Trying to pass language exams is always a painful experience. I managed to take and pass the JLPT N1, which is the highest level. It wasn’t easy, but I succeeded. If you are interested in trying JLPT, you must know how to be prepared for the JLPT in order to succeed. The JLPT is quite special because there is no oral section. So even though one may speak Japanese fluently, they may not succeed the JLPT. However through my working life in Japan for over 4 years, I’ve learned you have to face the JLPT N1 especially if you want to work for the long term in a Japanese firm.
In this article, I will summarize theoretical information about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT/ or Nihongo Nouryoku Shiken = 日本語能力試験) and give some practical advice on how to succeed in the JLPT, as well as in learning the Japanese language in general.
WHAT IS THE JLPT?
So, first of all, what is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)? Here is a brief outline. The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is a test to evaluate and certify proficiency in the Japanese language of non-native speakers.
The JLPT is offered in five levels (the easiest N5 to the hardest N1), with “Vocabulary”, “Grammar”, “Reading” and “Listening” sections for each level. As I mention above, JLPT does NOT include sections to measure “Speaking” or “Writing” proficiency directly.
The JLPT certificates do not expire or become invalid over time. Therefore, once you succeed and get a certificate, you can be at peace forever.
A little bit of JLPT history.
The JLPT started in 1984 under the joint organization of the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (previously Association of International Education, Japan). In the first year, the JLPT was conducted in 15 countries, and approximately 7,000 examinees took the test. Since then, the JLPT has become the largest Japanese-language test in the world, with approximately 610,000 examinees in 62 countries and areas worldwide in 2011.
IS THE JLPT IMPORTANT? ANY ADVANTAGES?
The JLPT certificate is very important, especially if you are planning to study or work in Japan. Not only will the JLPT certificate (especially N1 or N2) give you some benefits, but it also may be REQUIRED depending on where you want to study or work. As said on the JLPT official website,
In other words, if you are planning to study or work in Japan, or work in a Japanese company in your own country, the JLPT certificate may give you some points, though depending on a field of work or study in Japan, the highest levels (N1 or N2) are required. I’ve been here in Japan for 4 years and all I learn from my experience in Japanese society is in competitive situations, N5 or N4 offer almost no benefits.
One of the examples where the JLPT N1 or N2 certificate can help you,Those who pass JLPT N1 receive 15 points, N2 receive 10 points under the government’s “Point-based Preferential Immigration Treatment System for Highly Skilled Foreign Professionals.” Individuals with a total of 70 points or higher receive preferential treatment at immigration.
For more details, check out the website of the Immigration Bureau of Japan.
Because Japan is still a closed country in a way because of limited immigration, if you want to work in Japan, you need to pass some benchmarks which Japanese government ask.
According to a survey that was held by the Japan Foundation in December 2017 among overseas applicants in 76 countries “What is your reason for taking the JLPT”, about 33% replied “useful for work or will be useful to attain employment, salary increase or promotion in own country / in Japan”. Another about 25% of the answers were “necessary for admission into university or as a proof of proficiency for other educational institution in own country / in Japan”.
A little from my own experience in Japan.
I know some foreigners living in Japan who couldn’t get a job in some companies ONLY BECAUSE they didn’t have the highest N1 level, despite their Japanese skills being good. In fact, they have the N2 Certificate, and as they were told in the interview: “Your Japanese is quite good, why don’t you have the JLPT N1 certificate?” Hard to accept but I need to emphasize that there IS a huge difference between JLPT N1 and N2.
LEVELS OF JLPT
As I have mentioned above, the JLPT is offered in five levels: N1, N2, N3, N4, N5, where N5 is the easiest, and N1 is the most difficult one.
In order to measure Japanese-language proficiency as thoroughly as possible, test items are designed for each level.
N4 and N5 measure the understanding of basic Japanese that is mainly learned in class. N1 and N2 measure the understanding of the Japanese used in a broad range of actual everyday scenes. N3 bridges the gap between N4/N5 and N1/N2.
How long will it take you to reach each level? Here are some approximate data (minimum is the minimum for those with kanji knowledge, maximum is the maximum for those who don’t use kanji in their native language).
N5 – 250~600 hours = 10~25 days
N4 – 400~1000 hours = 16~42 days
N3 – 700~1700 hours = 29~ 71 days
N2 – 1150~2800 hours = 47~117 days
N1 – 1700~4800 hours = 70~200 days
As for my own experience, I started learning Japanese at University in 2007. At that time there were only 4 levels in the JLPT.
*The JLPT has changed to 5 levels since 2010. Before that the gap between the N3 and N2 was too huge, so the N2 was split into N3 and N2.
I had Japanese language classes every day – five days per week 2~3 hours each class (except for winter-summer holidays), and I passed the N3 (which is equivalent to N4 now) after 2 years of studying (about 1000 ~ 1200 hours).
However, after 3 years of studying Japanese, which was about 1800~2000 hours, I failed the N2 once. I would have felt very upset but I passed another test at the university that let me have a 1-year internship at a Japanese university; there was a relationship between the Japanese university and my university. After coming back to my home university from the 1-year studying abroad in Japan I applied for the N1 and succeeded. By the way, in the Japanese university, I had an intensive Japanese language courses every day that included writing, reading, listening, speaking and kanji.
My conclusion: you can pass N5 ~ N3 levels only by studying in classes, but for N2 ~ N1 you need more language experience. I had a good opportunity to get that experience in Japan among the Japanese people, but if you cannot have it – then read and listen.
We will talk more about tips on how to reach a good level in the Japanese language later.
For the N5 you need the ability to understand some basic Japanese.
・One is able to read and understand typical expressions and sentences written in hiragana, katakana, and basic kanji.
・One is able to listen and comprehend conversations about topics regularly encountered in daily life and classroom situations and is able to pick up necessary information from short conversations spoken slowly.
Test time (may change).
- Vocabulary 25 minutes
- Grammar, Reading 50 minutes
- Listening 30 minutes
On the official web site of JLPT, you can try an N5 test!
For the N4 you need the ability to understand basic Japanese.
・One is able to read and understand passages on familiar daily topics written in basic vocabulary and kanji.
・One is able to listen and comprehend conversations encountered in daily life and generally follow their contents, provided that they are spoken slowly.
Test time (may change).
- Vocabulary 30 minutes
- Grammar, Reading 60 minutes
- Listening 35 minutes
On the official web site of the JLPT, you can try an N4 test!
For the N3 you need the ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to a certain degree.
・One is able to read and understand written materials with specific contents concerning everyday topics.
・One is also able to grasp summary information such as newspaper headlines.
・In addition, one is also able to read slightly difficult writings encountered in everyday situations and understand the main points of the content if some alternative phrases are available to aid one’s understanding.
・One is able to listen and comprehend coherent conversations in everyday situations, spoken at near-natural speed, and is generally able to follow their contents as well as grasp the relationships among the people involved.
Test time (may change).
- Vocabulary 30 minutes
- Grammar, Reading 70 minutes
- Listening 40 minutes
On the official web site of JLPT, you can try an N3 test!
For the N2 you need the ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations, and in a variety of circumstances to a certain degree.
・One is able to read materials written clearly on a variety of topics, such as articles and commentaries in newspapers and magazines as well as simple critiques, and comprehend their contents.
・One is also able to read written materials on general topics and follow their narratives as well as understand the intent of the writers.
・One is able to comprehend orally presented materials such as coherent conversations and news reports, spoken at nearly natural speed in everyday situations as well as in a variety of settings, and is able to follow their ideas and comprehend their contents. One is also able to understand the relationships among the people involved and the essential points of the presented materials.
Test time (may change).
- Vocabulary, Grammar, Reading 105 minutes
- Listening 50 minutes
On the official web site of JLPT, you can try an N2 test!
For the N1 you need the ability to understand Japanese used in a variety of circumstances.
・One is able to read writings with logical complexity and/or abstract writings on a variety of topics, such as newspaper editorials and critiques, and comprehend both their structures and contents.
・One is also able to read written materials with profound contents on various topics and follow their narratives as well as understand the intent of the writers comprehensively.
・One is able to comprehend orally presented materials such as coherent conversations, news reports, and lectures, spoken at natural speed in a broad variety of settings, and is able to follow their ideas and comprehend their contents comprehensively. One is also able to understand the details of the presented materials such as the relationships among the people involved, the logical structures, and the essential points.
Test time (may change).
- Vocabulary, Grammar, Reading 110 minutes
- Listening 60 minutes
On the official web site of JLPT, you can try an N1 test!
Again, a little from my Japanese experience.
I have been living and working in Japan for more than 4 years now. I use Japanese every day, I have to read and watch the news, write articles etc. But I barely use or see expressions and grammar structures that were given in N1 level. What I want to say – it was really difficult. In N1 there are many abstract expressions that have several meanings, many kanji and vocabulary that have close but a little bit different meaning.
Recently I tried all sample questions from N5 to N1, just to see how I would solve it now. N5 to N2 was a piece of cake, but in N1 I had some troubles with grammar and kanji, though the listening section occurred to be quite easy.
WHAT’S THE PROCEDURE FOR APPLYING THE JLPT?
The JLPT is held two times a year: usually, on the first Sunday of July and on the first Sunday of December. Though, outside Japan, the test may be held only in July or December in some cities.
Test Fee: 5,500 yen (about 50 USD), consumption tax included.
With regards to the procedures of the JLPT, taking it in Japan or overseas are not the same so please check those procedures below.
JLPT PROCEDURE IN JAPAN
If you want to take a JLPT test in Japan, here are steps for preparing for the JLPT.
- Check test date on the Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES) website for the first test (July) in early February, and for the second test (December)-in early July.
- Sign up for MyJLPT on the JEES website where you can register at any time, or obtain a test guide (Application Forms) at the bookstore, from mid-March for the July-test, and from mid-August for the December-test.
- Apply via the JEES website and pay the application fee, or read Test Guide, fill in the application form, pay the registration fee and mail to the JLPT Application Center, in April for the July – test, and in September for the December-test.
- Receive a test voucher from JEES, in mid-June for the July-test, and in mid-November for the December-test.
- Finally, take the JLPT test, in early July, or early December.