Kanji Proficiency Examination (漢字能力検定, Kanji Noryoku Kentei) Preparation Materials
Reviewed by Cate Swift
Japanese/English translator and interpreter
The Kanji Noryoku Kentei (or "Kanken") series of self-study guides are wonderful for motivated learners looking for a systematic kanji study program. The series starts with Level 10 (10級), which covers hiragana, katakana, and 80 kanji, and runs all the way up to Level 1（１級), which covers an overwhelming 6,000 characters.
These books are geared towards an in-depth study of the characters; to pass the tests, one must know the on-yomi, kun-yomi, radical, number of strokes, and definition of each character, and be able to read it and write it in a number of combinations. At higher levels, students are tested on synonyms and antonyms, on picking out the kanji in a sentence that is incorrectly written and writing it correctly (my personal nemesis) and on ４-字熟語, (4-character combinations).
It takes a lot of perseverance to wade through all of this material, but the rewards in terms of satisfaction are great. When you put down one of these books, you know that you really know the kanji it covers. Also, if you are actually planning to take the test, the books help you become accustomed to the test format, so when you show up at the test site you are already familiar with the style and don't have to waste time figuring out what you're supposed to be doing.
One drawback is that the books sometimes assume the reader has prior knowledge that isn't covered in the book. Japanese friends using the series have also expressed frustration with this, so it isn't limited to non-native learners. But the payoffs have included being able to pick up a pen and write kanji easily, recognizing intricate kanji, and being able to look up unfamiliar kanji quickly because you can find the radical immediately.
I am now working my way through the Level 2（２級) materials, and grit my teeth over the 285 personal name kanji that have to be mastered through sheer determination, but I look forward to the day when I can translate names in Japanese texts without sending panicked faxes to native speakers. And I look forward to having another certificate to go up on the wall!
There are myriad Kanken preparation materials available, but the only ones I've ever used are the books of practice tests. The ones I have used are the 漢字検定( )級試験問題集 series and also the 文部省認定 series. If you are in Japan, these can be purchased at any neighborhood Japanese bookstore worth its salt, and run between 800 and 1,000 yen.
A wide variety of Kanken materials may be ordered from the Web site of the Japan Kanji Proficiency Foundation (www.kanken.or.jp). The site is entirely in Japanese. Go to this page for a list of available materials and ordering information (both international and domestic).
The Web site also gives detailed information about what each level covers, where and when the test is given (three times a year), etc. Check it out!
To read more about the Kanken, read Column #13, "Testing, testing.. kanji exams can be fun for all the family."