How to Study Kanji

Prepared for the Canadian Association of Japanese Language Education in August 2001

Use Kanji Proficiency Test Materials

The Kanji Proficiency Test is based on the school years in Japan and it is recognized by Monbukagakusho. Level 10 is the lowest, representing the first grade of elementary school, and it includes 80 characters. Level 1 is the highest and it includes 6000 characters. Using these books lets students study the characters in a comprehensive, methodical, and logical way.

The student is expected to study one or two chapters per week and then come to class prepared for a quiz. To prepare, the student will need to supplement the information in the book with at least one good dictionary. (I recommend a new Wordtank and a good kanji dictionary with lots of compounds and examples.) The student is expected to learn how to write the character (including number of strokes), all readings (and whether the reading is on- or kun-yomi), the name and form of the radical, the basic meaning of the character, and the meanings of the compounds that are given in the textbook. Some students will prefer to keep a notebook with all of this information and others will just try to remember the information without writing it down. After studying the kanji, the student completes the three pages of exercises, making note of any difficult questions.

During the class, the teacher first uses flashcards to do a pre-test on the student’s knowledge of the characters. The teacher should create flash cards with the readings (or the meaning) on one side and the character on the other. It is important for the student to be able to both recognize the character and recreate it from memory.

After the pre-test, the teacher will give the student a written quiz. The teacher must prepare this quiz before the class. The quiz consists of two parts of 10 to 15 questions each. The first part (yomikata) gives the student a sentence written in kanji and hiragana. The student must write the whole sentence in hiragana. The second part (kakikata) gives the student sentences in hiragana and the student has to write the sentence using as many kanji as possible.

The teacher marks the test immediately and comments on the kinds of errors that were made. The teacher should also keep note of the sentences that caused mistakes so they can be used in future tests.

This method of studying is very student-centred, so it works best with well-motivated, self-directed students. The advantage of using these textbooks is that by following these textbooks from level 10 up, the student is slowly able to read more and more Japanese books. Studying kanji from any textbook designed for foreign students will not necessarily correspond to an ability to read a particular Japanese book.

Order the Books from

These books are only available from the Japanese version of Amazon, so if you can’t complete a full transaction in Japanese, please get someone to help you.

Level 10 (Equivalent to Grade 1 of Elementary School)
Level 9 (ES Grade 2)
Level 8 (ES Grade 3)
Level 7 (ES Grade 4)
Level 6 (ES Grade 5)
Level 5 (ES Grade 6)
Level 4 (Equivalent to Grade 1 of Junior High School)
Level 3 (JHS Grade 2)
Level 2 (JHS Grade 3)
Pre-Level 1
Level 1