Taking the JLPT in America

First of all, the JLPT stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test and is a measure of one’s reading and listening skills of the language. There are 5 exam levels, N5 being the easiest and N1 being the most difficult. According to my teacher (先生), in order to work for a Japanese company in Japan, one must past at least Level N3. For all things JLPT, the official website will be the greatest resource.

This past Sunday, I took the first/easiest level (N5) just to get a feel for the exam, and for those of you who are studying Japanese, taking the proficiency test in the future, or are just curious about the process, I shall share my knowledge and experience with you.



The JLPT is offered twice per year, once in July and once in December, in various locations around the world. However, for those living in the United States, the exam is only offered in December. For levels N3-N5, there is a $50 registration fee and a $60 fee for levels N1 and N2. Online registration opens at the end of September, test site information and voucher will be mailed at the end of October, and test results will be mailed and posted online in February. Below is a chart showing the highest score someone could get in each section as well as how many points one needs to pass for each exam level.

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Why Take the JLPT?

  • Receive college credit for Japanese language courses
  • Evidence of language proficiency to work/teach English overseas
  • Benchmark for language improvement

Studying for the Exam

Previously, I gave you 8 creative ways to learn a language.

On my own, I studied and continue to study 2-3 hours per day in addition to tutoring lessons. Below, I’ve listed all the resources I’ve used over the last 8 months or so. I understand that others may not have access to the same resources, but there are a myriad of online tools to use as a supplement. The best thing you can do is seek out a Japanese community to practice speaking. I’ve translated Facebook status updates from friends in Japan and foods at the nearby Japanese grocery store, watched Japanese variety shows on Youtube and DailyMotion, and attended events like a papercraft workshop conducted in both English and Japanese and Skate America in Detroit where the largest population of the crowd was Japanese. Get creative!

One of my favorite Youtube couples, Rachel and Jun, provide more tools to learn Japanese online and for free. Check out the video below!


Day of Exam

On the day of the exam, test takers were expected to check in, at most, 30 minutes before the exam was scheduled to begin. Exam levels were separated into different rooms, and we had to check in with the test proctors at our corresponding classroom. We had to bring our own pencils, erasers, an analog watch, a photo id, and the test voucher that was mailed to applicants a few weeks prior. No foods or liquids allowed except for water in a clear bottle with the label taken off. Cell phones were to be completely turned off, and if, at any point, your phone rang or your watch beeped, you would automatically be dismissed and not given a score for the test.

For the level N5 exam, there were three components: vocabulary (25 minutes), grammar (50 minutes), and listening (30 minutes). All questions and answers on the exam are in Japanese so it is a true test of reading ability all the way through. In between each section, we had 20 minute intermissions and were expected to the leave room. Also, if we finished early, we had to wait until the allotted time was up to leave the room, but it seemed most people used every last second to review their answers. The vocabulary portion had 35 questions and was the easiest of the 3. The grammar portion had 32 questions, testing one’s knowledge of sentence structure, particles, verb conjugations, and understanding of short passages. This section was tough but doable, and it made me realize just how much work I’ll have to put in to conquer levels N3 and up. The most challenging part for me was listening (23 questions), particularly the last few questions. Perhaps it was because my mind was tired, but I still had/have a difficult time understanding what’s being said if they speak too fast. I know this must be a challenge for anyone who is learning another language. A series of audio tracks played from a computer, and we had about 3 seconds to fill in the answer before it was onto the next question. If anything, the listening portion will be what brings down my score, but even so, it wasn’t horrible.

The days and weeks leading up to the exam, I was actually excited to measure my improvement. It wasn’t until a couple hours before the test that I started feeling nervous, hoping I wouldn’t blank on everything I had learned, but overall, there weren’t any hiccups, and I know I did well. Now, I shall impatiently wait for results to be announced in February, while I continue to study diligently for the next test date or my next visit to Japan, whichever one comes first.

Have you ever taken the JLPT? How did you do? What kind of insight do you have for future test takers?


  1. Best of luck! I took a JLPT test years ago (before the even offered N5), but I’ve been meaning to sign up for N2 when I know I’ll be around for the exam.

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