Filipinos by the Numbers: How Many Take and Pass Japanese Tests?

Over the past decade, more opportunities have become available for Filipinos who are aspiring to work in Japan. Thus, there has been an increase in the number of Filipinos taking Japanese language tests as a prerequisite for employment.

There are many other reasons why learning Japanese has become more popular for Filipinos in recent years. If you are one of them, have you ever wondered how many Filipinos take official Japanese language tests? And what is the likelihood of passing?

In this short article, we’ll explore a little bit about the current situation of Japanese language education in the Philippines, particularly in the context of Japanese language tests.

Don’t you find this opportunity enticing?

What are the most common Japanese language tests available in the Philippines?

There are a number of tests that are aimed at non-native Japanese speakers in measuring their language proficiency. In the Philippines, the following are the tests that are most noteworthy:

  1. Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) – The most popular and widely accepted Japanese language test in the world.
Text logo of a Japanese test
  1. Japanese Language NAT-TEST (“NAT-TEST” or “JNAT”) – A good alternative for the JLPT due to its similar format. It is offered in many Asian countries.
  1. Japan Foundation Test for Basic Japanese (JFT-Basic) – An alternative for JLPT N4, which is the requirement to obtain a residency status for a Specified Skilled Worker (SSW).

Since only the JLPT and NAT-TEST release official statistics on previous tests, this article will focus on such data only.

How many Filipino examinees take Japanese tests?

The JLPT, being the standard Japanese language test, is the most popular choice for Filipinos. Thus, it has far more examinees than any other Japanese test.

From 2011 to 2014, the JLPT is conducted only every December in the Philippines. From 2015 onwards, it is held twice a year. Also, take note that the current JLPT with its five levels only started in 2011.

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the JLPT has been canceled since July 2020, hence the zero number of examinees. The test will resume in July 2022, but it will only include levels N2 and N1. (For Davao, the N3 level is also available.)

The table below shows the number of examinees for the JLPT since the current format was introduced in 2011:

Number of examinees for the JLPT from 2011 to 2021

From the total count of 2,405 examinees in December 2011, the number has significantly increased to 11,970 in December 2019. Thus, in just 8 years, the number of Filipinos taking the JLPT nearly quadrupled.

Also, observe in the above table that the N4 level takes up nearly half of the total headcount. In fact, out of the 11,970 examinees in December 2019, 56% are N4 examinees.

This might be because N4 is the lowest level that provides job opportunities for Filipinos, especially as an OFW with an SSW visa status in Japan. In other words, it is possible to work in Japan by just attaining a basic proficiency level equivalent to N4.

How about for the NAT-TEST? It has remained under the radar for a long time, but it is still a great alternative to the JLPT. Below are the number of examinees for the NAT-TEST since 2018:

Number of examinees for the NAT-TEST from 2018 to 2021

Since 2020, there have been a few test cancellations due to strict lockdowns and restrictions during the pandemic, but compared to the JLPT, the NAT-TEST was not entirely canceled.

As we previously saw with the data for the JLPT, most examinees take Level 4 (N4 level equivalent). Out of the total headcount, about 72% took Level 4, much higher than the figure for the JLPT.

Meanwhile, Level 1 and 2 examinees are extremely few. But this has changed slightly with the April 2022 exam, when many Accenture employees took the test together as groups. (There were 43 examinees for Level 2 at the time.)

How do Filipinos fare in official Japanese tests?

By checking the statistics of past JLPTs, you will notice that the percentage of successful examinees worldwide is somewhere between 40% and 50% among the five test levels.

Interestingly, the passing rate for N4 tends to be lower than that for N3 and N2. It is usually slightly above or below 35%. If you think that’s already low, remember that the overall passing rate includes the countries where Chinese is mainly spoken-China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

Such countries tend to have higher than average passing rates because they have an advantage in reading kanji, or Chinese characters. Also, they make up a sizeable portion of the total number of examinees, at more than 50% of the overseas test-takers, thus helping increase the global passing rate.

But with the Philippines, it’s a whole different story. It is more difficult for us Filipinos to learn Japanese because we do not have a Chinese language background. And the numbers don’t lie.

We know that the level with the highest number of examinees (and the level of greatest interest) in the Philippines is N4. Let’s see the relevant results:

In the official NAT-TEST statistics covering cumulative data until April 2018*, the Level 4 passing rate for the Philippines is a depressing 16.3%, the second-lowest among non-Chinese Asian countries. Meanwhile, Taiwan has an impressive 85.7% passing rate.

* The passing rate for each test site from 2007 to 2018 was disclosed in the “Summary of Results” reports posted on the official website.

In the most recent NAT-TEST held last June 2022, among the Level 4 Filipino examinees, 23 out of 93 passed, which is equivalent to a 24.7% passing rate. Although this is higher than the above 2018 cumulative passing rate, it is still very low.

Certainly, the number of examinees for the NAT-TEST is significantly lower than that of the JLPT, so it is difficult to conclude whether the above passing rates best measure and closely reflect the actual situation of Japanese learners in the Philippines.

Unfortunately, there is no public information available about the passing rate for each test site for the JLPT (and also JFT Basic). We cannot tell how many passed the JLPT in the Philippines; we only know the global passing rates. Thus, the statistics for the NAT-TEST are the closest that we can get to having a good idea about how many Filipinos pass Japanese language tests.

To obtain a thorough understanding of why it is so difficult to pass the JLPT, you may take a look at my article explaining the scoring system.

Final Remarks

If you are dreaming of working in Japan with an SSW visa, then you’ll need to attain N4 proficiency. If you do not want to be part of the majority of Filipino examinees who fail the N4 exam, then you’ll need to put a lot more effort into studying.

On all the past occasions where I took a Japanese test, most of the test-takers that I talked to expressed anxiety or frustration about not being able to prepare sufficiently for the exam.

You can avoid that by setting realistic goals and putting the time and effort to study in the months (not days!) leading to the actual test. Hard work is the key!

Also, you might be studying a lot but you do not approach your studies efficiently and strategically. Thankfully, I posted a few articles that could help you improve your study plan and habits:

If you are a Filipino aiming to pass a Japanese language test in the near future, I hope you will have a pleasant test-taking experience and pass it with a solid score!

Author: Francesca Galve

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

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