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Everything You Need to Know About the JLPT

A practical guide to the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

By 5 min read

If you are actively studying Japanese or perhaps interested in studying Japanese in the future, you may have heard of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). This exam is designed to evaluate Japanese language ability and is the most common proficiency test for Japanese.

Many study materials from language schools in Japan, like those you can find on GaijinPot Study, are designed to prepare students for the JLPT, so students are encouraged to use it as a goal to aim for in their studies. However, major motivators are landing a job in Japan or entering a Japanese university, as more opportunities are open to those who have passed the N2 or N1.

Whether you’ve been dedicating hours to studying for the next test or want to know more about it before setting it as a goal, this practical guide will tell you everything you need to know about the JLPT.

Basic JLPT Information

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Study every day!

The JLPT is a standardized, multiple-choice exam designed to test Japanese comprehension. The test is only conducted in person, but many locations worldwide host it. It is offered twice a year in July and December in Japan and many other locations, but only once yearly in some places. Anyone, whether they’re enrolled in Japanese classes or not, can sign up for the test.

To do this, you must register online at the MyJLPT registration portal. Be aware that the registration period for the JLPT is well before the test (in April for the July test and in September for the December test) and only lasts a couple of weeks, so remember to register! Many people who want to take the test forget to register and cannot take the upcoming test. The ¥5,000–6,000 testing fee is also non-refundable, so when you sign up, ensure you are available on the actual test day.

Test Levels and Sections

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Hopefuls doing last-minute prep before taking the JLPT.

There are five test levels, from basic Japanese at N5 to highly advanced Japanese at N1. According to the JLPT website, N4 and N5 evaluate the basic understanding of Japanese learned in class, N1 and N2 evaluate the comprehension of Japanese used in a broad range of situations in everyday life, and N3 bridges the gap between them. One common criticism of the JLPT is that it does not evaluate speaking or writing, which generally makes the test easier to pass but does not give you a chance to test those skills.

N3 to N5 Sections:

  • Language Knowledge (Vocabulary/Grammar)
  • Reading
  • Listening

N1 and N2 Sections:

  • Language Knowledge (Vocabulary/Grammar) and Reading
  • Listening

The language knowledge section tests both vocabulary (including kanji) and grammar. Reading consists of passages of varying lengths accompanied by comprehension questions, and in the listening section, you hear conversations and must answer questions about them. You can find sample questions here.

A common criticism of the JLPT is that it does not evaluate speaking or writing, which generally makes the test easier to pass but does not give you a chance to test those skills.

The test levels differ in length:

Each test includes one short break between the language/reading and listening sections.

  • N5: One hour and thirty minutes
  • N4: One hour and fifty minutes
  • N3: Two hours and twenty minutes
  • N2: Two hours and thirty-five minutes
  • N1: Two hours and forty-five minutes

One great thing about the JLPT is that you can take any test and skip levels. For example, you are not required to pass N3 to take the N2 test.

Results

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The ultimate goal for living in Japan.

After you take the test, you won’t receive your results for two to three months. Your result will be either a pass or a fail, and this will be based on a scaled score. You must get specific points on each section and the test to pass. On average, you should get at least 50% on the whole test and 32% on each section (so you can’t pass if you bomb the listening section, even if you ace the language knowledge section), but the specifics vary by level and year.

How to Pass

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Come prepared!

With this in mind, a good study strategy to pass your chosen level of the JLPT will focus on improving your weaknesses. You’ll want to ensure you get enough points in each section because you will not pass by only depending on the sections you’re confident in. If you struggle on the listening test, note the conversations you hear while taking practice questions. If your weakness is finishing the reading section in time, dedicate more time to reading practice, and make sure you time yourself during practice sessions.

Since the JLPT is a timed test, many have difficulty finishing the test sections within the allotted time. A good strategy is to take one to two minutes per question, then move on whether or not you have the answer. If you have time, you can return to the unanswered questions. There is no penalty for wrong answers, so choose your best guess if you are almost out of time and still have unanswered questions.

And most importantly, use actual test samples for studying. Many resources include questions from previous tests, like the official JLPT workbooks. Sample questions from previous tests are also available on the JLPT website. Many other study books, like the Shin-Kanzen Master series, include practice questions that are the same kinds used on the test.

Final Advice and Encouragement

On the day of the JLPT, there are a couple more things to be aware of. Ensure you bring a pencil and eraser since you cannot use a pen. To stay hydrated, you can only bring a clear bottle of water to drink during the test. Bringing an analog watch to keep in front of you at your desk is also recommended since, unfortunately, not all testing rooms have clocks.

Finally, don’t give up if you do not pass the test! Many people have to take N2 and N1 multiple times, so keep studying and working toward passing the test as a goal. And once you do pass, your JLPT certificate never expires. Ganbatte (Do your best)!

Have you taken the JLPT? How was your experience, and do you have any other good advice for future test-takers? Let us know in the comments!

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