The Ultimate Guide to The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)

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It is said that Japanese is in the top 5 most difficult languages to learn if you are a native English speaker. If you are studying Japanese and want to test your Japanese skills or see how much progress you have made, you’ve come to the right place! The Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or JLPT, is a standardized Japanese test held all over the globe for those who are trying to prove their Japanese proficiency for a variety of purposes or reasons. Whether you are thinking about applying to universities in Japan, looking for a job or hoping to move to Japan in the future, taking the test will give you great advantages. Here is the ultimate guide to The Japanese Language Proficiency Test!    

1.  What is The Japanese Language Proficiency Test?

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test is one of the most well known and recognized Japanese tests for non-native speakers. The test first started in 1984 in Japan and is currently conducted in over 87 countries all over the world. The test is held twice a year in July and December, and more than a million people take the test every year to measure their Japanese language skills.  

Anyone who is not a native Japanese speaker can apply for the test regardless of age or nationality. A JLPT score is widely accepted as proof of Japanese proficiency at famous universities, companies and institutions across Japan. Therefore, if you want to study, work or live in Japan but are not sure whether your Japanese is good enough, this is a great way to accurately evaluate your Japanese skills! 

The test is provided in five levels and candidates can choose the right level for them depending on their Japanese skills. The easiest starts from N5 and the test gets gradually harder as you go up towards N1. Only one level can be taken each time the test is offered. The reading and listening sections are a part of all 5 levels while there is no writing or speaking section in any of the levels. N1 is the most difficult level which requires comprehensive understanding of the Japanese language, including advanced vocabulary, grammar and listening comprehension of complex conversation used in a variety of situations in everyday life. 

Now let’s get into some of the basic ideas of what is expected when taking each level of the JLPT! 

2. The Different Levels of the JLPT

N5 (100 Kanji, 800 words)

The ability to understand some basic Japanese. 

・Basic knowledge of the Japanese language.
・Capable of understanding easy expressions and sentences written in Hiragana, Katakana and basic Kanji
・Understand simple and short conversations in everyday life spoken slowly and clearly. 

Test length: Language Knowledge(Vocabulary): 20 min, Language Knowledge(Grammar)/Reading: 40 min, Listening: 30 min

N4 (300 Kanji, 1,500 words)

The ability to understand basic Japanese.

・Basic knowledge of Japanese language.
・Capable of understanding simple passages written in basic vocabulary and Kanji
・Understand the contents of short conversations spoken slowly. 

Test length: Language Knowledge(Vocabulary): 25 min, Language Knowledge(Grammar)/Reading: 55 min, Listening: 35 min

N3 (600 Kanji, 3,000 words) 

The ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to a certain degree.

・Intermediate level 
・Capable of understanding simple texts and written materials on everyday topics.
・Able to listen to conversations presented at near-natural speed in Japanese and understand the main ideas. 

Test length: Language Knowledge(Vocabulary): 30 min, Language Knowledge(Grammar)/Reading: 70 min, Listening: 40 min

N2 (1,000 Kanji, 6,000 words)

The ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations, and in a variety of circumstances to a certain degree.

・Comprehensive knowledge of the Japanese language to a certain degree.
・Capable of understanding a variety of slightly difficult topics on written materials, including newspapers and magazines. 
・Able to listen to conversations, news reports and lectures presented at natural speed in Japanese and follow their ideas and understand the contents. 

Test length: Language Knowledge(Vocabulary/Grammar)/Reading: 105 min, Listening: 50 min

N1 (2,000 Kanji, 10,000 words)

The ability to understand Japanese used in a variety of circumstances.

・Comprehensive knowledge of the Japanese language to an advanced level.
・Capable of understanding abstract or complex texts including newspapers, articles and editorials in Japanese. 
・Listen to conversations, news reports and lectures presented at natural speed in Japanese and precisely understand the details.

Test length: Language Knowledge(Vocabulary/Grammar)/Reading: 110 min, Listening: 60 min

You can check out some sample questions for each level on their official website.      

3. How Long Should You Study For The JLPT?    

It is not easy to say how long you need to prepare for The JLPT. It varies from person to person as everyone progresses at a different pace. It also differs greatly depending on your current level, what level you are planning on taking, and whether you have previous knowledge of kanji or not. Here is a general ballpark of how many hours you may need to study to pass each test level. 

LevelsScore rangesOverall pass marksStudy hours (approx.)
N50 – 18080250 – 400 hrs
N40 – 18090500 – 750 hrs
N30 – 18095900 – 1400 hrs
N20 – 180901500 – 2200 hrs
N10 – 1801003100 – 4500 hrs

Unless you are already fluent in Japanese, or use it at work or school on a daily basis, it generally takes at least a couple of months to pass the easy – intermediate levels (from N5 – N3), depending on how fast of a learner you are. For people at more of an advanced level, it is worth trying for N2 or N1. These two levels are widely recognized and often required as a qualification of Japanese proficiency for jobs and admission to prestigious universities in Japan.    

4. Best Study Materials And Textbooks For The JLPT

You can find helpful study materials and books for the JLPT published by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services. See their official website to check their best-selling JLPT preparation books that suit all levels of learners! Getting ready with these resources will help you improve your Japanese skills with confidence. 

In addition to the study materials on the above mentioned website, there are also lots of other great resources for test preparation. A popular pick among many people is the “Shin Kanzen Master” textbook series. They are known to be one of the most comprehensive and thorough series of books out there. They have vocabulary, grammar, kanji, listening and reading textbooks for levels N4 up to N1. Each book is equipped with the material you need to know as well as a number of example questions for each section. This series goes into depth on each topic and is all in Japanese so it might be good for you if you learn better this way. 

Another great series is the “Nihongo Sou Matome” series that is also available in a series of 5 like Shin Kanzen Master. However the structure of these books is quite a bit different. Each book is structured into a 6 week course and is further divided up into sections of 6 days so you can study for the first 6 days of the week and then can take a quiz and test your ability on the 7th day. They also have books available in various different languages making it easier to understand each concept along the way. This is a great textbook if you are the type of person who likes to have a consistent study schedule or routine and likes to slowly build on the material you are learning. 

For those who are already at an intermediate level and are wondering how to best study for N2 or N1, working through a textbook isn’t always the best way to study for everyone. A lot of people studying for these higher levels tend to get the most out of just trying to consume as much Japanese material as possible. Whether it’s watching Japanese TV or anime, or reading Japanese books, the newspaper or manga, immersing yourself in the language is one of the best ways to help you improve your skills. The test tends to throw a variety of different topics at you in the reading and listening sections so if you can try to listen to and read a wide selection of different topics, you will have the best chance at passing the test. 

5. What Should You Bring to The JLPT?

Once you are ready to take the test, it is important to double check what you need to bring with you to the test site on exam day. Here is a helpful list of what you shouldn’t forget to bring when you take the JLPT!

・Your ID (passport, driver’s license or Residence Card)
・Your test voucher (generally sent by post a couple of weeks before the test) 
・Stationary (pencils and an eraser)
・Watch (there are often no clocks in the test rooms)
・Mask (you must be wearing a mask in order to take the test)
・Food and drink for fuel in between sections (the test is long)
Self-health Checklist 

6. Test Dates And Results 2022

The JLPT is held twice a year on a Sunday in July and December throughout the world. You can sign up online for the test on the JLPT/JEES website. The first test in 2022 will be held on Sunday, July 3rd. The results are usually released on the JLPT website around the end of August and will be sent to your address by mail at the beginning of September. The second test this year will be held on Sunday, December 4th. The results are usually released on the JLPT site around the end of January and will be sent to your address by mail at the beginning of February.

Please check the official website below for more details about how to sign up for the test.

JLPT Test Registration Process 2022

7. Recommended Japanese Language Courses

Beginners Crash Course

This course is great for people who have little to no prior Japanese language experience. You will have the chance to learn two of the alphabets(Hiragana and Katakana), essential everyday phrases, basic vocabulary and even learn a little about Japanese culture.

JLPT N4 Exam Prep Course

This is the perfect course for people who have some Japanese under their belt and are looking to take the challenge and try for N4! Sometimes it can be hard to pass a test without knowing what to expect and what material might be on the test. This will help you get used to the format of the test as well as get tips and explanations for each part of the test.

12-Week Online Pre-Intermediate Course

This 12 week course is great for people who are past the beginner level and are looking to improve their skills to get to the next level. This course covers all the material up to and including the JLPT N4 level. You will have the chance to learn Japanese through real life engaging audio and video lessons as well as worksheets, grammar slides and pronunciation checks to help with your speaking skills too.

Learning a new language can be really difficult sometimes, but in the long run it will help you broaden your horizons and open up a whole new world. If you don’t know where to start, or are struggling with improving your Japanese on your own, you may want to consider some helpful options such as private Japanese lessons. It is also important to simply enjoy learning Japanese and occasionally give yourself a break to relax. Best of luck on your journey learning Japanese!  

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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with traveling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.

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