Preparing for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)

January 12, 2017
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Preparing for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)

Whether you have studied Japanese in school, have participated in a study abroad program in Japan, or may be moving to Japan for business or personal reasons, you may want to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. There are several reasons for this:

  • You will get a feel for how much of the language you have mastered, so that you can set goals for preparing to take the higher levels of the test
  • You will get a certificate when you pass each of Japanese language proficiency test levels, and you will have these as evidence that you are proficient in the language. This will be important if you should seek employment in Japan
  • You may want to be employed as a translator in your home country, either for private industry or for the government in some capacity. Having the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) certification, especially at the highest level, will be your proof that you have the required knowledge and skills.
  • You may want to re-locate to Japan for personal reasons. Taking this test will allow you to determine your own proficiency.

Preparing for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test

The test is given on the same day, all over the world. In some places, outside of the U.S. (there are 16 testing centers in the U.S.), it is given multiple times a year. The first part of your preparation, of course, is to register, which you can do on the official site of the testing organization. You will pay your fee and receive a registration card with a number. That number will be assigned to you at a specific testing site. But even before that, you need to identify which of the five Japanese Language Proficiency Test Levels you will want to select. You must select which test you want to take during the registration process.

In order to do that, you need to know very specifically which level is best suited for you. Here is a summary of each of those levels:

  • N5: This is the lowest level test, and it demonstrates your ability to read and understand basic Japanese. The reading portion of the test will require that you comprehend sentences and common expressions that are written in katakana, kanji, and hiragana. The listening portion will test your ability to understand conversation about common topics encountered in classrooms and everyday life.
  • N4: This test also has a reading and a listening portion and will assess your ability to do all of those things in the N5 level, plus your ability to read more difficult material in kanji with a stronger vocabulary and knowledge of kanji characters.
  • N3: the N3 level is probably most appropriate for those who are re-locating to Japan and who need to be able to navigate through more complex daily living situations. The reading section will incorporate everything in N5 and N4 levels but include additional materials, such as news summaries and short literary passages. The listening portion still revolves around everyday situations but requires ability to understand when the language is spoken at a moderate pace.
  • N2: To select this test and have a good chance of passing it, you will need to read passages on a variety of topics – literary, news and magazine articles, and to be able to relate intent and opinions of the writers. The listening portion will contain conversations on lots of topics at an almost normal speed, and you will need to demonstrate that you understand facts and nuances of conversations.
  • N1: This is the most difficult of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test levels and should be selected by those who have strong proficiency. The reading portion will require comprehension and analysis of complex content – news editorials, literary works, abstract concepts, etc. Listening will be at normal rates of speed and require a substantial vocabulary in order to understand and interpret conversations, news reports, etc.

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Studying and Preparing for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test

Learning a language is a cumulative process, and you are at some level of proficiency. Certainly, you can prepare for the test by studying additional vocabulary and continuing to practice reading passages at your level.

Perhaps the best preparation is to immerse yourself, either physically or online, into a Japanese environment. There are plenty of Japanese students looking for partners in English to practice their language skills. Set up a cooperative relationship and, through Skype or another live chat app, set a scheduled time to hook up and converse several times a week. Barring that, find a local group of Japanese students on campus or a local Japanese-American organization.

If you are a current college student, locate a Japanese foreign student and set up a cooperative arrangement. You can assist with their coursework demands, even with their college essay writing. In turn, they can tutor you in the language.

Access the Japanese Language Proficiency Test site, and link to the sample questions for each level of the test. You will also find a link to the official practice workbooks, again separated by test level.

Scoring and Results Notification

Individual scores are sent to examinees; they will also be available online by registration/identification number. In general, those students who take the test in July will receive their scores and certificates by early October. Those who take a December test will receive results by early March. If the test is taken in Japan, scores will be published a month earlier in each case.

Results are on a Pass/Fail basis, and there is a minimum score for each section of a test in order to receive a passing grade. If any section of a test fall into the “fail” section, the student fails the entire test. Certificates of passage are mailed to everyone who has passed.

The Takeaway

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test is a fully objective test, that is, it does not require composition, as many other standardized tests and application/admissions testing does. The value of such a test, and the certificate that comes with it, however, does demonstrate that you have enough proficiency to comprehend verbal and written communication in the language. If you are a student in a Japanese institution, for example, you will be able to understand the lectures and the readings. Writing is another matter, however, and that may take some additional time and work. Until you establish that proficiency, you can always find a Japanese friend, agency, or tutor and state, “Write my papers,” in exchange for a bit of cash or a reciprocal favor.