrise J-Talk Online does have a Memrise course for JLPT N5 vocabulary and kanji which is divided into daily lessons for about 8 weeks and is designed for complete beginners.
If you would like a bit more of a challenge and learn more than what's needed for the exam you an use JLPT Bootcamp's vocab/kanji guide, or ngupatricklam. They're each slightly different but both cover a lot more vocabulary and kanji, but this also means they're harder to study for because of the complex kanji. So you need to find one what works best for you.
- 103 Kanji - 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).
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 which covers 250 kanji, 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.
- 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 is you're a Memrise fan someone's putting together his guide on Memrise for people to practice: Japanese Grammar Guide - Memrise.
UPDATE: If you would like to get a book to study from for grammar I suggest the Try! Bunpou kara nobasu! series.
UPDATE: J-Talk Online now has a Beginners Japanese Grammar Memrise course which covers all the grammar needed for N5. I've made it so that you learn grammar the same way I learnt it at school, by drilling the same grammar points over and over using different verbs, rather than the grammar on it's own and out of context.
- 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.