For us foreigners living, studying or working in Japan, the language barrier should always be the first challenge. Basically we won't be able to live freely in a foreign nation unless we overcome this barrier. During our language study, Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), a standard test to evaluate and certify non-native speakers' Japanese language proficiency, is highly recommended to take.
One may think that if I can speak Japanese, I don't need a test score to prove, and a good score doesn't always mean speaking good Japanese. That's true in some cases, but taking the JLPT will never hurt as it can urge us to study, teach us common-used Japanese vocabulary and grammar to improve our Japanese. What's more, a JLPT certificate will always support us to apply for a school, hunt for a job, or apply for a Highly Skilled Foreign Professionals visa in Japan, as it is highly accepted by Japanese society. Besides, a JLPT certificate doesn't expire or become invalid over time.
JLPT, which is administered by the Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES) since 1984, is the largest Japanese-language test in the world, with approximately 610,000 examinees in 62 countries and areas worldwide in 2011. It is held twice a year on the first Sunday of July and December in Japan and selected countries, or once a year only in July or December in some regions. It has five levels, N1, N2, N3, N4 and N5, with N5 being the lowest and N1 being the highest level, which we are going to talk about in detail later.
JLPT is a mere multiple-choice exam with 180 points in total, dividing into 3 test sections and 60 points for each, Language Knowledge (Kanji/Vocabulary/Grammar), Reading, Listening. As JLPT uses an item-response theory to calculate points, one question doesn't usually correspond to one point, which means that if more examinees make a right answer, lower the point becomes. Then raw scores are converted to a standard scale to make results from different years and different levels of difficulty at the same scale.
To pass the JLPT, not only one's overall scaled score, but also each sectional scaled score has to achieve a pass mark to ensure that one's skills are not unbalanced. The overall pass mark depends on the level and varies between 100/180 (55.55%) for the N1 and 80/180 (44.44%) for the N5, and the pass mark for each section is all 19/60 (31.67%). For passing a JLPT N1 test, one has to get a total 100 scaled score and 19 scaled score for each of Language Knowledge, Reading and Listening or more, for instance.
Test time and total duration differs in levels, for example N2 has 105 minutes for Language Knowledge and Reading, and 50 minutes for Listening.
Results for the test are normally mailed out 2 months after the examination for examinees in Japan, or 3 months for overseas examinees. Or if you registered and applied on the internet, results are available online before they are mailed out. Scaled scores by section will be reported in the result, and a "Reference Information" section analyzing your results and future study point is also included on the report card. Successful examinees will receive a Certificate of Proficiency.
JLPT used to have four levels until 2009 with 4 being the lowest and 1 being the highest level. Currently as said before, it has five levels: N1, N2, N3, N4 and N5, with N5 being the easiest level and N1 being the most difficult level. N4 and N5 measure the level of understanding of basic Japanese mainly learned in class, while N1and N2 measure the level of understanding of Japanese used in a broad range of scenes in actual everyday life. N3 is a bridging level between N1/N2 and N4/N5.
For each level, one should be competent for the following language activities of Reading and Listening, while the unnoted Language Knowledge, such as Vocabulary and Grammar is also required for successful execution of these activities.
Able to read newspaper editorials and critiques, and comprehend both their structures and contents. Able to read written materials with profound contents on various topics and understand the intent of the writers comprehensively.
Able to comprehend coherent conversations, news reports, and lectures, spoken at natural speed, and able to follow their ideas and comprehend their contents comprehensively. Able to understand the details such as the relationships among the people involved, the logical structures, and the essential points.
Able to read articles and commentaries in newspapers and magazines as well as simple critiques, and comprehend their contents. Able to read written materials on general topics and understand the intent of the writers.
Able to comprehend coherent conversations and news reports, spoken at nearly natural speed in everyday situations, and able to follow their ideas and comprehend their contents. Able to understand the relationships among the people involved and the essential points.
Able to read and understand written materials with specific contents concerning everyday topics. Able to grasp summary information such as newspaper headlines. In addition, able to read slightly difficult writings encountered in everyday situations and understand the main points of the content if some alternative phrases are available to aid one's understanding.
Able to listen and comprehend coherent conversations in everyday situations, spoken at near-natural speed, and is generally able to follow their contents as well as grasp the relationships among the people involved.
Able to read and understand passages on familiar daily topics written in basic vocabulary and kanji.
Able to listen and comprehend conversations encountered in daily life and generally follow their contents, provided that they are spoken slowly.
Able to read and understand typical expressions and sentences written in hiragana, katakana, and basic kanji.
Able to listen and comprehend conversations about topics regularly encountered in daily life and classroom situations, and able to pick up necessary information from short conversations spoken slowly.
If you are going to take the test in Japan, the timeline would be as follows:
・Check test date on JEES website from early February for July's examination or from early July for December's examination.
・To make application from early April to late April for July's examination, or from early September to late September for December's examination.
-Apply via JEES website. Register MyJLPT on JEES website, sign up, apply and pay application fee;
-Apply via mail. Obtain Test Guide (Application Forms) at bookstores, fill in the application form, pay registration fee and mail to the JLPT Application Center.
・Receive test voucher from JEES with test date and test site indicated. Usually the test site will be the nearest to your home.
・Receive test results from JEES.
A JLPT certificate will definitely help us a lot for finding a job in Japan, however it doesn't mean that foreigners can't find a job without any language certificate. Because of the severe labor shortage in Japan, there is growing demand for foreign nationals in every language level. For example, a part-time job of cleaning or building maintenance has no language level requirements, while a JLPT N3 level is needed for working in restaurants, or a JLPT N2 level is needed for a convenience store manager.