JLPT: the Japanese Language Test (N1 to N5)

Nihongo Nôryoku Shiken Examinations

⏱ 5 minutes

There are several tests of Japanese language proficiency, just like DELF for the French or TOIEC for English. The most famous and renowned is the JLPT. Well known by all students and those learning Japanese, there is not yet a lot of information about it. Even on the Internet 📶, some pages or forums have specific information about the test, but it remains poor regarding the test's content. Here is a topic regarding this examination, how it works, how to prepare and register for it.

About the JLPT

The acronym JLPT means Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or from its original name, 日本語能力試験 "Nihongo Noryoku Shiken", meaning "examination of Japanese language’s skills." It is a global test that occurs at the same time in several countries, once by year on the first Sunday of December (there is an additional session in July mainly in Japan and China). By comparison, the JLPT is more dedicated to literal and casual Japanese, whereas the Business Japanese Proficiency Test (BJT) has a unique level and more specialized to business. A validated JLPT gives the recipient the right to an international diploma, which is sometimes required to register at a Japanese university, for example. Created in 1984, it is organized in Japan by Japan Educational Exchange and Services (JEES) and by The Japan Foundation elsewhere in the world.

Five different tests classified by level

The JLPT tests are multiple-choice questions from the Minna no Nihongo format, defined in 5 levels that the candidate chooses when registering. Therefore applicant assess its own level and study to pass it. Here are the 5 ranks:

  • N5: for beginners, corresponding to the basic rules of grammar, simple conversation and reading of simple phrases. The test evaluates students’ knowledge of about 80 kanji, 600 vocabulary words and about 150 hours of learning.
  • N4: for advanced beginners, corresponding to a sufficient level for an everyday conversation and reading simple sentences. This test evaluates students’ knowledge of about 230 kanji, 1,250 words and 450 hours of studying.
  • N3: last introduced, in order to complete the difficulty gap between the former levels 3 and 2. Students learn 600 kanji, 3,000 words and about 300 hours of studying.
  • N2: for intermediaries, corresponding to an advanced level of grammar, conversation, reading and writing about common topics to a certain degree. It requires the knowledge of 1,000 kanji, 6,000 vocabulary words and 600 hours of learning.
  • N1: dedicated to advanced students, corresponding to a perfect mastering of grammar that allows the student to attend classes in Japanese or to read newspapers. The test requires knowledge of about 2,000 kanji —all jôyô kanji, 10,000 vocabulary words and 900 hours of studying.

For your information, the "N" corresponds to "Nihongo" and "New" according to the official explanation from JEES.

Details of N3 to N5 examinations

The progress of the N3, N4 and N5 examinations is:

  • First, a vocabulary test with respective durations of 30, 30 and 25 minutes.
  • Then, a grammar and a kanji reading tests with respective durations of 70, 60 and 50 minutes.
  • Finally, an oral comprehension test aired on a magnetic or numerical bank with respective durations of 40, 35 and 30 minutes. Only the N5 test will have illustrations for answers.

Details of N1 and N2 examinations

The progress of the examinations is:

  • First, a vocabulary test and reading test (kanji and grammar) with respective durations of 60 and 50 minutes.
  • Finally, an oral comprehension test lasting 110 and 105 minutes, respectively.

Total duration of JLPT by level

As a result, here is the total duration of the test for each level:

  • N1: 170 minutes
  • N2: 155 minutes
  • N3: 140 minutes
  • N4: 125 minutes
  • N5: 105 minutes

The lastest system of scoring points for each level (N1 to N5)

The scoring system is the part that underwent the most significant changes with the renewal of JLPT in 2010.

From now on, all levels have a calculated total maximum score of 180 points. In the N3 through N5 levels, each part is worth 60 points. In N1 and N2 levels, the written part is worth 120 points and oral is 60 points. It is worth noting that there is now a minimum of points possible for each part, and no longer for the total points. It is therefore possible to be eliminated because of failing one part of the examination, even if the applicant has full success of the others.

Studying and preparing to obtain the JLPT diploma

JLPT results are given by mail around March (or February in Japan), along with the diploma, when a student has earned one. A diploma from the N2 JLPT test has a real international value; for example, to obtain an internship, to apply for university or a job in Japan.

For a long time now, it was said that the JLPT was an easy test to do if you studied well, and that many Japanese people, as Japan is one of the most educated countries in the world, would not obtain the former level 1 due to their progressive loss of writing kanji (thanks to keitai and other writing software). Basically, it can be seen as a test for students who are cramming for it and not for bilingual and fluent people. It can be true that we can enjoy daily life with "only" knowing 1,000 kanji. So for the N1 level, the debate about the real purpose of the test stays open.

Taking the test overseas

In the U.K., the JLPT test is held in three cities: London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. The test fee is £85 for all levels and is non-refundable.

In the United States, the JLPT test is held in eighteen cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Honolulu, Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Seattle, Fayetteville (Arkansas), Philadelphia, Boston, Houston, Ann Arbor, Boulder, Columbus, Miami, Portland and Newark. The registration fee is $60 for all levels.

Registration is usually closed two months before the test date and it is advised to check deadline to make an application on time.

Updated on January 14, 2019 - JLPT : passer le test de japonais (N1 à N5)