Any serious learner of Japanese has considered taking the JLPT, or the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. The test can be taken all over the world, of course the country with the most test centers and frequency of administration is Japan, but in America as well there are multiple centers available to students looking to take the Japanese Proficiency test. In New York City, it is administered at Lehman College.
But what level is right for you? It depends on a few factors:
1 – Frequency of study of Japanese up till now
2 – Goals you have for taking the exam
3 – How much you think you can study
1 – The Japanese Proficiency test is designed to be administered in five levels, N1 – N5. N5 is beginning level, and N1 is the highest or fluency level.
To get a sense of how each level differs, please try the sample problems found on this website: http://www.jlpt.jp/samples/forlearners.html
To get to take N5, we would recommend about 2 years of Japanese language study, or the Hills Learning equivalent of six semesters of our 2 month classes. Students taking N5 know some basic Japanese grammar, about 100 Kanji or so, and know the other alphabets Hiragana and Katakana.
To contrast this, N2 (the second highest level of the exam) requires knowledge of 1,000 Kanji, and about 6,000 vocabulary words. To give you a sense of the grammar you have to learn, there are 181 grammar patterns (not including basic grammar patterns that have been learned previously for N3 and N4 levels), and your listening skills have to be developed to listen to everyday conversations, office meetings, and general lectures and be able to pick out and understand what’s being said.
For students that are serious about learning Japanese and have been for sometime, maybe want to move to Japan or get into a Japanese company, we feel that N2 is the natural choice to take. Please see our JLPT Class for more information about our group course on this class.
2 – Which leads us to the second factor, what is your goal for taking the JLPT test? There are various reasons why people take the Proficiency Test, from trying to get a job to entering university. If it’s a specific goal such as entering a Japanese university as a foreign national, or applying for a translation job (for example the State Department has requirements of N1 for various positions), then you already know you have to pass the N1 level of the test.
N1 is naturally the hardest level of the exam, and just within the past couple years has become even harder. Students that don’t use the language on a daily basis at work, didn’t grow up speaking it, or do not have the time to immerse themselves should seriously consider not taking this level. It’s the fluency level for a reason, grammar and vocabulary studied for the test are usually not used in regular conversation.
As mentioned earlier, the N2 level is a great level to take if you’re interested in working in a Japanese company, or just looking to improve overall conversational and reading fluency. The grammar patterns for the test are used in everyday conversation, the vocabulary and kanji are frequented in newspapers, and you can claim you’re “business fluent” on a resume.
N3 is the newest addition to the JLPT level catalog, and it’s not quite clear to this author how the level will be used both on a practical basis and in the job market.
N4 has historically been the level that states you’re “not a beginner of Japanese.” Basically, N4 is where students are introduced to Keigo, the formidable polite language that has no direct equivalent in English. Add around 500 Kanji to the equation and it is proven by passing this level students are no longer considered beginners of Japanese.
3 – Which leads us to our third point, how much time do you have study for the Japanese Proficiency Test? Here’s the quick answer, if you do not use Japanese on a daily basis, you will need to study for the test. Whether it’s N5 or N1, students need to develop a regiment and study quite a bit. As with all tests, the first step is to understand the structure of the test and take some sample problems. Then afterwards for any level, students should be ready to study at least 3 to 4 hours per week. N2 and N1 require more intensive regiments.
Thanks for reading about the JLPT test and we welcome your comments and questions. Good luck with your studies!