How Long does it take to Pass the JLPT?

It’s almost November and that means one thing for 25% of you: it’s the last stretch of study before you take the JLPT. This is your chance to catch up on anything you missed, refresh what you already know, and get yourself mentally prepared for the yearly test that you’ve been waiting for. Will you be ready? How do you know whether you’ve studied enough?

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You would expect the JLPT site to give some kind of accurate estimate of the amount of time required to pass each level of the test. But it’s nowhere to be found. While searching for it, I strangely remember that years ago I had seen a chart of hours required to pass. Before concluding I simply imagined this, I discovered I wasn’t the only one who remembered these now-elusive numbers.

The older exams, up until the mid-2000s told you the following:

N1: 900 hours
N2: 600 hours
N3: 300 hours
N4: 150 hours

What was my impression of the old guidelines?

Really?

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When I first started studying Japanese, here’s what these numbers made me think:

If I study 5 hours a day, I can pass the N4 in a month, and the N1 in 6 months. It wasn’t clear whether these numbers were referring only to classroom hours, but even assuming this was so, N1 within a year was still possible. And since N1 meant fluency, I could become fluent in Japanese within 1 year if I worked hard.

Removing these guidelines was a good idea. But in their place came general statements about “what it takes to pass.” Like:

N4: The ability to understand basic Japanese.
N5: The ability to understand some basic Japanese.

Great.

You can’t blame the administrators of the JLPT though, as at least this doesn’t give false expectations and hope like in the past. A more accurate guideline would be:

“If you can pass the practice exams and complete textbooks designed to pass the JLPT, you can probably pass the JPLT.”

How long it takes matters

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One of the reasons I don’t like the test is it can be extremely discouraging if you fail. Your Japanese level wasn’t good enough for the standards it has set. When you turn your passion into a point-evaluation, bad things can happen. Of course the test has many positives, such as being used as a milestone, a grand goal, a study-focus, and a feeling of achievement.

But to obtain those positives, knowing how long it should take you to pass makes a difference. Finding this information isn’t easy.

Ask people online and you hear a wide range of numbers from depressing, to realistic, to what the hell?

The most discouraging number that occasionally gets thrown around is that if you work real hard, you can pass the N1 (the highest level) within a year. Now assuming this is true (even if extremely rare), how do you think this feels for the person that took 5 years of hard work to pass it.

What does it take to pass the test today?

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I like simple numbers that tell what the average picture is. So my estimate splits it into two versions:

Heavier learners: 6 months for every level

N5: 0.5 years
N4: 1 year
N3: 1.5 years
N2: 2 years
N1: 2.5 years

Lighter learners: 1 year for every level

N5: 1 year
N4: 2 years
N3: 3 years
N2: 4 years
N1: 5 years

Accurate? Who knows. But as I mentioned with my “average 4 years to fluency,” just having an estimate can keep you on track.

What about you?

A while back, I asked you all to compare what Jalup Decks prepared you for what levels of the JLPT. Now I ask you: How long did it take you to pass the JLPT?

In the comments please leave your results.

Example if you have taken the N4, N2, and N1.

Level: total years of studying
N4: 1.5 years
N2: 3 years
N1: 4 years

Your answers are greatly appreciated!



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.

Comments

How Long does it take to Pass the JLPT? — 19 Comments

  1. You probably could pass N1 in a year (I know a lot of Korean Japanese learners who have done it in a year or less, but they have the advantage of similar grammar/vocabulary over people coming from a European language)… But you would probably have to solely concentrate on studying for it, and at the end of the day I personally think you’ll come out with better Japanese at the end of the day if you focus on immersion. (Like I have a few Japanese friends who got full marks in TOIEC, but who really struggle to have a normal conversation with me in English).

    I passed the old JLPT level 1 (so a bit easier than the current N1) after 4 and a bit years of studying, but I only really studied specifically for it for a month or so before the exam. Because of the 2 years I spent mostly trying to immerse myself in Japanese I found the reading and listening sections quite easy but only just scraped through some of the other sections that required more specific studying.

    From my personal experience I think if you spent more time than I did studying specifically for the JLPT you could definitely do it faster than that, but if I could go back I wouldn’t bother making it more of a priority for myself. Having passed it didn’t actually help me get any of the jobs I have had in Japan… although lots of Japanese people believe that the Japanese on it is so hard that Japanese people can’t get full marks (which it is not) so I have had people think I’m really amazing for passing, hehe.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Jen. I like the idea of just making it a balanced goal with others, as opposed to making it a purpose.

      • Yeah :) I feel like most people who look at this site have JLPT as a side goal rather than the main focus anyway. I find it funny that I used to think that my Japanese would be amazing if I could just pass 1級, but 8 years or so on from that I’m still learning new things everyday!

  2. I’m scaredddd. Have the jlpt1 booked for next month and have barely studied. Need to start doing some practice exams asap….

    I have some downloaded somebut they are from like 2007 backwards.

    I’ve also done grammar decks for jlpt 1 and most of jlpt2. Been watching some nihongo mori videos on YouTube for jlpt3 stuff.

    Been doing sentences since February 2 years ago (2014) and I’m not too confident. But I’ve already thrown down a hundred dollarydoos so I’ll give it my best with the little preparation I’ll have. I’d like to complete three practice exams before the 4th. I think I’ll be lucky to get through one at this rate.

    I will update on almost certain failure.

    • Just give it everything you’ve got. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll either kick its ass the next time you take it, or get enough out of this experience to feel satisfied.

  3. I’ve heard from most readers that you to get from N5->N2 is equal to the time it takes to get from N2->N1. You will definitely be hard pressed to do it in a year. Possible with full immersion and regular test prep classes, but not a lot of people have the time and/or money for that.

    Basically, there are two major hurtles for the JLPT N3->N2 (double the reading speed), and N2->N1 (advanced comprehension, focus, and vocabulary, most of which can only really be learned through massive exposure)

    I definitely agree with Jen. I try to preach an equal study plan to get through the JLPTs. They aren’t worth exclusively focusing on. All of the jobs I’ve gotten have never requested it, but have needed Japanese. Not to say it is worthless, just something to help you keep studying and check your level not the end all be all.

  4. I’ve signed up for the jlpt n1 this year. I’ve passed the two practice tests I’ve done so far, but passed with maybe 70ish so I’m studying pretty hard to make sure I can actually pass the real thing. I’ve been studying for almost 2 years exactly, and I’ve done about 5,500 anki cards.

    I’m doing kind of a fast paced intensive study prep by going through the nigongo somatome series and adding all of the grammar points, kanji, and vocabulary that I don’t know into anki. I’m trying to add everything ASAP to give myself at least a few weeks to review the information with the magic of anki.

    I’ve done a lot of immersion over the past 2 years, trying to make things as high level as possible. I also read a lot of Japanese books. But my grammar knowledge is lacking. N1 grammar is ridiculous!

    I feel pretty hopeful but also a bit uneasy. I’m sure the real test is harder than the practice tests. I’m trying to accept the possibility of failing so if it happens I won’t be too upset haha.

    I like having the jlpt as a goal but I definitely don’t think it’s for everyone. It’s definitely skewed towards much higher level reading than some people care to do. I’m not sure if having the certification would help in any way but it can’t hurt so why not try?

    • Yeah, I think a lot of people struggle with the grammar, because it is not common in what the native material they are probably looking at it, and in some cases, just less common in general.

      The practice tests are supposed to be a good indiciator, so keep up the good work this last month. Best of luck!

  5. N1: 5.5yrs and 3 tries

    I guess that is another data point to back up Adam’s estimate.

    For me the most helpful study method was reading native materials. It was very helpful to look through JLPT study books on the obscure grammar points, but that doesn’t take much relative time. The key challenge for me was getting a better feel for the language and being able to comprehend the reading sections faster.That came through lots of reading. This was for the old test, and I’m not sure how it changed.

    I was only taking the test because I had put a lot of time into studying Japanese and wanted some way to prove it (to myself). I learned that after passing N1 there is still a long way to go, so don’t worry about ever running out of new Japanese to learn!

    I wouldn’t consider N1 an end goal, but it’s a nice milestone along the way if you happen to like tests.

    • Thanks for adding in your experience.

      I fully agree that N1 is a great goal, but it is not anywhere near the end-goal. Some people get caught up after passing into a “now what” slump. The answer is now the rest of the Japanese language world you don’t know.

  6. 4 years of “light” study to pass N2 seems like a pretty good estimate for me! Considering that’s about how long I’ve been studying (at a rather relaxed pace) and I’ve managed to pass N2 this year.

    And considering I haven’t even looked at practice material and I 100%’d the N2, I might have a shot at passing N1 next year!

  7. I passed (just!) the old N2 way back in 2002 after about six months of homestay experience in Japan, and then after coming back to Japanese study mid-2013 after about a decade’s ceasefire, managed to pass N1 last December pretty comfortably (particularly the reading section). The things that helped me were Anki sentences and immersion (obviously), but also reviewing the particular grammar patterns (again with Anki w/o getting too stressed about them), and practising reading test-specific material (seems to be a genre all to itself). But yep, the jump from N2 to N1 is massive – it just takes time to acquire all of that vocabulary.

    • Had you studied before that homestay experience, or you started from zero, and after 6 months you were able to pass? If it’s the latter, that is extremely impressive!

      And that’s really interesting that the next time you decided to take the following test was a decade later. What made you finally pull the trigger?

      • I had studied a little bit at high school, so definitely had a headstart!

        N1 just felt like an unclimbed mountain, one that once I had spent so much time doing flashcards and watching so many episodes of Hunter x Hunter and many dramas, seemed feasible to conquer. The main reason was the other student in my Japanese lessons I had been taking wanted to do it so it seemed like a good opportunity.

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