If you are new to learning Japanese, you may have heard about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or JLPT for short. It is something that myself and other Japanese language bloggers often refer to as an indication of one’s Japanese language level.
In the UK, the applications for the next sitting in December, have just opened and the results were published for the July exam very recently With this in mind, I thought it would be a good time to write about the JLPT exams for those who know nothing about it.
What is the JLPT?
The JLPT was developed as a way of measuring non-native Japanese speakers’ proficiency in Japanese. There are 5 levels to the JLPT as follows:
N5 – Beginner proficiency
N4 – Upper beginner proficiency
N3 – Intermediate proficiency
N2 – Upper intermediate proficiency
N1 – Advanced proficiency
The exact composition of the exam depends on the level you are taking, but all cover reading (with different emphasis on kanji, grammar and reading comprehension) and listening skills. If you pass, you will receive a snazzy certificate for your efforts.
The exam can be taken either inside or outside Japan – check out the official website for information on test centres in your country.
How do I know which level to take?
If you’ve been studying for a while, you might not have an idea of what level you are currently working at. The official JLPT website has some sample questions which can give you an idea of which level you are working at – alternatively, you may want to check out the resources mentioned below.
Is it worth it?
The answer to this ultimately depends on your current situation and future goals. I would definitely recommend it if you are looking to work in Japan, especially if you would like to have a bilingual role. A lot of Japanese companies look for business level (=JLPT N2) or native level (=JLPT N1) proficiency, so having this on your CV may well help you get your foot in the door. I’ve summed up what I believe the main pros and cons below:
- JLPT is a well-recognised qualification
- A good way of measuring your own progress particularly if you are self-studying
- Can be expensive (in the UK it costs £75 per sitting)
- Can only take it 1-2 times a year depending on where you live
- Does not test speaking proficiency
- Especially at higher levels, grammar points can get obscure
There are more cons than pros in the above list, but the pro of having a widely recognised qualification is a great advantage for those wishing to pursue further studies or employment in Japan (this is not to say that not having a JLPT qualification will prevent you from getting a job!).
How do I study towards it?
There is a heavy emphasis on vocabulary and grammar, so a lot of study is needed to cover all of the materials at each level. For this reason, textbooks are a popular choice although there are some wonderful (and free!) online resources too:
For level N5, there are not many JLPT specific textbooks available. If you are working through a textbook such as Genki, then you should cover a lot of the grammar expected at this level – refer to the online resources below for lists of grammar points, vocabulary and kanji in the test.
For the upper levels, there are two series of books that are quite popular: Nihongo Sou Matome and Kanzen Master. I have not used Nihongo Sou Matome myself but it is very highly regarded.
I have personally used the Kanzen Master series of books (pictured above – there are individual books for grammar, vocabulary, kanji and listening comprehension) which are a useful means of preparing you for the test.
There are a number of websites with vocab, kanji, grammar point lists and listening exercises – here are a couple of my favourites:
- Tanos JLPT is a great place to start if you’ve just decided to take the plunge. The website has vocabulary, kanji and grammar lists which you can start to work your way through.
- Japanesetest4you is a website filled to the brim with practice tests for all aspects of each level of the JLPT. As i’ve mentioned previously, it is really important to practice in exam conditions so that you have an idea of how to manage your time on the day!
- MLC Japanese has lists of key vocabulary and kanji, worksheets with exam-style questions and study plan ideas for the JLPT.
- Nihongo Pro has free vocabulary, kanji and grammar quizzes for all levels of the JLPT.
- Flashcard apps like Anki and Memrise have a number of shared decks for each level of the JLPT
If you are lucky enough to be in Japan or a major city overseas, you may be able to find a JLPT prep class – for example in London, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) runs JLPT prep classes in the run up to the exam.
This is a general overview of the JLPT test – if you have any further questions about the JLPT please let me know in the comments.