The Japanese Language Proficiency Test is the oldest and most widely recognized test of competence in the Japanese language. In addition to being used to evaluate students studying abroad and place students in the proper level of a Japanese class, it can also be used as a de facto TOEFL type test to learn Japanese as a second language. Another use of the test is to qualify to work for Japanese companies or as a way to prove Japanese ability to employers outside of Japan.

The test has a long history, and is the product of cooperation between two large established institutions in Japan – The Japan Foundation, and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES). The test has been around for over 20 years, and is constantly being perfected. In fact, the JLPT received its largest overhaul yet in 2010 which led to many improvements for both test takers, and those who use the tests in evaluations.

Test Summary

When is it offered?
Right now the test can be taken twice a year, once in early July and once in early December. (Please note that in some countries outside of Japan, only the December test is offered. Please check with your local host institution to be sure.)

When is registration?
Registration for the December test takes place from August to September. Registration for the July test is between March and April.

When will scores arrive?
The scores for the July test will arrive in September. The scores for the December test will arrive in February.

Where can I take the test?
The test is offered all over Japan, and in hundreds of cities in over 60 different countries on every continent in the world. The official website of the test has a list of all cities and host institutions.

Which test should I take?
A quick way to decide is to go onto our forums and check some of the discussions about the JLPT and the various levels, you can ask a question or check out some of the sample questions people are discussing. Another way is to try some of the sample questions on the JLPT website. Still a good rule of thumb is how well you read. If you can read newspaper editorials and logically complex texts with no trouble, you can probably handle N1. If you can have conversations, but don’t know enough kanji to read a lot of the paperwork or websites you look at, you may be N4.


Photo by Kay Morisada Salera

How long is the JLPT?
Each test is a different length. The N5 is the shortest and the N1 is the longest. Here is a basic breakdown of the how long the test is, not counting breaks between the sections.
N1 – 170 minutes (110 minutes of “language knowledge” or vocabulary-reading questions and 60 minutes of listening)
N2 – 155 minutes (105 minutes of “language knowledge” or vocabulary-reading questions and 50 minutes of listening)
N3 – 140 minutes (30 minutes of vocabulary, 70 minutes of grammar and reading, and 40 minutes of listening)
N4 – 125 minutes (30 minutes of vocabulary, 60 minutes of grammar and reading, and 35 minutes of listening)
N5 – 105 minutes (25 minutes of vocabulary, 50 minutes of grammar and reading, and 30 minutes of listening)

How should I study for the test?
There are a few ways to look at this. One way is that it’s a proficiency test so if you are only taking it to find out what level you are… there’s no reason to study any more than you regularly do. On the other hand, if passing N2 will mean a raise or a promotion, or look good on a resume, then by all means, study. There are a lot of Japanese textbooks, a lot of Japanese Language learning software packages, and a lot of Japanese tutors around to take advantage of. The best way to learn Japanese depends a lot on your own individual studying style. The most dynamic way to learn is get your hands on some Japanese learning software–you can be sure to improve at least some facet of your knowledge with one of these programs.

Do you have any tips for passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test?
o The best way to pass the JLPT is to study like crazy and use Japanese as much as you can (or software mentioned above).
o Getting enough rest before having to sit for a very, very long test is also important.
o Having some snacks or a lunch to eat during breaks in the test to make sure that hunger and thirst do not distract you can help as well.
o As with any other standardize test, it’s best to be familiar with the question types that will be on the test so you don’t have to waste time trying to figure out the instructions (which will also be in Japanese).
o Have the required pencils and erasers ready so you don’t have to stress about borrowing them. (Incidentally “HB” is what “No. 2” pencils are called in Japan.)
o Don’t be distracted by the other students, especially if you end up taking the test in a crowded location or near test-takers with noisy nervous habits.

Recent Changes and the New JLPT

In 2010, the creators of the JLPT decided to make some more significant changes to the test than had ever been attempted in the past. The changes can be summed up in four broad descriptions.
1. The test puts more emphasis on Japanese communication skills.
Some old criticisms of the test were that too much emphasis had been placed on reading, so that people who memorized enough kanji and vocabulary could pass while people who spoke and understood Japanese well had more difficulty. Without giving up any emphasis on kanji and vocabulary – both very important parts of the Japanese language, the test-makers added more emphasis on practical applications of Japanese. This basically means that they decided to focus more on realistic situations and not limit it to dry academic texts.
2. The number of test levels was increased.
I remember years ago being very intimidated to hear that the level 2 Japanese Language Proficiency Test was a huge jump up from level 3. This has been remedied with a new test settled snuggly between the old level 2 and old level 3. Now the levels are, in increasing difficulty N5, N4, N3, N2, and N1. The N1 and N2 levels are relatively the same as the old test, but the old level 3 and 4 have become the new N4 and N5. N3 is the new addition created to bridge the large gap in the middle and be a true intermediate level Japanese test.
3. The scoring method was revised.
This is one of the improvements that will really benefit students. In the past, passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test was all about a raw score, unlike most of the large-scale, high stakes standardized tests in the United States which tend to use a scale to ensure that results match from year to year even if a certain year’s test was particularly difficult. This is also done with tests in Japan such as the Eiken (STEP) test used to determine English ability, so it is not new to Japan either.
4. They made better descriptions of what people who have passed each level can do.
Although the test has been around for a while, not every school, employer, or friend will know what it means to pass a given level. Writing “JLPT Level 3” on a resume shows strong Japanese ability in everyday situations and ability in other situations as well, but until the revisions to the test it was not as clear. The JLPT creators have made what they call a “Can Do List” that shows what people at each level “can do” with the Japanese language skills.

Summing Up the Japanese Language Proficiency Test

Anyone in the process of learning Japanese can benefit from taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. In addition to the obvious benefits of having an established and respected way of verifying your Japanese ability, the tests can be a great way to network with other people studying the language and even make a few friends.

Standardized tests can be great motivators and help students learning Japanese independently realize and focus on their weak areas. The JLPT is also fun because it is a test designed like other Japanese standardized tests. Japanese culture does come through in the questions and that can give an advantage to people who are interested in it. There are also often some fun cultural tidbits in the questions or reading passages that can be fascinating.

Feel free to also check our in-depth descriptions of the tests done by level – the beginning and intermediate (N3 to N5) Japanese Language Proficiency Tests, and the advanced Japanese Language Proficiency Tests (levels N1 and N2).