The ???? (kanji kentei), or Japanese Character Proficiency Test, is in my opinion one of the best tests for non-native residents of Japan who want to improve their whole language skills.
Given that the test is designed for native speakers, and focuses on reading and writing Japanese characters, what basis could I have for making that statement?
I am not just being controversial for the sake of it, I honestly believe that, unlike it’s best-known competitor, the test is well-made, good value for money, and that studying for it yields benefits that amount to more than a passing score on a test.
The test has the following benefits:
1. it tests kanji and vocabulary in context, as well as on their own
2. in order to pass, you need a good knowledge of the meaning, reading, stroke order, compounds, usage, and antonyms of each character
3. you learn to write, which is an important skill if you live in Japan
4. the study materials are reasonably priced and widely available in book stores and even 100 yen shops (the earlier tests mirror school grades, so you can buy kids’ kanji workbooks and use them to practice)
5. the test is held three times a year and is reasonably priced
6. you get your results in a month or so, and they also give you the answers when you finish the test so you can check how you did while it is still fresh in your mind
There is a range of materials you can use to study for the test, but I have found the following the most useful:
1. renshuu.org allows you to drill data sets specifically for the kanji kentei
2. the official range of study guides are excellent
3. the range of Nintendo Wii and DS software
I will be trying for level 6 the next time I take the test, which is the equivalent of 5th grade elementary school.
The kanken is not for everyone, but if you are serious about improving your Japanese and need a structured approach with regular, achievable goals, it can be a useful tool.