My Experience Taking the JLPT Overseas

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Photo by tripu
January 29, 2015

When I first heard of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) being offered outside of Japan, I was ecstatic. Finally, all of my efforts with learning Japanese would be officially tested; and better yet, I would have a specific goal to work towards in my language study. Here are a few things that I learned through taking the JLPT N5 overseas.

Why take it overseas?

When I told people in America that I was taking the JLPT, I was met with a lot of blank stares and heard the question “why?” more than a few times. At first, it was hard to muster up an answer, seeing as I’m not currently living in Japan and am not positive when I’ll be back. This seemed confusing and a little absurd to people inquiring about my test taking.

Answers like “it’s good to be bilingual in any career,” “it helps if you’re an English teacher,” and “well, why not?” would come out of my mouth each time I was asked. But then I realized something: I don’t need an answer. As someone who moved outside of Japan, I decided that wanting to test my knowledge of Japanese, carry a certificate of my current level, and have specific goals to work toward was reason enough for me.

In addition, if you are taking the JLPT from outside Japan, it is still the same great career boost. The same test is administered around the world on the same day, and the overall experience has very few differences. Taking the JLPT overseas is a great reminder that just because you aren’t living in Japan doesn’t mean you can’t still have the same language learning goals and accomplishments.

The Process

The process of taking the JLPT overseas was relatively simple. The first step is to apply online through their website after the registration date had opened in early fall. Then, follow the necessary steps to submit your payment and wait expectantly to receive your official letter in the mail. Along with the letter, you will also receive your test registration card, which is necessary to have with you while taking the test.

When the exciting day finally arrives, it’s time to pack your pencils and hit the road. In my case, I had to drive about 3 hours to Georgetown University in Washington D.C., the closest test site to my current home. It’s important to look up directions and parking instructions, or you’ll be wandering around looking for the right spot like I was. After finding your spot and the right building, you simply follow the signs and arrive in the correct classroom.

Once you arrive in the classroom, you need to use your registration number to find the correct desk. It was a very casual environment before test time began, but once the proctor said, “Time to begin,” we abided by strict (Japanese) time management and didn’t go a minute over our planned time frame. If you can read relatively quickly, you will have a couple spare minutes at the end of each section to review your answers, but not much more.

How to Study

Studying for the JLPT in Japan is not easy by any means, but a lot of difficulty seems to be added when you’re out of the country and unable to converse with Japanese people in preparation for your test. So, while studying, it’s important to find as many language resources as possible and totally immerse yourself in a “Japanese world” as much as you can. Some resources I used were Cooori, the Anki flashcards, and private tutors were a great help.

Also, finding a local group that also like Japanese language and culture can boost your level and give motivation. For me, it’s always easier to be motivated for a big task like this if I have someone else in my life with similar goals. Taking advantage of every opportunity to speak and learn the language is an important key to succeeding when you are living out of the country.

One great thing about the JLPT is that people in practically every corner of the world can take the test yearly. It is offered in dozens of cities around the globe, and the sign up process is all done online. It was a fulfilling experience, as I sat beside people in my classroom from various areas of US and all walks of life. I even watched a 7 year old girl beside me finish before I did, and a 60+ year old man take the test like it was a piece of cake, all in the same room.

After taking the JLPT, I feel like my language limits were pushed and my world broadened a bit more. So, whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or something you’ve wanted to try but never saw a chance, take it. If you are living outside of Japan, don’t think for a second that you won’t have the opportunity to take the JLPT this year.

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Navy wife, esl teacher, travel enthusiast.

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  • Abraham Gamez says:

    I ran into your blog while studying the same book you have there. Japanese for busy people.. Thinking about taking N5 this december

  • Fadamor says:

    I took JLPT N5 at Georgetown U. a few years ago (maybe three… the mind is getting fuzzy). They really do NOT have clocks in the room and I did not bring an analog watch as was recommended. (digital watches/cell phones were prohibited). Like Kelsey, I too had a young girl seated next to me who breezed through the first two sections with time to spare. The adult was getting pwned by the child! 🙂 The lack of a permitted time piece hurt me on more than one section. I would be working when all of a sudden, “Time” was called and I had to put my pencil down, leaving answers unanswered. This hurt even more when my test results came back showing I had passed each of the individual sections, but had failed the “overall score” by two points.

    Moral of the story: If you don’t own an analog non-alarm watch and want to take the JLPT, BUY ONE!

  • Timo Nevalainen says:

    I have never understood why people ask “why?” for wanting to take it. Okay I can understand wondering if one has to go to foreign COUNTRY to take it but in particular if it’s quick trip to nearbyish city there’s no real reason IMO to not take it if you are studying Japanese. If for nothing else bit of definite goal is good one to keep you focused. And if you are studying language _any_ chance to use Japanese is only going to help you in your goal. I would say reading all those questions and figuring answers in strict time limit counts as using japanese 😉

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