An Introduction to the New JLPT

Taking the JLPT

Image by Casey Serin, available under the Creative Commons 2.0 Generic License

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test or JLPT has become pretty much the test to take for Japanese. It is used as the standard to help judge Japanese learners’ levels by schools and employers. Over a million people took the test in 2018 with more taking it every year.  So, what is this test?  Where did it come from?

Brief History

The JLPT started off in 1984 with 4 levels originally.  There was 4級 (level 4)、3級(level 3)、2級(level 2)、and 1級(level 1).  The test was used for both employers and universities to judge people’s levels.  Later, a separate test was created called the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students or EJU.  If you are interested in going to school in Japan, it’s a good idea to study for that test as it is quite different from the JLPT.

The old JLPT had its advantages and disadvantages.  One advantage was that the Ministry of Education, who administers the test, published a set list of all the kanji, vocabulary, and grammar points covered in the different levels.  This made studying for the exams a lot easier.  You simply had to study these lists and make sure you mastered them and you were all set.  The old tests were also fairly predictable and had fewer kinds of questions.  They were also broken down into 3 sections so that it was easier to gauge how much time you had to answer each question.

There were multiple disadvantages as well though.  With the old tests, the jump between 3級 and 2級 was too much for many students.  According to the old recommendations, someone who has studied for 300 hours should take 3級 and the suggestion for 2級 was twice that, 600 hours.  Furthermore, one of the old tests advantages was also its disadvantage.  The old tests encouraged people to study for the test because all of the grammar, kanji, and vocabulary were published publicly for people to study.  This made the test invalid as a true judgment of someone’s Japanese level.

So What’s Up with this New Test?

First administered in July of 2010, a new style of the JLPT has come out.  The name of the levels has changed from 4級、3級、2級、and 1級 to N5, N4, N3, N2, and N1.  The ‘N’ in the name stands for nihongo and new.  The new tests have been completely redesigned and our almost unrecognizable from the old tests.

I should note that some of this information is rather speculative because the Ministry of Education has been a little tight-lipped about the test and hasn’t given very many definite details.  I’ll try to make it clear where I’m speculating and where I know for sure about the tests.  Just for the record, I took the N2 last July, so I know about the test from first-hand experience.

First, the top two levels N1 and N2 have only two testing sections; the other levels (N3-N5) still have 3 testing sections.  In the higher levels, the kanji and vocabulary section has been combined with the reading and grammar section.  This can, in my opinion, make the top two levels more difficult because you have to do more time management.

Second, there is also a wider variety of questions now.  The number of questions dealing with being able to choose the correct hiragana for the kanji, and vice versa seems to have been reduced.  The test now concentrates on only a few of these.  I new type of question is in N2, word formation.  Word formation questions give you 2 out of the 3 kanji in a compound and ask you for the third kanji.  Some of the old types of questions are still around though.  For example, the dreaded usage questions are still in the test.

The reading section remains largely the same.  In the first part, the test goes over the appropriate use of grammar elements.  In the later half, there are some essays of various lengths you must read over and answer questions about.  One new and particularly difficult kind of question is one that requires you to unscramble the sentence.  This is to test your sentence structure knowledge.

The listening section has drastically changed, there use to be only 2 sections for the listening.  Now, there are 5 sections for most of the tests.  It starts off with listening questions involving pictures and is task-based.  Then the test goes over listening for key points and listening for general ideas.  The last sections involve quick response, where you have to choose the appropriate response in the conversation.

The new test is definitely a good test of your true Japanese ability.  I feel like you really have to know and be able to use the language in order to pass the test. Although, it is a tricky to get use to if you took the old tests, so I’d recommend taking a practice test before heading off to the exam.

Now, I need your help.  Have you taken the exam this year?  What were your impressions of it?  I’d love to hear what level you took and what you felt about it in the comments below.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Isaura January 9, 2013, 7:16 pm

    “Give 2 out of 3 Kanji and ask the 3rd Kanji” is my favorite question:)) I want to take N2 in December 2013:))

    • Clayton MacKnight January 14, 2013, 3:47 am

      really? Those questions sometimes drive me crazy. Mostly because it is vocabulary I haven’t seen before. 🙂

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