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JLPT (Japanese-Language Proficiency Test) - 日本語能力試験 Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken - An Overview

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The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (日本語能力試験 Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken), or JLPT, is the most popular test to evaluate and certify Japanese language proficiency for non-native speakers, covering language knowledge, reading ability, and listening ability.
The test is held twice a year in Japan and selected countries (on the first Sunday of July and December), and once a year in other regions (on the first Sunday of December).

The JLPT was expanded from four to five levels in 2010, characterized as follows:

  • N1: The ability to understand Japanese used in a variety of circumstances
  • N2: The ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations, and in a variety of circumstances to a certain degree
  • N3: The ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to a certain degree
  • N4: The ability to understand basic Japanese
  • N5: The ability to understand some basic Japanese

Until 2009, the test had four levels, with the old Level 3 and Level 4 corresponding to the current Level N4 and Level N5 respectively. In the change to the new level system, a new Level N3 was inserted between the old Levels 2 and 3. The examination for Level N1 was expanded to cover higher-level content, but the passing standard for Level N1 remained approximately the same as the old Level 1. JLPT certificates do not expire or become invalid over time.

Administration

In Japan, the JLPT is administered by the Ministry of Education through the Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES). Overseas, the Japan Foundation co-proctors test administration with local cultural exchange and/or educational institutions, or with committees specially established for this purpose.

Revised test

A revised test pattern was implemented in 2010 (it was originally scheduled to be implemented from December 2009). The revised test consists of five levels: N1, N2, N3, N4, and N5, with N1 being the highest level and N5 the lowest. No Test Content Specification will be published as it is discouraged to study from kanji and vocabulary lists.

Changes

Two changes in levels of tests were made: firstly, a new level was inserted between the old level 3 and level 2, and secondly, the content of the top level exam (old level 1) was changed to test slightly more advanced skills, though the passing level was not changed, possibly through equating of test scores.

The addition of the new N3 was done to address the problem of the difficulty gap between level 3 and 2: in the past there had been requests for revisions to address the fact that examinees who had passed the Level 3 test often had trouble with passing the Level 2 test because of the large gap in level of skill needed to pass those two levels. There was also a desire to measure abilities more advanced than those targeted by the current Level 1 test, hence the top level exam was modified.

The correspondence is as follows:

  • N1: slightly more advanced than the original level 1, but the same passing level
  • N2: the same as the original level 2
  • N3: in between the original level 2 and level 3
  • N4: the same as the original level 3
  • N5: the same as the original level 4

The revised test continues to test the same content categories as the original, but the first and third sections of the test have been combined into a single section. Sections on oral and writing skills were not introduced. Further, a requirement to pass individual sections was added, rather than only achieving an overall score.

New Level

A summary of linguistic competence required for each level

CEFR

N1

The ability to understand Japanese used in a variety of circumstances.

Reading

One is able to read writings with logical complexity and/or abstract writings on a variety of topics, such as newspaper editorials and critiques, and comprehend both their structures and contents. One is also able to read written materials with profound contents on various topics and follow their narratives as well as understand the intent of the writers comprehensively.

Listening

One is able to comprehend orally presented materials such as coherent conversations, news reports, and lectures, spoken at natural speed in a broad variety of settings, and is able to follow their ideas and comprehend their contents comprehensively. One is also able to understand the details of the presented materials such as the relationships among the people involved, the logical structures, and the essential points.

C1~C2

N2

The ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations, and in a variety of circumstances to a certain degree.

Reading

One is able to read materials written clearly on a variety of topics, such as articles and commentaries in newspapers and magazines as well as simple critiques, and comprehend their contents. One is also able to read written materials on general topics and follow their narratives as well as understand the intent of the writers.

Listening

One is able to comprehend orally presented materials such as coherent conversations and news reports, spoken at nearly natural speed in everyday situations as well as in a variety of settings, and is able to follow their ideas and comprehend their contents. One is also able to understand the relationships among the people involved and the essential points of the presented materials.

B2~C1

N3

The ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to a certain degree.

Reading

One is able to read and understand written materials with specific contents concerning everyday topics. One is also able to grasp summary information such as newspaper headlines. In addition, one is also able to read slightly difficult writings encountered in everyday situations and understand the main points of the content if some alternative phrases are available to aid one’s understanding.

Listening

One is able to listen and comprehend coherent conversations in everyday situations, spoken at near-natural speed, and is generally able to follow their contents as well as grasp the relationships among the people involved.

B1~B2

N4

The ability to understand basic Japanese.

Reading

One is able to read and understand passages on familiar daily topics written in basic vocabulary and kanji.

Listening

One is able to listen and comprehend conversations encountered in daily life and generally follow their contents, provided that they are spoken slowly.

A2~B1

N5

The ability to understand some basic Japanese.

Reading

One is able to read and understand typical expressions and sentences written in hiragana, katakana, and basic kanji.

Listening

One is able to listen and comprehend conversations about topics regularly encountered in daily life and classroom situations, and is able to pick up necessary information from short conversations spoken slowly.

A1~A2

Scoring

Passing is based on scaled scores – raw scores are not directly used to determine passing, nor are they reported, except in rough form in the "Reference Information" section. Raw scores are converted to a standard scale, so that equivalent performance on tests from different years and different levels of difficulty yields the same scaled score. The scaled scores are reported, broken down by section, and these are the scores used to determine passing.

In addition, a "Reference Information" section is provided on the report card; this is purely informational – for the examinee’s future studies – and is not used in determining if an examinee has passed. The grade given is based on the raw score, and is either A, B, or C, accordingly as the raw score was 67% or above, between 34% and 66%, or below 34%. This reference information is given for vocabulary, grammar, and reading on the N4 and N5, and for vocabulary and grammar (but not reading) on the N1, N2, and N3. In both cases, this breaks down the score on the "Language Knowledge" section into separate skills, but in neither case is performance on the listening section analyzed.

Pass marks

Passing the test requires both achieving an overall pass mark for the total points, and passing each section individually; these are based on the scaled scores. The sectional scores are to ensure that skills are not unbalanced – so one cannot pass by doing well on the written section but poorly on the listening section, for instance. The overall pass mark depends on the level and varies between 100/180 (55.55%) for the N1 and 80/180 (44.44%) for the N5. The pass marks for individual sections are all 19/60 = 31.67% – equivalently, 38/120 = 19/60 for the large section on the N4 and N5. Note that the sectional pass levels are below the overall pass level, at 31.67% instead of 44.44%–55.55%: one need not achieve the overall pass level on each section. These standards were adopted starting in July 2010, and do not vary from year to year, with the scaling instead varying.

Pass marks for individual sections

Level

Overall pass mark

Language Knowledge
(Vocabulary/Grammar

Reading

Listening

N1

100 points

19 points

19 points

19 points

N2

90 points

19 points

19 points

19 points

N3

95 points

19 points

19 points

19 points

Total possible

180 points

60 points

60 points

60 points

N4

90 points

38 points

19 points

N5

80 points

38 points

19 points

Total possible

180 points

120 points

60 points

Test sections

Level

Test section
(test time)

Total duration

N1

Language Knowledge (Vocabulary/Grammar)Reading
(110 min)

Listening
(60 min)

170 min

N2

Language Knowledge (Vocabulary/Grammar)Reading
(105 min)

Listening
(50 min)

155 min

N3

Language Knowledge (Vocabulary)
(30 min)

Language Knowledge (Grammar)Reading
(70 min)

Listening
(40 min)

140 min

N4

Language Knowledge (Vocabulary)
(30 min)

Language Knowledge (Grammar)Reading
(60 min)

Listening
(35 min)

125 min

N5

Language Knowledge (Vocabulary)
(25 min)

Language Knowledge (Grammar)Reading
(50 min)

Listening
(30 min)

105 min

  • Note: "Vocabulary" includes kanji and vocabulary (previous 文字・語彙)

Results

Results for the December test are announced the following February for examinees in Japan, and March for overseas candidates. Test results are sent to the examinees through the testing organization or centre to which they applied. From 2012, with online registration, results are available online before they are mailed out (late August for the July test). All examinees receive a report indicating their scores by section. Those who pass also receive a Certificate of Proficiency.

Application period

The application period is usually around early March until late April for July's examination and around early August until late September for December's exam.