Monday, January 3, 2011

Passing the JLPT

Anyone who has ever studied the Japanese Language seriously most likely has heard of the 日本語能力試験 (nihongo nouryoku shiken) or Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) as its known in English. This is a standardized test administered by the Japanese government's Ministry of Education in order to test, evaluate and certify the proficiency of non-native speakers. It is broken into 5 levels with 5 being the simplest which tests for basic skills in Japanese, while level 1 is the most challenging and requires advanced knowledge of Japanese grammar, vocabulary, and kanji to pass. The JLPT is internationally recognized by institutions, organizations, and businesses around the world and while not exactly comprehensive it is the most widely accepted standard certification of Japanese language proficiency.

If you're interested here is more info on the JLPT

And it is my lofty goal to do my very best to pass level 1 during 2011. The test is offered twice a year, once in July and once in December, so my hope is to begin preparations today in order to pass the test in July. And if I fail, I will try once again in December of 2011. Thought with all honestly I will continue to try to pass level 1 as many times as it take to pass it....or die trying I suppose (^-^).

This means I have about 6 months/25 weeks/181 days/4344 hours/260,640 hours/15,638,400 seconds starting today with which to prepare for the JLPT. To say I am intimidated and nervous would be an understatement. I am also just as excited. I feel its important to make lofty, almost improbable goals at times to test what I am made of, what I am capable of, to see how close I can make it.

There are many reasons why passing this test is important to me. First and foremost, and most practically, is that I want to have a career where I get to utilize my Japanese language skills. Now since I am still young, not quite graduated, and still have plenty of time to think about the rest of my adult life, I haven't yet made up my mind about what exactly that career will be. I have entertained the idea of everything from teaching English, teaching Japanese, going to graduate school for Japanese Linguistics/Social Linguistics/etc, doing translation, being an interpretor, and the list goes on. But because I want to actually use the Japanese I have spent so many years studying to acquire, in not just my personal life but professional life as well, I need some kind of certification. I need some sort of standardized proof of my capabilities in order for companies or organizations to believe in me and be able to depend on my Japanese ability. And it is true that many jobs out there want people who have successfully passed level 1 of the JLPT.

My second reason is more personal. I feel that I would like some validation of my own abilities all the hard work I have put into studying Japanese. Passing level 1 of the JLPT would be an accomplishment that I could feel proud of, and look to as significant marker on my path to fluency. Why do mean climb mountains? Because they're there. Why do I want to pass this test? To see if I can. So I guess passing would be a personal triumph for me.

I think it is important to mention though, what the JLPT is not. While it is an internationally recognized, highly revered, greatly feared test, it would be a mistake to think that is tests everything. I doesn't, and furthermore, just because one has passed the highest level of the JLPT does not mean one is fluent in Japanese. This is because the test focuses on three criteria: "Characters and Vocabulary", "Reading Comprehension", and "Listening Comprehension". Those of you who are multi-lingual or have studied a foreign language may notice some important things missing from those criteria - and you're right. I caution that the JLPT does not cover everything that is essential to true fluency, for example it does not test a persons speaking/verbal communication/conversation abilities whatsoever. It also does not require test takers to write any kanji by hand, only to recognize them. Thus there are people out there who have passed level 1 of the JLPT who have poor communication skills in Japanese (i.e. can't hold a natural conversation with a native Japanese speaker to save their life) and/or who can read close to 2,000 kanji but cannot write them. So I take the results of this test with a grain of salt, and understand that my score is not the end-all-be-all of my fluency.  The only unfortunate part for me is that I have always been better at speaking and communicating rather then reading and writing so this test won't come easy for me, but I still see it as greatly important to my progress.

Right now I am in the planning and research stages of my goal. I am currently working to create a schedule for myself, outline a plan for studying, and doing the research on helpful materials and effective methods for studying. So my hope if to find practice tests in Keio University's libraries, buy some study guides to help me understand the mistakes I make as well as why the correct answers are correct, and create lots of flash cards and other study materials for myself. I am also considering starting a small study group with other hard working, dedicated students.

The following is information and links for those interested in learning more about the JLPT or who are preparing for it themselves.

 I am considering purchasing some (or all *sigh*) of these books which come highly recommended :

  1. The U-Can book of practice problems/tests and explanations for N1 of the JLPT. It is essential to use practice test's of the JLPT to familiarize yourself with its format, learn to anticipate its content, and gauge your own progress. 
  2. The Nihongo So-matome series, which has a book for grammar, vocabulary, and kanji of N1. Having a book which will explain grammar or vocabulary to you in Japanese as well as your native language is essential to going beyond memorizing them but internalizing them. 
I have also been utilizing the free information and materials provided on the following webpages:

And most importantly have been using this great, free-source, software on my computer to create my own flashcards and study vocabulary/grammar/sentence structure/kanji/etc through the spaced repetition method. Although I am using this to help me study Japanese, I feel it is a useful program for anyone trying to study or memorize anything. 

So there you have it, that is the outline for one of my major resolutions for 2011. I will try to write more posts in the future about my progress (or any troubles I encounter), and I hope that by around this time next year I will be able to write about how I achieved my goal to pass N1. Thank you to all those who in my life who have been so loving and supportive!


  1. Great resolution Clara-chan! I've made it my quest to pass N2 this year personally and then on to N1 next year.

    How long have you been studying Japanese? Have you taken any of the tests before?

  2. I have been studying Japanese for around 7 years but most seriously and with the most focus the last 3 years.

    I haven't taken any of the actual JLPT tests before, only the standard practice ones. Thus while I realize that I might not pass N1 the first time I try, I am going to keep trying until I succeed.

    I noticed your blog is about the JLPT, I'll make sure to check it out! ^-^