JLPT - Vocab vs Kanji



Hey everyone.

When looking up JLPT information, people say you need to know such-and-such vocabulary and such-and-such kanji. What exactly is the difference in the sense that much of the vocabulary has kanji in it, yet more and many different kanji than what is in the actual kanji lists? What does “knowing” either of them actually entail?




こんにちは (Konnichiwa) JohnB232,

Thanks for your question! 


Each JLPT level has a very set list of vocab and kanji you need to learn. 


Sometimes you may see vocab written in kanji that you are not required to know at that level of JLPT. Don't worry! This doesn't mean you need to learn it! 

Since most words in Japanese can be written in kanji characters, you will often see vocab written in kanji: even if you don't need to learn it for that level of JLPT. 


Practicing vocab using kanji is a great way to help you remember new words, but you won't need to know the kanji for this vocab unless it uses kanji required for that JLPT level.

For example, the word 上手 (jōzu) “skillful" is an N5 vocab; however, the kanji 手 is an N4 kanji, so you wouldn't be required to know the kanji for this word: just the word itself. 

As long as you can read the hiragana and remember what the word means, you're good to go! 


Likewise, as you are learning kanji, you may come across some vocab in examples that's not part of that JLPT level. These words are usually here to help you practice with different readings, and see how the kanji is used in different words. However, you won't be required to remember this vocab unless it's part of the vocab list for that level. 

For example, 名 (me/na) is an N5 kanji; however, 名刺 (meishi) “business card” is not an N5 vocab, so you wouldn't be required to remember this word. You would however, need to learn the kanji 名. 


In summary, as long as you stick to the vocab/kanji required for each level, you'll be fine! 


I hope this helped! Please let us know if you have any more questions.


べんきょう を がんばって ください! (Benkyō o ganbatte kudasai!)



For further clarification, what must one know about a given kanji?

One thing I began doing a little while ago is making flashcards with the kanji on one side and the primary English meaning and primary On/Kun readings (all as noted in the Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary) on the other side. This practice seems useful to some extent, but sometimes I feel I'm wasting my time. 

名 has a primary meaning of “name,” the Onyomi are メイ and ミョウ, and the Kunyomi are な and -な.

Is it particularly useful/necessary to learn all these readings without knowing (if only temporarily) quite how they fit into words or what the words mean (beyond the primary, general meaning)? Obviously, learning the words is the goal, but sometimes I feel like I'm just associating meanings and symbols to "arbitrary sounds." 

A kanji such as 上 has 16 different primary/common readings. To “know” this kanji for the JLPT, must each one (more or less) of those readings and their meanings be known?

Thank you again!



こんにちは (Konnichiwa) JohnB232,


Good question! 


The short answer is no. Depending on the JLPT level, you don't need to know all of the readings. You only need to learn the readings used in the vocab for that level. 


JLPT will never test on kanji out of context. It will always ask you to give the reading for a certain kanji as part of a word: and this will always be a word that's part of the vocab for that level. 


For example, despite the fact that there are 16 different readings for 上, at an N5 level, you would only be required to know 5 to read all of the N5 vocab that use this kanji:


上る (noboru) - required reading: のぼ (nobo)

上げる (ageru) required reading: あ (a)

上手 (jōzu) required reading: ジョウ (jō)

上 (ue) required reading: うえ (ue)

上着 (uwagi) required reading: うわ (uwa)



However, instead of making a flashcard with 上 on one side and these 5 readings on the other side, I would recommend writing the kanji as part of a word one one side, and the reading for that word on the other. For example, 上げる on one side and (あげる) “to raise” on the other side. 


Remembering all the readings for kanji is a real challenge out of context, but by writing the kanji in a word like this, it can really help!

You can also tackle the kanji and vocab you need for that level at the same time - which is a bonus! 


Note that you will ONLY be tested on the kanji for that level of JLPT.  For example, at an N5 level, you would only need to be able to read the 上 (jō) in 上手 (jōzu), and not the 手 (zu), since 手 (zu) is an N4 kanji.  

Because of this, you may get test questions that look something like this:

サッカー が 上ず です。 (Sakkā ga jōzu desu.)

See how only the 上 is written in kanji? 


I hope this helped! Please let me know if you need any more explanation.


べんきょう を がんばって ください! (Benkyō o ganbatte kudasai!)

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