The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test)

jlpt class study
Are you stuck in your Japanese studies with no motivation? Are you overwhelmed with the amount of material don’t know what to focus on? The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) could be what you need to give you a clear goal. It’s not as scary as it sounds, so let’s talk about it.

korean girl jlptWhat is the JLPT?

The JLPT stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test. There is a total of five different levels. The easiest level is N5 while the most difficult level is N1. No matter where you are in your Japanese studies, there is a level that you can aim for.

When is the test held?

In Japan, the test is held twice a year in July and December at various universities and centers. Meanwhile, in North America and Europe, the test is usually held once a year in December.

JLPT Levels

Here is an outline of the ability of the N levels. You can read in more detail about the differences between levels on the JLPT website.

N1 (Advanced): The ability to understand Japanese used in a variety of circumstances.

N2 (Upper-intermediate): The ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations, and in a variety of circumstances to a certain degree.

N3 (Intermediate): The ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to a certain degree.

N4 (Elementary): The ability to understand basic Japanese.

N5 (Basic): The ability to understand some basic Japanese.

Can you guess what level you would consider your ability?


Why should I take the JLPT?

After arriving in Japan, it took me a while until I was able to concentrate on studying Japanese. Having a realistic goal, such as passing one of the levels of the JLPT is a good way to keep you focused. I think some people create very broad goals such as “I want to read Japanese comics” or “I want to understand anime with no subtitles”. These goals lack specific steps and many people burn themselves out quickly because they can’t pace themselves and measure their progress.

By making your goal the JLPT, you have different levels you can aim for, improving your Japanese knowledge in the process!


What can I do with JLPT certification?

Having a JLPT certification can help you with getting a job in Japan, a job that involves Japanese, or look mighty fine on your resume even if doesn’t apply to your future work. The fact that you took the time to study, apply for the test, and successfully pass means something about you. Hopefully, employers see it as a sign that you are hard working and trying to improve yourself.

Having at least N2 is highly recommended for people wanting to apply for jobs in Japan that are not language teaching jobs. Generally, you need N2 or above for it to benefit you when applying somewhere.

People earning N5-N3 certifications should not worry, though. Putting these on a resume can help you as well, especially if you’re applying for work outside of Japan or in your home country. Any sort of certification in Japanese is probably impressive to people that are not very familiar with Japanese or Japan itself. However, you’re going to want N2 or above if you want to go beyond jobs such as English Conversation classes.


How do I study for the JLPT?

If you’re wondering how to prepare for the JLPT, fear not. There are so many resources out there that can help you. I’ll write more in depth about some of my recommended JLPT books in a later post.

For now, these series of books should be enough for anyone wanting to get started studying.

Nihongo So-matomeNihongo-So Matome Series (N5-N1) (White Rabbit Press)
The Nihongo-So Matome series is one that anyone looking through Japanese study books will recognize. Each book has a white cover with a black and white drawing of an animal on it. If you’re aiming for JLPT N4-3, these can be very useful for you. However, I don’t recommend them for higher levels N2-N1.

JLPT Official Practice BookJLPT Official Practice WorkBook (N5-N1) (White Rabbit Press)
These series of books are mock tests you can take and get a feel for what taking the JLPT is like.


Do you have any questions or comments about the JLPT? Let me know in the comments!

12 thoughts on “The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test)”

  1. bro u r brilliant !!!
    thanks for the sharing . Now im studying Japanese and English both.
    after reading this article , i decide to buy that book in your list ,the name is 新完全マスター文法 日本語能力試験N2.
    great thanks for this article!

  2. Hey Bryan,

    Taking a break now after taking a mock JLPT N2 exam (becoming quite depressed with the self-test results). I did the new format 2010 JLPT N2 July and Dec papers.

    When doing these 2 papers, I notice that i got a higher score in the July paper, than in the December paper.
    I felt that the July paper is more difficult than the December paper.

    Being curious, I went into the official JLPT website statistics page, and I observed some similar patterns.
    [1] The percentage passed/certified for JLPT N2 was consistently higher in the JULY edition, than in the DECEMBER edition. Implying that Dec edition could be more diffcult perhaps.

    [2] The percentage of certified since 2010 till 2015 has been dropping (e.g. ~50% in 2010, to ~35% in 2015). Implying that the paper could be getting difficult perhaps.

    What are your thoughts? Do you hear the same thing as well?

    • It’s no secret that the JLPT has become more difficult since the system was revised in 2010.

      Whether the tests are increasing in difficulty each year or not I can’t say for sure. It’s really luck of the draw in terms of what kind of articles you’re dealt.

  3. [slight correction above]

    **When doing these 2 papers, I noticed that I got a higher score in the July paper, than in the December paper.
    I felt that the December paper is more difficult than the July paper.

  4. Hey Bryan, I just came out of JLPT N2 exam at Ikeburuko. Did you take N1 this round?

    I felt that I did really bad in the listening section of N2. Saying this because I had to guess the answers to a big handful of questions. I think I did fine in first section, but the listening section spoilt the day. 🙁

    I was sitter right at the back of the exam room, so that also added up to distractions when listening.

    How about anyone else who took the N2 Dec 2016. How did you find it? Hope they do a moderation.

    • Hey Justin, nice of you to check in!

      Sorry to hear about the listening. I know how you feel, though. There have been times when I got lost or something distracted me and I missed stuff. Don’t worry about it and just keep studying at a casual pace so you don’t burn out or stop studying all together.

      I took the N1 this time and I don’t know if I’ll pass or not, but I definitely prefer taking the test in winter rather than summer. 🙂

  5. Hi Bryan,

    I took my JLPT N1 today (my second attempt). Just want to share my frustrations and perhaps share my thoughts about the N1 exam.
    N1 is a totally different level and the same study strategies used for N5-N2 exams just does not apply to the N1 exam.

    For the N5-N2 exams, I could have picked up some good textbooks from the bookstore (eg. by Ask or 3A publishers), memorize the vocab/grammar and get used to the readings, and do a few practice exams prior to the exams, and its almost a sure pass.

    But for the N1 exam, I realized I could not apply the same strategy. The things taught in the N1 textbooks are not enough. Less than 10% of what I learnt from the textbooks actually came out in the exam. And I swore that I had put it lots of efforts/time/energy into doing lots of recommended N1 textbooks. My N1 text books were a combination of the below:
    a) Soumatome N1 Grammar+Vocab
    b) ShinKanzen Masters N1 Kanji+Vocab+Reading+Listening
    c) Soumatome N1 500 Qns
    d) Ask Publishing Power Drills Vocab+Grammar
    e) 3A Dokkai Kouryaku N1
    e) 3A Practice Papers 1-4

    The things that I found difficult in the N1 paper were:
    a) Sentence Arrangement
    b) Close Passages
    c) Reading
    b) Listening

    I lament at the state of affairs, but I am somewhat encouraged by the fact that it makes me realize where my weak points are. I am considering picking up reading this magazine as I think it’s very opinionted:

    Hopefully i get a pass for the N1 (by a stroke of luck and lots of praying).

    • Hey Justin, thanks for posting your experience taking this year’s N1. It’s definitely the most difficult and random beast when it comes to what you’ll see on the test.

      I have my fingers crossed that you’ll pass!

      Also, good idea about the weekly published magazine Shinchou. I have never picked one up, but maybe I should next time I’m in a book store. 🙂


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