Preparing for the Kanji Kentei (漢字検定)


What is the Kanji Kentei?

The Kanji Kentei (漢字検定), also known simply as “KanKen”, is a test of kanji and Japanese vocabulary ability. It is administered by the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation ( ほんかんのうりょくけんていきょうかい).

While aimed primarily at native Japanese speakers, the KanKen is also occasionally taken by non-native speakers who have already attained certification in a test such as the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, who want to push their Japanese ability to the next level, or who simply hate themselves. The test and all of its preparation materials are entirely in Japanese.

While the writing of kanji is a principle part of the KanKen test, it covers a wide range of Japanese language knowledge, including:

  • Kanji pronunciation (particularly proper knowledge of おんみ vs. くんみ), distinguishing between homophones, (kanji with borrowed sounds)
  • Antonyms and synonyms
  • Composition of 二字熟語にじじゅくご (two-character kanji compounds)
  • Proper use of おく, or kana suffixes/inflections
  • 四字熟語よじじゅくご (four-character kanji compounds)
  • Kanji writing and stroke order/count
  • (Level 2 and up) 国字こくじ (kanji that originated in Japan)

The test is divided into 12 levels, from 10 to 1 (there are also pre-2 and pre-1 levels). According to the Foundation’s own statistics, the most taken level (150K+ people/yr.) is 3きゅう, which covers 1,600 kanji. It has a pass rate of 45.7%. The next most popular level is 準2級じゅんにきゅう, or Pre-2, which is taken by around 103,000 people a year, and tests knowledge of 1,940 kanji. It has a pass rate of 31.8% - around the same amount of non-native speakers who manage to pass N1 every year.

The most ridiculous level is, of course, 1級いっきゅう, which tests a mind-numbing 6,000 kanji. It is only taken by 1,300 or so brave souls a year; only around 12% of test takers pass.

Should I Take It?

Since individual opinion and experience will vary widely, please include your username before adding your own thoughts. Be respectful and do not alter other user’s contributions outside of grammar or spelling fixes.

gaiaslastlaugh’s opinion

Some folks, like Koichi at Tofugu, have dismissed the KanKen as “too much” for non-native speakers. I haven’t actually taken the test as of this writing, but I’ve personally found the preparation to be a good follow-up to the JLPT. It’s definitely made it easier to write kanji (which I consider valuable), but it’s also deepened my kanji knowledge; it’s a lot easier for me now to hear a word I don’t know and guess what the appropriate kanji might be - and thus what the meaning of the word is. By also deepening my knowledge of the meaning of the kanji, and providing me with lots of simple sample sentences to drill, the KanKen prep materials have increased my working vocabulary.

One objection that might be leveled at KanKen study is that it drills you on a lot of vocabulary that you won’t actually use - e.g., more obscure terms like 開墾かいこん or (my favorite recent example) 闘鶏とうけい. While that’s true as far as it goes, I find value in learning such terms, as it helps you to learn multiple words that contain the same kanji. That helps to reinforce the kanji’s meaning, and makes it easier to recall later.

If you don’t consider tests valuable, then the KanKen may not be right for you qua test. But I’d still encourage people at advanced levels to grab some of the study materials. I think there’s value for learners even at the beginning and intermediate levels to start on the lowest levels of the KanKen training materials as a way of deepening their vocabulary and kanji knowledge.

How Do I Prepare?


A full guide to a larger number of books can be found on the KanKen Web site.

The Official Kanji Kentei Study Guides


The official books, also referred to as the Step series or the Step books. Breaks each level down in kana syllabic order with about 7-9 kanji per section, and offers questions that hit on most of the major topic areas covered by the exam. This also doubles as a great source of sample sentences in straightforward, simple Japanese that help drive home the meaning of critical vocabulary.

3DS Game(s)

The Official KanKen Game for the 3DS

Beyond the book, there’s also an official game, with sample questions on every major topic area up through 1級. The game also provides timed practice tests so you can simulate the real thing. The game keeps track of how many questions you’ve answered correctly on a level, and gives you a progress indicator of how close to “ready” you are on a given level.

I own this and have found it useful, but I don’t use it as my main mode of study. There are several things that are inconvenient about this app:

  • Nintendo loves region-locking, so you won’t be able to use this with a 3DS bought outside of Japan - a Japanese region-locked 3DS is required.
  • According to folks who’ve taken the test, the paper test has several marked differences from the digital tests included in the game. It’s a good idea to take some paper practice exams before taking the exam for realsies.
  • It can be hard to figure out what to study next in a given level. There’s no SRS built in, and after passing the 40% complete mark on a given level, you start to feel as if you’re seeing the same questions over and over again. I ended up feeling like I was practicing what I already knew, but not getting a chance to re-practice the items I found truly difficult.

Smartphone Apps

漢字検定トレーニング (iPhone | Android)


A simple, non-SRS-style practice app for the various levels. There’s a free version with a ton of annoying ads, and a paid version (about $6) that gets rid of the ads. Each level of the KanKen is divided into about 9-10 different sections focusing on a different skill, and each skill section divided into about 20-60 different sections of five questions each. The app keeps track of how many five-question sections you answer with 100% accuracy, and how many times you’ve gotten it 100% right.

This isn’t an SRS-based app - you just plow through each level how ever many times you do or don’t want. There’s some utility in using this app, and I sometimes pick it up when I’m out and about as a supplement to my Anki deck. The handwriting recognition is pretty good, and, unlike the 3DS game, it doesn’t penalize you for time; you can continue drawing a kanji for however long you like, and it’ll attempt to re-recognize what you drew. The handwriting recognition is also a little more forgiving than the 3DS game, which has both an upside and a downside.

Beyond the lack of SRS, my one beef with this app is that the sample sentences/phrases it uses are incredibly short and thus lack a lot of context. I feel the official KanKen books do a much better job in providing useful context for the questions.

Web Sites (Free)

漢字かんじ豆知識まめちしき - Kanji Trivia

One of my favorite Web sites for kanji knowledge. Even if you’re just a Japanese geek and have no intention of taking the KanKen, you might like some of the articles here, which dive into why certain kanji are constructed the way they are. E.g., what’s the difference between the radicals きへん and のぎへん, and how are these differences reflected in the meaning of the kanji that use them? Why is your friend named 咲, but her name is pronounced えみ?

This may be trivia, but it’s the kind of trivia that sticks in your head, and makes various aspects of kanji easier to remember, and even…dare I say…fun?


gaiaslastlaugh’s personal favorite web site for looking up kanji. You can input an entire word and receive separate links to each kanji. Kanji explanations include full on and kun readings, the kanji’s various meanings (in Japanese), stroke count, school grade level, and KanKen level.

Idiom Encyclopedia (四字よじ熟語じゅくご百科ひゃっか事典じてん)

A great way to study 四字よじ熟語じゅくご、or four-character compounds. Provides KanKen level, English definition, example sentences, and even an example dialogue to provide additional context on usage.

Old Practice Exams

Past exams and their respective solutions can be found by level on the official Kanken website here. These occasionally will get updated to showcase more recent exams.

You can actually modify the direct URL to some of those exams to find previously uploaded exams, or look elsewhere online to find archives for them. (TBD add links for this).

The Kanji Kentei Foundation also regularly publishes a set of green books by level, which are past years’ worth of exams, totaling 13 per level except for 準1級 and 1級 which are only offered three times a year. 準1級 and 1級 are combined into one book. You can find the Amazon JP links to the most recent year’s book on the official Kanken website here under " 書誌情報". You can still buy previous years’ green books on Amazon Japan if you need more practice.

Answer Sheets

You can find sample official answer sheets by level over here. They’re under 答案用紙 PDF

It’s a good idea to practice using these so you can replicate the conditions of taking the exam on paper as closely as possible. Note that in the actual test, the actual exam paper size is 375mm x 255mm (I measured the copy of the test they sent me - austin), so noticeably larger than letter or A4 size.


What level are you preparing for?

I eventually want to pass 2級, but want to take it level by level. I’m studying for 3級 now.

I may opt to tackle 準1級 if/when I get 2級 down, but I’ll see how I feel once I get there.

1 Like

Hi folks,

This was originally written with the intention of being posted on koohii’s Kanken Chronicles thread. That is obviously not possible now, so in hopes that someone will find this useful (and maybe funny if anyone else shares my bizarre sense of humor - unlikely), I’m posting it here. I’ve edited it a bit since I originally referenced specific posts in the Kanken Chronicles thread a few times but I guess people won’t be able to see that thread much longer sadly. I’m happy to answer any questions about preparing for or taking the test that I haven’t answered below. I may not be checking this forum regularly, so you’re also welcome to send me a PM to ping me if I haven’t responded in the thread. No I will not be sharing the Anki deck I have.

This could definitely be organized way better and I might update it the post to read better at a later date, but I’m gonna be traveling to Japan in two days so I gotta pack for that!

The Wall

Alright folks, here’s the text wall that no one asked for. Sorry for the remarkably bad formatting.


= Background =

Although there’s been expressed interest in me doing one, I’m not really a language log kinda person so this is the closest thing you’ll get. I’ll try to be as specific about my situation so whoever else is interested in pursuing this can try and predict what lays ahead for them. If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I talk about the questions, just go look at the sample questions on the official website. There hasn’t been a lot written here or elsewhere that I could find about taking this test in the US so I’ll write a little about that, specifically the one of the NJ locations.

Just to preface this text wall, I think a lot less highly than others do about this test and how meaningful it is, but don’t let that stop you if you’re interested in trying it out. It’s a pretty low time investment to try a couple of sample questions to get a feel and figure out if this is really something you want to spend time on.

I did RTK1 but not RTK3 a long time ago for reference, although I think it was barely relevant at this stage of my Japaneseing compared to my general vocab knowledge. I actually wrote down my reps on paper when I did RTK1. If you’re actually interested in being able to write kanji, air-writing it does not suffice because you won’t actually have any feeling for things like how close radicals should be to each other, or how large they should be relative to each other. I’ll be the first to admit that my handwriting isn’t great with regards to the above aspects, and it’s really clearly 外人っぽい. Well, writing rigidly in 楷書 style tends to be a giveaway for this kind of thing.

I’ve messed around with the Kanken Training 3DS game in the past, the first time being back in the summer of 2014. After my pal erlog passed he asked me if I wanted his Kanken study books (Step series 五Q~QQ and カバー QQ), I said something like “sure I guess,” as I happened to be in Japan that summer. Back then I had no intention of taking this exam and I wasn’t particularly interested in ever taking it. Purely through messing around with the 3DS game I took myself to a single borderline passing score on 三Q but it felt like a lot of brute forced memorization at that point without really understanding the vocabulary. Pretty sure I probably only passed 三Q once or twice because I had just gotten enough repeat questions I’d seen before. It was way too early in my Japaneseing journey and I lost interest at that point. I probably switched over to playing Ace Attorney instead.

Since then I pretty much just let those books sit on my shelf and didn’t do anything related to Kanken. It wasn’t until Zgarbas’ study log in November 2017, where I decided on a whim to try out seeing which tests on the 3DS game I could pass with pretty much almost no writing practice since then. Actually, I technically did a very small amount from my Anki cards, but it amounted to writing at most around 20 words a day on paper. Basically for whatever new vocab in my recognition cards I was doing in Anki I would write it down in my practice book for only the first review and never again after that; said vocab was not related to Kanken. I actually hadn’t added any new cards for probably a year or so at this point though, so I really wasn’t getting much regular practice. There might be something to be said about doing a minimal amount of writing practice instead of none at all, but I can’t say for sure. I can tell you that it’s really frustrating to not be able to recall the really basic Kanji that come up on these lower level tests. Anywho, I was able to borderline pass 4Q once before putting the game away again.

At this point I still had no interest in ever taking this test. I started my first full time job in 2018 (not related to Japanese at all), so I wanted to make sure I adjusted to the day job life before planning out what I would tackle next. My intention was to start doing pitch accent study. However, something else happened which made me change my mind. I started regularly taking a certain kind of medication (not for anything life-threatening or dire thankfully). This medicine causes a ton of side effects but the most relevant one to this experience is brain fog. It feels similar, but worse, than the keto flu if anyone knows what that is like. In short, it severely cripples your ability to concentrate. I didn’t even have the energy to read recreationally anymore because I’d just lose focus so quickly.

So it begged the question, what could I study mindlessly while on low energy? That’s when I thought about Kanken but I still didn’t really care that much. I am of the opinion that unless you either 1) really want to be able to phsyically write from memory or 2) really want to impress Japanese people via the cert, there are so many other things you could be doing instead. I didn’t care at all about the latter, and I didn’t care much about the former. The thing that actually changed my mind was realizing I had a great opportunity to prank my long time friend erlog and secretly send him a copy of my Kanken cert without him expecting it (it’s a dumb inside joke between us where I’d keep bothering him to send me his JLPT certs so I could use those instead of taking the test). I personally really don’t find that much value in having these certifications nor do I care that much about numerical evaluations of my proficiency. To me, wanting to see a number go higher feels like a psychological trick so it doesn’t really motivate me to go study more. No matter what the number is, there’s still more Japanese out there that I don’t know and could learn. That being said, I get that these things help a lot of people form more regimented or diligent study habits so I don’t actually judge people for this mindset. Do whatever enables you to get better at Japanese than the day before.

Anyway, once I figured out the rough outlines of what I could do to execute the prank, I was immediately on board. At this point you may be thinking, you’d have to be insane to put in the effort involved to pass 漢検QQ primarily for the purpose of a dumb inside joke. I am here to tell you that why indeed, yes I am that insane. So much so that I mapped it out like this:

  1. Pass QQ and get the fancy schmancy cert
  2. Print a copy of the cert
  3. Reach out to erlog and make up a story about how my friend is giving away his old PS4 games and find out what game he wants
  4. Buy game and then open it, fold up the cert copy and put it inside
  5. Buy some tiny pet bells to put inside of the game case so it makes an audible noise when picked up or moved to get him to open it up instead of immediately shelving it
  6. Send carefully prepared PS4 game to erlog and wait for the reaction

I actually did a similar thing with another friend with JLPT N1 (without actually sending anything; I just discreetly made a post on the koohii thread for this other friend to find and interrogate me about as he took it at the same time) in 2018, which I also wasn’t particularly interested in for any of the usual reasons learners take that test. That was so worth it for the reaction, and was only like maybe 2-3 months of studying material specific for the test or getting used to the format. I say “only” as though that’s not a long amount of time for something so dumb but compared to how long Kanken QQ took it wasn’t much.

= Studying Journey =

I had the Kanken step books and also a lot of cards already made in Anki so I wouldn’t have to spend as much time typing up the content from the Step books. I decided that if I could pass in 1.5 years this would be worth doing. I chose that timeframe based on the previous experiences in this thread.

And so I started officially starting serious study in late February / Early March of 2018, starting at a point where I was barely able to pass 五Q and 四Q after being very out of practice. In retrospect, given that I could borderline pass 五Q and 四Q already, I way overestimated how long it would take me to get to QQ. By September I managed my first (borderline) QQ 合格 in Kanken Training 2 3DS. By mid-October I was able to consistently pass in the game, so I was quite well ahead of schedule. That was a pleasant surprise. I felt pretty confident that I’d be able to pass if I could take the test in November, but I didn’t feel like flying over to California just to take it (the only place you can do CBT in the US), so I had to wait until January for the next test slot. I just kept doing practice consistently and daily until then.

It should be noted that the way this game presents the tests is not quite the same as taking the test on paper (more on this later). I was shooting for getting around 90% in the game to account for harsher grading on the actual test. I’m not really the kinda person that just keeps throwing money at tests and hopes for a borderline pass. I only want to bother with the actual test if I think I’ll actually pass. I also don’t find borderline passes that satisfying and plus, what matters more to me is actually having absorbed most to all of the material well.

As far as the acutal studying journey, I’m surprised I managed to keep it up because work actually got quite stresseful and I actually ended up looking for and transitioning to another job elsewhere. I did take September off between jobs, so I had plenty of time then to do Kanken among actual Japaneseing. That being said, the amount of time I spent daily on Kanken pretty much the same regardless of what was happening in my professional life. Throughout the journey, at minimum I spent at least 1.5 hours a day in Anki (most of which was Kanken cards), and on average I probably spent 2 hours a day on Kanken study (including Anki). I was doing 40 new Kanken cards a day, using the default unmodified scheduler (not the new Anki 2.1 experimental one). On November 17th I switched to 20 new cards a day until I ran out, as I was reaching the end of the material I had set out to cover in Anki. I also wanted to gradually reduce my daily Anki load. I tried to do as much of the Anki review as I could while on commutes to and from work, or while I was watching stuff. As many of you are aware I do the dumb jokes about spending all your time in Anki instead of doing real Japanese, but as far as studying for a test like Kanken, Anki is very well suited for it. The writing cards seriously bump up your review time by a lot though and that sucks.

For the initial levels I just blasted through 十Q through 六Q using the game, moving onto the next level when I got my first perfect score. By 五Q I started doing Anki cards (comprised of content from the Step books), while also doing the game. Again, moving onto the next level after a perfect score (and also moving onto the next level’s Anki cards). This meant I didn’t bother covering all the material for each level in Anki cards. By 三Q I decided to move onto 準QQ, and from 準QQ to QQ after consistently getting above 90% because I felt like the arbitrariness of forcing myself to get one perfect score was unnecessary and annoying. Although, with 準QQ I made sure I went through all the Anki cards I had (excluding 読み and 部首), before moving onto QQ study. Around passing 三Q I stopped playing the game daily.

So I think one thing I can say for certain is that for QQ, the corresponding Step book is insufficient to pass (for the lower levels it should suffice). I typed up some extra Anki cards from the パワーアップ section of the QQ Step book, this site, and the カバー QQ book I had (the book basically, groups tested questions by frequency so you can optimize your study - there’s a lot of different books that do this and any one of them should be fine). The パワーアップ section for those that don’t own the QQ Step book is just a section with a bunch of practice questions, after the normal chapters that cover a group of kanji at a time. I only bothered to type up things I got wrong or felt somewhat unsure about. The カバー book was particularly useful for more 四字熟語, since the Step books were a bit light on that content. For any words that I didn’t have covered in the Anki cards from the above resources, if I failed those questions in Kanken Training 2 3DS, then I added the card in Anki. This was a very small portion of the cards though. Actually later on since I was just looking for more resources to cover more ground, and I didn’t want to just go buy other books, I did find which has two unofficial practice tests, although those questions are more slanted towards covering the kanji unique to QQ.

You can really feel the jump from 準QQ to QQ in terms of difficulty. Sometimes you get thrown a 書き取り question that is basically filling in kanji for a proverb, some of which would be impossible to guess without having seen the proverb before. It wasn’t until I went through all the QQ cards I had (again, excluding 読み and 部首), and then on top of that some extra practice in the 3DS game, that I was able to scrape out my first pass in the game in September. I had also finished my aforementioned treatment early in late August, so my concentration capacities came back by mid September. Then I decided to go through all my 部首 cards for both 準QQ and QQ. In the game they give you 4 different choices per question, but this is too much of a hint. On the actual test, you have to just write down the correct radical from memory.

At first the 誤字訂正 section felt like one of the scariest ones but it’s actually not too bad. I found that when I improved my abilities in the other sections like 書き取り and 送り仮名 that 誤字訂正 got naturally easier without me going out of my way to practice that. Of course, I’d still recommend doing practice for this section somewhat regularly through the game, even if it’s just 5 of those questions a day (there are 5 of those questions per full length test).

Reading the previous posts the Kanken chronicles thread you might get the impression that the levels are all independent from each other. In fact, the same is said in the 5ch Kanken threads. This is mostly true, or true enough such it won’t make passing noticeably harder, up until probably 三Q. On QQ, some 準QQ content can pop up, and even some 三Q content can pop up. Especially with the 四字熟語 section, there’s 4 character compounds that can appear (according to the カバー analysis of past tests) that are listed on corresponding as far down as 五Q. I would say those are actually the more difficult ones to recall on QQ. Also, from 十Q through 四Q you can answer most of the 書き取り and 送り仮名 questions without really bothering to read the whole sentence, but by 三Q it gets noticeably harder to answer the questions without reading the full sentence due to the larger number of homophones.

Additional things to keep in mind about the game versus the actual test. In the game, the kanji you write down is interpreted and recognized by the game before you hit “submit”. This allows for being sloppy with hooks, or missing minor strokes, which would count as incorrect on the actual test. On the first 四字熟語 section in the game, you have to fill in either the first half or the second half of a set of 10 四字熟語. On the second 四字熟語 section in the game, it shows you a different random set of 10 四字熟語, 5 of which you need to match with a definition given. On the actual QQ test, the 10 四字熟語 you had to answer in the first section are also used in the succeeding section which have to be matched to definitions. That being said, the game can actually be harder than the real test for some sections like 四字熟語 and 対義語・類義語 because you only get to see one question at a time before being graded on your answer being correct or wrong, whereas you get to see all the questions at the same time on the actual test. Being to able actually see all the questions at the same time helps for eliminating choices. Starting October 13th I decided to take at least one QQ test in the game daily. Side note, this game will really make you hate writing 壌、譲、or 醸.

= Registration =

Registration for the January test opened up in October. The schedule for overseas offerings of the test isn’t the same as it is in Japan, in case anyone is wondering (see ). I sent a (poorly-worded) e-mail (in Japanese) to the Kanken administrator affiliated with this school (also listed as an official testing location on the Kanken website) to clarify how I was supposed to fill out the form. She replied back with my arch-nemesis: business keigo. In Japan of course you fill out your name in the order of last -> first, but since this was a Japanese school located in America I didn’t know what order I should fill it in. So for anyone who is interested in taking it at any of the affiliated campuses with this school, it’s last name -> first name. Then there’s also a bunch of other questions like what grade are you and what school are you affiliated with (所属部門、外部生、日本式の学年), none of which applied to me since I wasn’t even a student anywhere anymore (except at the well accredited Anki Addicts Anonymous University). The Kanken administrator told me I could just write nothing for those sections on the application. I also asked how long it would take to actually get the results by mail and she said to expect about 5 weeks given that there’s mail being shuffled between the US and Japan. She actually mentioned that after about 3 weeks the results are actually made available to the Kanken administrators, so if I really wanted to know earlier then I could contact her.

= Test Day =

So it turned out that there’s a Kinokuniya near the school where I was taking the test, and they had Kanken study books so I was just looking through them to kill time and do last minute practice for 30 minutes before I actually went over to the school to take the test. Lucky me I suppose, but I was already plenty overprepared as I described earlier.

So on test day I was the only adult test taker in a classroom with like nine other elementary or middle school kids. I expcted this based on what others have said about taking these tests outside of Japan. It would have been a pretty hilarious scene for anyone to observe since I had to sit at a tiny desk with a tiny chair. I did think there would be more kids taking the test, but I guess the school it took place at wasn’t that big. Another difference which I expected was how much larger (physically) the actual question and answer sheets were compared to the answer sheet I printed out for practice ( See “答案用紙 PDF” on ). My handwriting is pretty messy in general so I had to keep erasing and redrawing characters carefully on actual test day, even though I did practice more carefully closer to testing day to be more disciplined. All in all no huge surprises, although I was slightly miffed that they happened to put a 四字熟語 on there I hadn’t seen before (it was 報怨以徳) since I specifically put a lot of time aside to cover a lot of those and in practice tests I had those nailed down almost perfectly. But honestly, it didn’t matter since I knew from all my practice there was just about no way I was going to fail unless I got too many points docked due to my lousy handwriting.

I did confirm via e-mail after the 3 week mark that I had passed. It took longer (~7 weeks after taking the test) for the actual certificate and results packet to arrive at my mailbox.

= Ending Remarks =

Well I finally caught up to my “sempai”, and now I’m passing the baton onto Jay (gaiaslastlife) who has now inherited the aforementioned Kanken step books. Here’s to hoping that the strangely longish legacy of studying through these books continues on.

I don’t personally feel like the QQ certificate is actually that great of an achievement, not to knock anyone who is proud of having the certificate because it really does take a lot of effort to pass as a non-native speaker. If you look at the statistics, you’ll see the passing rate for QQ hovers a bit above 20%, but most of these test takers likely don’t go out of their way to study for this test and most of these test takers are probably high schoolers. While Japanese adults might not necessarily be able to pass right off the bat, if you do some googling it becomes apparently very quickly that the amount of studying Japanese adults would have to do is much less (probably 1-2 months tops, likely doable in less time). I mean, this is to be expected, and sure it depends on the education level of the person. However, since day one of doing any Japanese study I’ve always compared myself to adult, native speakers. “Adult native speakers” is grossly simplifying it but let’s leave it at that.

Actually I looked through some Kanken threads on 5ch. By and large, people seemed to be most concerned about the 四字熟語, which is fair because that probably is the hardest section. You get the least context compared to any other section and have to figure out which two characters to write.

As a side effect, my listening ability has definitely improved since the kana -> kanji conversion is much easier. Really though if your primary goal is to get better at listening, trying to pass a vocab writing test is probably not the best use of your time.

Apologies for conveying probably very little useful information in far too many words and in a roundabout fashion, but hey that’s kind of a Japanese way to do it so I guess I’m still on-brand. I’m happy to give tips or suggestions to the people who’re already committed to this path, even if I’d suggest otherwise. I don’t really know what it is people want to know about this test.

If I have one thing to say to people who talk about Kanken who’ve never taken it, please actually look at literally any level’s sample questions to get an idea of what it actually tests. Seriously people, this test is not the JLPT; a brief glance at the sample questions for any level will make this really obvious.

I think the most important thing I learned from this experience is that while other people are motivated by some kind of magic appeal of Japanese culture, or are fascinated by the beauty of Chinese characters (personally I’m not a calligraphy person), or have some extreme yellow fever, what really motivates me to study Japanese is to mess with my friends. Can’t say I’ve come by a more inspiring reason than that.

Anyway brb showing off to all the Japanesesers by naturally dropping it in conversation.




Some excerpts from the day my PS4 game gift arrived…

[21:26:09] <erlog> Holy ***ing ****
[21:26:11] <erlog> god dammit
[21:26:12] <austin> ?
[21:26:37] <erlog> My wife was like, "oh wow, this American dude just sends you a game, what about shipping? Damn, American people are ***ing suckers"
[21:26:54] <austin> They really are
[21:27:00] <erlog> and as I was opening it, "I was like, oh yeah, Austin is just a real solid dood you know"
[21:27:17] <erlog> And then I opened the letter, and, I ignored it to look at the rest of the pages
[21:27:20] <erlog> and you ****ing ***er
[21:27:26] <austin> ? What are you talking about?
[21:27:31] <erlog> sent your god damn 2kyuu cert
[21:27:38] <austin> 2kyuu? like JLPT N2?
[21:27:38] <erlog> for kanken
[21:27:44] <austin> What's a kanken
[21:27:46] <erlog> No, my wife made that same mistake actually
[21:27:56] <erlog> ****ing kanji kentei insane ****
[21:28:22] <austin> That's weird how did someone's 2kyuu kanken cert get stuck inside the game box
[21:28:30] <erlog> and you got a higher score


[21:32:48] <erlog> I have been so owned by this, and god damn. This may not have been like 3x or 4x the work of the N1 cert, but god damn, this is some legendary prank shenanigans

[22:17:47] <erlog> So the thing that actually is really ****ing me up right now
[22:17:57] <erlog> is your friend that got rid of his PS4 even real?
[22:18:17] <austin> erlog: No I completely made that up
[22:18:21] <austin> LOL
[22:18:36] <erlog> damn
[22:18:41] <erlog> that is some dedication

Here’s something else I found interesting that came in the results packet they sent me. They actually give you pass statistics by age bracket for 準1級 and 1級 for the previous year. I actually wish they gave me these stats for 2級 as I really want to know specifically the age statistics there, but I haven’t been able to find such a breakdown anywhere online. If anyone knows where I could find that please let me know.

I wonder if people who pass3級 get the 2級 age statistics.


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I’d like to meet that 15yo who passed 1級 :astonished:

For that matter, 準1級 at all of 9 years old is pretty phenomenal.

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Interesting how the 1級 stats shift so dramatically to ‘mostly older people’ compared to the level below.

Is there ever any ‘this is useful for my career’ motivation involved, or are test-takers at all levels just doing it for their personal satisfaction?

So I actually spent a lot of time trying to figure out what Japanese people actually think among themselves (as opposed to having their mind blown that a foreigner can pass 8級 or something and telling them that they’re super jouzu) about a Japanese person having passed Kanken2級, 準1級, and/or 1級.

It’s generally agreed that 2級 is not actually useful career wise so besides doing it for personal satisfaction and/or as a hobby, there’s not much point.

For 準1級 and 1級, some people say it can actually have an averse affect in your career prospects because an employer will see it and wonder why you didn’t spend your time doing something more useful.

The 5ch threads, especially the 2級 one, give you some pretty raw, honest opinions from Japanese people. I’ll refrain from linking to it directly because 5ch has all sorts of NSFW advertising, but just search for 漢検.

This is a Japanese page that gets cited occasionally to oppose the idea that the Kanken has any real value. I’ve not read it in its entirety myself as it’s quite long but there’s some interesting points there.

I think the most positive stuff I’ve personally seen is just generally that it’s kinda cool to reinforce your writing ability in the digital era and all that, and it feels satisfying as an achievement. But I have seen very little of anything as far as it being useful career-wise for Japanese people. I think that I read something about how it can be useful for certain high school applications or something of that nature. Once you reach 準1級 and 1級 that really becomes 趣味 territory as far as people are concerned.

Finally, my impression is that most Japanese people really just don’t care about Kanken one way or the other. For almost all of them, it affects nothing in their lives.

I definitely would suggest people search for Japanese people’s views on the subject if they can. The aforementioned 5ch thread, chiebukuro posts, and articles on miscellaneous sites are where I read about this topic. It’s always good to have additional sources of information though, since I could have missed other perspectives.


I had also previously posted my thoughts on the Kanji Koohii forum when I passed 二級 a few years ago. After that, I took a break from Kanken study, but came back to it a couple years ago to take a stab at Pre-1. Failed my first attempt in February, but took it again in June.

Well, the results are in, and I have passed 準一級 (Level Pre-1) on my second attempt. I guess I’ll give my thoughts, as I couldn’t find much written about this level in English. I can safely say this was the most difficult exam I have ever taken. I had taken and passed levels 4 through 2 around 2013-2014, but didn’t advance to Pre-1 right away due to the massive gap in kanji and vocabulary between 2 to Pre-1, the fact that I would have to get myself to a public testing site (I took 4-2 at the middle school I worked at as an ALT with the students after school, but Pre-1 and 1 are only offered at public testing sites), and just general laziness and study fatigue.

Thoughts on the value of the test:

Although the kanji and vocabulary are more obscure than the joyo list restricted 2 and below levels, I wouldn’t consider it totally useless, especially if you enjoy literature, as I do. For example, I showed a coworker at my current workplace in Japan some of my study materials once and they noted that the first word they saw, 謬見(びゅうけん), they did not know and had no recollection of seeing before. It later appeared in a Mishima Yukio novel I was reading (admittedly, I haven’t seen it again after, lol, but the Pre-1 kanji 謬 I have seen in other compounds, such as 誤謬). Many words are obscure, especially with the 四字熟語 and ことわざ, but some are downright common (埠頭、安堵). I was also happy to have learned the word 大嘗会 before the recent imperial coronation.

Many kanji and vocab from the test had a similar tendency to pop up in literary works I read, even some of the 四字熟語 (4 character compounds), and I would say I felt my reading speed and comprehension improve and the need for dictionary lookups decrease as I continued my studies. At least for me, studying for the test was useful for me, and if you’re a fellow bookworm, I think you’d be surprised at how much of the vocab is actually used.

Differences from level 2:

The main striking difference from 2 for me is the elimination of the kanji radical questions and the addition of questions with excerpts from actual literary works where you have to write kanji and readings for omitted words and also the addition of a section where you have to write in the missing word from various proverbs. The literary passages seem mainly taken from Meiji-era pieces. I was lucky on the excerpt section my second time, as one of the passages was from 舞姫 by 森鴎外, which I have read before.

Study method:

Up to level 2, I used the Kanken Step books to pull vocabulary from, drilling the vocabulary for each step before doing each activity. Unfortunately, there is no such book for Pre-1, so it’s not as easy to study in the simple increments of kanji and vocab, as provided by the Step books. What I ultimately did is copy all example sentences from the Kanken’s 完全征服準一級 book (no longer in print), and Kanken’s 精選演習準一級 book into a huge Excel spreadsheet, which I made vocab cards from. I would add about 10-15 new words a day in order from the book, and do writing practice of each word in the order it appeared in the books.

The main problem is that the pool of vocabulary is so vast, that you don’t get total coverage of test material just from any one book, so I ended up buying a separate book, 漢検マスター準一級, which claims to have a coverage rate of around 80% (the bare minimum needed for passing). To be honest, the Kanken Master book is the one I recommend –it’s beefier than the official Kanken books and it has the definitions for many of the words written on the page. But, really, I recommend getting that one and maybe 1-2 other study books to go through and pull words from.

After I got done studying all of the words I drew from the Kanken books, I would go through the books and try to solve the exercises on my own, writing out each word that I got wrong multiple times. In addition to the three study books, I also did practice tests from the official Kanken books of previous exams.


It took me almost 2 years to pass. At the beginning, I started slowly, and I also went back and reviewed previous levels a little to brush up on writing the joyo kanji, as I hadn’t taken a kanken test in years. Compiling the vocab decks took a lot of time, but probably from after a year in, I got more serious and studied harder. I failed by 2 points in the February 2019 exam (1 1/2 years of study), and passed the June 2019 exam (waiting on the exact score). I’m sure someone more dedicated with a more efficient study method (and better memory) could easily pass faster than me. At my most hardcore periods I could do about 3-4 hours a day, especially towards the end, but most of the time was probably as little as 30 min to 1 hr.


Finding definitions of some of the vocabulary is hard, as the more obscure words don’t appear in standard dictionaries. Kanken’s free Kanjipedia site is helpful, and I also used the official Kanken kanji dictionary, the 漢辞海 kanji dictionary, and the 大辞林 and 広辞苑 Japanese dictionaries. This provided coverage for almost all the words, but it can be a pain to do lookups. The definitions of some of the proverbs were harder to find; I bought a smallことわざ辞典 from 三省堂, but it only provided around 50% coverage. I found a massive proverb dictionary (成語林) for cheap at Book Off (used book store in Japan), but even that only improved coverage somewhat. Some are on the Kanjipedia site. 四字熟語 are easy to find, the official Kanken 四字熟語 dictionary is all you need.

The other pitfall is the aforementioned needing multiple study books to get enough coverage to stand a good chance at passing (although many Japanese people’s reviews I looked at said Kanken Master was all they needed, I don’t think it would have been enough for me). Admittedly, if I had started with the Master book first, vocab lookups and coverage wouldn’t have been as much of a problem.


  • If you’re aiming for Pre-1 or 1, don’t take breaks between the levels, like I did between 2 and Pre-1 – keep the momentum going

  • Start with the Kanken Master book; use the official Kanken books or other books for supplement

  • Get the official Kanken 四字熟語 dictionary

  • The Kanjipedia site is a great free resource

  • Despite what people say, if you’re a bookworm, it isn’t useless, and there are many words from it you will encounter in reading. As pausing reading to write down words to make flash cards with annoys me, this was a good way to review many of those less common words.

  • If you can’t put hours and hours in every day, prepare for a long-haul study routine you can keep up with

  • Making your own vocab decks is a good way to really become familiar with the meaning of the words

  • Information about this level and higher is murky on the English language/foreign learner internet, but it is totally doable for a foreign learner to pass, especially if you like literature…just be prepared to work hard at it


Thanks for sharing information about attempting and successfully passing Pre-1. I do find that a bunch of the coverage in English about this exam is questionable, so it’s great to see someone debunk some of the aura, even if I’m not personally much of an advocate of the exam itself.

For me personally I think I would get value out of at least learning to recognize and understand less common vocabulary that you’d only really see in books. Anyone who’s read even a modicum of literature will know that vocab that uses kanji outside of the Joyo set is not remotely uncommon. Where I draw the line is actually having to write them from memory. If I do any kind of study based off of Kanken resources in the future it will almost certainly be recognition-only on a subset of the material. Even if I were so inclined to go level pre-1 or 1, they’re only offered in Japan, and since I don’t live there that would make it a logistical hassle for me anyway.

To that end, I have been studying recognition of alternate kanji forms lately (specifically 旧字体). One of the benefits that I hadn’t thought about prior to doing so is that it’s easier to predict the on-readings because I’ll recognize the sound radical is just an alternate form of something I already know. It can also just make dictionary lookups quicker to recognize that they’re just swapping in an alternate kanji form for a word you kind of already know, in the scenario where you’re not given accompanying furigana.

Congratulations on the pass. Any documents on interesting statistics they send in the packet that includes the certificate would be cool to know about too!


I eventually did get the results packet about a week after the online results were posted, so I guess I’ll share some about that, too. First is the score breakdown. I ended up passing with a score of 171/200. The pass line is 160, which is 5 points higher than 2 (155). There’s also the chart that comes with any test that shows last year’s passing data. As probably mentioned somewhere before, the pass rates on the lower levels don’t correlate with how difficult the test would be for an adult, as those levels are taken mainly by schoolchildren in accordance with the grade level of kanji they should be at. The Kanken is promoted pretty actively in schools around here.

I got the age and passing breakdown, too, but it’s the same data that you got from Heisei 29 (2017). The other thing was an invitation to join the Kanken Lifelong Study Network, which is available to people who have passed Pre-1 or 1, and includes a membership card, a subscription to a newsletter, and invitations to some seminars and events they hold. It’s free, so I joined, but it said that the membership card and stuff won’t be distributed until September.

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Fellow KanKen taker here; just wanted to post where I was at so far; and if anyone seeing this had any unanswered questions on the lower levels, please ask. I used BuuSensei’s videos on youtube, and bought/went throught the yellow-and-red “Step” books and the yellow-and-green sample tests for each level.

Feb 2018: 10級 149/150
Jun 2018: 9級 148/150
Oct 2018: 8級 142/150
Feb 2019: 7級 99/200 (FAIL)
Jun 2019 7級 172/200: pass

I’m presently studying for 6級 in October, then hopefully 5級 in February. My eventual goal is undecided, but at a bare minimum, 3級, but hopefully pre-2級; or very ambitiously; 2級. Like all of us, I just want to be able to read better, etc…

I’ve also passed N5 and N4 with low scores; and plan to take the N3 in December. (JCAT 170 now).


It sounds like you’re going JLPT levels in conjunction with KanKen levels, and I have to say, I think that’s brilliant. I wish I had done that from the get-go.

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A tip on taking the test overseas: the official 日本漢字能力検定 site lists a few scant test centers. But those aren’t the only locations the test is given. I found out about a test center in my area by reading one of the local Japanese language newspapers. So if you live in a metro area with a decent Japanese population, check these papers and/or local community bulletin board postings around January/July for testing announcements.


Content for several 漢検 levels (7級 to 2級) will be adjusted to correspond with the 教育漢字 list revision that goes into effect Spring 2020. Details here.


Can anyone share some premade resources (vocab lists, Anki decks) for the Kanji Kentei if possible? I’m interested in level 2 at the moment, and lists of relevant yojijukugo, ateji, etc. would be helpful. I realize I can buy study materials, but typically I prefer to avoid manually entering in data into Anki entry by entry if possible.

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I don’t have any pre-made decks, but check out There is a ton of pre-digested 漢検 material for English speakers there.

Ping me in private message.

I actually emailed the author of to ask for the data in tabular format, but haven’t received a reply. The website is a little confusing:

  • The number of yojijukugo listed is very high. In general, online lists of yojijukugo number into the thousands. However, reports of how many you need to study for the test (e.g. suggest something on the order of 600 for level 2, much lower than what these comprehensive lists imply.
  • The material is very comprehensive for level 1 but I’m not sure how to find, for example, just the ateji relevant to level 2. Or the tricky readings list at all.

Regarding the amount of yojijukugo you need to learn, I ended up learning and regularly reviewing about about 486 / 2 = 243 yojijukugo (learned one half in response to another half) specifically for 2級, and 250 / 2 = 125 yojijukugo specifically for pre-2級. There is some overlap between pre-2級 and 2級 content, so the yojijukugo I learned for pre-2級 could count as well towards the 2級 yojijukugo count. That might be a slight underestimate because I think there were a very small handful of yojijukugo I did not bother learning both halves for, but I think it is safe to say I did not exceed 400, including pre-2級.

As an aside, I never took pre-2級 officially (I did pass on practice tests), so I can’t say for certain 125 yojijukugo is enough for the actual pre-2級 test.

In any case, the reason why the number “needed” seems to be a lot smaller is because not all yojijukugo, or vocab in general the test could cover, are treated equally on the test. Some are known to appear much more frequently than others on the test, which is why you can get away with studying much fewer than the total set of 2級 yojijukugo.

There are several books with practice questions that are separated by buckets of vocab coverage based on the questions that have appeared on previous exams (e.g. 99% coverage, 95% coverage, 90% coverage or something like that). Those are very useful if you want to guarantee a passing attempt, so I would recommend going through at least one of those books for 2級 if you want to study for it efficiently.

I didn’t bother targeting ateji separately for the test, but they would just come up in practice questions (Buddhist vocabulary anyone? - actually those are technically jukujikun I think…) so if you are studying off of practice questions for 2級 that should suffice. There’s always going to be some that appear on the test.

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