Japanese-Language Proficiency Test
Certificate of Proficiency awarded for passing the Level N1 JLPT conducted in 2010.
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).
- N1: The ability to understand Japanese used in a variety of circumstances
- N2: The ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations, and in a variety of circumstances to a certain degree
- N3: The ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to a certain degree
- N4: The ability to understand basic Japanese
- N5: The ability to understand some basic Japanese
Until 2009, the test had four levels, with the old Level 3 and Level 4 corresponding to the current Level N4 and Level N5 respectively. In the change to the new level system, a new Level N3 was inserted between the old Levels 2 and 3. The examination for Level N1 was expanded to cover higher-level content, but the passing standard for Level N1 remained approximately the same as the old Level 1. 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
- N1 can be used to satisfy the Japanese language ability criterion under the "Point-based Preferential Immigration Treatment System for Highly Skilled Foreign Professionals" announced by the Japanese government in 2012. It is also possible to use the Business Japanese Proficiency Test or a foreign university degree with a major in Japanese for this purpose.
- 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.
- Foreign nationals who have passed either N1 or N2 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.
In Japan, the JLPT is administered by the Ministry of Education 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.
A revised test pattern was implemented in 2010 (it was originally scheduled to be implemented from December 2009). The revised 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 will be published as it is discouraged to study from kanji and vocabulary lists.
Two changes in levels of tests were made: 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.
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.
|New Level||A summary of linguistic competence required for each level||CEFR|
|N1||Advanced Level: The ability to understand Japanese used in a variety of circumstances.
One is able to read writings with logical complexity and/or abstract writings on a variety of topics, such as newspaper editorials and critiques, and comprehend both their structures and contents. One is also able to read written materials with profound contents on various topics and follow their narratives as well as understand the intent of the writers comprehensively.
One is able to comprehend orally presented materials such as coherent conversations, news reports, and lectures, spoken at natural speed in a broad variety of settings, and is able to follow their ideas and comprehend their contents comprehensively. One is also able to understand the details of the presented materials such as the relationships among the people involved, the logical structures, and the essential points.
|N2||Upper-intermediate Level: The ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations, and in a variety of circumstances to a certain degree.
One is able to read materials written clearly on a variety of topics, such as articles and commentaries in newspapers and magazines as well as simple critiques, and comprehend their contents. One is also able to read written materials on general topics and follow their narratives as well as understand the intent of the writers.
One is able to comprehend orally presented materials such as coherent conversations and news reports, spoken at nearly natural speed in everyday situations as well as in a variety of settings, and is able to follow their ideas and comprehend their contents. One is also able to understand the relationships among the people involved and the essential points of the presented materials.
|N3||Intermediate Level: The ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to a certain degree.
One is able to read and understand written materials with specific contents concerning everyday topics. One is also able to grasp summary information such as newspaper headlines. In addition, one is also able to read slightly difficult writings encountered in everyday situations and understand the main points of the content if some alternative phrases are available to aid one’s understanding.
One is able to listen and comprehend coherent conversations in everyday situations, spoken at near-natural speed, and is generally able to follow their contents as well as grasp the relationships among the people involved.
|N4||Elementary Level: The ability to understand basic Japanese.
One is able to read and understand passages on familiar daily topics written in basic vocabulary and kanji.
One is able to listen and comprehend conversations encountered in daily life and generally follow their contents, provided that they are spoken slowly.
|N5||Basic Level: The ability to understand some basic Japanese.
One is able to read and understand typical expressions and sentences written in hiragana, katakana, and basic kanji.
One is able to listen and comprehend conversations about topics regularly encountered in daily life and classroom situations, and is able to pick up necessary information from short conversations spoken slowly.
Passing is based on scaled scores – 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.
|Level||Overall pass mark||Language Knowledge
|N1||100 points||19 points||19 points||19 points|
|N2||90 points||19 points||19 points||19 points|
|N3||95 points||19 points||19 points||19 points|
|Total possible||180 points||60 points||60 points||60 points|
|N4||90 points||38 points||19 points|
|N5||80 points||38 points||19 points|
|Total possible||180 points||120 points||60 points|
|Level||Test section 
|N1||Language Knowledge (Vocabulary/Grammar)・Reading
|N2||Language Knowledge (Vocabulary/Grammar)・Reading
|N3||Language Knowledge (Vocabulary)
|Language Knowledge (Grammar)・Reading
|N4||Language Knowledge (Vocabulary)
|Language Knowledge (Grammar)・Reading
|N5||Language Knowledge (Vocabulary)
|Language Knowledge (Grammar)・Reading
- Note: "Vocabulary" includes kanji and vocabulary (previous 文字・語彙)
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.
|Year||Level||JLPT in Japan||JLPT overseas|
|Applicants||Examinees||Certified (%)||Applicants||Examinees||Certified (%)|
|2007||1 kyū||47,761||42,923||14,338 (33.4%)||135,616||110,937||28,550 (25.7%)|
|2 kyū||34,782||31,805||11,884 (37.4%)||186,226||152,198||40,975 (26.9%)|
|3 kyū||16,808||15,710||8,664 (55.1%)||143,252||113,526||53,806 (47.4%)|
|4 kyū||3,908||3,383||2,332 (68.9%)||64,127||53,476||27,767 (51.9%)|
|2008||1 kyū||52,992||46,953||18,454 (39.3%)||138,131||116,271||38,988 (33.5%)|
|2 kyū||41,924||38,040||16,289 (42.8%)||187,482||157,142||58,124 (37.0%)|
|3 kyū||22,016||20,351||13,304 (65.4%)||147,435||120,569||69,605 (57.7%)|
|4 kyū||4,524||3,903||2,765 (70.8%)||65,877||55,828||31,227 (55.9%)|
|2009-1||1 kyū||29,274||26,578||11,738 (44.2%)||103,349||87,104||28,230 (32.4%)|
|2 kyū||26,437||24,793||9,279 (37.4%)||130,753||110,266||27,543 (25.0%)|
|2009-2||1 kyū||46,648||41,998||12,293 (29.3%)||137,708||114,725||26,427 (23.0%)|
|2 kyū||36,528||33,807||12,462 (36.9%)||176,628||147,328||41,488 (28.2%)|
|3 kyū||17,703||16,675||9,360 (56.1%)||131,733||108,867||51,903 (47.7%)|
|4 kyū||3,212||2,932||2,155 (73.5%)||61,995||53,041||29,529 (55.7%)|
|2010-1||N1||26,225||23,694||9,651 (40.7%)||73,863||62,938||19,402 (30.8%)|
|N2||24,738||23,126||13,768 (59.5%)||87,889||74,874||32,530 (43.4%)|
|N3||6,947||6,280||3,051 (48.6%)||42,227||32,100||12,574 (39.2%)|
|2010-2||N1||40,041||36,810||12,774 (34.7%)||100,689||87,763||25,781 (29.4%)|
|N2||27,947||26,020||11,679 (44.9%)||106,402||91,996||30,460 (33.1%)|
|N3||8,363||7,665||3,501 (44.9%)||56,236||45,906||18,883 (41.1%)|
|N4||7,764||7,317||3,716 (50.8%)||48,613||41,484||19,235 (46.4%)|
|N5||2,065||1,870||1,458 (78.0%)||43,676||38,128||22,846 (59.9%)|
|2011-1||N1||24,716||22,782||6,546 (28.7%)||89,744||76,991||20,519 (26.7%)|
|N2||19,203||17,957||9,057 (50.4%)||92,015||79,716||30,216 (37.9%)|
|N3||5,642||5,211||2,511 (48.2%)||36,841||29,507||13,230 (44.8%)|
|N4||3,643||3,358||1,431 (42.6%)||19,010||15,453||5,802 (37.5%)|
|N5||716||649||464 (71.5%)||12,346||10,510||6,108 (58.1%)|
|2011-2||N1||36,426||33,460||11,849 (35.4%)||100,873||88,514||27,452 (31.0%)|
|N2||22,875||21,269||8,695 (40.8%)||94,538||82,944||28,679 (34.6%)|
|N3||8,149||7,580||3,073 (40.5%)||49,917||41,665||16,576 (39.8%)|
|N4||7,008||6,596||3,083 (46.7%)||38,888||33,402||14,722 (44.1%)|
|N5||1,603||1,481||1,045 (70.6%)||33,245||29,159||16,986 (58.3%)|
|2012-1||N1||26,051||24,142||11,074 (45.9%)||78,905||69,082||23,789 (34.4%)|
|N2||20,041||18,843||9,683 (51.4%)||78,553||69,418||29,191 (42.1%)|
|N4||5,437||5,116||2,388 (46.7%)||22,431||18,590||8,489 (45.7%)|
|N5||1,004||925||679 (73.4%)||16,361||13,911||8,129 (58.4%)|
|2012-2||N1||32,917||30,296||7,998 (26.4%)||86,004||75,250||17,411 (23.1%)|
|N2||21,139||19,612||7,919 (40.4%)||79,513||69,790||25,617 (36.7%)|
|N4||6,961||6,562||2,371 (36.1%)||36,799||31,620||11,783 (37.3%)|
|N5||1,416||1,307||945 (72.3%)||34,178||29,700||16,225 (54.6%)|
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.
Previous format (1984–2009)
All instructions on the test are 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 is based upon the Test Content Specification (出題基準 Shutsudai kijun?), first published in 1994 and revised in 2004. This specification serves as a reference for examiners to compile test questions, rather than as a study guide for candidates. It consists of kanji lists, expression lists, vocabulary lists, and grammar lists for all five JLPT levels. However, about 20% of the kanji, vocabulary, and grammar in any one exam may be drawn from outside the prescribed lists at the discretion of exam compilers.
|Level||Kanji||Vocabulary||Listening||Time of Study (est.)||Pass Mark|
|4||~100 (103)||~800 (728)||Basic||150 hrs (A Basic course level)||60%|
|3||~300 (284)||~1,500 (1409)||Intermediate||300 hrs (An Intermediate course level)|
|2||~1000 (1023)||~6,000 (5035)||Intermediate||600 hrs (An Intermediate course level)|
|1||~2000 (1926)||~10,000 (8009)||Advanced||900 hrs (An advanced course level)||70%|
Numbers in brackets indicate the exact number in the Test Content Specification.
The independent source the Japanese Language Education Center publishes the following study hour comparison data:
|Level||Students with kanji knowledge
(e.g. speakers of Chinese or Korean)
(no prior kanji knowledge)
|4||200~300 hours||250~400 hours|
|3||375~475 hours||500~750 hours|
|2||1100~1500 hours||1400~2000 hours|
|1||1800~2300 hours||3100~4500 hours|
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.
|4||25 min||25 min||50 min||100 min|
|3||35 min||35 min||70 min||140 min|
|2||35 min||40 min||70 min||145 min|
|1||45 min||45 min||90 min||180 min|
- Business Japanese Proficiency Test
- Mandarin Proficiency Test (HSK)
- ILR scale
- Kanji kentei
- Test of Proficiency in Korean
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- 2007年結果の概要,実施国・地域別応募者数・受験者数 JEES. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
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- 日本語能力試験 JLPT (Japanese), the official JLPT website
- The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test, the official English-language website by JEES and the Japan Foundation