The Japanese Language Exam: Why JLPT Is the Best Way to Certify Your Japanese Skills
With all the Ghibli Studio movies on Netflix and J-Pop increasing in popularity by the minute, learning Japanese has never been easier.
If you’ve been binge-watching Miyazaki’s animated masterpieces and your feeling confident about your Japanese skills, why not certify your knowledge by taking a Japanese language exam?
The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is a standardized Japanese examination that assesses and certifies Japanese language proficiency for non-native speakers. JLPT consists of five levels and it covers grammar, vocabulary, reading, and listening. It is held twice in July and December in Japan and selected countries, and it is the only official Japanese proficiency exam whose validity does not expire over time.
Below, you’ll find detailed information on the skills you will have to prove at every level of the Japanese language exam as well as information about how to prepare for the test. Or, you know, just an excuse to rewatch Naruto in its original language
Levels of the Japanese Language Examination
The Japanese language exam is divided into five levels, 5 being the easiest and 1 being the highest. Though each level includes only two sections—reading and listening—knowledge of Japanese grammar and vocabulary is needed to successfully complete the reading and listening comprehension tasks.
Candidates who pass level 5 of the Japanese proficiency exam demonstrate that they can understand some basic Japanese spoken in everyday situations. We are truly speaking about basic stuff here. Greetings, questions about personal information, and very small talk.
Test-takers are able to read and comprehend common phrases and expressions and sentences written in the four writing systems of the Japanese language—hiragana, katakana, kanji, and Rōmaji.
They are able to listen and understand conversations about simple topics often found in domestic and classroom contexts, provided that the speakers’ delivery is slow and clear.
Candidates who pass level 4 of the Japanese exam prove that they can understand basic Japanese about familiar topics.
They can comprehend written passages on familiar subjects expressed through basic vocabulary in any of the writing systems of Japanese.
They can understand conversations found in daily life and follow their contents without considerable strain.
Candidates who pass level 3 of the Japanese exam show that they are able to understand Japanese and distinguish main ideas from background information.
・They can comprehend written materials concerning everyday topics as well as more specific contents
・They can grasp summary information such as magazine headlines.
・They can understand slightly difficult texts and understand the main points even if they don’t know all the words.
Candidates can comprehend exchanges about different topics spoken at near-natural speed. They can extract main points and work out the nature of the relationship among the participants.
People who pass level 2 of the Japanese exam need to show their ability to understand Japanese in a variety of circumstances with high precision.
・They can understand materials about a variety of topics, including articles, news stories, and personal emails.
・They can follow the narrative of a text and can also correctly interpret the intent and tone of the writer. (Like when you can sense irony in a friend’s remark about your haircut)
・Candidates can understand a considerable number of oral materials such as news reports, phone messages, and TV clips delivered at nearly natural speed
・They can also infer the relationships among the people involved even when the information is not explicitly conveyed by any of the participants.
Candidates who pass level 1 of the Japanese language exam show near-perfect mastery of Japanese, which means they can cope with virtually every communicative situation in this language. In other words, you are one of the few lucky people who can watch Evangelion without subtitles!
・They can understand written texts that deal with complex or abstract topics such as newspaper editorials, academic papers, and critiques.
・They can understand conversations, lectures, movie scenes, and all kinds of oral texts spoken at a natural speed.
・ They can comprehend not only main ideas but also very specific details. (Like when your friend is telling you everything about her brother’s job but you’re attentive enough to catch a fleeting comment about his relationship status).
Passing for the Japanese language exam is based on scaled scores broken down by section. In order to pass the test candidates must achieve both an overall pass mark for the total points and passing marks for each individual section.
This scoring system ensures that language abilities are not unbalanced. In a word, candidates can’t pass by getting an outstanding score in the listening section if their reading paper is very poor, or vice versa.
The overall pass mark ranges between 100/180 (55.55%), for level 1, and 80/180 (44.44%), for level 5.
How Can I Prepare for the Japanese Language Exam?
According to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), Japanese is among the five most difficult languages to learn for English speakers, due to the enormous linguistic and cultural differences that exist between the two languages. Based on this information, the Japanese Language Education Center has come up with study time data for JLPT candidates, both with and without previous knowledge of kanji.
Japanese Certification Exam – Study Time Comparison Data 2022
|Level||Students with prior kanji knowledge||Students without prior kanji knowledge|
|1||1800–2600 hours||3000–4500 hours|
|2||1200–1800 hours||1500–2800 hours|
|3||700–1200 hours||950–1600 hours|
|4||400–750 hours||575–1100 hours|
|5||250–450 hours||325–550 hours|
It might seem like a lot, but if you think about it, preparing for level 5 of the Japanese exam will take you the same number of hours as it takes to binge-watch most anime TV shows!
Besides, there are always ways in which you can make the learning process more fun and meaningful. By learning with a native speaker of the language, for instance, you get to soak up the Japanese culture in ways that you wouldn’t be able to if you were using a textbook or a pre-recorded course.
At Language Trainers, we work with Japanese tutors who are great at coming up with tailor-made lessons based on every student’s needs and goals. Contact us now and we’ll match you with one of them for a free trial class. We are sure that you will get more out of it than formal training for a Japanese language exam.