The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (日本語能力試験, Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken), or JLPT, is a standardized criterion-referenced 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 consists of five levels. Until 2009, the test had four levels, with 4 being the lowest and 1 being the highest level of certification. JLPT certificates do not expire or become invalid over time.
History and statistics
The JLPT was first held in 1984 in response to growing demand for standardized Japanese language certification. Initially 7,000 people took the test. Until 2003, the JLPT was one of the requirements for foreigners entering Japanese universities. Since 2003, the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU) is used by most universities for this purpose; unlike the JLPT, which is solely a multiple-choice exam, the EJU contains sections which require the examinee to write in Japanese.
In 2004, the JLPT was offered in 40 countries, including Japan. Of the 302,198 examinees in that year, 47% (around 140,000) were certified for their respective level. The number of candidates continued to rise to 559,056 in 2008, while the percentage of candidates certified has fallen below 36%. In 2009, when a revised system was introduced in which two exams are held each year in East Asia, a total of 768,114 people took the exam. In 2010, 610,000 people took the test.
Acceptance in Japan
- Test takers who pass JLPT N1 receive 15 points, and who pass JLPT N2 receive 10 points under the government's "Point-based Preferential Immigration Treatment System for Highly Skilled Foreign Professionals." Individuals with a total of 70 points or higher receive preferential treatment at immigration.
- N1 is a prerequisite for foreign medical professionals who wish to take examinations to be licensed in Japan, and for certain foreign nationals who wish to attend nursing school in Japan.
- Those who have passed either N1 or N2 (regardless of citizenship) are exempt from the Japanese language section of the middle school equivalency examination, which is required in order to enter a Japanese high school if the applicant did not graduate from a Japanese middle school.
- N1 is sometimes accepted in lieu of the Examination for Japanese University Admission for foreign students who wish to study at Japanese universities.
- One of the requirements for the nurse/caregiver candidates under the EPA. Under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, a JLPT certificate is required for Indonesian, Filipino (approximately Level N5 or higher), and Vietnamese (Level N3 or higher) nurse or caregiver candidates who visit Japan.
In Japan, the JLPT is administered by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) 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.
The revised test pattern was implemented in 2010. The 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 is published as it is discouraged to study from kanji and vocabulary lists.
Passing is based on scaled scores calculated using item-response theory—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.
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.
- Note: "Vocabulary" includes kanji and vocabulary (previous 文字・語彙)
Study hour comparison data for students residing in Japan, published by the Japanese Language Education Center:
The following table shows the 2004 edition used until 2009.
Applications and results
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.
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.
Previous format (1984–2009)
All instructions on the test were written in Japanese, although their difficulty is adjusted to remain appropriate to each test level. The subject matter covered at each level of the examination was based upon the Test Content Specification (出題基準, Shutsudai kijun), first published in 1994 and revised in 2004. This specification served as a reference for examiners to compile test questions, rather than as a study guide for candidates. It consisted of kanji lists, expression lists, vocabulary lists, and grammar lists for all four JLPT levels. However, about 20% of the kanji, vocabulary, and grammar in any one exam may have been drawn from outside the prescribed lists at the discretion of exam compilers.
Numbers in parentheses indicate the exact number in the Test Content Specification.
The independent source the Japanese Language Education Center publishes the following study hour comparison data:
In its previous format, the JLPT was divided into three sections: "Characters and Vocabulary" (100 points), "Listening Comprehension" (100 points), and "Reading Comprehension and Grammar" (200 points).
The first section (文字･語彙, moji, goi) tests knowledge of vocabulary and various aspects of the Japanese writing system. This includes identifying the correct kanji characters for given situations, selecting the correct hiragana readings for given kanji, choosing the appropriate terms for given sentences, and choosing the appropriate usage of given words.
The second section (聴解, chōkai) comprises two sub-sections that test listening comprehension. The first involves choosing the picture which best represents the situation presented by a prerecorded conversation. The second is of a similar format but presents no visual clues.
Section three (読解･文法, dokkai, bunpō) uses authentic or semi-authentic reading passages of various lengths to test reading comprehension. Questions include prompts to fill in blank parts of the text and requests to paraphrase key points. Grammar questions request that examinees select the correct grammar structure to convey a given point or test conjugations and postpositional particle agreement.
Two changes in levels of tests were made from the previous four-level format: 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. Vocabulary in particular is said to be taken from an increased pool of 18,000 words.
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.