JLPT – what is it and should you take it?

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) has been offered by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (formerly Association of International Education, Japan) since 1984 as a means of evaluating the level of language proficiency in learners of Japanese.

For those of us studying Japanese, it is practically the only test available where we are able to receive an internationally recognised certification of our language level. However, how accurate is it in testing your abilities?

5 levels are offered with N5 measuring understanding of basic Japanese and N1 being for advanced learners. The exams are offered twice a year (July and December) worldwide. In this post I would like to not only outline what the JLPT is, but to also advise anyone who may be considering sitting one of the exams. I have sat 3 JLPT exams myself, N3 once and N2 twice (passed second time), in a different location each time.

What will you be tested on?

The JLPT tests your knowledge of vocabulary/grammar, reading comprehension, and listening in a series of multiple choice exams. The exam set-up for each level can be seen in the table below.

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Levels N5 – N3 are split into 3 exams, and N1/N2 have 2 longer exams. It is not possible to register for only one exam, all must be taken in order to achieve the qualification.


What about Writing and Speaking?

Writing and speaking abilities are not tested in the JLPT.

Applicants should be aware of this when signing up for the exam. The exam may not be for you if your main focus is on speaking the language and not reading comprehension. While an all-round competency in a language could be said to be ideal, candidates who feel they are significantly weaker in one area should choose which level they sit wisely. In order to pass a JLPT exam, you not only need to surpass the minimum of marks available but you need to pass each ‘section’.

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Therefore, to pass N3 (for example), you need to achieve a total of 95/180 with at least 19/60 in each section. Note that N5/4 are divided differently.


Taking the exam

When I took the N3 exam in July 2013 in Edinburgh, the total cost of taking the exam was higher than expected. The exam itself was £75 (I understand it’s cheaper in the US and Japan), however I also had to factor in travel (my fellow Brits will sympathise that our trains are extortionate!) and a hotel room for 1 night. The exam is always held on the first Sunday of December/July and although it started at 1pm, I had to travel a good distance to Edinburgh and would not have made it in time.

In the UK you can take the JLPT in Edinburgh, London, or Cardiff.


Although this has been a very brief insight into the JLPT with just a few notes on what you should keep in mind – I hope this has been helpful for someone.

Let me know if you have any questions/queries!




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