The Japanese Kanji Aptitude Test, commonly known as the Kanji Kentei or Kanken, tests overall understanding of and ability to use kanji. It consists of 12 different levels of graduating difficulty. Learn more about the kanji covered in each level and the scores required to pass here.
This test is most commonly taken by Japanese children as they progress through the kanji curriculum, but I decided to take it both as a resume builder and as a way to strengthen my own kanji ability. And at only around 2500 yen for the lower levels, it’s a relatively affordable test to take. Since I already had passed JLPT N1, I had the ability to read all common use kanji before starting, so I was reinforcing and expanding my base knowledge instead of starting from scratch. Kanji Kentei study can certainly begin at an earlier stage in Japanese study, but it might be a little extra challenging before achieving the N3 level because of the nature of the test.
Unlike tests like the JLPT, Kanken actually requires output from the test taker – it’s not all multiple choice. The types of questions will vary by level, but usually include kanji reading, kanji writing, choosing the correct radical, recognizing the meaning of each kanji, identifying and correcting kanji misused in a sentence, etc. It is a very specialized test and covers much more than just the ability to read kanji — skills that might be of value to some while others might find their time better spent focused on other areas of Japanese language or taking a more balanced approach. For me at this point in my studies and career, Kanken study has been a good choice; it has helped me with my CIR work, especially translation, and helped me fill out my vocabulary.
There are tons of books, apps, and web resources available. I ended up going with the Step Series of books because they introduce each kanji and their readings, radicals, meaning, and example words together on the same page.
The kanji are divided into one-page sets of 8-10, and I first practice writing each of the kanji of a given set and then look up each example word I don’t know. After that, I do the practice exercises on the following page. Repeat for 30-40 sets to complete the book. A long process, but pretty simple! I followed that up with practice and review on a free study app, and that is all I needed to pass Level 5 and Level 4. Level 3 is however proving to be a bit more of a challenge, so I have picked up a quality kanji dictionary to fill in the gaps left by Step.
Other test-takers have studied using practice tests and old test papers, and there are plenty of such textbooks and apps available as well. Another option that seems to be popular with children studying for the test are specialized Nintendo DS games. And you could certainly study with any other quality kanji reference resource paired with the level lists!
For the majority of the levels, you have a total of 60 minutes to answer all test questions. For Levels 7 through Pre-2 you need to get 70% to pass, and 80% is the passing mark for the lowest and highest levels. There is no minimum for individual test sections, so you can make up for a poor showing in one section by doing well in the others.
The test for individuals is is offered three times a year in June, October, and February. The traditional testing method is on paper, and you are able to take the test paper home with you afterward – only the answer sheet is submitted at the end of the test. A sheet with the answers are then sent to you a few days later and, provided you took the time to also write your answers on the test paper, you can get a rough estimate of your score. Pass-fail notifications are first available online a couple of weeks later, and detailed results and certificates are then mailed a week or two after that.
Another option is computer-based testing (CBT). Using the CBT system, you can arrange to take the test at a center when it fits your schedule. The costs are the same as the traditional test, and the same certification is awarded. Turnover is much faster, and you can expect your official results in just 10 days. But a word of warning based on my own experience: although you will likely proceed through some parts faster because you are using a keyboard instead of the pencil and paper used for the traditional test, the tablet used to write kanji can be tricky to get the hang of. I ran out of time on the last few questions when I took Level 5 simply because of tablet difficulties. ;_; Another downside to the CBT is that you can not take the test home with you, nor is an answer sheet sent out, meaning you can’t check your work afterward.
You can register for the traditional test online, at a convenience store kiosk, or at a book store. You can take up to four tests on one day, provided they are different levels and testing times do not overlap. To learn more and check upcoming test dates and deadlines, explore the Kanji Kentei official website.
As for the CBT, you can register up until four days before you want to take it. Registration for the CBT must be done through the CBT Solutions website.
CIR PA Hannah
*The content of this article is based on the personal experience and advice of the CIR PA. The Kanji Kentei, JLPT, etc. are not in any way affiliated with or endorsed by the Saga JET Program.
Check out the Japanese Study Tips and Resources page for more general information on studying Japanese