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Notebooks and Pencils

GCSE Japanese Self-Study Guide

Let's start your journey! For all those starting Japanese

How to Learn Japanese by Yourself

Japanese language skills are developed through several stages. 

  • First step - Duolingo, basic phrases from YouTube

  • Learn Hiragana and Katakana

  • Learn communication skills for beginner

  • Find books and websites to learn grammar and vocabulary

  • Find a way to learn Kanji

  • Practise for an exam if you wish

See below and find online resources suitable for your stage. To see them fully, please visit my Padlet.

After studying the basics for about two years, you will be able to read short articles and write a diary. Grammatically, you will understand Japanese tenses and forms such as past and negative, and be able to say verbs, adjectives and everyday vocabulary. If you are considering GCSE Japanese, you can start preparing then.

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GCSE Japanese Overview

What is GCSE?

General Certificate of Secondary Education, the qualifications that 15 and 16 year olds in the UK take at the end of Year 11. GCSE Japanese is roughly the same level as JLPT N5.

When is the exam?

Summer every year

GCSE Key information

  • ​Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing tests 

  • The level and topics are the same as other MFLs taught in schools

  • Foundation Tier (1-5) and Higher Tier (1-9)

  • 120 guided lesson hours + Revision

Go to GCSE Japanese exam preparation

Administrative details

How to communicate with your school about the exam, a rough timeline for the administrative procedures and so on.

Study plan example

  • 2 hrs/week x 3 years - Foundation Tier

  • 3 hrs/week x 3-4 years - Higher Tier


It includes lesson time for those taking private tuition. If you are taught at school, you have roughly 300 study hours including lessons, homework and revision time.​​


  • ​JLPT does not require output skills such as speaking and writing.

  • JLPT is useful if you want to work using Japanese language skills or study in Japan.

  • JLPT N5 requires more grammar than GCSE.

  • GCSE Foundation is the halfway point of JLPT N5 and those who reach GCSE Higher can progress immediately to JLPT N5 or N4. 

  • GCSE listening test is easier than JLPT N5.

  • Kanji for GCSE Higher is 200, Foundation is 76. Kanji for N5 is around 100 and N4 is 350.

Normally I wouldn't recommend the JLPT to teenagers because the vocabulary is more for 18+. Learning general Japanese is more beneficial than preparing for the JLPT exam until then, in my opinion. JLPT is flexible in terms of the timing. You can try whenever you are fully ready in the future.

Is it worth taking GCSE Japanese?

All that matters is whether you want to take the exam for your record. It is also a good idea to study Japanese at your own pace without taking the exam so that you can concentrate on what you want to learn. Whatever path you take, I believe that your passion for learning Japanese as a teenager will give you a great future.

GCSE Exam Preparation

When should I start?

After about two years of studying the basics and grammar, you can start preparing for GCSE exams. 

How is GCSE Japanese different from general Japanese study?

  • Range of vocabulary

There are five themes set for GCSE. You need to learn the vocabulary along the topics. ​

  • There are Speaking and Writing tests

Specific preparation is needed. View GCSE Resources.​

GCSE five themes and sub-topics

  • Theme 1: Identity and Culture

Family, daily life, hobby, celebration...​​

  • Theme 2: Local area and trip

Town, shopping, holiday, transport...​​

  • Theme 3: School

Description, school subject, club, event, school trip...​

  • Theme 4: Future aspiration

Work experience, part-time job, learning languages, plans for your future...​

  • Theme 5: International and global dimensions

International events, environmental issues... 

There is no GCSE Japanese course book you can buy from a bookshop. Take a look at these resources instead.

GCSE Kanji List

Here is the Kanjij list for GCSE. How to start Kanji? Check my Padlet.

Number       一二三四五六七八九十百千万

Counter       何才円年時分間半番
Position       上下中右左外前後

Day&week   日月火水木金土今来曜毎週

People          私人女男子母父
School          先生友学校庭教室

Daily life       朝昼夜晩午
Meal             牛肉魚事飯茶

Adjective 1   大小高元気安古新
Adjective 2   少多有名長近好同
Colour          黒青赤銀

Verb 1           行言見食入出

Verb 2           帰聞書飲話読買会休住

Verb 3           知作使売働思泳持待終

Home           姉妹兄弟部屋

Body             口目耳手体心

Study            漢字英語地理物音楽勉強料

Transport      電車駅鉄道自動
Town             店映画館図病院公園社場所
Nature          山川田花海
Weather       雨雪空風春夏秋冬

Japan           国県市町村東西南北京州都

Trip               旅写真寺神祭切紙和文化式

Candidates' YouTube

The structure of the exam and study tips are well explained. 

When the student took GCSE, using a dictionary was allowed for the writing test which is no longer possible. 

There is no YouTube, but the grades my students achieved were from a 5 to a 9, and they were all happy with their results. GCSE Japanese was a milestone for these students and they are still studying Japanese!

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