With the JLPT now over, get ahead in studying for next year

by Louise George Kittaka

Special To The Japan Times

The latest round of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) was held yesterday — congratulations to the test takers! A couple of readers wrote to us about the exam after last week’s Community Page published an article by Jun Hongo titled “Is the JLPT really worth it?”

VP is studying Japanese overseas and was due to sit the second-easiest level, known as the N4. He knows people who sat the exam under the old system, when there were four levels. He wonders how the current system, which was revamped into five levels in 2010, equates with the old. According to the JLPT’s official site (, the main difference is that a new level, N3, has been inserted in the middle, as a bridge between the old Level 2 and Level 3. This was in response to many test takers’ concerns about the large gap in difficulty between the old Level 2 and Level 3. The new and old levels line up something like this: New N5 = Old Level 4, N4 = Level 3, N3 = Easy stuff on Level 2 N2 = More difficult stuff on Level 2, N1 = Level 1.

Incidentally, there seems to be a general feeling that the N1 is harder than the old Level 1, and some people have told me that they now wonder if their “old” qualifications are no longer relevant. The JLPT website says the two levels are the same, so those of us who sat the old Level 1 can be confident that we could probably pass the new version, too. It is generally suggested, though, that you update your qualifications every three years.

Answers to the above and many other questions can be found at the FAQ section of the JLPT’s website.

Another reader, SJ, writes with an interesting point of view: “My current axe to grind against this test is that it is entirely yokogaki (Japanese characters written left to right). If you are actually fluent in Japanese, almost all of your reading will be tategaki (written top to bottom) and your eye muscles will become trained in that way. At a minimum, they ought to offer a tategaki option.”

While email and most documents produced on computers are yokogaki, newspapers, books and a lot of other printed matter is produced using the traditional tategaki style. Japanese children students also start off using tategaki when they learn to read and write at school.

The JLPT website is run by two groups, Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES) and the Japan Foundation. I first spoke to someone connected with the exam at JEES. While she made a note of SJ’s comments and said she would pass them on to her colleagues, she admitted that this was the first time someone had brought up the issue to her knowledge.

I was then referred to a spokesperson for the JLPT at the Japan Foundation. He thanks SJ for her input and sent some links to recent sample questions for N1, pointing out they actually contain one or two tategaki questions. The majority of the exam is yokogaki, however, so while it seems that N1 test takers, at least, should be comfortable with tategaki, for the main part the JLPT administrators feel that yokogaki is the best way to present the exam. Examples can be found in the Sample Questions section of the JLPT website.

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for the NHK “Nodo Jiman” show, among other things.Send comments and questions to

Coronavirus banner