There are several aptitude tests in Japanese, like the TOEIC and other TOEFL for English. The most famous and recognized is surely the JLPT. Well known to all students and those who learn Japanese, not many people are full of information about it. Even on the Internet, apart from a few pages and specialized forums, few sites speak about the test. I therefore offer an article dedicated to this examination, the way it works, its preparation and registration.

What is JLPT ?

The acronym JLPT stands for « Japanese Language Proficiency Test » or, from its original title, 日本語能力試験 « Nihongo Nôryoku Shiken » which means « Japanese language skills exam ». This is an international test which takes place simultaneously in several dozen countries, once a year : the first Sunday in December (in Japan and China, there is an additional session in July). It can be compared to the TOEFL for English, where the BJT test (another single-level and more business-oriented Japanese test, to be taken in Japan, France or Asia) would rather resemble the TOEIC. A validated JLPT gives the right to an international diploma which can be requested to enroll in a Japanese university, for example. Established in 1984, it is organized in Japan by JEES (Japan Educational Exchange and Services) and by the Japan Foundation / The Japan Foundation elsewhere in the world.

As I already explain in the FAQ, I did not study Japanese in the conventional way, that is to say that I did not learn Japanese either at school or at university. I am learning Japanese - as I have learned many other languages and many more things - on my own.

Five different tests classified by level

To return to the subject, the JLPT is a standardized MCQ in the Minna no Nihongo form, available in 5 levels that the candidate chooses at the time of registration. Here is the official detail of the 5 grades :

The L5 (ex-level 4) is intended for beginners, it corresponds to a knowledge of the basic rules of grammar, to a simple conversation and to the reading of simple sentences. The level 4 test requires knowledge of approximately 80 kanji, 600 vocabulary words and 150 hours of learning;

The L4 (ex-level 3) is intended for the medians, it corresponds to a sufficient level for an everyday conversation and the reading of fairly simple sentences. The level 3 test requires knowledge of approximately 230 kanji, 1,250 vocabulary words and 300 hours of learning;

The L3 (new) completes the gap of difficulty which existed previously between the ex-levels 3 and 2. It is attributed about 600 kanji, 3,000 vocabulary words and 450 hours of learning;

The L2 (ex-level 2) is intended for intermediaries, it corresponds to a fairly advanced level of grammar, conversation, reading and writing of current subjects. The level 2 test requires knowledge of approximately 1,000 kanji, 6,000 vocabulary words and 600 hours of learning;

Finally, the L1 (ex-level 1) is intended for the advanced, it corresponds to a perfect mastery of the grammar which makes it possible to follow courses given in Japanese, or even to read the newspaper. The level 1 test requires knowledge of about 2,000 kanji (all jôyô kanji, finally), 10,000 vocabulary words and 900 hours of learning.

For information the "N" means "Nihongo" and "New", according to the official explanation of JEES (Japan Educational and Exchanges Services).

The tests in detail for levels N3 to N5

The course of the L3, L4 and L5 tests is as follows :

First, a vocabularytest : respective durations of 30, 30 and 25 minutes.

Then, a grammar test and kanji reading : durations of 70, 60 and 50 minutes respectively.

Finally, an oral comprehension test broadcast on magnetic or digital tape : respective durations of 40, 35 and 30 minutes.

The tests in detail for levels N1 and N2

The course of the L1 and L2 tests is as follows :

First, a vocabulary and reading test (kanji and grammar) : durations of 60 and 50 minutes respectively.

Finally, an oral comprehension test : durations of 110 and 105 minutes respectively.

Total JLPT duration per level

As a result, here is the total length of the exam for each level :

L1 : 170 minutes

L2 : 155 minutes

L3 : 140 minutes

L4 : 125 minutes

L5 : 105 minutes

The new JLPT point system for all levels (N1 to N5)

The point system was the one that underwent the most changes with the renewal of the JLPT in 2010. Now, all levels have a total score calculated on 180 points. In levels L3 to L5, each test will be worth 60 points. In levels L1 and L2, the written test will be worth 120 points and the oral 60 points. Please note : there is now a minimum score to be reached per tests, and no longer in total. It is therefore possible to be eliminated because of a test, even if one has successfully passed the other / the other two.

Review and prepare for the JLPT diploma

The result of the JLPT is communicated by mail in March (or in February for Japan), accompanied, if applicable, by the diploma. Note that if you want to get an internship, apply to a university or a job in Japan, it would be better to get at least the L2 of JLPT.

Finally, to speak of L1, it is the most difficult level to obtain (if you have read everything so far, you have normally already understood) to the point that many Japanese, despite the fact that the country is one of the most literate in the world, would not succeed in obtaining it because of their gradual loss of knowledge of the writing of kanji (thunderous applause for keitai and other word processors please). Basically, it’s said that the JLPT is an exam for bachelors and not necessarily for fluent and fluent bilinguals. Overall, this is pretty true.

I still want to reassure you on one thing. Unless you want to find a job in a Japanese company or exercise a profession as a Japanese teacher, which therefore requires the highest level of JLPT, you will do very well in daily life in Japan with « only » 1,000 kanji in mind and with 2,000 kanji, you will (almost) never need a dictionary or someone to help you. So, for L1, the debate on the real interest of the test remains open.

Take the JLPT in England or United States

I’m still looking for information on this side. If you have any suggestions, you can let me know by contacting me via my Twitter account.