Japanese Language Proficiency Test: What It Is, How to Apply, and MORE

The most widely recognized Japanese language exam in the world is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). Its primary objective is to measure and certify the proficiency of non-native Japanese speakers.

There are five levels of the JLPT, with N5 being the easiest and N1 being the hardest. Note that the difficulty progression becomes steeper as you move through the levels. As an example, you could take six months to attain N5 level coming from a zero background, but it might take you a few years to get from N2 to N1.

Note: Prior to 2010, there were only four levels of the JLPT.

Each level of the JLPT can also be classified as follows:

N5 – Beginner / Lower Basic
N4 – Basic / Upper Basic
N3 – Intermediate / Lower Intermediate
N2 – Pre-Advanced / Upper Intermediate
N1 – Advanced

The JLPT is administered by the Japan Foundation and by the Japan Educational Exchanges and Services since 1984. For comprehensive information about the JLPT, visit its official website.


Benefits

The main benefit of obtaining a JLPT certificate is that it serves as official and certified proof of your Japanese language proficiency. JLPT certificates do not expire.

This can be applied to a variety of situations where Japanese language proficiency is required, such as applying to a school in Japan, finding employment as a Japanese bilingual, and evaluating Japanese skills for a promotion or salary increase.

For employment purposes, the minimum proficiency level is N3 for Japanese bilingual careers in the Philippines. In Japan, the minimum requirement is N2 for white-collar jobs and N4 for blue-collar jobs. The higher the JLPT level, the better the job opportunities.

Another benefit of the JLPT is that it fairly measures your skill. You can use it to gauge your progress in Japanese studies by using each JLPT level as a milestone.


Format and Composition

The JLPT uses a multiple-choice format and has three major sections:

* Includes vocabulary, grammar, and kanji

For N2 and N1 levels, Language Knowledge and Reading Comprehension are combined in one section. The test is conducted following the order presented above.

The scope of the JLPT is limited as it only covers passive Japanese language skills. The test does not cover writing and speaking abilities.

Sample test questions are available on the official JLPT website.


Schedule and Test Length

The JLPT is held twice a year, on the first Sunday of July and December.

The test length varies per level as outlined below:

Short breaks of around 10-15 minutes are provided in between sections.


Scoring

Each section of the exam totals 60 points. Counting all three sections, the overall score is 180 points.

In order to pass, you must at least obtain the minimum sectional AND overall pass marks as summarized below:

As an extreme example, if an examinee earns perfect scores in two sections and 18 points in one section, the total score will be 138. Although this exceeds the overall pass mark, the final result is still “Failed”.

It is important to note that the test results of the JLPT show SCALED SCORES, not raw scores. Raw score is merely the total number of correct responses. I will discuss the scoring system in more detail in a separate post, but you may also read about it here.


Registration Process

The registration process in the Philippines is divided into two steps:

1. Online Application

First, you must accomplish an online application form using Google Forms. The Japan Foundation Manila (JFM) will announce the link to the application form on its official website and Facebook page.

Announcement on the official Facebook page of The Japan Foundation Manila

Registration usually opens in the first week of February for the July exam and in the fourth week of July for the December exam. The registration period is open for about 35 days.

In the application form, you will indicate your selected test level and test site. You will also provide basic personal information and Japanese language background, including results of previous JLPT’s.

Upon submission of the form, you will receive a confirmatory e-mail, which contains instructions for payment and the answers you provided in the online application form.

A system-generated email is sent to you upon submission of the online application form.

2. Payment

Acceptance of payment starts in late March for the July exam and in early September for the December exam. The payment period is open for about 4 working days (This is shorter than the 7 working days in the past).

The designated payment sites and their office hours are as follows:

  • The Japan Foundation, Manila
    23/F, Pacific Star Bldg., Sen. Gil Puyat Ave. (Buendia Ext.) cor. Makati Ave.
    Tel. # 8811-61-54 to 58 / Fax # 8811-61-53
    10:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon / 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Monday to Friday)
  • Japanese Association Cebu, Inc.
    5/F Clotilde Commercial Center, M. L. Quezon St., Casuntingan, Mandaue City
    Tel. # (032) 343-8066 / Fax # (032) 343-7663
    10:00 a.m.  – 12:00 noon / 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.  (Monday to Friday)
  • Mindanao Kokusai Daigaku
    Angliongto Ave. (Mamay Road), Lanang, Davao City
    Tel. # 082-233-0013 / 0081
    10:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon / 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Monday to Friday)
  • Cagayan De Oro College (main campus)
    Max Suniel St. Carmen, Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental
    Tel. # 088-858-3881
    10:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon / 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Monday to Friday)

You must bring the following requirements to the payment site:

  1. Test Fee – Php1,500 for N1 and N2; Php1,000 for N3, N4, and N5
  2. 2pcs. 1×1 ID Photo – Name and test level must be written at the back of the photo
  3. Black Ballpen – You may be asked to write on a form or sheet of paper

Upon submission of the requirements, the staff will check their records if your name and test level match the details of your online application. After confirmation, you will be given your test voucher, which you will need to bring on test day.

This is the test voucher that you must bring on the test date.

If you cannot pay personally, you can designate a representative to complete the registration on your behalf.

Here’s a tip: Pay in the afternoon. The office will be jam-packed with exam applicants lining up even before the office opens. Not only will this be stressful, but it will also eat up a lot of your time. If you come in past 3:00 pm, you’ll be breezing through the payment process.


Venue

In the Philippines, there are four test sites for the JLPT:

Manila
De La Salle University, Taft Ave., Manila

Davao
Mindanao Kokusai Daigaku, Angliongto Ave., Lanang, Davao City

Cebu
University of San Carlos (Talamban Campus), Nasipit, Talamban, Cebu City

Cagayan de Oro
Cagayan de Oro College (Main Campus), Max Suniel Street, Carmen, Cagayan de Oro City , Misamis Oriental


Test Day Reminders

The call time for assembly at the testing venue is 11:00 am, and the exam starts at exactly 1:00 pm. You can still enter the campus even after the call time, so I do not advise you to line up early under the scorching heat. (You will need your energy and stamina for the exam!)

At the entrance of the test site, you must present your test voucher and a valid ID.

Inside the campus, you will find a board where room assignments are posted. Find your room assignment based on your registration number. Room assignments will also be posted by JFM on its Facebook page, a few days before the exam date.

Once you find your room, you will be seated according to your registration number. The proctor will check your test voucher.

Although you are advised to bring two Mongol #2 pencils and an eraser, you may also bring a few more pencils and a sharpener just in case. Only these items are allowed to be on top of your desk.

Why Mongol #2? The JLPT uses scantron forms that are fed to a computer to read your answers.

Pencils with lighter shades of graphite, such as #3 and #4, are not opaque enough to be read properly by the machine. A #1 pencil could work but it smudges easily. This leaves us with the #2 pencil which has the right mix of darkness and hardness of graphite.

During the exam, turn off your devices or keep them in silent mode. If your device makes a sound during the exam, this will result in disqualification and misconduct. Thus, you will not be allowed to continue the exam.

You may surrender your devices to the proctor and claim them after the entire exam is finished.

Snacks and water are allowed, but you may only consume them during test breaks.

After the exam, DO NOT THROW AWAY YOUR TEST VOUCHER! You will need this to access your test results online. For backup, take a picture of your test voucher.


Results

1.   Online test results

The online results are typically released on the fourth Wednesday of August for the July exam and on the fourth Wednesday of January for the December exam. The actual date is announced on the website and Facebook page of JFM and on the website of the JLPT.

To view the online results, duly registered examinees must access this link. The portal opens at exactly 9:00 am (10:00 am Japan time). On the homepage, scroll down and click the “see your results” button to get to the login page.

The registration number is indicated on the top of the test voucher. The passcode, written in small font size, is found on the bottom right of the voucher.

If you lose the test voucher, you can still access the portal if you remember your registration number and passcode. Your passcode can also be found in the confirmatory email of your online application.

However, if you forget all these details, don’t fret! You will still receive your official score report.

Once you log in, you will see your online score report. Since the report does not bear any official seal nor does it show your name, the online score report is not accepted by most, if not all, universities and companies.

The online score report shows the same results information as the official score report, except for the percentile rank.

An unofficial score report will be available through the JLPT’s online portal nearly two months after the test date.

2.   Certificate and official score report

You will receive your certificate (if you pass) and official score report in October for the July exam and March for the December exam. Certificates have no expiry.

The official certificate and score reports are sent out to all examinees about three months after the test date.

Normally, these official documents are delivered straight to your registered address. This might take some time, so if you are in a hurry, you can claim your documents directly at the local host institution (the payment sites listed above) one month after the online results announcement.

Your designated representative may claim the documents on your behalf as long as your representative will present your signed authorization letter and valid ID at the office.


Have you taken the JLPT yet? Or will it be your first time on the next testing date?

If you have any questions about taking the JLPT, leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer your queries.

Author: Francesca Galve

Japanese language enthusiast (JLPT N1). Master's student in Tokyo, Japan. Accountant by profession.

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