The Inevitable Question: To JLPT? Or Not To JLPT?

japanesetest

Every Japanese learner at one point will question himself whether he should take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT),  the end-all test of the Japanese studying community.  Achieve passage of the highest level and you have proven that you are a god in Japanese?  In 2009, close to 750,000 people took the exam, out of the estimated 3,000,000 Japanese learners around the world.  This means that 25% of Japanese learners will eventually take the exam.  Should you step up to the inevitable?

I have never personally taken the test, though I have considered it on multiple occasions, and had plans to take the old level 3, 2, and 1 at various points in my studies.  I bought the Kanzen Master Series, which was the must-buy book for any JLPT challenger, worked through the books for levels 2 and 1, and even had a tutor help me out.

I finally came to the conclusion: What the hell am I studying this for?

I will admit that the JLPT does have its uses.  Uses that were quite far from any reason that would spark my desire to take it.  But to provide guidance on those lost as to whether to take the plunge, I will give some of the reasons I’ve discovered myself, and noticed with other people, why you should and why you shouldn’t take the JLPT.

Why you shouldn’t take the JLPT

1.  It doesn’t test communication
From the JLPT website:  “The JLPT places importance . . . on . . . competence at using . . knowledge in practical communication.  The . . . test comprehensively measures Japanese communicative competence.”  Last time I checked communication involved speaking, which the test does not.

2.  It doesn’t accurately measure your proficiency level:  Do you think in the short period of test time and the limited number of questions, your real Japanese level is going to be measured?

3.  Your scores can be significantly raised without actually improving your Japanese:  Learning and mastering testing techniques are just as important as actually knowing the material on any test.  So really this test is also testing your proficiency at taking a Japanese proficiency test.

4.  It can be discouraging:  Didn’t do as well as you thought you would?  Does this mean your Japanese is lackluster?

5. For the native English speakers out there, go take the TOEIC exam.  What?  You only scored a 750/990?  Obviously you are not fluent in English.

6.  It gives you false confidence:  Just passed the N1?  You’re done.  You’ve ended your Japanese journey.  Ha.  Watch as people quickly surpass you.  I would put N1 at around level 40~50.

7.  You don’t necessarily need the JLPT on your resume to get a job using Japanese:  I have rarely seen a job offered in America that requested a JLPT level.  You will often see a required level of “business” or “fluent.”

8.  The higher levels of the JLPT require you to study seldom used, stiff, and outdated Japanese.

9.  There is only one right answer to a question.  The real Japanese world is not like that.  There are many correct answers to the same question.

10.  It is often money and time that could be spent on better things.

Why you should take the JLPT

1.  It is necessary for admission to certain schools in Japan, regardless of how good your Japanese is.  Note though, these type of schools often have their own entry tests.

2.  It is a good motivational quest goal for Japanese Quest.

3.  You like tests and grades.

4.  You apply for a job that specifically requires a JLPT passing score.

5.  You want a boost on your resume.

6.  It is an accomplishment you can be proud of.

7.  You want physical/statistical evidence that your Japanese is progressing.

8.  You are using it as a competition between you and your friends.

9.  You can study with other people studying for the test and work together.

10.  You will never have to wonder again if you should take the test.

Conclusion:

Obviously I’m partial to not taking the test.  But considering the statistics, 1 in 4 of you reading this article will be taking it.  So at least I can wish you good luck.

Also, since I’ve only studied for the test, and have never actually taken it, I would like to see in the comments section any reasons why you think people should or shouldn’t take the JLPT.  You may be able to enlighten me and everyone else to the true reason behind the exam.

Updated (09/17/2013)

Some additional official benefits have been added recently which provide more value to taking the JLPT.

They include:

1. You can earn points for preferential treatment for immigration to Japan

“Those who pass JLPT N1 receive 10 points under the government’s “Point-based Preferential Immigration Treatment System for Highly Skilled Foreign Professionals.” Individuals with a total of 70 points or higher receive preferential treatment at immigration.”

This grants you a five year visa and allows you to apply for a permanent resident after five years which basically cuts the wait in half.

2. It is one of requirements to take Japan’s national exams for medical practitioners and assistant nurses.


Related posts:

The following two tabs change content below.
Adam

Adam

(Adshap) - Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading wild and thrilling (at least he thinks so) information about Japan and the Japanese language to the rest of the world.

Comments

The Inevitable Question: To JLPT? Or Not To JLPT? — 24 Comments

  1. Yup, took level 4 past december, took 165/180 and will be taking 2 kyuu next december. Already studying vocab and I’m finished with grammar, though I continue studying it with anki (main source of study actually lol).

    Why?

    It gives me motivation. I want to get a good score, so I force myself to study (though lately I’ve been neglecting jlpt study since I’ve been having loads of tests)
    I can put it on my resume.
    It gives me guidance, since I have to buy jlpt grammar/vocab/wtv textbooks.
    I like challenges (if related to the japanese language).

    Here in Portugal it’s not that expensive (at least comparing to the english proficiency test) – this is not one of the reasons why I’ll be taking it.

  2. I think the JLPT exciting. I’m learning Japanese as a kind of random hobby.. as a nerdy person, with nerdy friends, you run across Japanese websites, games, shows, etc on almost a daily basis. Instead of joining my friends in dreaming about how nice it would be to magically know Japanese, I decided to actually start studying it. Now I’m maybe around Level 40, and they’re all whining about how lucky I am to be able to understand it (“lucky”?? I put a lot of work into this!).

    I have no plans to move to Japan. There are no Japanese-speaking people in my rural Missouri town. I don’t have any particular desires to hunt down Japanese people on the internet to speak to them just for the hell of it. I just fill the time I used to spend screwing around on the internet with studying Japanese, and reap the rewards every time an amazing video game comes out that will never make it to America.

    For a person like me, the JLPT is great. I love tests and stats and measurements. Even if they’re not crazy-accurate, it’s fun to see what kind of a score I can grab. I look forward to the test date in December, and have fun getting all nervous over it. Driving to Chicago to take the test is like a little vacation in the city. It’s not too expensive, but at the same time it’s far enough away that it’s a nice change of pace.
    Joining small online communities of other test-takers is fun. Preparing for the test together feels similar to getting all excited for an anime convention. People all over the world have the date marked on their calendars and are hitting the books with the same goal in mind. It’s a big yearly event worth looking forward to. Being in a room full of people who came together to take the test is exciting.

    When you get your results back, you get a pretty certificate if you pass. It’s just a piece of paper, but it’s quite a lovely souvenir. While applying to jobs in America, where Japanese is in no way required, an employer is somehow still impressed that you’ve taught yourself a second language and have passed a test to prove it, even if they’ve never heard of the test and it’s not required for the job.

    Additionally, it makes me round out my studies >___>
    I adore kanji, and I seem to instantly master for life any vocab spoken by any of my favorite seiyuu (lol), but my grammar was weak. If you know 2000 kanji and mountains of vocab, you can understand drama and novels with only a bare minimum knowledge of grammar (I guess that’s assuming you’re good at reading the air or feeling things out without all the pieces present). Why would I want to spend time mastering grammar if I could instead pack on more vocab? I didn’t need to speak to people, so I had no reason to bother polishing up my grammar.

    Even if you say “It doesn’t test communication”, if you don’t know how to put a sentence together and respond properly to something, you wont be able to pass. I guess it can’t test whether or not you have an accent, but really the test isn’t as bad as Khatzumoto makes it out to be. I could pass the kanji/vocab/reading comprehension parts of the N2 exam, but couldn’t pass the grammar part of the N4. I had to round out my knowledge in order to pass. I can write journals on Lang-8 and speak properly to people now because of that. (Still somehow that feels like less of a benefit than, “Fun test vacation!!” XD)

  3. I’d say JLPT isn’t a bad thing at all. It doesn’t hurt if you take it or not. But a lot of people take it to improve there resumes. But a lot of people who have JLPT level 1, still don’t call themselves fluent. So people should definitely becareful to say JLPT level 1=fluent or native-level. But on the other hand, it really motivates people to keep learning. I’d figure, if you really want to take good tests, take tests designed for natives. Like kanji kentei. My goal is to take pre-level 1 in 2 years from now(once I’m completey fluent of course). Level 1 just seems like too much time to take studying.(My goal of kanji, ultimate one is 4000. 6000 seems like overkill).

    So to end this comment, there are other tests one can take to test profiency skills in the language. So if one takes JLPT, there is the JTEST and JBLT( I might be saying this wrong it is business jp, tests communciation as well).

    • As you point out, for people who like tests for motivation, there is a whole variety of them available.

    • If they had more test sites outside of Japan for those, I would ace all of them, too. The BJT is offered only in Hawaii, and the Kanji Kentei is offered in New York, so.. maybe someday I’ll travel to them from Missouri, but it wont be soon XD
      If the JLPT were as expensive to travel to as those two would be (for me), I wouldn’t take it, either.

  4. You hit it on the nail there:

    2. It doesn’t accurately measure your proficiency level: Do you think in the short period of test time and the limited number of questions, your real Japanese level is going to be measured?

    4. It can be discouraging: Didn’t do as well as you thought you would? Does this mean your Japanese is lackluster?

    A long time ago on my own blog, I tried to explain how I was against the JLPT. But because I’m an intermediate speaker, I was bashed by tons of commenters who are for the JLPT, and only one commenter agreed with me. I didn’t really have a say, because I’m not fluent yet. So I’m glad to see someone who is fluent (and still studying to become even better at Japanese) type out these pros and cons.

    I will still have to take the JLPT for getting into university. But I don’t have to let it define me, and I certainly don’t have to base my study upon it.

    • It’s rough because a lot of people have very strong opinions on the JLPT. As you said, don’t ever let it define you (not that it ever could).

      Anyway, I’m glad this post was able to help you.

  5. I’m similarly ambivalent for a lot of the reasons you mentioned. I decided to go ahead and take it, since having a solid goal helps me stay motivated, but I don’t put that much stock in it otherwise!

  6. Personally, I JLPT. I do this because I always find myself studying much more with the prospect of the test coming up, I attend more classes and learn more kanji, vocabulary and grammar. I’ve noticed myself using the vocabulary and grammar in my speaking. I enjoy studying and I’ve learned loads through curiosity alone, and through speaking with Japanese friends, but to get the intensity up I need a deadline and the JLPT is it, at least once a year. This July, N2.

    • Thanks. It’s definitely good to see the view from both sides in deciding if someone wants to take the test.

  7. I think that “the true magical reason” behind people taking the exam (at least for Japan) is that it opens doors – you get interviews.

    I take your points about the JLPT not really measuring proficiency very accurately, (no speaking aspects, archaic Japanese etc. etc.) but I am not sure that some of what you have written re the JLPT for jobs would apply to jobs in Japan itself. Although I cannot speak for the US, the reality here in Japan seems to be that if you have not graduated from a university in Japan, many employers will not invite you to an interview unless you can prove your fluency on paper with some certification. Anybody can write that they are fluent and even in a not too deep interview conversation may be able to speak very well but may have weaker reading and writing skills which may not be immediately evident at an interview. Could it be that Japanese speakers are scarcer / more thinly spread in the US, so the requirements differ? If you just take a look at job sites in Japan for bilinguals, the majority of adverts stipulate JLPT N1 or N2 as a requirement in the adverts. It is a standard measure of fluency, although I would agree, not the best it could be.

    • I took and passed JLPT Level 1 in 2001. I also took BJT (Business Japanese Test) just for the fun of it. When I lived in Japan I also took TOEFL, TOEIC, 英検1級, MOUS, BATIC… I love Japan. They have ‘kentei’ for everything and you have to be fluent in Japanese to take them. Those tests were part of my quest. They were the strongest monsters and I had defeated them. And the certifications do make my resume look good. Now I’m on a new quest to master Korean, and TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) is my next monster. 以上、検定オタクの意見でした。

      • That’s so cool, I’m definitely impressed. I’m just a 16-year-old brazilian high school student but, Japanese is the 2nd foreign language I study. I began learning English at the age of 13 ’cause the language is fun and, since I was a baby my mom used to buy me some English tapes for children, and at that time I’d spend the whole day singing along with them LOL.
        After 3 years of study, I took Cambridge ESOL Examinations’ FCE in December, and passed at grade B. Even though the English school I studied at tought me how to do many useless things (such as writing reports, business letters and so on), I think the test evaluated my abilities well, and I’m probably well beyond “upper-intermediate level” previously required now. I left the school in January, but I still love English from the bottom of my heart, and practise at home as well, either watching my favourite TV shows (C.S.I/Law & Order: SVU) or reading on the web.
        I’ve been studying Japanese for 1 year now, and I’m about finish the 950 kanji task from the Quest Walkthrough this week! Gonna keep studying along with sentences and immersing through J-Media, and I’m probably taking L3 by the end of the year. I’m pretty sure that I’ll get at least close to level 30 until there but, I’ll take it just because it’s a group task in the Japanese class so, I’m definitely giving my best.
        I want to become an interpreter and translator in the future, and wanna learn Korean as well! Glad for your super motivating comment.
        Waiting for a reply soon :D

        • Gerson君、こんにちは。I’m an Indonesian. You obviously speak English better than I do. ^^
          And from our interaction on Twitter, I know you speak (or write, to be exact) Japanese better than most foreigners I know, and at age 16! Such an amazing accomplishment. I think you have a bright future ahead of you. Since you’re into qualifications, like I am, take JLPT Level N1! You know you can do it! Tests are fun! 頑張ってくださいね。

          • Dear Andini,

            I am currently at the N3 level, and deciding whether I should take the N2 test or the BJT test. Can you tell me from your experience how difficult you found the BJT test to be, and if you believe there is a corresponding JLPT level?

            Thank you so much,
            Emiko

  8. Well ill def take it around the time i reach level 50 here as just a sense of evidence and an exp boost.

    p.s – im like lvl 0 and 20% ATM …. just started 日本所 on 一日 

  9. I have been learning Japanese for about a month now. I have to say I really enjoy learning the language. It’s a very nice language and I love being able to understand the Kana, I find it very cool to be able to understand it because English is so different. I hope to learn about 600 kanji for the n4 and hope to improve my grammer. My JLPT is december. I choose to do this test so that I can prove to people that I am actually learning the language, especially employers. I also wish to do it because it gives me motivation to learn Japanese. Japanese is seen commonly online with anime, video games, music, film etc. I would also love to travel to Japan and be able to talk to people there :D They are my main reasons for taking the JLPT. I know it may not be the best for testing fluency, but it’s something to aim at and I will keep studying even after the JLPT n1 so that I can be better.

  10. *One test-taker’s opinion on the JLPT (N1)*

    I took the N1 as my first JLPT two years ago just for kicks after a year abroad in Japan because I was interested in what it was like- having heard so many differing opinions.
    At the time of taking the test I was around 65 on this site’s scale.. I guess.. and had been studying for a little under three years.

    I didn’t know that it was possible to pass with a lower score and went in expecting the equivalent of an A or a B on a test in school to be considered “passing.” It wasn’t until receiving said grade and being met with glares from friends to whom I told the news that I realized the craziness that is scoring on the JLPT. Just “passing” the N1 I’d give a 40 – 50 on the JALUP scale. Making a high score, especially on reading comprehension, requires somewhere in the 50 – 60 range I’d imagine. The time I took the test there was a philosophical writing in the reading section..(´・ω・`)

    I certainly wouldn’t call it a good scale of level, but I think that at least the N1 is well done. If you look at the N1 and say “Oh yeah this is that stuff I use every day” then you’re bound to pass with flying colors. But it’s about on par with a Japanese high school student and any Japanese person beyond that age (who didn’t drop out of school before learning how to read on a higher level) is assured a perfect or near-perfect score. I wouldn’t call any of it archaic.. but perhaps rare.

    Anyway if one’s goal is to master Japanese, those rare things are necessary as well and I’ve certainly seen all of them come up in news and novels.

    My thoughts:
    Reading section: Very good all-around gauge of understanding.
    Listening section: Too easy for someone on this level in other areas. Near-native speed with some high level vocab but near-robotic voices.
    Vocab + Grammar section: Good. Includes some tricky katakana words and hard-to-read kanji but nothing I would have called “archaic.”

  11. I am not a JLPT fanatic by any means, but I do think the following is relevant.

    1. True, the test could be improved by a speaking component, but for what it does do, I think it does a good job. And that is testing comprehension of Japanese and knowledge of appropriate expressions.

    2. True, it does not measure whether you actually know every single one of the 2000 kanji it claims you should know to pass N1 (for example), but that would be impractical. Language testing has it’s place and well designed tests give a time efficient general evaluation of a person’s ability.

    3. It is true that you can raise your score by understanding the test, this is true of any test. This is why I have never studied specifically for the N1 (aside from familiarizing myself with types of questions), nor would I recommend studying “for” a proficiency test, but rather study more holistically and take the appropriate test when you are ready.

    4. Some people are bad testers, and if you are maybe you want to avoid proficiency tests.

    5. Some native speakers might not score well on a proficiency test meant for foreign learners. It doesn’t mean they are not fluent, but it may mean they are not up to the tasks the test is designed to measure.

    6. Some people may gain false confidence… but if they have any real desire to learn/use Japanese they’ll figure that out soon enough.

    7. True, an interview and a specialized test will give an employer an idea of your fluency… but first you’ve got to get the interview. That is usually done via a resume, and N1 is just one added bonus to your resume that may help you get that foot in the door. Employers may not ask specifically for JLPT or N1, but that doesn’t mean they don’t look for some indication of proficiency on your resume…

    8. There was nothing on the N1 I found especially archaic or unused… That may have been improved in the switch from the old levels to the new, or it may be progressively improving… or it may just be my personal opinion…

    9. True… but given the choices there is only one answer… there maybe other ways to say the same thing, but that’s not what they are testing… They are testing specific grammar and vocabulary, not functional communicative ability. You may be able to say basically the same thing, but perhaps without the same sophistication… that’s what they are looking for.

    10. True. Obviously this is something that each person needs to evaluate for his or her self. Again, I don’t personally advocate studying specifically for the tests, and I think they are more meaningful if you don’t, so any time or money I spent was for the test itself. If you take it everytime it’s offered that gets expensive, but if, like me, you look at practice tests and go in with a relatively good expectation of passing it’s not that much.

    I took the old Level 1 10 years ago after I finished my university study just for the accomplishment. I don’t know if having it on my resume has helped at all, but I’ve never had trouble finding a job in Japan. I took the N1 again just recently because I plan to change jobs, and move to a country where Japanese is not the native language, so I thought a more recent qualification might be useful, easy to understand, and more reliable than me just saying “I’m fluent please believe me.”

    Ultimately, the test may not be necessary, but that doesn’t mean it is not useful.

    • I appreciate the added analysis. I’m not anti JLPT, and I always encourage it to be a personal choice based on your wants and needs.

  12. I take issue with points 6, 7, 8.

    First, yes I agree that the JLPT is not the end-all-be-all of Japanese and that your Japanese learning can far progress the N1 if you reach that level.

    However, those who take the test and progress to at least N3 out of 5 will know that it is not a waste of time. It is an organized methodology to learning words like 行方 or grammar like ~なり. Most people know very well that approaching (6), your Japanese can always be perfected. It’s as Socrates says, those who are wise know nothing.

    Also, the JLPT is instrumental in job-searching outside Japan. In point (7), the author says that it is not necessary to have a JLPT to get a job. Which, is true, if you want to be a dish washer or go-gal. But, if you have a specialized job (computer programming, engineering, architect) then you better get that piece of paper. (8) It’s those “out-moded” grammatical structures that will determine how people perceive you and your language ability. Sure, it doesn’t determine fluency, but for true pedantics its indespensible to understand them regardless of whether or not your average がき uses them in coversation.

    I wouldn’t say the author is wrong in all points, but definitely take this as a biased point of view to which the author admits. But to those who are apprehensive about taking it, what do you have to lose?

Leave a Reply (コメントする)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *