When preparing for the JLPT, one of the biggest problems learners face is the large amount of Japanese vocabulary. If you live in Japan or at least get enough Japanese input then the listening section of the exam is easy enough. You can cram on the grammar and learning kanji intelligently will greatly ease your pain. With vocabulary though, there’s no getting around it. You have to expose yourself to the language and put in enough time to learn it.
As I mentioned here, I am planning to take N1 this summer. I have always been lazy about the JLPT but I figure that the certification might come in handy someday. One of my friends mentioned that he was using a free app called i-Sokki (limited version) for drilling vocabulary for the exam. I downloaded it last week and I really like it so far.
I-Sokki is easy on the eye. It’s a nicely designed app. It comes with the vocabulary for N5 unlocked already. You have to pay to get access to the other levels, but at $1.99 per JLPT level or $4.99 for all levels, the price is reasonable. I’m mainly working on N1 words but, just in case, I’m brushing up on the N2 vocab too so I bought the whole set.
There are three different quiz modes for testing your vocab knowledge. All of them are multiple choice.
Japanese Mode tests from Japanese to English so it is probably the easiest test as you can intelligently guess a lot of words without truly knowing them.
Kanji mode tests from Japanese to the kana reading. I use this one a lot. One small gripe I have with the Kanji mode is that you can only see the English meaning after you have finished the review session. I would like the option to quickly remind myself of the meaning but anyway, it’s a minor flaw.
Finally, there is Reverse Mode which, as you might expect, tests you going from English to Japanese. I rarely use this one.
The app tests you based on your “familiarity” with the various vocabulary. I think they do a solid job. I’m using I-Sokki during the little moments when I’m sitting on the train or waiting for a friend. I look up new words in my Wisdom Dictionary (reviewed here) and read through the example sentences to help the meaning take root in my mind. This strategy is working well so far, although I passively know most of the vocabulary already. Depending on your Japanese level, your results may differ.
I-Sokki is not a perfect app. Sometimes I find the same vocabulary repeatedly coming up on the tests, so I’m confused how the algorithm works. Also, there is obviously no way that the app can know your starting knowledge so you have to review a bunch of known words in the beginning. The biggest downside for me though, is that the other words in the test are usually very different from the correct answer. The kanji mode, for example, will often show three ridiculous meanings that are obviously incorrect with one reasonable looking answer. This makes things too easy as you can guess the answer without even knowing it. In the JLPT, similar looking answers are displayed to confuse you. I wish this app did the same. One way to get around this is to mentally test yourself before looking at the four choices being displayed.
With the few caveats I mentioned, i-Sokki is a handy tool for studying for the exam. I recommend you pick up the free version and see how you go.