How I Managed to Pass JLPT N2—But Still Feel Far From Being Fluent

In this post, I share some resources for JLPT N2 preparation. I also reflect on my study methods so far, and why passing the exam makes me feeling further from fluency.

A photo of So-matome Dokkai N2 book and kanji writing worksheets

In my 2022 Retrospective blog post, I’ve briefly shared my accomplishments around improving my Japanese language skill in the past year. In this post, I would like to share a bit of a more detailed “milestone check-in” of my learning journey.

I’ve written my previous update on passing the JLPT N3, so this time—as you might guess—I’ll be writing my retrospective around my experience of taking the JLPT N2. With that, I’m happy to share that I passed the JLPT N2 exam that I took last December. Again, the same as how it went with the JLPT N3, I barely passed.

Here’s my score:

  • Language Knowledge (言語知識): 30/60 (passing mark: 19 points)
  • Reading (読解): 27/60 (passing mark: 19 points)
  • Listening (聴解): 44/60 (passing mark: 19 points)
  • Total score: 101/180 (passing mark: 90 points)

Again it’s similar to my N3 score: my strength is in the listening section, while again I bombed the reading section, though luckily I passed the passing score threshold. The reason I’m sharing my (not-so-great) score is to advise readers to take my experience with a grain of salt — I’m sure there are more reliable sources (articles or blog posts) about how to prepare for the JLPT exam, and you should do what those posts tell you to do instead.

So, why do I bother to write this post anyway? Well, first of all, I want to do a self-retrospective to help myself move forward in my Japanese language learning. And writing helped me to make a structured reflection on my studying approach so far. Then, second of all, I want to share that while having the JLPT for a milestone of your language learning journey is a good motivation, I wouldn’t recommend studying solely for the exam if fluency is what you’re reaching for. It’s a different story though if you are required to have the JLPT Certificate for work-related reasons — in that case studying solely for the exam might be what you need after all.

Continuing The “Grind”

There is not much change in my study habit before the N2 exam compared to when I prepared for the JLPT N3 exam. My main “grind” was still around doing reviews on WaniKani (for kanji and vocabulary) and Bunpro (for grammar). Before the N2 exam, these were my stats on those web apps:

Bunpro. I completed all N3 grammar points and was halfway through the N2 grammar points. Honestly, though, I have a hard time making the grammar “stick” so after the N2 exam, I paused subscribing to Bunpro and allocate the budget for something else instead (more on this later).

WaniKani. I leveled up to Level 33, just a few days before the exam. According to, on Level 32, I should know around 70% of N2 kanji. But I would like to emphasize that there is a difference between being able to answer WaniKani reviews and recognizing kanji and vocabulary in the wild. More on this later in my reflection section.

Aside from BunPro and WaniKani, here are other resources that I’ve been using throughout my study:

日本語総まとめ N2 読解 (Nihongo Sou Matome N2 Dokkai). This is a practice book that is part of the Sou Matome series. For N3, N2, and N1 levels, the series consists of 5 separate books each for reading, grammar, vocabulary, kanji, and listening comprehension. I picked up the N3 Dokkai book after the N3 exam. I enjoyed how the reading exercises are formatted — thus decided to continue and pick up the N2 level as well. It’s designed to be finished in 6 weeks, with 2 pages of exercise to be done each day.

TODAI Easy Japanese News. This one is a mobile app to practice Japanese skills through reading and listening to the latest Japanese news. However, I mainly use this app for the JLPT Practice Test. The practice test is timed just like the real exam, though you can put the app in the background to “pause” the test and continue to finish it later. You can download the app for free for iOS or Android.

YouTube & Podcast. I also incorporate watching and listening to podcasts and videos related to Japanese learning into my study routine. Most podcasts have an accompaniment video on YouTube that displays a transcription of the episodes. Some of the podcasts I listen to are YUYUの日本語Podcast, Miku Real Japanese, 日本語withあこ Nihongo Picnic, and Let’s Talk in Japanese. Additionally, I’d also recommend 日本語の森 (Nihongo No Mori) videos for grammar explanation (and particularly this video if you’d like some cramming before the exam).

Stories, Books, and Manga. After passing the N3 exam (and while preparing for N2), I felt like I lack in the “studying through context” department. So, I tried to read more Japanese literature, while keeping it casual,  as I want the time spent on reading to be more of a “leisure activity” instead of “studying”.

Aside from reading novels (and “attempting” to finish them, I’ve only finished one novel so far: また、同じ夢を見ていた), I also tried a free month trial subscription to Satori Reader, yet another app for Japanese reading practice through annotated stories. On top of great voice actings (yes, the stories there are equipped with audio accompaniment), the stories suit my taste as well. Spoiler: I signed up for a monthly subscription after the trial period, and paused my Bunpro subscription instead (to avoid excessive spending, of course).

And, for some “lighter” reading, I also read ongoing manga in their RAW format (i.e. in Japanese). Some mangas I’ve been following are 見える子ちゃん (Mieruko-chan) and Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card-Hen. RAW (as in non-translated) chapters (or at least the latest chapter) for both of these series are available to read online for free legally.

Note that I don’t consume all of the above-mentioned resources every day. Instead, I swap them out from time to time to avoid getting bored and burned out. Even for a resource such as the Sou Matome reading practice book, on which you’re supposed to work on 2 pages each day, I had some days where I skipped reading it just because I needed something fresh and different in my study routine.

Reflection After Taking The Exam

Okay, so I had been studying with all those resources, and then December 4th came. I went to the exam site and did my best to answer all of the questions (yes, in JLPT where there is no point deduction for wrong answers, you may as well guess the answer when you don’t know the answer). So, how did I feel after finishing the exam?

The N2 was a different beast than the N3. I remember in the N3 exam, my main struggle was with the reading (読解) section. In the N2 exam, I struggled on every section of the test including Language Knowledge and Listening.

The reading section was still the hardest. Knowing how to read a whole sentence does not mean I can understand the meaning of the sentence, let alone the whole passage. Even the fact that I finished two So-matome reading books before the exam and have 70% of N2 Kanji under my belt, I guess my reading speed was still not sufficient and I wasn’t able to finish reading all passages within the time limit. I think I would need to read more things in context (i.e. reading articles, books, etc) rather than relying too much on grinding my WaniKani level.

Relying on “hunch” to guess the answers. Even before the exam, I knew that my reading skill is still below what I intended to reach after barely passing the N3 exam. That’s why I intentionally “cheat” around the exam by exercising on the type of reading texts and building an exam “muscle” to know how to guess the correct answer without reading or understanding the whole text. This also applies to other sections, like vocabulary or grammar sections (especially the sentence scramble part). I relied mostly on my hunch to guess the answer to questions that I don’t know the answer to (and there were a lot of them that falls into this category).

Feeling Far From Fluent. When I put down my pencil in the exam room, I couldn’t make up my mind whether I would pass or fail the exam. I imagine, when someone whose Japanese is actually level N2 (or maybe above), finishes the exam, they would have a feeling of certainty that they will pass the exam. But it wasn’t the case for me. I wasn’t sure of most of my answers.

I just kinda hoped that I could, by chance, pass the exam. And fortunately, I found out that I did.

Although I felt really happy after finding out I passed the N2 (I couldn’t even imagine I could do it the year before), I also got this mixed feeling of I passed N2 but why do I feel like I’m further from being fluent?

I think that this is mostly because of two things: first, the JLPT is not the right measure to test fluency, and the exam seemed to be designed to test one’s comprehension, to some extent. Second, although I only intended for the JLPT to be a “self-check” on my learning progress, unconsciously, my study methods had me strayed away from the main goal of “fluency”. Instead, it has become leaning more towards “passing the JLPT” as the main goal.

Moving Forward

So after passing the JLPT N2, the first question that popped into my mind was: Should I take the N1 exam next? And my current answer is not now.

I won’t be targeting to pass JLPT (in this case, N1) anymore. I am not even planning to sign up for the exam this year. Instead, I want to continue learning at my own pace right now, relying on my current level to learn more vocabulary and grammar. I’d still be continuing on my WaniKani grind, though, as it has been proven to help me learn the other aspects of the language. Maybe when I can say confidently “I’m fluent in Japanese”, only then I will try to take the N1 exam.

So what does “learning at my own pace” entails? I am now setting two main “themes” this year: improving my Japanese comprehension from context and improving my ability to produce output in terms of writing and speaking. I refer to them as “themes” and not “goals” because they are more continuous things that I’d like to focus on.

To improve my Japanese comprehension, I’ve been gradually increasing my exposure to Japanese media. On top of the existing YouTube channels I’ve mentioned above, I am trying to expand to watch more channels, to diversify my input. Some additional YouTube channels that I’ve been watching lately are あかね的日本語教室 and けんさんおかえり. Their videos are vlog style, such as traveling around Japan or eating in restaurants — so I find them enjoyable, just like watching variety shows on TV.

Another small change that I did was setting up my phone’s main language to Japanese including the voice of Siri and Google Maps directions. It was a bit daunting at first, but once I got used to it, it turns out I remember most of the menu location anyway thanks to habit. After a while, I also ended up recognizing most of the words based on the kanji and vocab I’ve learned, and I’m surprised how much I could understand. Even when I don’t understand something, and only when I got curious, I’d just open up my dictionary (imiwa?), or use the in-built translation feature.

I also try to follow social media accounts (mainly Twitter) that mainly write posts in Japanese. Whenever I’m interested in something, I try to search social media using relevant hashtags in Japanese, and from then I would try to explore a little bit, and follow the accounts that caught my interest. It also helps to follow accounts of native Japanese teachers, as they usually write in an easy-to-understand Japanese tailored for language learners.

The most important thing is to find content that you’d enjoy and try to watch a video (or chapter?) or two, and try to stick to it as an everyday routine. Sometimes, there are contents that people may say it’s good for learning, but it doesn’t match your taste. That’s alright, everyone has their own interest so you should find what you like. When it’s something you like, the study habit became less than a chore and more of an entertainment.

For example, I mainly like anime OSTs, piano, and music theory as a hobby, so I try to learn song composition terms in Japanese and watch music theory videos by Japanese composers or musicians. Or even as simple as looking up and trying to understand the lyrics of Japanese songs is also a learning opportunity.

As for improving output, I’m taking it slowly, since I was focusing on input last year. For speaking I’ve managed to routinely attend conversation lessons every other week with my tutor whom I found on italki. I had been postponing taking consecutive italki lessons since trying it out last year, but I managed to overcome my pre-lesson anxiety this year, and have been enjoying the lessons so far. I also had a chance to have a couple of interviews (like job interviews) fully in Japanese, and it was a great learning experience.

Aside from speaking, I also try to practice writing tweets (as in posts on Twitter) in Japanese from time to time. The interviews that I mentioned before, also had me prepare some presentation slides & scripts in Japanese, and again it was a good opportunity to put my Japanese skill into practice.

I’m also incorporating kanji handwriting into my study routine this year. I know, there was this whole debate that it’s a modern era, and you wouldn’t need to handwrite kanji, but I’m a bit of an old school as I still write my daily journal entry by hand. I also like the fact that kanji has a set of stroke order on how to write them, so it’s a bit therapeutic for me. For daily review, I’ve been using the worksheets provided by (printing them out, then practicing writing with a pen) and also using the Ringotan mobile app.

Overall, for this year, I don’t have a specific goal to achieve. Instead, I just want to make use of what I’ve learned so far (kanji, vocabulary, and grammar) to level up my comprehension and practice my output more often. This year I won’t have as much time to study as intensively as last year — more on this in a separate post — so I think I’ll just have to make this year less studious and more into an enjoyable immersion.