I want it all, I want it now.
This sums up my rationale in selecting books to study for Kanji Kentei exams.
Initially, I didn’t know the options. I bought the official text books for each level as I progressed.
I started at level 5, from memory. Knew all the characters in theory, but I was a bit rusty.
These books cover all of the new characters to be introduced at the new level. The yellow books are comprehensive. But to cover all of the characters, you need to read from cover to cover.
When I started commuting to work by train, I switched to the pocket sized versions.
Later, I started to realise that the exams weren’t covering all the characters evenly.
For the purpose of thoroughly learning all the characters, the yellow books were great.
But I wanted to pass the exam.
So I began checking out other books.
I discovered books divided into sections A, B, C, where section A you had to master to pass, section B you should study for a better chance, section C for a higher score.
In theory, if you lacked time, you could just complete section A.
This was perfect for me, as I am “akippoi”, get sick of things quickly.
These books are endless drills ( mini tests). What I would have considered the study materials tend to be in an index at the end.
When I read further, it turned out these books were written based on statistical study of previous exams. The same characters and compounds are tested quite frequently, it seems. Whereas some are rarely tested and some have never appeared in an exam.
The exams are designed using content where the organisation roughly knows the pass rates, so they can maintain their desired pass rates.
Is taking advantage of this information cheating? By the time you are taking level 2, you are needing to study so much already that eliminating material that is less likely to be tested only makes sense.
There are significant differences between the structure of each publisher’s books.
For me, most of my study was for on the move. Small memo pad at hand to answer the drill questions, sometimes standing. So I found it convenient to have an the information on one page. With many books, the answers are at the end. I switched to books which had the answers on the opposite page, with a red plastic sheet provided to cover the answers. Eventually I found some included extra info for each answer, alternative questions that had been tested before, related compounds, common mistakes, synonyms/antonyms. All in one place.
I repeated the same drills many times (thus I wrote the answers in separate memo books), just writing my score in the text book to keep track.
The books are divided into sections corresponding to the sections of the exam: reading, writing, four character idioms, etc. By training in this way, you can identify yours strengths and weaknesses and work on particular areas. There are always a couple of trial exams at the end too.
For the higher levels, pre-1 and 1, you need to do more research. And you’ll need more reference books, but up to level 2, the books described above were enough for me.