Want to Take the JLPT? Here’s What You Should Know!

Want to Take the JLPT? Here’s What You Should Know!

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The JLPT is the most recognized proficiency test for Japanese language-learners worldwide. Here's why you should - or shouldn't - take the test.

Curious where you stand in terms of Japanese language ability? Take the JLPT and find out!

What is the JLPT?

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (日本語能力試験・henceforth, JLPT) is a specialized exam that measures competency in the Japanese language. Administered by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services, the JLPT is now held in 85 countries around the world, and in all 47 prefectures of Japan. Depending on where you live, it’s available only once or twice a year (in July and December). It is open to all non-native Japanese speakers and learners, regardless of age, experience, or level. 

What Does the JLPT Measure?

The JLPT measures Japanese language ability based on reading and listening comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, and kanji. It does NOT measure speaking or writing ability, and by no means does passing or failing indicate fluency (or lack thereof). 

Many non-native speakers pass the JLPT every year who still struggle with conversation. On the flip side, there are many native Japanese people who cannot pass level N1 (the hardest level) without advanced preparation.

(Side note: for Japanese speaking practice, we recommend checking out our past articles here and here).

The JLPT logo.

Should You Take the JLPT?

Anyone can take the JLPT! But that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has to, or should. What are the reasons for taking (or not taking) the test?


Reasons to Take the JLPT

  • Looks good on a resume: While not necessary for most jobs, having the JLPT on your resume could be an advantage if applying to work in translation or at a Japanese-speaking company. (Note: the JLPT is usually not required for English teaching jobs).
  • Measure your progress: if you like to challenge yourself, taking the JLPT is a good way to measure where you’re at, and how far you’ve come. You can take the same level more than once if you like, so you can aim for a higher score!
  • Great for schools and study abroad programs: Again, while usually not a requirement, passing the JLPT could be advantageous if applying to go to a school in Japan, or participating in a study abroad program.

Reasons NOT to Take the JLPT

  • For job security: While beneficial to have, a JLPT certificate does NOT guarantee that you will get a job, nor does it guarantee security in any job you may have.
  • You want to become fluent: The JLPT does NOT measure fluency, nor does studying guarantee improvement in fluency level. As it does not measure speaking, conversation ability, or writing, it is possible to pass the text while still struggling in conversation and actual language production. If your goal is fluency, the best method is to practice speaking daily and immersing yourself in real-world situations. (You can learn more about Japanese speaking practice here!)  
  • Your schedule is already packed: passing the JLPT is a commitment! If your schedule is already crammed with college classes, work, or other family obligations, you may want to reconsider. The test is not necessary for passing classes, graduating, or getting a job, so make sure your priorities are in order before making the decision!
  • You’re on a tight budget: Taking the JLPT is not free. (The cost is around $100 USD* to register!) College tuition is already a burden, and unfortunately, the pandemic has set many people back financially. Since the test is not required for work or graduation, don’t feel pressured to take the test unless you can comfortably do so.

*Cost as of August 2021.

JLPT Levels N5-N1: Which Should You Take?

Since 2010, the JLPT has had five levels, N1 through N5, with N5 being the easiest, and N1 being the most difficult. The main difference between each level is the amount of vocabulary, kanji, and grammar you should know.

Here is a brief summary of each level:

N5 – Super Beginner

Start here! To pass N5, you should be able to:

  • Read and understand some basic Japanese (about 800 vocabulary words)
  • Read hiragana, katakana, and about 100 basic kanji
  • Understand basic conversations about basic topics (such as classroom and daily life), spoken slowly

N4 – Upper Beginner

Easy mode: to pass N4, you should be able to:

  • Read and understand basic Japanese on daily topics (about 1,500 vocabulary words)
  • Read about 300 kanji
  • Understand basic conversations about basic topics (such as classroom and daily life), spoken slowly

N3 – Intermediate

Moving on up! Level N3 was added in 2010 to act as a bridge connecting the basic N5 and N4 levels with advanced levels N2 and N1. To pass N3, you should be able to:

  • Read and understand Japanese regarding specific topics in various everyday situations to a certain degree (about 3,700 vocabulary words)
  • Read about 650 kanji
  • Understand the basic point of spoken conversations about everyday topics spoken at a normal speed
  • Understand and summarize information read in stories or the news about everyday topics

N2 – Upper Intermediate/Advanced

Native level: Level N2 is considered the level most native Japanese people are at. While passing N2 doesn’t guarantee native fluency, it does signify an improved ability to understand and interact with native Japanese speakers and situations. To pass N2, you should be able to:

  • Read and understand general Japanese in a variety of situations, follow narratives, and understand the intent of the writers/speakers (about 6,000 vocabulary words)
  • Read about 1,000 kanji
  • Comfortably comprehend spoken and written Japanese on a variety of topics, including stories, articles, commentary, and critiques.
  • Understand conversations in natural Japanese on general topics (conversations, news reports, TV shows, etc.) spoken at a regular speed.

N1 – Super Advanced!

Graduate level: The N1 is the most difficult level of the JLPT. Even native Japanese people struggle with this one without prior prep! Consider it the level you would need to attend graduate school in Japan, entirely in Japanese. To pass N1, you should be able to:

  • Read and understand Japanese in a variety of situations and circumstances, both general and specific (about 10,000 vocabulary words)
  • Read about 2,000 kanji
  • Comfortably comprehend complex and abstract writings on a variety of topics, including newspapers, editorials and critiques, stories, essays, and articles.
  • Understand complex and abstract Japanese conversation, including news reports, lectures, song lyrics, etc., spoken at a natural pace. 
  • Understand less concrete details such as the relationships between people involved, the logical structures of the writer/speaker, and all essential points of the topic.
Japanese writing practice

Taking the JLPT: When, Where, and How?

So you’ve decided to take the JLPT after all! Now what? Here’s all you need to know to register:

  • Test dates vary by country, but are generally in July/December each year. You can find the schedule for your country here: https://jlpt.jp/e/application/overseas_list.html
  • Registration is only open for a limited time! After checking the link above, mark your calendar! If you miss registration period, you’ll have to wait until next year!

Registering for the JLPT

  1. Register with MyJLPT on the JEES website and receive your MyJLPT ID 
  2. Login with above credentials, and register for the next test 
  3. Pay fee (about 5,000 yen, or 50 USD) and wait for your voucher in the mail! 
  4. Receive voucher in the mail 
  5. Attend testing site on the scheduled date – Good Luck! 頑張って!

(Note: Cell phones are not allowed during the test, so you may want to bring a watch to time yourself on test day. The test is also rather long, so bring water and a healthy snack to keep you fresh and alert!)

How to Study for Each Level

Studying for the JLPT will vary by person and level. First, we recommend assessing your own strengths and weaknesses. You can do this by trying out a sample test and grading your score!

Once you’ve figured out your strengths and weaknesses, devise a game plan. Focus on your weak points, but be sure not to neglect your strengths!

Reading and Comprehension

Flash cards work great for learning vocabulary and kanji. For grammar, we recommend reading example sentences to see grammar in action. 

Read Japanese stories (childrens’ books are great for beginners!) and news articles, and try to understand the basic points. With kanji, focus only on the kanji in your level as to not overwhelm yourself. We also recommend learning about kanji radicals, which helps a ton when distinguishing between similar kanji with different meanings!

Here’s an article with some tips to help you remember the kanji!

Listening Comprehension

For listening, the listening samples certainly help, but try to listen to native Japanese each day! (Sorry, but for the JLPT, we do NOT recommend anime as a study tool.) 

While you can (and should!) certainly enjoy it in your spare time, the JLPT listening section is designed in a specific way with a focus on specific conversational points. We recommend listening to Japanese news and educational programs, as they tend to use natural (“proper”) Japanese.  

The good news is there is no speaking or writing section, so while it’s always good to brush up on these skills, for the purpose of this particular test, focus on book smarts. Reading and comprehension are key! If you can do that at your level, the rest will likely fall into place more easily!

Now Out: The Unseen Japan JLPT Study Series!

Finally, look out for our new language-learning series focusing on preparing for the JLPT!

The entire series 11-part series is available HERE! Happy studying!

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Krys Suzuki

Krys is a Japanese-fluent, English native speaker currently based in the US. A former Tokyo English teacher, Krys now works full time as a J-to-E translator, writer, and artist, with a focus on subjects related to Japanese language and culture. JLPT Level N1. Shares info about Japanese language, culture, and the JLPT on Twitter (SunDogGen).

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