Each person who begins their adventure with learning Japanese sooner or later will certainly come across the term “JLPT exam”. What exactly is the JLPT exam? What do its levels mean? Is it worth taking at all? You will find answers to these and many other questions regarding the JLPT exam below.

JLPT – what is it?

The JLPT exam, which stands for Japanese-Language Proficiency Test, in Japanese Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken, is the most important certification exam for non-native speakers of the Japanese language. Successful passing of the exam allows obtaining the Certificate of Japanese-Language Proficiency. It was conducted for the first time in 1984. Since then, its range has expanded all over the world. In December 2019, 700 thousand people from 86 countries around the world took the exam.

The organizer of the exam is Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES) in Japan, as well as The Japan Foundation outside Japan.

How is the JLPT exam conducted?

What happens on the day of the test? The exam is divided into time blocks devoted to different skills: knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening. The testing nature of the tasks is worth noticing. There is no speaking part and no written open-ended questions. To obtain the certificate, you need to exceed the threshold point for the total score (about 50%, depending on the level of the test), as well as the threshold points for individual parts of the exam. This means that even if we get a good score from grammar, but do not exceed the threshold in listening, we do not pass the exam.

What do JLPT levels mean?

Before we make a decision to take the exam, it is worth considering the level we have reached so far. Since 2010 the JLPT exam has been conducted on five levels, from N5 to N1. The levels N5 and N4 refer to basic knowledge of the language, N3 confirms the language acquisition at a basic level, whereas N1 indicates language proficiency. On the official website of the exam, we will find the descriptive explanations of language competence necessary at all levels of the exam. There are also available lists with grammatical topics, vocabulary, or signs, which apply at the subsequent levels. JLPT levels can be compared to the known European scale CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) in the following way:

The JLPT exam takes place twice a year: at the beginning of July and at the beginning of December. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the latest tests were not conducted. When filling the application form, we have to specify the level at which we want to take the exam and make a payment – thus far, it is 200 PLN (in Poland).

  • A1 – approximately N5
  • A2 – approximately N4
  • B1 – approximately N3
  • B2/C1 – approximately N2
  • C2 – approximately N1

However, it is worth paying attention to the fact that the two evaluation systems are not comparable, and it is a very rough comparison.

Is it worth taking the JLPT exam?

As we already know, the JLPT exam consists of test tasks and does not have many exercises that require individual writing or speaking. Does this kind of test check the actual knowledge of the language? Is it worth taking?

Despite its obvious flaws, the exam is highly valued, especially in Japan. Very often obtaining the certificate is required in scholarship offers and by employers. Obviously, it is not always obligatory, but it will always be a candidate’s strong asset.

The high level of standardization of the exam can also be its advantage. Due to the scoring of each skill: reading, listening, knowledge of grammar, and kanji signs, the exam can be a great tool for the evaluation of your competence and planning further learning. The exam can also be used as a goal that will motivate us to study. It is easier to find motivation when we know exactly when and what portion of the material we want to learn. Relatively low, in comparison to other certificates, the price of the exam encourages us to become interested in the certificate, even if it is not required by our employer.

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