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Japanese Language Proficiency Test | JLPT Levels N1 to N5

Lady studying at a desk with a laptop and a cup of tea

What is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test?

 

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (or JLPT for short) is an international recognised qualification in the form of a standardised criterion-referenced test to evaluate the proficiency of the Japanese language for non-native speakers.

 

Sponsored by the Japan foundation, you can either take the test in Japan or overseas. The dates and implementation varies across the globe for the countries that are eligible, but for the UK the JLPT is administered by the SOAS Language Centre in the University of London.

 

The test is there to score your proficiency in learning the Japanese language, which can help you secure higher paying jobs, join university and generally broaden your horizons.

 

While you can find out more information about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test from their official website, we encourage you to explore our ultimate guide detailing everything you need to know about the test.

 

Let’s start by exploring the different JLPT test levels and what they entail.

 

Japanese Language Proficiency Test Levels (N5 Easiest – N1 Hardest)

 

Not too dissimilar to school there are various different levels of academic scoring; SATs, GCSEs, A-levels etc. the same is true for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. The JLPT can be broken down into five areas (N5 – N1), with N5 being the easiest and N1 being the most difficult.

 

It’s worth mentioning that none of these levels test your ability to actually write or speak Japanese, but rather your ability to read, listen to and understand the Japanese language.

 

There is however a separate more advanced qualification called the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU) that requires the examinee to write in Japanese.

 

Below you can find each JLPT level and what is to be expected of you.

 

N5 – Basic Level

 

N5 is the most basic level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and just requires you to understand some basic Japanese.

 

The N5 level basically ensures you can understand basic sentences and typical expressions written in hiragana, katakana, and basic kanji as well as from spoken conversations.

 

N4 – Elementary Level

 

N4, while slightly more advanced, has the same description, to understand some basic Japanese.

 

The N4 part of the JLPT however focuses on more common daily interactions.

 

N3 – Intermediate Level

 

N3 is the intermediate level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and is described as the ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to a certain degree.

 

This is slightly more advanced than the previous levels in that spoken conversations are to be understood at near-natural speed rather than slow and understand more day-to-day writings such as in newspaper headlines.

 

N2 – Pre-Advanced Level

 

N2 is where things start to get, again, more complicated and is described as the ability to understand Japanese in everyday situations, and in a variety of circumstances to a certain degree.

 

As one of the highest levels of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, you are required to not only understand a handful of general topics, but comprehend the intent and narrative behind them.

 

N1 – Advanced Level

 

N1 is the advanced level and therefore the most complicated, and is described as the ability to understand Japanese used in a variety of circumstances.

 

At the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, you are required to be able to read and listen with logical complexity and comprehend both the structures and content comprehensively.

 

In writing you are required to read written materials with profound contents, follow the narrative and understand the intent of the writers comprehensively.

 

While listening requires you to understand the details such as the relationships amongst the people involved, the logical structures, and the main takeaway points.

 

 

How is the Japanese Proficiency Test Scored?

 

Unlike other qualifications which may require passing specific modules, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is marked both overall and using individual sections.

 

So while the JLPT is split into three different sections being; language knowledge (vocabulary and grammar), reading and listening – you are required to pass each section individually and overall.

 

Pass Scores

 

The overall passing scores for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test vary across N1-N5. With N1 being the most difficult has a passing score of 100/180 (55.55%), while N5 being the easiest has a passing score of 80/180 (44.44%).

 

The sectional passing scores however are lower. The passing scores for individual sections are 19/60 (31.67%) and the equivalent of for the larger sections of the N4 and N5.

 

It’s also worth noting that the overall passing scores are between 44-55% while the sectional passing score is 31.67% – being lower. You do not need to achieve the overall passing score of 44%+ in individual sections to pass overall.

 

Each test level is marked out of 180, across three sections for N5-N3 and two sections for N2 and N1. You need 19 points to pass in each section – apart from N2 and N1 which combines language knowledge (grammar and vocabulary) and reading, requiring 38 points to pass.

 

  • N5 requires 80/180 points (44.44%) and 19/60 (31.67%) in each section to pass.
  • N4 requires 90/180 points (50%) and 19/60 (31.67%) in each section to pass.
  • N3 requires 95/180 points (52.77%) and 19/60 (31.67%) in each section to pass.
  • N2 requires 90/180 points (50%) and 19/60 (31.67%) and 38/120 (31.67%) in each section respectively to pass.
  • N1 requires 100/180 points (55.55%) and 19/60 (31.67%) and 38/120 (31.67%) in each section respectively to pass.

 

Lady performing Japanese calligraphy

 

 

How Long Does the Japanese Language Proficiency Test Take?

 

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test varies in length depending on the section, with N5 taking the shortest and N1 taking the longest.

 

Below you can find each JLPT level and the duration.

 

  • N5 has a total duration of 105 minutes and is split into three sections. 25 minutes for language knowledge (vocabulary), 50 minutes for language knowledge (grammar) and reading, and 30 minutes for listening.
  • N4 has a total duration of 125 minutes and is split into three sections. 30 minutes for language knowledge (vocabulary), 60 minutes for language knowledge (grammar) and reading, and 35 minutes for listening.
  • N3 has a total duration of 140 minutes and is split into three sections. 30 minutes for language knowledge (vocabulary), 70 minutes for language knowledge (grammar) and reading, and 40 minutes for listening.
  • N2 has a total duration of 155 minutes and is split into two sections. 105 minutes for language knowledge (vocabulary/grammar) and reading, and 50 minutes for listening.
  • N1 has a total duration of 170 minutes and is split into two sections. 110 minutes for language knowledge (vocabulary/grammar) and reading, and 60 minutes for listening.

 

How Much Does the JLPT Cost?

 

The cost to take the Japanese Language Proficiency test is the same across all the levels, £85.

 

Just be careful when submitting your payment as you are not entitled to a refund and not able to change levels if you choose the wrong one.

 

Estimated Study Time For Each JLPT Level

 

While the time needed to study for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test will vary from person to person, there is study hour comparison data. This has been published by the Japanese Language Education Centre and compares data from students residing in Japan.

 

The information also differs based on whether the person has kanji knowledge or not. Below you can find each JLPT level and the estimated study time for each.

 

  • N5 with kanji knowledge took between 250-450 hours, while with no prior kanji knowledge it took between 325-600 hours.
  • N4 with kanji knowledge took between 400-700 hours, while with no prior kanji knowledge it took between 575-1,000 hours.
  • N3 with kanji knowledge took between 700-1,100 hours, while those with no prior kanji knowledge took between 950-1,700 hours.
  • N2 with kanji knowledge took between 1,150-1,800 hours, while those with no prior kanji knowledge took between 1,600-2,800 hours.
  • N1 with kanji knowledge took between 1,700-2,600 hours, while those with no prior kanji knowledge took between 3,000-4,800 hours.

 

So it’s safe to say whether you’re familiar with kanji or not, you need to set apart some serious time to study for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

 

Studying Techniques for the JLPT

 

While there is no right or wrong way to study for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, there are some notable methods to help you.

 

Below are a couple of suggested studying techniques to help you overcome the JLPT (easier).

 

The Heisig Method

 

The Heisig Method was developed by James Heisig and is used to help non-native speakers learn Japanese (kanji). The method instructs readers to create mnemonic devices and stories to link the meaning and the written kanji.

 

This personal method can help you individually recall kanji through using a story that relates to the actual meaning of the character.

 

Sample Questions

 

One of the arguably best ways to prepare for an exam is through answering sample questions from previous tests. While it doesn’t work for everyone, it can show you similar questions in preparation and highlight areas that you need to work on.

 

Here are some sample questions from the official Japanese Language Proficiency Test site.

 

Person reading behind a stack of books

 

Japanese Language Proficiency Test Registration Process

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test registration process is fairly straightforward. All you need to do is find the date of the test, sign up online, pay your application fee and turn up to the exam.

 

This however changes based on whether you’re taking the test in Japan or in the UK. The processes are pretty much the same, but the dates and registration portals will change.

 

Taking the Test in Japan

 

Taking the test in Japan is simple, similarly the dates are held in July and December. For 2021, the dates are Sunday, July 4th, and Sunday, December 5th.

 

To take the JLPT in Japan, simply check the test dates and sign up on the Japanese Educational Exchanges and Service (JEES) website. You will then pay your application fee and receive your test voucher from JEES, you are then eligible to take the test.

 

Taking the Test in the UK

 

Outside of Japan, in the UK, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is only run twice a yearonce in July and once in December. The dates for these tests are not consistent and will be subject to change each year, so you’ll have to keep an eye out for dates.

 

The exam can be taken in one of three locations in the UK; CardiffEdinburgh or London.

 

Getting Your Japanese Language Proficiency Test Results

 

You’ve done all the hard work, you’ve completed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and you’re wondering what happens next. After taking the test, you will receive your results usually within 6-7 weeks.

 

Your results will be available here. To view your JLPT results you will need your examinee number and eight-digit password, you can find these on your test voucher.

 

You can also find all the information you need on how to read your score report, passing grades and more here.

 

 

Close-up on a Japanese newspaper

 

What are the Benefits of Taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test?

 

There are numerous benefits to taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, most notably in looking great on your CV. With the majority of schools and companies in Japan requiring at least a certain level of proficiency in the Japanese language, the JLPT can be extremely helpful.

 

As well as admission into certain schools and companies, the JLPT can help you make the move to Japan. One of the ways to immigrate to Japan is through what’s called a “Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional Visa”.

 

This visa uses a point-based system in which you need 70 points to be eligible. One of the ways to rack up points is through the JLPT certification, meaning you’re more likely to be accepted if you have an N1 or N2 level certification.

 

The JLPT can also help you secure high-level jobs in Japan such as management positions. Please find the full list of JLPT benefits below.

 

  • Necessary for admission into universities and graduate schools within Japan.
  • Necessary for admission or proof of proficiency for educational institutions in Japan (or your own country).
  • To measure your own level of proficiency in the Japanese language.
  • To attain certain jobs in Japan (or your own country).
  • To secure a pay rise or higher paying jobs in Japan (or your own country).

 

How Long Does the JLPT Qualification Last For?

 

Unlike the majority of qualifications that may last up to six months or a year, or need to be renewed with a paid membership, the JLPT lasts indefinitely.

 

So all your hard work that you put towards the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is for life, helping you to secure jobs and education for years to come.

 

Japanese calligraphy on sheets of paper on a wall

 

What Can You Expect from Completing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test?

 

It’s so easy to say “you need to complete the JLPT because of x,y,z”, and while it’s a good qualification to have, there’s so much more to it than that. The proof is pretty much everywhere – from job advertisements stating the need of someone with a proficiency of X to even as a requirement for certain visas.

 

As a specialist English to Japanese Recruitment Agency, we know the ins and outs of the industry, and as such understand the effect of JLPT in your job search.

 

So to answer the question ‘does the Japanese Language Proficiency Test prohibit access to higher paying jobs?’yes, more often than not it does.

 

The Relationship Between the JLPT and Job Accessibility

 

In our experience, the different levels essentially ‘unlock’ job types and higher salaried roles.

 

N3 is usually the basic requirement for most jobs that include Japanese, this can include teaching jobs and some customer service roles.

 

For jobs upwards of salary and skills such as marketing and sales roles, you would need at least N2, or N1 in many cases. In some cases alongside the addition of the N1 qualification, you would also be required to implement this knowledge to do advanced tasks such as create presentations and lead teams entirely in Japanese.

 

This is by no means essential for EVERY industry, not every role requires some level of proficiency. For example, some IT roles are quite lax when it comes to the JLPT, while jobs related to liberal arts such as history, literature, writing etc. are highly essential. With those who have advanced degrees even being turned down due to a lack of the JLPT.

 

The Japanese Fluency Salary Cap

 

As this is the case, we have seen an interesting trend start to become more apparent – a fluency salary cap for each level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

 

For most job roles stating a requirement for what JLPT level you need, this can mean that without a JLPT you are capped at a certain income.

 

  • We have seen that those with the N3 qualification are typically limited to an annual income earning potential of under ¥4,000,000.
  • Those with the N2 qualification are then limited to an annual income earning potential of under ¥5,000,000 – ¥7,000,000 on average.
  • Those with the N1 qualification are then opened up to an annual income earning potential of ¥7,000,000 on average, when combined with the right skills.

 

 

Close-up on engraved calligraphy on Japanese torii pillars

 

At What Stage are People Taking the Test?

 

Something to consider about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is that you can take the test at any age. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in primary school or are working full-time in a multinational corporation, you are eligible to take the JLPT.

 

Below is a breakdown of the most common times to take the JLPT.

 

  • Elementary school (primary school education).
  • Middle school or high school student (secondary school education).
  • University or graduate school student (higher education).
  • Student of some other educational institution.
  • Employed (company employee, public servant, self-employed etc.).

 

What’s the Difference Between the Old and the New Japanese Language Proficiency Test?

 

As the new Japanese Language Proficiency Test was adopted it replaced some core aspects of the old test. The main change was made to the four-level format, which is now a five-level format.

 

This fifth level (N3) was said to have been added because of the difficulty gap between level 2 and 3. Most applicants that had passed level 3 then struggled to pass level 2, so a new level was added to bridge the gap between these two levels.

 

And with the new test saw level 1 (N1) becoming even more advanced, hoping to measure the abilities more difficult than the initial test. On top of this, as well as passing with an overall score, the new test introduced the requirement to pass individual sections also.

 

Below is a breakdown of exactly what changes were made to each section of the JLPT.

 

  • N1 was made slightly more advanced but with the same passing level.
  • N2 is the same as before.
  • N3 was added to bridge the difficulty gap between level 2 and 3.
  • N4 is the same as the original level 3.
  • N5 is the same as the original level 4.

 

History of the Japanese Proficiency Test

 

The JLPT was first held in 1984 in response to growing demand for standardized Japanese language certification. Initially 7,000 people took the test. Until 2003, the JLPT was one of the requirements for foreigners entering Japanese universities.

 

Since 2003, the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU) has been used by most universities for this purpose. Unlike the JLPT, which is solely a multiple-choice exam, the EJU contains sections which require the examinee to write in Japanese.

A bunch of Japanese books on a shelf

 

The Role of Cultural Understanding in Japanese Language Proficiency Test Preparation

 

Understanding Japanese culture is not just beneficial, but essential for doing well in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. While primarily focused on language proficiency, the test is deeply rooted in the cultural history of Japan. A grasp of Japanese customs, traditions, and societal norms can massively help when it comes to comprehension and contextual understanding, especially in the advanced levels of the test like N1 and N2. 

 

For example, understanding the honorific language (keigo), which is an important part of Japanese culture, can be a game changer in both the listening and reading sections. Being, familiar with these can provide valuable context, making it easier to understand and interpret the material. This is why integrating cultural studies into Japanese Language Proficiency Test preparation can lead to a more holistic understanding of the language and a better score in the test – if you are moving to Japan anyway then there’s a good chance you are either interested in Japanese culture or you will find something useful.

 

Comparing Japanese Language Proficiency Test with Other Language Proficiency Tests

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test is quite unique when compared to other language proficiency tests such as the TOEFL or IELTS. While TOEFL and IELTS focus on assessing the test-taker’s ability to use English in an academic or professional setting, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is more centered on everyday Japanese language use. A significant difference is that the Japanese Language Proficiency Test does not have a speaking or writing component, unlike TOEFL and IELTS, which test all four language skills – reading, writing, listening, and speaking. 

 

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test’s structure, comprising vocabulary, grammar, reading, and listening sections, offers a different challenge, focusing more on comprehension and understanding of Japanese in various contexts. This structure underscores the importance of passive language skills and cultural understanding in Japanese, setting it apart from its English proficiency counterparts.

 

Using Technology to Enhance Japanese Language Proficiency Test Study

 

Technology can play a vital role in language learning, and Japanese Language Proficiency Test preparation is no exception. Various apps, websites, and digital tools have proved to be useful resources for students. Apps like Anki for flashcards or language learning platforms such as WaniKani for kanji learning specifically cater to the needs of Japanese Language Proficiency Test students. 

 

These tools often incorporate spaced repetition systems, ensuring efficient memorisation of vocabulary and kanji. Furthermore, websites offering practice tests and forums for discussion allow learners to test their knowledge and gain insights from peers. The use of technology in study routines makes learning more interactive and engaging and allows for flexible, self-paced study. This is great for people who are balancing work or life commitments.

 

Japanese Language Proficiency Test Preparation: Classroom vs. Self-Study

 

There are positives and negatives to argue for both classroom learning and self-study for Japanese Language Proficiency Test preparation. Ultimately it is a matter of personal learning style and preference. Classroom learning offers structured guidance, regularity, and the opportunity for immediate feedback from instructors, which can be especially beneficial for beginners or those at the intermediate level (N3). It also lets you practise with your classmates that are likely around your level which is great for putting your skills into practice.

 

On the other hand, self-study offers flexibility and the ability to tailor one’s learning pace and style. With a plethora of resources available online, motivated learners can effectively prepare for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test on their own, especially at the higher levels (N2 and N1), where understanding nuanced language patterns and cultural aspects becomes crucial. Ultimately, the choice between classroom and self-study should be based on one’s learning habits, level of discipline, and specific needs for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test level they are targeting.

 

The Impact of Japanese Language Proficiency Test on Career Opportunities in Japan and Globally

 

Achieving Japanese Language Proficiency Test certification can open doors for career opportunities, both in Japan and globally. In Japan, where language proficiency is highly valued, a Japanese Language Proficiency Test certificate can significantly enhance a job applicant’s resume, especially for positions requiring interaction with native Japanese clients or colleagues. It is not a requirement for getting a job although it will put you in a much stronger position.

 

Internationally, Japanese Language Proficiency Test certification can be a testament to your character – learning a new language, shows dedication, particularly if your native tongue is latin based. Speaking Japanese can be appealing to multinational companies with business ties to Japan. For certain professions, such as translation, interpretation, or education, a high Japanese Language Proficiency Test level (like N1 or N2) is often a prerequisite. Japanese Language Proficiency Test certification not only boosts employability but also can be a stepping stone to more advanced roles and opportunities in various fields.

 

Japanese Language Proficiency Test Study Groups and Communities: Finding Support and Resources

 

Joining Japanese Language Proficiency Test study groups and communities can offer help and support, and also allow you to hone your skills in real conversations. These groups provide a supportive environment where learners can share strategies, resources, and experiences. They often can be motivating, especially during the more challenging phases of preparation.

 

Online forums and social media groups are also excellent places to connect with Japanese Language Proficiency Test students. These are great if you are studying online and are not taking part in a physical class. Being part of a group can improve your study experience but also provide access to diverse perspectives and insights, which can be beneficial for a well-rounded preparation.

 

Updates and Changes: Keeping Up with Japanese Language Proficiency Test Modifications

 

Staying informed about updates and changes to the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is important for effective preparation. The test format and content can undergo changes which in turn will impact study strategies and materials. Keeping an eye on the official Japanese Language Proficiency Test website and related forums is strongly recommended to make your you are clued up on the latest information. 

 

Changes might include adjustments in the question types, scoring system, or the introduction of new vocabulary and grammar points. Being up-to-date ensures that your preparation is correct and in line with the current tests.

 

Balancing Japanese Language Proficiency Test Preparation with Work and Personal Life

 

Balancing Japanese Language Proficiency Test preparation with work and personal life can be difficult but is very much achievable with proper planning and time management. Setting realistic goals and creating a structured study plan can help in efficiently allocating time to the Japanese Language Proficiency Test study without overwhelming one’s schedule. 

 

It’s important to integrate study sessions into daily routines. This can be done by dedicating specific time slots each day for language practice. Utilising technology, such as language learning apps, can facilitate short but effective study periods during breaks or commutes. It’s also worth planning to maintain a healthy balance, ensuring that time is set aside for relaxation and personal activities, to avoid burnout and maintain overall well-being during the preparation period.

 

A Japanese woman in a classroom resting on a book and staring off into the distance

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Number of Japanese Language Proficiency Test Exam Takers Annually?

 

The number of examinees per year for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test has been growing, with recent figures indicating more than 1 million candidates annually. For instance, in 2019, about 1.36 million applicants took the exam.

 

How Can I Book The Japanese Language Proficiency Test Exam?

 

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test can be booked through the local host institution in your area. The registration period varies by city. Generally, for the first test in July, registration occurs around March-April, and for the second test in December, it’s around August-September. You should confirm the specifics with your local host institution.

 

What Are The Best Online Study Resources?

 

Some notable online resources include italki.com for finding Japanese teachers or tutors, jisho.org as an online dictionary, guidetojapanese.org for online textbooks, and apps like Anki, Memrise, and Lingodeer.

 

Where Can I Access Japanese Language Proficiency Test Past Papers? 

 

The official practice workbooks for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, which contain questions similar to those used in actual tests, can be found on the Japanese Language Proficiency Test official website. These include workbooks published in 2012 and 2018.

 

Are there any Japanese Language Proficiency Test Exam Locations in the USA? 

 

In the United States, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is hosted by the American Association of Teachers of Japanese (A.A.J.T.). Test sites include cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Honolulu, Atlanta, San Francisco, and several others across the country.

 

What Are The Best Books for Japanese Language Proficiency Test Preparation?

 

Recommended books include the “New Kanzen Master” series (particularly useful for higher levels like N2 and N1), “Nihongo So-matome” series, “Kanji Master” books (especially from N2 onwards), and official books published by the Japan Foundation and JEES for practice exams.

 

Is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test an Employment Requirement in Japan?

 

Having Japanese Language Proficiency Test accreditation is not a legal requirement for employment in Japan. However, certain levels of proficiency, often N2, are commonly required for jobs. The accreditation can significantly enhance your resume, although in many cases, employers may be more interested in your actual language ability rather than the certification itself.

 

Any more questions about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test? Get in touch with us!