December is the time for thousands of students to take the notoriously infamous Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).

Last Sunday in central Tokyo, more than 800 students had to spend five hours in a room to take a test that requires just three hours to complete. The rest of the time was used to perform security checks and hand-collect exam papers. After the exam, “for safety reasons,” the room had to be vacated in small groups to avoid “road and premises’ congestion.” Constant speaker announcements on what not to do made the whole experience look like a Soviet Union breadline.

The JLPT’s paper-based format is heavily under par compared with other international language tests (e.g. TOEFL), which are administrated on computer-based systems.

Each year, about 700,000 students take the JLPT. Despite this staggering number of applicants, Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES) and the Japan Foundation have failed to innovate enough to provide a positive experience for test takers.

The test is administrated just twice a year and poses a serious limit to job seekers and students.

A person with a conditional job offer needs to wait six months (or more if the application deadline is missed) before being able to retake the test. As Japan struggles to attract foreign investment and tries to relaunch Tokyo as an international business center, this causes many offers to be rescinded and is an obstacle to the arrival of highly qualified professionals.

The current state of the test calls for a clear act of reform to provide a more accessible and user-friendly way to test one’s Japanese proficiency.

A computer-based exam, administrated in smaller test centers, would reduce the gap needed to retake the test, slash the number of proctors needed and provide a better experience for test takers without compromising the JLPT’s quality and accuracy.

Will the 2020 Tokyo Olympics be a good time to implement some new solutions?


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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