The JLPT season is coming! If you plan to enter a Japanese university or work for a Japanese company, you might consider taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). Even though there are other alternatives, the JLPT continues to be the most widely accepted method of assessing Japanese language proficiency—to a certain extent.
As a result, plenty of resources are explicitly dedicated to preparing Japanese learners for this evaluation. From courses and books to websites and apps, when it comes to JLPT, the options are endless.
So, whether you are interested in working or studying in Japan or measuring your Japanese language skills if you’re looking for in-depth information about this test, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll cover the JLPT, its structure, and how to prepare for the exam. Additionally, we will share valuable resources that may be helpful for your preparation.
What Is the JLPT Test?
The 日本語能力試験 (nihongo nōryoku shiken), or as we know it in English, JLPT, is a standardized test designed to evaluate and certify Japanese language proficiency.
This evaluation was created in 1984 by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES). According to the official website of the JLPT, in 2018, more than a million students worldwide took this test. Making it the most thorough Japanese language test in the world.
What Is the Purpose of Taking the JLPT Test?
- Demonstrate proficiency in the Japanese language
- To have access to study programs taught only in Japanese
- Meet one of the requirements of some Japanese companies
- Garner points towards the immigration process of highly skilled professionals
- Among others…
As mentioned above, this test is intended to assess the Japanese language proficiency of non-native speakers. In recent years, this test has become increasingly important because some companies and universities make it one of the requirements for hiring or admitting international students or candidates.
Many students take the JLPT even if they do not intend to work or study in Japan. Because it allows them to evaluate their Japanese language progress and test their knowledge. However, most agree that this is not the optimal tool for measuring language proficiency since it does not assess all communication skills.
Where and When to Take the Test?
The JLPT takes place twice a year (July and December) around the world, except for some countries where it is held only once a year.
To enroll, you must register at your country’s Japanese language institution that organizes and conducts the JLPT. If you do not know the institution where you can take the test, you can look at this list from the official JLPT website.
The institution coordinating the exam in your country will be able to provide you with information about registration deadlines and dates. Usually, registrations for the July call begin in March, and those for the December call start in September. But it’s always good to confirm, just in case.
In order to register for the exam, you must pay a fee. So how much does it cost to take the JLPT test? It varies depending on the country where you take it. In the United States, the price is around 6,500 JPY (Japanese yen), approximately 60 US dollars. In Europe, the cost is usually a little higher.
How Is JLPT Structured?
The JLPT has five levels. N5 is the beginning level, and N1 is the most advanced.
You can take the level you prefer, and it is not a requirement to take an exam at a lower level first before attempting a higher one.
Now let’s take a quick look at these levels and their complexity.
Different Levels of the JLPT
N5 (Beginning level): This level covers basic vocabulary, grammar, listening comprehension exercises, and simple conversations.
N4 (Basic level): The N4 is a bit more challenging than the N5. It covers more vocabulary, grammar, and more advanced readings but still within elementary Japanese parameters. In addition, it includes listening comprehension exercises in slow Japanese, but with a greater level of difficulty.
N3 (Intermediate): This level focuses mainly on formal conversations but also emphasizes everyday formal and informal situations. The conversations in the listening section are more natural and continuous.
N2 (Intermediate-advanced): This level is much more advanced. Readings are way more complex, and listening comprehension includes conversations in both formal and informal registers at a natural pace.
N1 (Advanced): The highest level of the JLPT and the most challenging. It assesses advanced knowledge of Japanese in various circumstances and settings.
Now the question is, which JLPT level is fluent? According to Japan Times, N1 is the fluent level. N2 is the business level, which is also the minimum requirement for working in Japan. N3 is the conversation level that will be quite enough for living in Japan.
If you’d like to get an idea of some of the content you might encounter at each level, check out this comprehensive guide on how to learn Japanese. It walks you through the beginner stages to more advanced topics. You can also take a look at the JLPT official site or the breakdown of each JLPT level.
How to Prepare for the JLPT?
Now that you know all the details about the JLPT, it’s time to look at some of the things you need to prepare for the test.
As we saw above, the exam is made up of different sections, so you must spend enough time preparing for each of them individually. Creating a study plan will help you stay consistent and organized when approaching every topic. You should note that since some sections are related, preparing for one will benefit you in another.
For example, building vocabulary will help you better understand the reading exercises. In the same way, vocabulary will come hand in hand with learning kanji, understanding the listening exercises, and so on.
Before you begin your study plan, it is essential that you define your strengths and weaknesses. By doing so, you can spend more time strengthening the areas that you find most difficult.
Now, let’s see how to prepare for each JLPT section.
Knowing the vocabulary required for the level of the JLPT you are taking is critical to tackling different sections of the exam. If you don’t know the meaning of the word in front of you, it may be difficult to understand the rest of the text. So don’t take this part of the exam for granted; devote enough time to it.
Luckily nowadays, we have a wide range of resources to help us through this process. Many study guides are dedicated to helping you learn vocabulary for the JLPT. You can also find a large number of free resources online. For example, here, you can find the essential vocabulary for the JLPT N5 and also relevant vocabulary for JLPT N4.
Another helpful tool is a flashcard app, like Anki or Quizlet, where you can record the words you learn and review them at any time.
Learn and practice kanji
This is one of the most challenging aspects for Japanese language learners. For most of us, kanji represents a huge headache. However, if you want to pass the test and solidify your Japanese language understanding, you have to put fear aside and go for it. If you don’t know where to start, check out our 50 most-used kanji in Japanese.
Numerous guidebooks are designed to help you learn all the kanji relevant to the different levels of the JLPT. You can also find websites and apps that use mnemonics to help you memorize kanji by associating the symbols with another word or idea. Although you won’t have to write the kanji on the test, it is highly recommended that you practice writing them. Writing has been shown to help us retain information better.
Tackle grammar efficiently
When it comes to Japanese grammar, the approach should be different from learning vocabulary or kanji. In grammar, you need to understand how the language works rather than memorizing its rules. You should use resources with explanations and enough exercises that allow you to practice repeatedly to master those grammar points.
It is important to emphasize that grammar is cumulative; each level of the JLPT covers the grammar points from previous levels and the newly introduced patterns from that level. Therefore, if you are planning to take an exam from N4 upwards, do not make the mistake of not studying/reviewing the grammar points of the previous levels. Otherwise, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.
Read with a purpose
This section encompasses everything you have learned in the previous sections. During the reading comprehension segment, you’ll be tested on your knowledge of kanji, vocabulary, and grammar. But that’s not all. You will have to show your ability to understand the nuances of what is written in the passage. Here, the answers are more complex, so you’ll have to think more before selecting your answer.
For these reasons, you must spend a significant amount of time doing reading comprehension exercises. There are many online resources available to you, including models of past JLPT exams. Ensure you are familiar with the types of activities you will encounter on the exam. As a result, you will know exactly what to expect so that you can approach this session efficiently and avoid unnecessary mistakes.
This session is more straightforward but not as simple as some might imagine. Some students make the mistake of neglecting this section of the exam, trusting that watching anime and doramas is enough, but that’s not the case.
Depending on the JLPT level you sit for, the listening skills that will be measured will be different. For example, the N4 level measures your ability to understand basic Japanese, while the N2 level tests your ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations and various contexts.
Most JLPT textbook series are accompanied by audio to supplement the listening comprehension section. Try to do as many exercises as possible, focusing on learning how to find specific information within the announcement or conversation.
Before listening to the audio, we recommend you check the questions and possible answers to know what to look for. Here is an example of a JLPT N4 LISTENING Sample Exam with Answers; you can use it as a reference and look for even more exercises for other levels as well.
JLPT Textbooks and Resources
Now comes the most useful part: JLPT resources! If you are preparing or planning to sit for the JLPT test, don’t miss our recommendations for the best textbooks and resources!
Websites and Apps
This website was created by Peter van der Woude with the purpose of sharing all topics related to the JLPT. He compiled lists of all the content of JLPT tests from 1992 to 2004. Here you will find vocabulary, grammar, kanji, and expressions relevant to all levels of the JLPT. Although the exam structure has been revised and modified since 2010, this website is still an excellent reference for studying for the exam.
LingoDeer is an app designed for users to learn Japanese and other languages through gamification. The language lessons are organized and structured logically, allowing you to progress gradually. With LingoDeer’s lessons, you get to work on each language skill necessary for the JLPT (N5 to N3), making it an ideal tool for those who need comprehensive guidelines.
JLPT Sensei is a language learning blog and online resource designed for people interested in learning Japanese and taking the JLPT. The site is organized into sections classified according to the different levels of the JLPT. Here you can find all kinds of resources focused on the content of the JLPT test. So whether you need vocabulary, grammar lists, or ebooks, this blog has everything a Japanese learner might need.
The JLPT Encyclopedia is an app structured to study all the levels from N5 to N1. The app offers grammar, reading, vocabulary, and kanji lessons for various levels, along with exercises to learn vocabulary and the writing and pronunciation of kanji. This app is a good choice if you already have some basic knowledge of Japanese.
日本語総まとめ | Nihongo So- Matome
The Nihongo So-Matome books are a series of manuals specifically designed to help students pass the JLPT. Each book in the series focuses on a different level and area of the exam, from N5 to N1, covering vocabulary, grammar, kanji, reading, and listening comprehension. Throughout the textbook, learners will find many exercises to help them master key grammar points and vocabulary.
新完全マスター | Shin Kanzen Master
The Shin Kanzen Master series is another set of books designed to prepare Japaene learners for the JLPT. The series tackles all the language skills necessary for passing the test. Also, it provides clear explanations and plenty of exercises. This is another worthwhile option for Japanese learners looking for a tool to improve their language skills.
TRY！ 日本語能力試験 | TRY! The Japanese Language Proficiency Test
The TRY! series gives Japanese learners a more communicative approach to grammar. These textbooks focus on learning how Japanese grammar is used in real-life communication, practicing the basics, and applying grammar points to daily activities. These manuals also cover the different levels of the JLPT, so many students prefer them over other Japanese grammar books.
It is recommended to start preparing for the JLPT test at least six months in advance. This will give you enough time to review the material and practice with test mockups. It is also crucial to work in all areas, without neglecting any of them, in order to ensure a positive result.
Taking the JLPT represents a big challenge for many Japanese language learners. It requires effort, dedication, and consistency to prepare for this test. There is nothing wrong with feeling frustrated, tired, or discouraged from time to time. However, trying to enjoy every stage of our progress is also important. Whether it is taking the JLPT, participating in a Japanese speech contest, or starting to structure our first sentences, we must never forget that every step counts. At the end of the day, the goal is the same: achieving fluency.