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Alternatives to the JLPT Test and Why They Matter

The JLPT has been cancelled this year! Hurray! Or maybe, ... Boooo? I have a lot of mixed feelings about this. On one hand, the test is very stressful and saps the fun out of learning new Japanese, but on the other seeing real progress in your score and getting that certification is a rewarding sensation. Although the JLPT has an illusory monopoly on all aspects of certification and assessment concerning Japanese language comprehension, there are TONS of other tests that are still recognized by the Japanese government and businesses alike. 

Maybe you need a high test score for a visa application, maybe you want to take a test to challenge yourself, or maybe you just want to get better at using the language. With those ideas in mind, I’ve listed three tests, two I’ve taken and one I plan to take, that will broaden your options for Japanese language tests.

Business Japanese Test (BJT)

Photo by skyseeker on Flickr.

The BJT is different from other tests in many ways. There are six levels on the test compared to the five on the JLPT, but attaining a placement level depends on a point scale rather than passing one test at a time. The BJT is scored from 0 to 800 points, and the levels go from J5 (lowest) to J1+(highest). A score of 400 points is equivalent to the N2 and 480 points is equivalent to the N1.

As the name suggests, this test is focused around actual business Japanese in various situations like business emails and meetings with clients. There are three sections in the test, a listening, reading, and listening+reading section. The listening+reading section is probably the hardest section because you have to read a passage or email while listening to, say, a conversion about that email about what the speakers think about what was written (among other things). There are lots of questions about appropriate keigo and honorific words as well as business expressions Japanese professionals use. Unlike the JLPT which tests overall general (and often useless) language comprehension, the BJT focuses on real workplace situations that will help in your career in Japan. 

A huge advantage of the BJT over the JLPT is the test time: there isn't one. Depending on where you live, you can take the test at a testing center nearby whenever you want as long as you register beforehand. If you live in a big city like Tokyo or Yokohama, there are opportunities to take the test practically everyday of the week at a time that works for you. The downside is that the test costs more than the JLPT, 7000 yen opposed to 5500 yen.

On the day of the test, you go to the test center, get a photo taken, confirm registration details, and then head into the testing room. There are cubicles for each person, and the test takes place on a secure computer. There are headphones provided by the test center, and a small whiteboard with a pen for note taking. The test time limit is 1 hour and 45 minutes in total, but it's possible to finish early.

The best part? You get your test results IMMEDIATELY after finishing. With the JLPT, you’re forced to wait two months for the online results, and that can be nerve wracking and, depending on the results, heart wrenching. With the BJT, the stress of waiting for results is non-existent. Hypothetically, if you felt you did badly but could do better and wanted a second chance, you could take the BJT again the next day. Full disclosure, this is probably my favorite Japanese test, but the next test is a very close second.

Kanji Kentei

Unlike the other tests mentioned, the Kanji Kentei is a test that Japanese people actually take. Students from elementary school through high school, college, and beyond take the test to certify their kanji knowledge. There are 12 sections of the test from the simplest 10 kyuu (10級) to the hardest 1 kyuu (1級). For 10 kyuu, you only need to know 80 characters, but for 1 kyuu you need to know about 6000. Look up some of those 1 kyuu kanji. They’re INSANE, but like, in a fun way. Like, if you were ever wondering, "Is there a kanji for flying-squirrel?" the answer is yes, it's 鼯. Above is a picture of the book I used when studying for 4 kyuu.

This test isn’t just about memorizing the kanji, rather, it's about learning all the variations of words with the kanji in more native situations.

The questions on the test included some multiple choice questions, but a big part of the test included actually writing the characters. Most standard tests are multiple choice and don’t require much output, but for the kanji kentei really knowing each character is needed to pass. To pass the test you need to get 70% of the questions correct, and the total point score is out of 200. 

On the test day, you’ll take the test with all levels in the same large rooms. Seating is based on which section of the test you intend on taking. There’s one large sheet, both sides, with questions printed. When you’ve finished taking the test, or when time runs out, you turn in the test to the representative and go home. The result usually comes about a month later in the mail and includes a full assessment of the individual test takers strengths and weaknesses in different areas (like synonyms and antonyms). 

The test fee differs depending on each level. 10 kyuu to 8 kyuu cost 1500 yen, 7 kyuu to 5 kyuu cost 2000 yen, 4 kyuu to jyun 2 kyuu (準2級) costs 2500 yen, 2 kyuu is 3500 yen, jyun 1 kyuu is 4000 yen, 1 kyuu is 4500 yen, and the grand champion test of kanji knowledge-awesomeness costs 5000 yen. There are three chances to take the test each year too, so the Kanji Kentei is cheaper and has more testing opportunities than the JLPT. Plus, the average Japanese person living in Japan knows the test and its scoring system, so if you pass one level, your employer or school should understand your level well. 


Photo by すしぱく on Pakutaso.

This last test I haven’t taken myself, but I plan to someday. The J-test is evaluated kind of like the BJT in that there is a point system from 0 to 900. There are different levels from A to G with A being the highest level. Passing the test with a score of 500 (D level) is equivalent to the N3 according to the website. 600 points (C level) equivalent to the N2, and 700 points (準Bレベル)is equivalent to the N1 or higher. Unlike the JLPT though, the J-test website has a study syllabus for each level which includes a detailed 20 page list of the grammar the test givers expect a person to know for each level from A to D. The J-Test is also cheaper than the JLPT, 4800 yen compared to 5500 yen, and is offered six times a year as opposed to two. There are 13 cities in Japan where you can take the test and a few more depending on your country. They also have a separate business test that’s 4300 yen available in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. A main drawback to this test is that there aren’t as many test locations, so if you live in a rural area it might be harder to take. 

Learn more about the J-test here.

Final Thoughts

I feel that although tests are important, and although I like tests (as crazy as that sounds), they should not be the be-all-and-end-all factor in determining something as finicky as language comprehension. The goal of learning a language should ultimately be coming to grasp the language as a whole. Focusing on one test, like the JLPT which focuses on a very narrow range of assessments, only serves to narrow your own understanding. How many hours have you spent on power drills and reading exercises that you could have spent talking with actual Japanese people?

Sure, you learned that 覆う means to cover your face, or you learned a really narrow, specific, and nuanced new way to say "because", but in the meantime you’ve stopped seeing the world around you. Taking lots of different tests helps to see a broader picture of the language and fill in gaps in knowledge that other tests might not have even considered. The ultimate test does not lie on a sheet of paper or a monitor, but out in the real world with real Japanese speakers. Use tests like the JLPT, BJT, Kanji Kentei, and J-test as a guide or motivator, and if and when the time comes get out there and fully immerse yourself. I’ve learned more in a week at a fully Japanese company (minus me) than I did in month of studying for N1.

Good-luck for all of those taking tests this year! みんな頑張れー!!!

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