What is the JLPT?

I, as well as my fellow j-bloggers, are often talking about the JLPT. About it’s advantages and disadvantages, about how one should prepare for it, about this year’s changes; et cetera, et cetera. What we don’t talk about, however, is what this acronym stands for. “Everybody knows that!”, I hear from the crowd. Well, it may be hard to believe, but based on my unscientific research, there are still plenty of people who don’t know what JLPT stands for, or worse, haven’t heard about it at all. And how can we be surprised? Unlike the big guys in town (e.g., TOEFL, IELTS), the JLPT has virtually no marketing, it can only be taken in a handful of locations, and it isn’t supported by any multinational educational institutions who would promote it to their students.

What is the JLPT

JLPT stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test, which, in turn, is a translation of 日本語能力試験 (Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken, にほんごのうりょくしけん).

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It is a Japanese language test for non-native speakers, held twice a year in East Asia and once a year in the rest of the world. The JLPT—first Japanese test of it’s kind—was established in 1984, in order to create a standardized certificate which could be used by Japanese companies & universities. Since 2003, the majority of the latter have switched to the new Examination for Japanese University Admission (EJU), but the JLPT is still the most universal and well known Japanese language test available.

In the past, the test had 4 difficulty levels; 4-kyū being the easiest, 1-kyū the hardest. Starting with 2010, however, a new test pattern will be used. Originally scheduled to be implemented from December 2009, the new test will have five levels; N5 being roughly the same as 4-kyū, N3 being between 3-kyū and 2-kyū, and N1 slightly more difficult than the former 1-kyū level. The yonkyū (now N5) level is really easy and I would suggest you to start directly with the next one. The ikkyū level, on the other hand, is really tricky and you’ll probably need a few years to get it right. Some like to say that it requires near-native fluency. While I personally believe that the word fluency doesn’t describe a well defined concept, and is thrown around too much in the linguistics circles, it’s more than probable that you’ll feel quite confident with you Japanese after you pass JLPT 1.

The JLPT is divided into three sections. The first one, Characters and Vocabulary(もじ・ごい, 文字・語彙), is worth 100 points out of 400 and tests your knowledge of Japanese vocabulary, kanji compounds & readings, and correct word usages. The second section, Listening Comprehension(ちょうかい, 聴解), is also worth 100 points and comprises two subsections. In the first part, one is supposed to choose one of four illustrations which best represents the situation in a prerecorded dialogue. In the second part, there are no visual clues to help one with the question. The listening section is often difficult for those unfamiliar with the test as the questions are played only once and may contain uncommon and confusing situations. Last but not least, the 200 point Reading Comprehension and Grammar(どっかい・ぶんぽう, 読解・文法) section test the knowledge of Japananese grammar concepts (particles, conjugations, etc.) and one’s reading comprehension (with fill-in-the-blank and paraphrasing questions concerning short reading passages). There is a list of kanji, vocabulary and grammar that one should know and a suggested number of hours of study for each level, but the exam compilers may choose to include up to 20% of material from outside of these lists.

The last thing that I would like to mention is for kanji freaks who passed the Characters section of all JLPT levels with flying colors and are in search for a new challenge.  If you would like to test your kanji knowledge and nothing else, or if you are searching for a new milestone to work for the Japanese Kanji Aptitude Test (Nihon Kanji Nōryoku Kentei Shiken, にほんかんじのうりょくけんてい, 日本漢字能力検定試験), better known as Kanji Kentei (かんじけんてい, 漢字検定), or simply Kaken. It has 12 (!!) levels ranging from a basic Level 10 (80-kanji learned in the first grade of elementary school) up to an incredibly difficult Level 1 testing the ability to read and write approximately 6000 characters including archaic kanji forms and Japanese proverbs & idiomatic expressions. If you know anyone who passed Level 1 of Kanji Kentei, please let me know in the comments, and pay him/her my respects for me!

I hope that this article cleared all of your questions about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test! If not, feel free to ask below, and I’ll do my best to answer. And if you decide to take this year’s JLPT, be sure to check out my Japanese textbook and community which can help you prepare for the JLPT. Ganbatte ne!

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+Philip Seyfi is a Russian independent strategy consultant and entrepreneur, author of NihongoUp, and co-founder & CEO of EduLift.

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  • http://www.bradleyfarless.com/ Brad F.

    De La Salle University in Manila has a Japanese Studies degree that includes learning the language. One of the last courses you take specifically prepares you for the JLPT. Here's the course summary:Advanced Nihongo 3 & 4 JAPALA7 & 8This course intensively drills the students on the skills of writing, speaking, and reading, and will deal more with complicated academic reading material. The students are then prepared for the Japanese proficiency exam.Prerequisite: JAPALA 6It's also an internationally recognized University (accredited in the US) and has additional campuses in Singapore, which (unless I'm mistaken) makes it a multinational educational institution.So, I have to differ with you on that point. Other than that, thanks for the break down of the JLPT. I should be taking it in a few years.

  • http://divita.eu/ seifip

    Yes, it qualifies as a multinational educational institution, but it's still nothing compared to the IELTS (backed by British Council which has school in pretty much every country in the world) and the likes. Some of the largest language schools in the world prepare for the IELTS, TOEFL, etc., yet only few offer any preparation courses for the JLPT.Personally, I had to go to another country just to take the exam (from Czech Republic to Germany). Some say that the small number of test centers and only one Worldwide testing date is to prevent cheating. I say BS. One can take a TOEFL exam nearly every day at many different testing centers and there are no problems with cheating or anything like that. It's a well known fact, however, that JLPT's listening section is often published by Chinese students well before the test begins on the other side of the world.

  • http://www.bradleyfarless.com/ Brad F.

    That's interesting. I think it's BS too. First of all, regardless of how often the tests are, there's going to be some cheating. Are they trying to give the test an air of exclusivity or superiority? Well, whatever…I'm going to be studying there in Manila. I don't even know if the JLPT is offered in that country.

  • http://www.japangaku.com/ Buddy Lindsey

    You are pretty lucky here to have gotten comments without the fangs coming out bashing the JLPT. I think great minds think alike as I had as similar experience so I made a very similar post with the same title. LOL.http://japangaku.com/what-is-the-jlpt

  • http://divita.eu/ seifip

    lol that's an interesting coincidence ^^ I'm going to read your articles ASAP. Congrats on your blog's name change by the way.As for the comments, I'm kinda surprised about it as well… Maybe those who are against JLPT are in a different timezone and are still sleeping ^^ Personally I believe that such anti-JLPT comments are quite useful, as they often provoke a healthy discussion and changes in the system, but it's true that they are often way too extremist and don't take into account the positive side of the problem.

  • http://divita.eu/ seifip

    In this post I tried to objectively present the JLPT as a whole, how it works, and what it's officially intended for. In the future, I will consider writing some more articles on it's pros & cons, about the available alternatives (JTest, EJU, BJT), etc.

  • http://www.japangaku.com/ JapanGaku

    Thanks, the name was actually really hard to come up with. Whats worse is the design is even harder. LOL.You did a good job being objective. I liked it. I have done a couple posts on the pro's of it. While there are negatives I feel the benefits for those outside of Japan far outweigh the negatives.heh even setup a category for JLPT here are all my posts on it.http://japangaku.com/category/japanese-language…Keep up the good work on your blog and your app.

  • poopface

    in short, this test is a completely useless test that doesnt prove anything. translation companies wont hire you because you hold JLPT level 1. if you want to get into translation or really impress a company here, get kanken level 1. again, both of these are completely useless outside of japan but you get the point.

  • http://www.zonjineko.com zonjineko

    Firstly great article – own and love your iphone app too btw ^_^Poopface – I totally disagree. Why on earth anyone thinks the JLPT is useless is beyond me. There are a huge variety of reasons someone sits for a test – a small percentage would be to get a job as a translator.It may be as simple as proving to yourself you know at least some Japanese or just to use as a study goal or even to get a job in Japan. In the end, if you have the chops very few people are not going to employ you.My thoughts – http://www.zonjineko.com/998-should-you-take-th

  • Matthew Lanigan

    Hello. First, things first, seifip, very nice article. Having taken the JLPT multiple times myself, I'd say that it's a pretty accurate and informative description of the test; however, I feel I must comment on a few points.First of all, there are many reasons for the differences in how tests like the JLPT and TOEFL are offered. The first and perhaps foremost of these reasons is that the TOEFL is an American test and the JLPT is Japanese. I always hesitate before making broad, sweeping generalizations that affect millions of people, but I think that I can safely say that Japanese and American culture are significantly, if not extremely different, especially when it comes to how paperwork and official documents are handled. In my experience, that difference seems like it could be the cause of the very closed and guarded nature of JLPT offerings. In the Japanese mindset, generally speaking, the JLPT is a government-sponsored test and as such must be treated very carefully and regulated entirely; otherwise it would not hold nearly as much weight with Japanese corporations as it does. The TOEFL, on the other hand, is not only offered by a private institution (i.e. it is not government sponsored), but it is offered by an American private institution, and the American mindset toward standardized tests is very different the the Japanese.Moving on, as I study Japanese pedagogy, I feel more and more, and get the feeling from other language teachers outside of Japan, that the JLPT is not nearly as good a measure of Japanese language proficiency as its clout would suggest. I have known people personally who have passed the JLPT 1 with flying colors but have very, very poor proficiency in Japanese as shown in classwork and real-world experience; it seems counter-intuitive, but in actuality, what tends to happen is that people memorize kanji and grammatical structures for the JLPT but never actually learn them in context. It is my opinion that this is counter-productive to actual, meaningful language learning, and while it may be a nice thing to challenge yourself with, the JLPT is ultimately not a very good descriptor of your Japanese language proficiency, unlike what the name would suggest.There are, however, other tests for Japanese language proficiency. Outside of Japan, for example when becoming certified to teach Japanese in the United States, the JLPT is very rarely necessary. Instead, the test which is required is the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, if memory serves) Oral Proficiency Interview. Unlike passing the JLPT 1, scoring a Superior (the highest ranking on the OPI) will actually show you that you have near-native proficiency in Japanese.Of course, the ACTFL is not very widely known outside academic circles, and that makes the JLPT much more accessible (which is ironic, as one of the major complaints against the JLPT is its limited accessibility), but I think it would be nice if more people moved toward that standard, because again, what the JLPT tests does not necessarily translate into your actual proficiency with the language.Anyway, that's my twenty cents. Sorry for rambling on so long. I hope it was a little bit informative.

  • http://blog.rainbowhill.com.au/ Rainbowhill

    Philip, I think the debate about the value of the JLPT has certainly matured along with the test itself. Doubters of this should remember that people take tests for many different reasons. For myself doing the JLPT gave me something to aim for, when there wasn't much else. The JLPT is however not a very well-rounded test. The vocabulary you need to learn to pass level 1 is only a fraction of what the average high school graduate would know and there is no test of speaking ability. I doubt that many people study Japanese just to pass tests though. It's only a test, true understanding of the language comes through your use of it in communicating with people. Get out there and have fun with the language. If you're reading and considering taking the test, don't be put off by people saying it's useless. Find your own value in it.

  • http://japaneseproficiencypower.com/ Nick

    The old JLPT keeps getting harder and harder. All the best to those who take it this year. Start studying NOW!

  • http://twitter.com/redmotman Wendel

    it is always good to test yourself

  • http://blog.rainbowhill.com.au/ Rainbowhill

    Right on Wendel! What is a sword for if it is never tested in battle?

  • http://twitter.com/redmotman Wendel

    yea if i can pass the JLPT LV 1 i will be so happy

  • Ria

    JLPT is offered in the Philippines by Japan Foundation Manila every 1st Sunday of December and usually held at De La Salle University Manila

  • Pinky Nebu

    Great post! Learned a lot about the JLPT =]Just wondering- is it possible for a high school student to take the JLPT or are there age restrictions? I'm currently a high school senior (or will be one in September) and I'm interested in taking the JLPT in December. I've already taken/passed the Japanese SAT II and AP test, and I kinda want to aim for something higher… however, is there any point in taking the JLPT for a high schooler? I've been researching this test but I haven't really found any perks in taking it…

  • http://divita.eu/ seifip

    I finished high school this year and thus I was still a HS student when I took JLPT last December. I had the the same question and as far as I remember they told me that there is no age restriction.First of all, it's a great thing to aim for. Secondly, if you are going to apply to a Japanese university (even if the classes will be in English) it'll be a definite + on your application.

  • Pinky Nebu

    Hello seifip! Thank you very much for your prompt response! Just curious- what level JLPT did you take? and also, did you apply to a Japanese university?

    • http://divita.eu/ seifip

      For the record, I have been accepted to Waseda…

  • http://divita.eu/ seifip

    I took JLPT 3, failed the listening section (very difficult, and I don't have many Japanese friends to speak with). I'm going to apply to Waseda SILS.

  • Guest 33

    If a graduate student is applying to 文部科学省奨学金 (Monbukagakusho Scholarship), and wants a better chance to take a course or two in Japanese and do research in Japanese environment (rather than being sent to English speaking classes and lab environments), what is the best, in your opinion: To take JLPT, or to take alternative exams (EJU etc)?Thank you for a great article! Looking forward to your reply!

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  • http://twitter.com/jseb_92 Seb

    nice article.

    • http://inlearning.tumblr.com Rainbowhill

      thanks Seb, glad you enjoyed it.

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  • Julyo Photosonic

    hi Phil, thanks for the article. What would be the best software to prepare for the Characters and Vocabulary(もじ・ごい, 文字・語彙) exam? Cheers

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