Get your motor running for the JLPT

During its nearly 30-year history, the number of examinees tackling the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) (日本語能力試験) has exploded worldwide from 7,000 in 1984 to 750,000 in 2009. Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES, now administers the test in 39 prefectures in Japan and 103 cities in 22 countries/areas outside the archipelago.

Beginning in July, 2010, JEES began to offer the test twice a year (adding a summer date to the long-standing December one) and also gave the test format a major shake-up by increasing the number of test levels from four to five. Each level (formerly named “Level 1,” “Level 2,” etc.) was given a slightly tweaked moniker — from N5 at the bottom of the scale of difficulty, to N1 at the top. (The “N” stands for both “nihongo” and “new”).

Newbie N3 is positioned as a bridge in difficulty between the old Levels 2 and 3; intermediate-level test-takers have long complained that the wide gap between these two levels was intimidating. N4 is approximately the same level as the old Level 3 test, and N5 nearly the same as the old Level 4. N1 is closely matched to the level of the old Level 1 test, but is “designed to measure slightly more advanced abilities” (i.e., can be expected to be more challenging than the old Level 1).

Under new scoring rules, examinees will be required to pass each section, not just the entire test with an overall score. (It will now be impossible to offset a low score in one section with a high score in another. If an examinee fails to get the minimum points in any one of the sections they will fail the entire test.)

The next summer test date is Sunday, July 1, 2012, but unfortunately the deadline for registration has come and gone (May 2). If you missed it you will have to wait until December (Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012) to sit the test. Start checking the JEES official site for registration details beginning in early August. Registration may be done online or with forms widely available in Japanese bookstores. The test fee is ¥5,500, and you will have to wait for about two months after the test for the postman to deliver your pass/fail notice.

Even if you missed the July test application deadline, it is never too early to get your study engines running for the December test, and — if you are still wavering about which level to tackle next, the JEES official site has a wealth of sample questions which can lead you in the right direction ( The quiz questions to the right also aim to offer level guidance.



Sample kanji questions from N1-N3’s revised JLPT. Select the correct reading of the text marked in bold.

1. (N1) 研究開発に挑んでいる

a. はげんで b. のぞんで c. からんで d. いどんで

2. (N1) 住民が相手に訴訟をおこした。

a. せっこう b. そこう c. そしょう d. せきしょう

3. (N2) このくろいからどんな花が さくのだろうか。

a. たね b. じゅう c. だね d. しゅ

4. (N2) 以上がその事件の概略である。

a. こうりゃく b. しょうりゃく c. かんりゃく d. がいりゃく

5. (N3) 先生にたすけていただきました。

a. 守けて b. 助けて c. 支けて d. 協けて

6. (N3) 代表にえらばれた

a. たいひょう b. たいひょ c. だいひょう d. だいひょ

There are many other websites offering advice, including by Peter van der Woud, which provides kanji lists derived from the pre-2010 test content specification, along with a wealth of compound words utilizing those characters. The site also includes past exams, quizzes, and a forum where test-takers can communicate about their revised- JLPT test-taking experiences.

Another is, by Jonathon Waller, which offers a kanji-level check for N1-N5, including on-kun pronunciations and English meanings.

All five levels of the revised test include questions on kanji reading: (N1: covers approximately 2,000 kanji; N2: 1,000; N3: 600; N4: 300; and N5: 100).

Predictably, apps for iPhone and iPad devoted to preparation for the revised JLPT are popping up: (PlaySay) for example is designed for N1-N5 prep.

Back in the Dark Ages of the 1980s, when I first sat for the JLPT, and did not possess an iPad or even a PC, I relied on traditional study materials made of (gasp!) paper. It was surprisingly gratifying to work through pocketbook-size workbooks, and these gems carried me to my goal of passing Level 1. They still line my bookshelf, and have recently started to cajole me into taking a stab at the N1, which I have yet to challenge. How about you? Isn’t it about time you gave your kanji studies a powerful kick-start by tackling the revised JLPT?

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ANSWERS 1.d 2.c 3.a 4.d 5.b 6.c

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