The Sense and Nonsense of The JLPT
If you are learning Japanese, you might have heard of the JLPT. What is the JLPT? What does it prove? Who should take it and who shouldn’t?
What is the JLPT?
JLPT is short for Japanese Language Proficiency Test. It is an exam that tests your Japanese skills. It is divided into 5 different difficulties ranging from N5 to N1, with N1 being the most difficult level. The test uses multiple-choice questions in different categories: grammar, vocabulary, kanji knowledge, listening and text comprehension.
In order to pass you will need to answer a certain percentage of questions correctly in each section. The test can be taken anywhere in the world. For a list of locations, you can check the official website.
What Does the JLPT Prove?
The JLPT provides certification of your Japanese skills. However, it is limited to the above-mentioned categories. It does not tell you whether someone that passed can speak Japanese or is able to write texts in Japanese.
Also, especially with the higher categories the test tends to ask vocab and kanji that are not that common in daily life. A few years after passing the test many examinees forget most of what they once learned.
From my perspective, the JLPT is a good indicator as to how good someone is at learning for tests. For evaluating Japanese skills, it certainly has its limitations.
Who Should Take the JLPT?
If you are looking to find work in Japan as a foreigner, the JLPT is kind of a must if you are considering other jobs than teaching English. Most job ads require applicants to have at least N2.
Even though the JLPT says nothing about your ability to speak Japanese, certificates are valued very highly in Japanese society and a Japanese HR person will probably prefer the CV of someone with a JLPT certificate over someone that doesn’t have it.
Also, if you are planning to study in Japan and graduate from a Japanese university, the JLPT is important as a lot of universities require N1 for foreign students. For short term study in Japan however, the rules are less strict.
For someone that is just learning Japanese without any ambitions to work or study in Japan, the JLPT is not necessary but can be a tool to check your study progress and a goal that keeps you motivated. For taking the JLPT, you will have to pay a test fee and depending on where you live, you might also have to travel to the test site. It might we worth considering whether the money is better invested in new study materials.
Is Passing Level N1 of the JLPT Hard?
From my experience, it is not hard. Of course, you will need certain Japanese knowledge or you will not be able the pass N1 after having studied Japanese for a year or two unless you are a genius.
The N1 level asks questions about certain vocabulary and grammar that you do not encounter too often in your daily life unless you are a frequent reader of Japanese newspapers. However, with enough time to prepare for the test, the questions are doable.
There is a lot of study material available aimed especially at people preparing for the JLPT that helps you learn the required vocab, kanji and grammar and gives you a feeling for how the test will be like by providing practice questions. If you work with such material and invest a sufficient amount of time passing, N1 is not that hard.