Passing the JLPT at any level requires being able to read some Japanese and of course the best way to learn to read is well….reading stuff. The problem with reading is that it's really hard. For most of us below the JLPT Level 1, pulling out a newspaper, book, or magazine in Japanese and just reading and understanding it is next to impossible to do in a reasonable amount of time. To be fair, those newspapers, books, and magazines are written for adults and the JLPT only tests up to a middle school level of language comprehension. If our Japanese reading level is the same as kids, why not read like one? Most people solve this problem using manga, but the JLPT makes you to read paragraphs not text bubbles with pictures. Thanks to my JLPT prep class teacher, I found a great way to study for the JLPT: Japanese Newspapers for Kids!
Using a Japanese newspaper for kids, like Mainichi Shogakusei Shinbun above, I developed a 5 step study method designed to increase vocabulary and kanji identification, reading comprehension, and confidence for taking the JLPT! Reading at the appropriate level makes it possible to practice reading similar paragraphs that will appear in the test and gives you the chance to identify vocabulary and kanji that are likely to appear in the JLPT.
1. Read the article without any helpful hiragana
2. Identify and list unknown words
3. Identify and list unknown kanji
4. Study the new lists
5. Re-read the article
Step 1: Read the article without any helpful hiragana
I know it's frustrating, sad, and hard, but reading the article first without any help will help you out in a lot of ways in the long run so stick with it and don't cry! The first thing that will result from reading the article without any hiragana is helping you to honestly assess your reading ability. It will show you the words you know and the ones you don't in black and white. The other important thing this step accomplishes is simulating the actual test. There will be no helpful hiragana in the real test, so why practice with it? If you are really serious about taking the test, you might also want to time yourself to see how long it takes to read a short article.
Using Evernote, I selected and added this text from an article on Mainichi Shogakusei Shinbun resulting in the above picture. The rockin thing about Evernote in this example is that it automatically makes a title and takes note of the original page you visited so you wont forget later! I then removed the pesky hiragana and gave reading the article my best shot.
Step 2: Identify and list unknown words
Crap…as you can see I've got a LONG way to go! In this step, highlight the words you don't know in red and hope you don't get an atomic red ink bomb like I did! It is important to be HONEST with yourself here. If you can't read it without any help from hiragana, or if you look it up in the dictionary and say "Oh, right, duh! I know this one!" mark it red Donny, because you are OUT OF YOUR ELEMENT! lol. More seriously, just be conservative, if you don't guess right the first time, it won't hurt you to practice those borderline words a few times. In the end, it is really good practice to identify difficult words as they are used in a paragraph. When you are finished, your list should look something like this:
Step 3: Identify and list unknown kanji
In the vocabulary list, find and highlight kanji in red that you can't recognize right away as demonstrated in the example above. Once identified, use a Japanese dictionary to make a list of kanji for future reference. I found the website jisho.org VERY useful in completing this step. Copy and paste the unknown kanji from the vocab list to the kanji list and as long as you don't cut and paste anything else, you can simply paste it again into the kanji search page of jisho.org. Once you look up the kanji, the website spits out more information than anyone can dream about that specific kanji. I recommend at least taking note of all the different readings for the kanji and the definition in English. One extra step I took was to include other words that that kanji appears in to practice recognition in general. Jisho.org has a great feature to do this by pressing on the link in the "Kanji" page called "Words Containing" and usually zillions of words will come up that use this kanji, which can then be paired down to common words if desired. Here is an example of a finished kanji list made from an article:
Step 4: Study the new lists
Now we get to the hard part: you have to remember all the stuff you just wrote down! Making lots of lists is a waste of time if you don't actually go back through them to learn the material. Try to use the words in a sentence, look up more kanji combination, use them in a diary or homework assignment, or use TextFugu to learn about remembering radicals to help you retain the lists you just wrote. Whatever you decide to do, be proactive and do something…anything! It will pay off for the text and for the next step in this method.
Step 5: Re-read the article
Now that you are the master of all the vocabulary and kanji that stumped you in the article you read, go back and rock it! Of course leave out the hiragana, and see how much you retained. If there are still words and kanji that you miss, go back to the lists you made and study them for a while and re-read the article again. Hopefully by the end of this process you will understand the meaning of the article, which will be a critical part in the new test. Practicing reading full paragraphs will make life a lot easier for you when you actually sit down for the JLPT. Good luck passing the JLPT!