Earlier this summer, I found myself in a bit of a predicament. After several months of hard study, preparation and just generally trying to psyche myself up, I decided to have a second go at the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level 4 exam. I sent in my application, paid the fee at the convenience store and prepared to hit the books.
I had an unfortunate double-booking in my schedule, however. As the only native English teacher at my school, my attendance at an open campus (a kind of open day for prospective students) was, as my boss put it, “highly preferred”, which is basically the Japanese way of saying: “You must be here, no excuses!”
So, I had to back out of taking the JLPT exam in order not to upset my new employers. However, it’s a long wait for the next test. In Japan, the JLPT is only held twice per year — once in July and once in December.
Faced with the prospect of waiting a further six months for an exam that I may or may not pass got me thinking, what are the alternatives? As it turns out, there are a couple that could be worth checking out.
The Kanji Kentei
If you’re more concerned with the written side of Japanese than the spoken or communicative aspects, you might want to consider giving the Japan Kanji Aptitude Test (Japanese), otherwise known as the Kanji Kentei (or the even shorter, Kanken) a try.
Unlike the JLPT which only has five levels, the Kanji Kentei actually offers 12 different levels; 10 being easiest, 1 being the most difficult, with pre-2 and pre-1 added to bridge the gaps in the difficulty of the higher level exams.
Level 10 tests around 80 kanji and passing it would mean that you have a kanji level equivalent to a first-grade elementary student.
At the other end of the spectrum, level one tests your ability to recall and write around 6,000 different kanji. Considering that the average person in Japan requires knowledge of about 2,000 to 3,000 kanji to be able to read a regular daily newspaper, if you can pass level one of the Kanji Kentei, you truly are a master of the written word in Japanese.
The other very convenient thing about this particular test is that it is administered at schools all across Japan. If you ask the Japanese language teacher at your school nicely, they may be able to arrange for you to take the test alongside your students. Not only will you be improving your Japanese, you’ll be building bonds with your school and your students too.
The other, though less popular, alternative to the JLPT is the J-Test (Japanese). Although it’s not offered as widely (or is as universally recognized by employers) as the JLPT, it does have the added bonus of being available to take six times a year, which is handy if you happen to miss the JLPT for whatever reason. The major difference between the two, however, is in how the test is administered.
Whereas the five different levels of the JLPT offer different and distinct exams unique to each, with the J-Test all candidates sit the same exam paper and how much — or how little — of the paper you are able to answer successfully determines your level of Japanese proficiency.
Lastly, there are other, more specific exams such as BJT Business Japanese Test (also run by the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation) and the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (commonly known as the Examination for Japanese University Admission) — depending on what you’re studying.
Even if you do plan to take the JLPT (which still scores the most points on your resume), both the Kanji Kentei and the J-Test are good stop-gap measures to gauge your progress in between.
Do you have any recommendations for alternative certifications to the JLPT?