An Alternative to JLPT Study Hours

JLPT study hours alternativeLast week, I wrote an article about the JLPT study hours, where I went over some guesses of exactly how many study hours are needed for each level of the test.

But, everyone studies a little differently. After all, we don’t all study word lists and grammar books strictly for the test. Hopefully, your Japanese studying includes a wide variety of methods and not just Anki every day. It does right?

Chances are pretty good, especially if you are a self-learner, your studying is incredibly varied. You’ve probably stopped and started, practiced this and that, learned some slang or even a regional dialect or two. In other words, you haven’t been focused purely on the JLPT your whole Japanese speaking life.

And that’s okay. After all, it’s just a test not a way of living your life. On top of all that, what counts as a ‘study hour’? I mean does chatting with your friends in Japanese count as a study hour? I mean, you are practicing and technically reviewing the language when your chatting. How about if you are reading a book in all Japanese? Can that be counted toward your ‘study hours’?

Besides that, who has time to count the hours you study anyway? After the first hundred or so, I started to lose count. Nowadays, I just guess how many hours I’ve studied on the JLPT application. I really have no idea.

So, if study hours aren’t a good metric to go by. What is? Well, I’m going to try to give you a few ways to see if you are the ‘right stuff’ for each test. Be sure to let me know if you think any of this is a little bogus.

Can I take the JLPT N5?

In order to pass this test, you should be able to have basic conversations in Japanese. Ask yourself the following questions:

Can you talk about what you need to do today?
Can you give and listen for basic directions?
Can you read basic train and bus schedules?
Can you read a children’s book (age 2~4) and understand most of it?

If you said yes to most of those questions, I’d say you are pretty much ready for N5. Definitely be sure to practice the kanji and vocab for this level. The lists are pretty short, so it shouldn’t take too long to master these lists.

Can I take the JLPT N4?

In order to pass this test, you should be able to have basic conversations in Japanese and be able to travel by yourself without too much trouble. Ask yourself the following questions:

Can you book a hotel/plane ticket/train ticket?
Are you able to read 40% of the items on a menu at a Japanese restaurant?
Can you read a children’s book (age 4 ~ 7) and understand most of it?
Can you talk to a 7 year old and have a decent conversation? (This sounds funny, but try it sometime. It’s a good check of your level.)
Can you pick up the theme of a random conversation that you encounter (on TV or on the street)?
Can you give and follow simple instructions?
Can you perform simple daily activities in Japan with ease? (e.g. go to the post office, banking, etc..)
Can you have a good 3 minute conversation with someone about daily activities?

If you said yes to most of those questions, I’d say you are pretty much ready for N4. Of course, you are still going to want to review the kanji and vocabulary as well as check the grammar before the test though. The grammar can be especially difficult because there are a few exceptions at this level as well as a lot of different kinds of conjugations, so be careful.

Can I take the JLPT N3?

In order to pass this test, you should be able to have lower intermediate conversations in Japanese. Ask yourself the following questions:

Can you talk to a sales person about something in a store and be able to manage your way through the main features of the item? (Note, I said ‘manage’ not perfectly understand.)
Are you able to read and/or figure out most of the things on the menu at a Japanese restaurant?
Can you read 1st and 2nd (school) year material with relative ease?
Can you talk to a 10 to 14 year old and have a decent conversation?
Can you pick up the theme and a most of the basic details of a random conversation? (that isn’t about rocket science)
Are you able to describe a scene to someone with reasonable clarity?
Can you ‘manage’ some more complex tasks in Japanese like visiting the doctor’s, troubleshooting some PC trouble, or conducting a meeting with Japanese speakers that know there are low-level non-natives in the room.
Can you have a good 5~10 minute conversation about general topics?

If you said yes to most of these, then you should be all set for the N3 test. Having passed the test just recently I can say that these should be accurate to the best of my ability, but I’d like to hear what other learners think.

Can I take the JLPT N2?

In order to pass this test, you should be able to have upper intermediate conversations in Japanese. Ask yourself the following questions:

Can you explain some complex situation to a station chief or police officer? (e.g. return a lost wallet and be able to get through the paperwork.)
Can you read any menu (in Japanese) anywhere without issues?
Can you read movie novelizations or translated novels, which tend to have easier language and concepts?
Can you talk to a 14~18 year old without any major issues? (if they don’t use too much slang)
Can you pick up the theme, most details, and flow of a random conversation? (again not about rocket science)
Are you able to write a regular blog post (~1200 characters) on a common topic and get your idea across without correction? (but still needs correction)
Can you understand the plot and main points of a drama or movie in Japanese?
Can you have a free flowing conversation (that doesn’t die because you can’t describe something or don’t know how to continue) about general topics?
Are you able to tell a clear story?

Again, if you can answer yes to most of these above, then you are well on your way to taking and passing the N2. The biggest point for this test will be vocabulary and usage of that vocabulary. The grammar can be a bit tricky too.

Can I take the JLPT N1?

The grandaddy of all, JLPT N1 is a challenging test. It’d be easy to say that if you are incredibly fluent than you can take and pass this test, but that isn’t necessarily true. It’s still a challenge and you will need to specifically study for this level, even if you’ve been working and using Japanese for awhile. So, ask yourself the following questions:

Can you work in an all-Japanese environment (no speakers of your native language)?
Can you read regular novels, magazines, and non-fiction?
Can you watch a movie or drama and understand most of it?
Can you more or less completely understand any random conversation?
Can you discuss a specialized topic (with some previous research) or hear a lecture about a specialized topic (having some knowledge about it beforehand) and understand most of it?
Can you have a conversation in Japanese with an average person without issues and not too many hesitations?

Again if you answered yes to most of these then you are well on your way to taking and passing the JLPT N1 exam. I wish you luck, the passing percentage is a little higher at this level, so you’ll need to over-learn the material and go in with confidence.

So that’s the longer version of what level is right for you. I should qualify these by saying that this is only my personal opinion, so I’d like to hear from you. If you’ve passed one of the levels of the test, what do you feel like you could do at that level? What can you add to this list? I’m curious to know. Let me know in the comments below.

 

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Michael April 28, 2011, 12:02 am

    I think your requirements are fine to describe when it’s appropriate to take the test and benefit from it.

    However it’s definitely possible to pass the test not fulfilling all your criteria. That is because the score needed is pretty low (~50%).

    But the good question is if you just want to pass or if you want to take the test and know that your proficiency is solid.

    • Mac April 28, 2011, 2:54 pm

      That’s a good point. you definitely don’t need to be able to do all of the things listed in order to pass each level, but you should be able to do those things. I admittedly fall short on a few points for N3 and N2, but hopefully I have enough to pass N2 🙂

  • Bob April 30, 2011, 9:51 pm

    By either criteria, I need more studying.

    • Mac May 1, 2011, 5:41 am

      Haha, don’t we all 🙂 The jump from N4 to N3 and N2 is especially difficult. Thanks for the comment!

  • Ty November 20, 2014, 7:54 am

    For JLPT N3 when you say “Can you read 1st and 2nd (school) year material with relative ease?” do you mean 小学1年・2年生 ?

    Thank you!

  • Rand May 1, 2016, 10:07 pm

    I do think this a bit off point because the JLPT tests reading and listening skills, that’s all, so the speaking criteria you listed is not really relevant. IIRC the official JLPT materials do say such things, like “if you pass N2 you should be able to have such and such a conversation”, but they test no such criteria.

    Other than the speaking criteria I think this list is reasonable, maybe a bit optimistic. I would expect someone who barely passed the N2 to not be quite ready to “read movie novelizations or translated novels”

    • Clayton MacKnight May 8, 2016, 1:06 pm

      Although it might be possible to pass the test by simply reading and listening your way to the top, it is not really an efficient way to study. You should be doing some speaking. I’ve taught a lot of TOEIC classes and seen students get a better score by improving their test taking skills and studying just reading, but it has its limits. On the other hand, I have taught a good number of targeted grammar speaking classes and seen my student’s scores dramatically improve. It’s a combination of both that will help you get the best score. And I seriously doubt anyone is just studying Japanese to use it passively. I mean there might be a handful, but not the majority.

      As for reading movie novelizations and translated novels, that’s what I did to *pass* the N2. So, …

    • Random Guy December 30, 2017, 4:19 pm

      “the speaking criteria you listed is not really relevant”

      If you can’t use a grammar in a simple sentence relatively fluently, you won’t be able to read it fast enough in paragraph form and answer questions accurately in the time allotted. Also, the test writers will be able to trip you up in the technical details (e.g. is it ta form plus the grammar or te form plus the grammar?)

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