Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, the bi-annual JLPT has been canceled in the Philippines four times. That’s about two years.
The agonizing, long wait has been frustrating for those who have been wanting to obtain official certification in Japanese language proficiency. Of course, that included me.
Fortunately, the Japan Foundation Manila (JFM) announced the resumption of the JLPT starting with the July 2022 exam. There were significant changes, such as fewer available test levels and the implementation of health and safety protocols.
Here’s a recount of my experience taking the JLPT during the “new normal.”
Registration for the Test
Announcement by the Japan Foundation
I was initially anxious about the July 2022 JLPT. Will it push through? Or will it get canceled again?
Registration usually opens in the first week of February, but there was no word from JFM even until late that month. However, I’ve had reliable sources say that there is a high likelihood of the JLPT returning in July this year.
Then, on February 28, 2022, the JFM officially announced that the July JLPT will be held, but it will only be limited to N2-N1 levels in Manila and N3-N1 levels in Davao.
*I wrote about updates and details on the July 2022 JLPT in one of my announcement posts. You may check that article to familiarize yourself with general test reminders and procedures as well as suggested alternatives to the JLPT if you are aiming for N5 or N4.
Submission of the Application Form
Though it was disappointing that the lower levels were not available, I have been fortunate to have been given the chance to take the JLPT again. As soon as the registration window opened, I sent in my details.
Before the pandemic, the length of the registration period is around 35 days. For the July 2022 test, that was shortened to just 10 days, from March 1 to 10, 2022. That’s almost one-third of the previous registration period, and it started just a day after the official announcement!
Plus, the number of examinees was extremely limited—1,000 in Manila and 500 in Davao. Thus, if I waited on the last day of registration, I might not have made it to the cut-off.
Also, in the past, registration is done by submitting an online application form and then paying the test fee at the JFM office in Makati. Upon payment, you’ll get your test voucher. (For registration and payment procedures pre-pandemic, please click this link.)
This time, registration and payment were BOTH online. The application asks for the same details such as personal basic information, selected test level, Japanese language background, and purpose for taking the test.
On the same online application form, proof of payment must be attached. It can be a picture of the deposit slip or a screenshot of the bank transfer confirmation.
Confirmation of Successful Application
Soon after submission, I received a confirmation email as well as a copy of my accomplished online application form.
Since I registered on the morning of March 1, I was fairly confident that I would be included in the final list of examinees. Given the tight schedules provided by the JFM, there was no time for dilly-dallying!
On March 16, 2022, nearly a week after the registration period ended, the JLPT Committee of JFM sent out an email to all successful applicants. The message contained additional test day instructions and a PDF copy of my test voucher.
With the test voucher, I could now take the JLPT again. From this point until the actual exam, I had just four months of review left.
Actual Test Day
Waiting in Line at the Test Venue
Finally, the day of the exam came. On July 3, 2022, I arrived an hour early at the Andrew Building of De La Salle University in Manila. The call time was 11:00 am.
As expected, there was a long waiting line outside the entrance of the building. I knew there were only a maximum of 1,000 examinees that could be accommodated for the Manila test site, but that’s still a big number.
The atmosphere was different compared to that of previous exams. Since all examinees were aiming for N2 and N1 levels, you could definitely sense their seriousness and eagerness in taking the JLPT. They carry with them an aura of experience and authority. Perhaps even most of them are seasoned JLPT takers.
Here’s one of the reasons why I got that impression: Nobody was flipping through books or photocopies of JLPT reviewers in a panic. The scopes of N2 and N1 are too wide that it’s futile to cram at the last minute.
Instead, everyone waited patiently in line, having light conversations with friends or colleagues, often about their bilingual corporate jobs or teaching experiences.
On a huge corkboard just outside the building, room assignments and reminders were displayed. Looking at these sheets of paper, I now had a concrete idea about the number of registered examinees in Manila: 137 for N1 and 461 for N2. Put together, the total is only 598.
That’s quite low given the fact that the limit was supposed to be 1,000. But it isn’t too far off from the historical actual number, either. In the December 2019 exam, 132 took N1 while 470 took N2.
Perhaps JFM wanted to be flexible in case there was an influx of test applicants for the highest levels. After all, the JLPT wasn’t available in the Philippines for a long time, giving ample time for Japanese learners to study for higher levels.
Inspection of Documents
As I neared the front of the line, I saw personnel in green DLSU uniforms instruct examinees to have their body temperature checked with an infrared thermometer scanner. If their temperature is 37.4C below, they will be allowed entry into the building.
Then, one of the staff inspected these three critical documents: a printed test voucher with an attached 1×1 photo, a government ID, and a vaccination card. If they did not note any discrepancy among these documents, they will write your assigned waiting room and testing room numbers in the upper-right-hand corner of the test voucher.
My piece of advice: Before entering the building, make sure to confirm the room numbers that the staff wrote on the test voucher with what is displayed on the corkboard. They should be exactly the same!
I trusted the staff and didn’t bother to check anymore. It turned out that they wrote the incorrect room numbers for me. That just added to the stress and anxiety that I was already feeling before the test started. Geez, talk about bad luck.
Entrance to the Test Venue
Once inside the building, I was greeted by yet another long line. People had to wait for their turn in riding the elevator.
There were only four elevators in operation. Two elevators serviced the 9th, 11th, and 14th floors. The other two serviced the 7th, 16th, 17th, and 19th floors.
If you recall the corkboard with room assignments, N1 examinees were assigned to the topmost floors—17th and 19th. N2 examinees occupied the lower floors.
Upon reaching their respective floors, examinees were led to their assigned waiting rooms. I am not quite sure about why waiting rooms were introduced this time around, but I guess it was meant for people not to loiter around the halls prior to the exam, thus lessening the risk of exposure to the virus.
I arrived at my waiting room at around noon, so I had nearly an hour to sit and relax before proceeding to the testing room.
But that moment of relaxation was cut short. I realized that the people around me were all N2 examinees! Nobody held a test voucher for N1.
Concerned, I talked to one of the JLPT staff outside the waiting room, who confirmed that I received the wrong room number. I wasn’t assigned to the 7th floor; I should be assigned to the 17th floor.
Thankfully, the staff and security guard guided me to one of the service elevators so that I could go directly to my assigned testing room quickly. Time was running out—I had less than fifteen minutes left!
Taking the Test
By the time I arrived at my testing room, everyone was already comfortably seated while one of the proctors was explaining test procedures and reminders.
I rushed over to my assigned seat—right at the very front row just beside the center aisle. I’ve always had trouble with hearing the audio for Listening Comprehension, so I thought the seat assignment worked to my advantage.
During the break, I started a conversation with the people seated adjacent to me. I learned about general details of their language background and career, as well as their motives for taking the N1 level.
What was most interesting to me is that all these people I talked to have attempted to take the N1 level at least three times in the past. This means that their previous test-taking experiences for N1 go all the way back to 2018 at the very least.
After the first half of the exam, everyone was asked to return to the waiting rooms while the proctors prepared for the Listening Comprehension section, testing the CD audio and speakers.
In the waiting room, we were highly discouraged to eat snacks. DLSU was quite strict when it came to one-time use of wrappers and containers. As such, proctors advised that we drink from our own water tumblers instead.
When we returned to the testing room, we proceeded with the last section of the exam. I realized that I spoke too soon about having a seating advantage so that I could hear the audio clearly. The left speaker broke down, as it made loud static sounds. With the lower volume and poor audio quality, it was tough to complete the Listening Comprehension section.
In any case, the overall conduct of the test itself didn’t change. It was about the same as the pre-pandemic JLPTs that I have taken, except for the audio mishap. I hope that won’t happen anymore in future tests.
After the Exam
Once the test finished, everyone left their testing rooms, rode down the elevator, and exited the building. Outside, groups of examinees convened as they discussed their experience with the JLPT.
The scene gave me a rush of nostalgia. I remember taking JLPT levels N5 to N3 with my friends, and we often ask each other about our overall impressions of the exam, as well as our answers to tough or tricky questions.
This time around, I took the exam alone, although I did bump into a few faculty and administrative members of the Nihongo Center Foundation (NCF) before I entered my testing room. It was nice seeing familiar faces too.
Key Differences from Previous JLPTs
To summarize the changes to the registration and test-taking experience for the JLPT during this pandemic:
- Registration started about one month later than usual.
Instead of the first week of February, registration opened at the beginning of March.
- The period for registration is significantly shorter.
Interested applicants were given only 10 days to register, instead of the usual 35 days.
- Payment must be done before completing the online application form.
You must be ready to attach your proof of payment when you access the Google Form.
- The test voucher must be printed by the examinee.
JFM does not print the test vouchers anymore. These are sent by email to examinees for them to print.
- Vaccination cards or certificates must be presented upon entry to the test site.
The examinee must have received three doses (two primary, one booster).
- A temperature check must be done at the test site entrance.
Only body temperatures at or below 37.4C are allowed.
- Examinees must stay in the waiting rooms before proceeding to their respective testing rooms.
This is before the test and during the break.
- Eating snacks is highly discouraged.
Single-use plastic or wrappers are not allowed within the vicinity.
- Face masks must be worn at all times.
Examinees may only remove their masks to drink from their tumblers or containers.
The rest of the testing experience remains the same. That includes the posting of test results online as well as the delivery of certificates and official score reports to the examinees. (For other test day procedures and reminders, please check my article about general information on the JLPT.)
For those who plan to take the December 2022 JLPT, I hope this post will serve as a useful guide on what to expect about the exam during this time of uncertainty.
While COVID-19 remains a threat to the public, the above changes to the JLPT in the Philippines will most likely stay in effect for some time. All examinees must strictly adhere to the protocols imposed by JFM.
Were you one of the test-takers of the July 2022 JLPT in Manila or Davao? I’d love to learn about your experience in the comment section!