Reading through Japan job postings you will usually see “Proficiency in written and spoken Japanese (JLPT N2)” in the required skills. What does that mean? What is the JLPT and how does it show my proficiency in Japanese? This article covers the JLPT and how you can prepare for it.
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test, abbreviated JLPT, are a series of tests to gauge your vocabulary, reading, and listening comprehension. The JLPT is held in over sixty countries once a year… that’s right, once a year, the first Sunday of December. If you are already in Japan, it is provided twice a year, the first Sundays of July and December. Make sure you plan appropriately.
The tests are divided into five levels, from N5 being the most basic to N1, considered fluent. N5 and N4 involve topics used in classrooms and common everyday situations. If you are going to Japan to learn Japanese these are good tests to get started. N3 through N1 are more comprehensive, covering situations such as reading a newspaper and articulating opinions with others.
Each test is divided into several categories: Vocabulary/Grammar, Reading, and Listening. Each portion is equally weighted and you are required to achieve a minimal score in each portion to obtain a passing score. The Vocabulary and Grammar portion will test your knowledge on kanji, synonyms, and sentence structure. The Reading section focuses on reading comprehension and the ability to read information fliers. And lastly, the Listening section, the simplest of the three sections, focuses on the ability to understand a conversation from beginning to end.
Priority #1 is to gauge your Japanese skills. To do this visit the official JLPT website and take the sample tests located under the “Sample Questions” tab. If your objective is to pass the JLPT N2 or N1 and you’re struggling with the lower tests, you need to evaluate your current studying habits and make sure you have at least six months to study. Remember, the JLPTs are only held once a year for those outside Japan, so every day counts and if you fail that is another year of waiting.
Priority #2 is to know what aspects of the language you are best at and what needs improving. The reading section is usually tough, it’s especially tough if you don’t know the grammar or kanji that appear in the passages. If your kanji and grammar are weak, start by building your vocabulary and then dive into reading and listening.
Hit the Books
Once you have a JLPT level you want, it’s time to study. Studying isn’t about how long you studied or how many all-nighters you’ve pulled, it is about focusing on the material necessary to pass the test. Previous statistics from the JLPT site are quite shocking: under half, only about 30%, of people pass each year.
So where can you find good JLPT studying material? Everything can be found on Amazon Japan. It’s a great place to buy books and they have international shipping. The best books on Amazon Japan are from the Shin Kanzen Master (新完全マスター) series. The Shin Kanzen Master questions are challenging and the readings are in-depth and interesting. Another good book series is the Level Up Training (レベルアップトレーニング) series, the drills are concise and prove the title accurate by raising your proficiency up a level.
These are only a couple but there are many more book series in the market, it’s best to choose books that fits your style of learning. Every month or so you should alternate studying materials and categories, this makes things less monotonous and allows you to track improvements.
Flashcards for Studying Vocabulary and Grammar
One of the oldest tricks in the book is truly effective when learning vocabulary. Take the kanji and grammar from the books mentioned before and create flashcards with the translations on the back. It is also good to have some example sentences and conjugations along with the translations.
If you are not someone for the traditional paper notecards, there are apps online for flash cards, almost every Japanese dictionary apps include JLPT flashcards. One of the best apps on the market is the “Japanese” app available on iTunes and in the Android App Store.
For video studying, the YouTube channel Nihongonomori (日本語の森) is a good resource. The lessons are interesting and provide good material. When you can’t look at a book or video, may you be in a train, plane, or automobile, listen to the JapanesePod101 podcasts. These podcasts will train your ears to native speakers and prepare you immensely for the listening portion of the JLPT.
My best advice is to create a game plan and stick to it. Evaluate yourself by taking the same practice test each month, and time yourself when reading. Studying itself is an art, if you can develop good habits and pick up tricks then you can breeze through this and whatever challenges come along your way.
Good luck and 頑張って!
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test website (English): http://jlpt.jp/e/index.html
Japanese App (English): https://www.japaneseapp.com
Nihongonomori YouTube Channel (Japanese): https://www.youtube.com/user/freejapaneselessons3
Nihongonomori Website (Japanese): http://www.nihongonomori.com
JapanesePod101.com (English): https://www.japanesepod101.com
Written by J.J
Software Engineer and Blogger at TalentHub
Usually coding, writing, or exploring Japan.