The Japanese Language Proficiency Test, also known as the JLPT and in Japanese as 日本語能力試験 is a standardized test of Japanese language proficiency aimed at non-native speakers. It is broken down into 5 levels, with level N5 being the easiest and level N1 the most difficult. Thousands of Japanese language students around the world take the JLPT every year. If you’re a Japanese language student, you might be wondering whether or not it is worth taking. As someone who’s taken multiple levels of the test throughout the years and who has successfully passed level N1, I’ve learned a few things a long the way…
It gives you a goal to strive for
- Studying for the JLPT can give you a clear objective aim to achieve in your Japanese studies. Each level has a dedicated amount of kanji, grammar, etc that you need to know in order to be able to pass. For beginning students, this can be a great way to prioritize and organize their studies.
It has widespread recognition
- The JLPT is probably the most well-known and most sat for Japanese Language exam. As a result, passing the higher levels of the test comes with a certain amount of prestige and benefits. For example, if you ever want to immigrate to Japan, a JLPT N1 certification will be taken into consideration and will boost your overall immigration application score. Additionally, the JLPT is often accepted as proof of Japanese proficiency by Japanese businesses and universities.
It will help boost your comprehension speed
- The JLPT, especially levels N1 and N2, crams a lot of content you have to go through in a short amount of time. This means that in order to pass, you need to be able to comprehend a wide variety of material very quickly. As a result, studying for the JLPT will help you learn how to skim, read passages quickly and figure out what the important parts of a text are. These are all skills that will come in handy when reading Japanese out in the wild.
It doesn’t measure speaking or writing skills
- This is probably the biggest issue with the test. Since it is a fully multiple choice test with only a reading/grammar and listening section, it does not at all measure a person’s ability to speak or write Japanese. As a result, it can’t be considered a true measure of fluency. After all, who would you consider more fluent, a person who has a perfect accent and who can express themselves clearly and effortlessly, but who can’t read well, or a person who can read very well but has broken speech? The JLPT rewards the latter and not the former.
The questions can be confusing for non-language related reasons
- The JLPT test is designed by committee, and this often shows in some of the awkward questions that can appear. Occasionally there will be questions that have more than one seemingly appropriate answer and choosing the correct one has less to do with language ability and more to do with whether or not you as the test-taker have the same mindset as the person who designed the question. I’ve even seen native speakers disagree as to what the correct answer for a particular question should be.
As a result, not passing the test can be unduly discouraging.
- Failing the test can make you feel like your Japanese is worse than it actually may be and this may potentially discourage learners from continuing their studies (e.g. “I’ve been studying for 4 years and still can’t even pass N3…might as well give up”). But you shouldn’t let not passing discourage you. As mentioned before, the test does not measure how good you are at speaking or writing nor does it test your ability to use Japanese in a real-world setting. Some people just have trouble taking tests, and that’s okay.
In the end, you should do what feels right for you. If you want to sit for the JLPT, go for it! If not, that’s okay too! Lots of Japanese teachers and Japanese schools really try and push their students to take it. But remember, in the end, the choice is yours.