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 am I studying this for?
I will admit that the JLPT does have its uses. Uses that were quite far from any personal 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, especially outside of Japan. 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 less 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 time and money 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.
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.
Some additional official benefits have been added recently which provide more value to taking the JLPT.
1. You can earn points for preferential treatment for immigration to Japan
“Those who pass JLPT N1 receive 15 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.