JLPT Levels: A Comprehensive Guidance For You

Every foreigner in Japan who is about to take university entrance exams, applying for the job is often asked for proof of their Japanese Language ability. To prove it officially, many foreigners use a Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) passing certificate. The JLPT is one of the most prominent foreign Japanese proficiency exams. It takes five grades, with entry-level being five or N5, which is the lowest, and level one or N1 is the toughest. To shorten it, let’s review it in full in this article from levels N1-N5!

WHAT IS THE JLPT?

Source: Note, https://unsplash.com/photos/cvUIv9j5wDg

First of all, let’s take a look what is the JLPT? JLPT stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test or in Japanese it is called “日本語能力試験ーNihongo Nouryoku Shiken”. A Japanese language proficiency exam is intended for people whose mother tongue is not Japanese. In other words, The JLPT is an exam set to measure the Japanese language proficiency of non-native speakers. The most widely taken Japanese language test in the world was first held in 1984, and it was taken by about 1 million examinees in 2018. And JLPT was attended by participants from 62 countries. Usually, this JLPT is held twice a year, generally on Sunday, the first week in July and December. For the other detail information regarding the JLPT especially the official test held in Japan, please refer to the following website: https://www.jlpt.jp/e/application/domestic_index.html as well.

We can assume actually it’s a kind of TOEFL, the difference is that the TOEFL is an English test and the JLPT is a Japanese test. In the JLPT there are 5 levels, namely N1, N2, N3, N4, and N5. N5 is the lowest level (easiest) and N1 is the hardest level.

For anyone who plans to study or pursue a career in Japan, you should consider deeply taking this exam. JLPT graduation results will be a reference for various parties in evaluating you, such as when entering Japanese universities and vocational schools, applying for jobs in Japanese companies, receiving salary increases/promotions, and has many other benefits when you have this certificate. The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is a test to measure Japanese language skills that are routinely held by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services. In accordance with the 2019 information, the registration fee for the JLPT exam in Japan from N5 to N1 for each level of the exam, will always be the same which is 5,000 yen.

In the next session, let’s deepen our knowledge regarding each level of JLPT.

JLPT N1: The Hardest One

JLPT N1 is the most difficult level, hence, of course, it belongs to the advanced level. Although levels N2 and N1 are considered advanced levels, the JLPT N1 exam is much more difficult than the JLPT N2 exam. Before registering for the JLPT N1 exam, the examinee is stated that must master around 10,000 Japanese vocabulary words, about 2,000 kanji letters, and have studied Japanese for more than 900 hours.

The sessions in the N1 JLPT test are:

  • Knowledge of language and reading in 110 minutes.
  • Listening in 60 minutes.

Compared to the duration of the JLPT N5-N2 exam, the JLPT N1 exam has the longest duration. Then, as in the N2 exam, the language knowledge and reading sessions are also combined in the JLPT N1 exam. Since the first session lasted quite a long time, which was almost 2 hours, the examinee had to be able to focus on answering the questions and had to be able to manage the time to answer the questions. The minimum score to pass the JLPT exam will vary depending on the level of the exam you are taking. The minimum score that must be obtained to pass the JLPT N1 is 100 out of a total score of 180.

Just like the JLPT level N3 and N2 exams, the JLPT N1 passing standards are also divided into three, as the following:

  • Vocabulary and kanji sessions: at least 19 out of a total score of 60
  • Grammar and reading sessions: at least 19 out of a total score of 60
  • Listening session: a minimum of 19 out of a total score of 60

Even though you can get a score exceeding 100, if the score in one of the exam sessions is below the standard, the participant will be declared not to pass. For that, try to be able to meet the standard score. Then, if you can answer 56% of the questions, you will certainly pass. Don’t make this exam a burden, because the graduation standard is not high, right? Please do not misunderstand this.

As previously explained, the JLPT N1 exam is the most difficult among the JLPT levels. The difficulty level of this exam is also much higher than the JLPT N2 exam. Even though they can get a satisfactory score on the JLPT N2 exam, participants may not necessarily be able to pass the JLPT N1 exam easily.

The questions that appear, or the language used in the JLPT N1 exam are the standard language or written language, which usually appears in academic texts as well as opinions or newspaper news. Then in the listening session, the level of difficulty is also very different from the JLPT N2 exam. Many of the phrases that are conveyed are more implied and the information conveyed is also very fast.

According to the experience of several examinees who have passed N1, as is the tendency for other exams, it is said that the most difficult session is the vocabulary session. It seems reasonable to say that this early session was the most difficult because N1’s vocabulary was very broad and very large. However, opinions on the difficulty level of reading and listening appear to be quite diverse. Some say that the listening session is the easiest compared to other sessions, and some can get the best score in the reading session.

If you are used to reading books or academic texts in Japanese, the test takers will have no difficulty in answering the reading session. Then if you can listen to the explanation of academic material in Japanese, the examinee may not find it difficult to answer the listening session. Then, to be able to answer the first session, especially vocabulary, the only way is for the test takers to try to increase their knowledge about it.

JLPT N2: Advanced Level

The JLPT N2 exam is included in the advanced level, which is certainly more difficult than the JLPT N3 exam. In order to pass the test, before taking the JLPT N2 exam, test takers are expected to have mastered around 6,000 Japanese vocabulary words, about 1,000 kanji letters, and have studied Japanese for more than 600 hours.

In contrast to the number of exam sessions at levels N5 to N3, the sessions in the JLPT N2 test are the following:

  • Language knowledge combined with reading in 105 minutes
  • Listening in 50 minutes

When we compared the duration of the JLPT N5 to N3 exam, the JLPT N2 exam has a longer duration. In addition, language and reading knowledge sessions are also included in the JLPT N2. Because there are only two sessions, and the first session lasts a long time, it is hoped that the examinees will try to stay focused and concentrated during the exam.

The minimum score that must be obtained to pass the JLPT exam is different, depending on the exam that is taken. The minimum score to pass JLPT N2 is 90 out of a total score of 180.

In addition, to be able to get these scores, it is important to understand that each exam session also has a minimum passing score standard. If the score is below the passing standard in one of the test sessions, the examinee is considered not to have passed.

Although there are only two sessions in the test, the assessment of passing standards is divided into three sessions. As in the JLPT N3 passing standards, the JLPT N2 graduation standards are also divided into three as follows:

  • Vocabulary and kanji sessions: at least 19 out of a total score of 60
  • Grammar and reading sessions: at least 19 out of a total score of 60
  • Listening session: a minimum of 19 out of a total score of 60

The passing standard is 50% of the total score!

As written in the previous articles N5 to N3, the easy and difficult parts seem to depend on each participant. Some feel that the listening session is relatively easy, and vice versa. However, please note that the difficulty level of the JLPT N2 exam is far above the JLPT N3. The vocabulary used in the JLPT N2 exam will certainly be much more complicated and more diverse than the N3 vocabulary, so that even though they can pass the N3 exam, the examinee may not be able to answer the questions on the N2 exam easily.

According to the experience of several JLPT N2 test-takers who were able to pass the exam, it is said that the easiest part of the JLPT N2 exam is the listening session. They said that the listening session for the JLPT N2 exam was not as difficult as one might think. However, on the other hand, they think that the first session exams; kanji, vocabulary, grammar, and reading, are very difficult. Even to be able to answer a third of the questions in the first session was difficult. For this reason, those who feel this condition might be better to try to maximize scores in the listening session. This is because even though you can only answer a third of the questions in the kanji/vocabulary/grammar and reading sessions if you can get a very good score in the listening session, you will certainly pass the exam.

JLPT N3: THE INTERMEDIATE LEVEL

The JLPT N3 exam is classified as an intermediate level, and of course a more difficult level than N4. The JLPT N3 exam participants are expected to have mastered about 3,500 Japanese vocabulary words, about 700 kanji letters, and have studied Japanese for approximately 500 hours.

There are three sessions in JLPT N3 as the following:

  • Vocabulary and Kanji in 30 minutes.
  • Grammar and Reading in 70 minutes
  • Listening in 40 minutes

When compared to the JLPT N5 and N4 exams, the JLPT N3 exam has a longer duration. For that, participants must be able to continue to maintain concentration during the exam. The minimum score required to qualify for the JLPT exam differs between levels. The minimum score that must be obtained to pass the JLPT N3 is 95 out of a total score of 180.

In addition to being able to meet these scores, it should also be noted that each exam session also has a passing standard. If any of the sessions scores below the passing requirements, the examinee will be deemed to have failed. For the JLPT N3 exam, the passing standards are divided into three, as follows:

  • Vocabulary and kanji sessions: at least 19 out of a total score of 60
  • Grammar and reading sessions: at least 19 out of a total score of 60
  • Listening session: a minimum of 19 out of a total score of 60

The JLPT N3 exam will be much more difficult than the JLPT N4 exam. In the JLPT N3 exam, many sections may be considered easy and otherwise may be difficult. All exam questions, from vocabulary, kanji, grammar, reading, and listening sessions, will be more diverse and difficult than the basic level (N5 and N4). If you can pass JLPT N4 with a score that is too close to the graduation standard, it’s better if you prepare yourself better by taking the time to learn more Japanese.

JLPT N4

JLPT N4 is a more difficult level than N5, or in other words, is the second-lowest level in the Japanese language test. When taking this level, test takers are expected to know about 1,500 Japanese vocabulary, 300 kanji letters, and have studied Japanese for at least 400 hours.

There are three sessions in JLPT N4, namely:

  • Vocabulary in 25 minutes
  • Grammar and Reading in 55 minutes
  • Listening in 35 minutes

The standard for passing each level is different, and the minimum score that needs to be obtained to pass the JLPT N4 is 90 out of a total score of 180. Each test session also has a passing standard. If one of the sessions scores below the standard, the participant is declared not to have passed. In JLPT N4 the graduation standards are divided into:

  • Vocabulary, grammar, and reading sessions: a minimum of 38 out of a total score of 120
  • Listening session: at least 19 out of a total score of 60.

JLPT N4 is certainly more difficult than JLPT N5. Just like the other levels, the easy and difficult part of course depends on each person. If you understand the grammar of JLPT N5, it seems that you will have no difficulty in mastering the grammar of JLPT N4. Then, those who are used to listening to Japanese audio may find it easy to answer the JLPT N4 listening session. Vice versa. The thing that needs to be done is to practice a lot of questions. Let’s take some time to prepare for JLPT N4!

Many test-taker think that the difficulty level of JLPT N4 is not too far from that of JLPT N5. In other words, if you can get a very good score on the JLPT N5, you are very likely to pass the JLPT N4 test.

JLPT N5: THE EASIEST LEVEL

JLPT N5 is the lowest level. For this level, test takers are expected to have understood about 821 Japanese vocabulary and 103 kanji letters. In order to pass the test with a satisfactory score, test takers are expected to have studied Japanese for about 300 hours.

JLPT N5 consists of three sessions with the following time duration:

  • Vocabulary in 20 minutes
  • Grammar and Reading in 40 minutes
  • Listening in 30 minutes

Please also note that the test duration for JLPT N5 has been shortened starting from 2020. In the previous year, the test duration for vocabulary sessions was 25 minutes, and the test duration for grammar and reading was 50 minutes. The total score for all JLPT levels is 180. However, the standard of passing each level is different. For JLPT N5, the minimum score that needs to be obtained to pass is 80.

Then, it should also be noted that each test session also has a passing standard. This means, even though they can get a score above 80, participants will not necessarily be declared qualified if there is one session whose score is below the minimum standard.

For JLPT N5, the passing standard is divided into two as the following score rule:

  • Vocabulary, grammar and reading sessions: 38 (out of 120 total)
  • Listening sessions: 19 (out of 60 total)

It could be said that the standard wasn’t that high honestly! That is, if the test taker can answer the questions at least about 50% of the total questions, the participant will be declared passed.

If you study Japanese in a special Japanese Language School, and the material taught that you can get in schools tends to be grammatical, students may find it easier to answer the grammar part during the JLPT N5 test. Then, participants who are not familiar with kanji letters may find it difficult to answer vocabulary questions in the form of kanji.

To wrap out this article, finally, we would like to share for people who are planning to come or study in Japan in the future, it is super highly must to take the JLPT as soon as possible, because it may take several attempts. After all, hopefully, this article could help you to find the most effective strategy to study and pass your JLPT exams! Good Luck!

Summary

  • JLPT is very important and highly recommended to take for your Japanese Proficiency Evidence.
  • JLPT N1 is the hardest and N5 is the easiest level.
  • Taking JLPT N2 or higher is highly recommended for you before taking exam in Japanese University or applying for job in large Japanese Company.
About Eka 72 Articles
Hi, I’m Eka. I’m one of the awardees of the 2016 MEXT College to College Recommendation Scholarship. I completed the one-year JASSO-Tokyo Japanese course (2016-2017) and won second place in the Japanese speech competition held internally at JASSO at that time. After that, I continued my education at NIT. Akashi College and earned a Bachelor of Engineering degree after 2 years of study. I love teaching children English and Japanese, writing blogs, designing graphics, and creating digital content. I hope you enjoy the knowledge I share here based on the experience I gained in Japan for over 5 years. Thanks!

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