You Failed the JLPT – Now What? — 36 Comments

  1. It took me three tries to pass N1, and I knew other people with similar learning paths that passed it on their first try. It definitely wasn’t fun failing. I’m not a bad test taker, so I think it accurately showed that I still had a lot to learn, which made it even harder. Now, many years later, I’m not bothered by the times I failed at all, and I know that I still have a lot to learn.

    I had taken all the Japanese classes I could take, but I had done much much more beyond the classes. The only reason I was taking the test was to have something to show for my effort, for my own benefit. The test worked well for me for that purpose, but there are definitely other ways to achieve that goal if you aren’t interested in tests.

    • You got there though. You did it for your own personal goals and didn’t let defeat keep you down even after two hard punches. Awesome work :)

  2. A huge blind spot on the JPLT is speaking and I believe that is a great marker of proficiency.

    I’m interested in JLPT because it’s a standard that demonstrates knowledge of Japanese. It’s something to work towards if you have no’real’reason for studying Japanese.

    Do you have knowledge of other standard tests or marks of achievement for the Japanese language? I understand there are many intangible proofs of proficiency but just bear with me and give examples please.


  3. I failed the N1 this year. I passed N5 through N2 previously (though to be fair I squeaked past the N2). It was humbling to fail. I know I have a lot of knowledge to amass before my next attempt. Did it hurt to fail? Yes. I was bummed, but I also knew I wasn’t ready for it. Do I want to quit? Some days. I’m so sick of JLPT study books and weird grammar points. I’d much rather just watch crunchyroll and read 宇宙兄弟. But I don’t want to quit Japanese. That’s not even an option, I just feel like breaking up with the JLPT. I equate passing the N1 with catching a legendary pokemon. And someday I will get that certificate to complete my collection.

    • Don’t lose hope! The new JLPT seems to have narrowed the difference between N2 and N1 so it is not as bad as the previous 2級、1級、but it is still a pretty big gap.

      What was helpful to me was getting experience working in a Japanese company, because N1 is very oriented to business Japanese, and if you know that, it makes it a lot easier to pass the test. (It is possible to get an in-house translator job with just N2, by the way.)

      So if you ever feel like trying again, it might be helpful to spend some time reading some native Japanese business materials, like all those websites for Japanese people telling them how to use 敬語 in the workplace and how to write business emails in Japanese or something. News also might be helpful. But I can’t guarantee any of that will be any more interesting than JLPT study books. (笑)

  4. N1 has an approximately 30% pass rate, so if you can go into that test knowing and accepting the fact that it’s a test that most people fail the first time, that is probably helpful. Actually, considering that every year there are some people for whom it isn’t their first try, the percentage of people who pass it on the first try is probably less than 30%. So rather than feeling bad if you fail it the first time, it’s good to realize that that is normal, and the people who do pass on the first time are really amazing!

    It’s a bit of a long story, but I also failed N1 the first time I took it. After having passed N4 and N3 with pretty high scores, I was unsure of whether to take N2 or N1, and somehow or other I was able to get correct 60% of the sample questions for N1 on the JLPT webpage (still to this day I think those questions are not truly representative of the difficulty level of the test), so I thought it would be better to study hard and take the chance of maybe passing N1 or maybe failing rather than going the safe route and taking N2, which I was fairly confident I could pass.

    So I did the non-Japanese thing, skipped N2, took N1, and failed. But this was really not any sort of blow to my motivation to study Japanese for a couple of reasons.

    One reason is I knew I was challenging myself to take a level that I might or might not be able to pass, so rather than “All my studying wasn’t worth it,” I could think things like, “My Japanese ability grew a lot more than it would have if I had taken N2 because I studied really hard for N1, and I wouldn’t have done that if I had decided to take N2” and “Oh, I should have taken N2 after all, but it’s OK, I can take it next time.”

    Another reason is that, following a bit of a Japanese slump when I first returned to the States and was trying to keep up with Japanese but was experiencing a bit of deterioration in my ability level, my Japanese took a quantum leap forward when I started getting opportunities to use Japanese to help real Japanese people at work. It was just occasionally, not all the time, but that opportunity to use Japanese in real life, to help people, not just to read manga or play video games, was a huge boost to my motivation. The time that I took the N1 and failed it, it was during that time when I was getting those opportunities to use Japanese at work and extremely motivated to improve my Japanese for that reason. Since I was seeing results of my study in interactions with real people and getting a strong sense of award from my increasing ability to communicate with them (and help them communicate), failing N1 really didn’t have any effect on my motivation.

    This is not because I’m the sort of person who doesn’t easily get discouraged or feel like giving up (I do feel that way about various things at time), but because of the reasons above. So there might be some other people out there who, for whatever reason (maybe reasons totally different from mine) don’t particularly feel discouraged in their Japanese efforts just because of failing the JLPT.

    But I do think that both of those things that were helpful to me would probably be helpful to other people, too:

    1) Use the JLPT just as one method of benchmarking your progress, not as the total arbiter of whether you are getting anywhere with Japanese, and accept beforehand the possibility that you might fail (especially, if you are taking N1, that’s just normal).

    2) Have a strong motivating force, like meaningful interactions with people that motivate you to improve your Japanese in order to communicate better, and in which you can get a sense of reward from your progress.

    • I like your experience regarding the major motivation boost from having to help people directly and having to improve. I wish there were Japanese people where I live lol. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I took N2 this past December, and I failed. It was an interesting experience, though.

    When I got to the testing room, I was greeted by a Japanese proctor. He talked to me in Japanese. He asked me about my name, and what nationality it was. It took me a moment to respond, in part, because I was not quite expecting it. He started to look disappointed, but I did respond in Japanese. He then made a comment on how young I was with a smile (I was 47 at the time). I smiled back, and he called me by name, adding -san. I felt rather proud of myself. I am rather shy in Japanese, and I was pleased to be able to have a rather natural conversation with a Japanese person (if a rather short and simple one).

    As I was waiting, I heard the proctor try to start conversations with the other test takers in Japanese; however, as far as I could tell, everyone else either did not respond or responded in English. I was a bit shocked by this. 二級なのに。英語はなぜ?

    When it came to the test, however, my jiman quickly faded. At the time of the test, I thought I did ok on the grammar section, but my reading speed was WAY too slow. I only really did about a third of the reading comprehension, I guessed about a third, and I did not do a third….except for randomly filling in a couple of bubbles at the end. After the break, proctor said to me, 「時間が足りますか」。I responded with a rueful smile, 「そうではありません」

    The listening comprehension section was truly awful. Most of it included things that would have been difficult for me in English! I find practical things, like remembering numbers and instructions about how to do things, rather difficult in any language. I walked out of that section feeling surprised if I got anything right. My only hope is that the test was scaled, and everyone else in the room looked about the same way I did after the listening.

    It was interesting though. As grueling as it was, I did not walk out thinking I never want to see Japanese again. I walked out thinking, oh….I want to play games, read manga, and watch anime…in Japanese. I did think I never wanted to see another grammar book, though. I have to say that my “studying” has slowed down a lot since then, but I do seem to be spending more time enjoying myself in Japanese.

    When I got the results, even though I did not pass, I did not do quite as badly as I thought I did after the test. I got well over the minimum in the grammar section, and to my pleasant surprise, in the listening section. Obviously, I failed the reading comprehension section, but I was only a little under the minimum, surprisingly enough. I did not get close to the minimum total score, but given the results, I imagine had my reading speed been up to par, I probably would have passed. This is actually useful information to know, I think.

    That being said, as much as I have been trying to keep a positive attitude about the whole thing, I was quite disappointed. I also thought that maybe all of this was a waste of time. I do not know if I will take the test again, although, it is good to know that my big weakness is my reading speed. This is something I would want to improve in any case….not just for the test, but for my overall Japanese ability. Hee…it is a lot more fun to read than it is to do grammar drills, so that is the good news.

    • Thanks for the story Yasashiku!

      People may not have responded because they were caught off guard, or their focus on the test caused them to not pay attention to what he was saying.

      You bring up a good point that sometimes finishing the test (whether pass or fail) can really get you back into what you love about Japanese. Since most people spend the weeks or months up to the test studying, the normal enjoyment may fade quite a bit. So it’s a great moment to remember “wait Japanese is fun. I forgot that.”

      Just keep reading :) Speed will eventually find its way to you.

      • Yes, that very well could be the case with respect to the other test takers.

        I am now playing the most wonderful game, the DS version of ニノ国, which I think is the best game ever. It seems like a combination of DQ, Final Fantasy, Pokemon, and a Studio Ghibli movie all rolled into one. But the best part of all is the part that is relevant to this discussion….it also comes with a real live magic book that is necessary for the game. Playing the game requires you to look up spells and other things in the book….which is great practice for things like scanning, skimming, and looking things up. Also, I do not think that the DS version was ever translated into English, so the only online strategy guide is also in Japanese, so one can not cheat with an English strategy guide even if one wanted to.

        Anyways, my point was that it is a lot more fun to practice these type of skills with this game than it is with the Kanzen Master Dokkai book, a.k.a Tsumaranai Hon.

  6. So I took the N2 this winter on a whim and failed. Passed listening, failed vocab and reading. I wasn’t expecting to pass as I just decided to take up the opportunity, but it taught me a few things.

    One, I hate cramming. I thought if I was going to pay money for this I wanted to at least study for it. But man, I hated studying for just a test. I actually burnt out for 2 months because of it – thankfully lots of JP TV carried me through the burnout so I didn’t lose ground. If I’m going to study, it will be over a longer period of time (6+ months)

    Two, it showed me my weaknesses. I watch a lot of TV shows so that’s why I passed the listening with no studying. But I barely read at the time and hadn’t completed RTK before the test, and it showed. I’ve decided that this year I’m going to focus on reading to help me, and I’ve already made some great strides in that regard. I’ve been studying a lot more vocab and actually working through my first novel now which is surprisingly fun.

    Finally, time management is key. I am so glad I looked up how people manage time during the test and was able to answer every question and have 5-10 minutes to review some of my answers. However, there were people around me who spent too much time on grammar and ended up not being able to answer all the reading questions.

    While I don’t base my Japanese abilities on just some random test score, I do think I can pass it next time around. I’m glad I took it because now I know what to prepare for and how to get there. My goal is eventually to pass the N1 so I can slap that on my resume, so I’m glad I took it to get a feel for the test.

    • It’s always a good idea to start more reading, and that’s a positive that the test could show you that.

      It sounds like you have a better game plan for your next time around.

  7. I’ve only read some of the replies so I’ll keep reading as I’m interested but I wanted to put my 2 cents out there. My first time taking the JLPT was N4 and I failed it by 2 points.. I was taking the Japanese classes at my community college and we had a good if small group of people going through the levels there.. I don’t think any American college or community college course gears itself towards the JLPT per se but I did do a practice test before hand. It was a downer. It hurt a lot and worse, having to tell friends and family that I didn’t pass was pretty embarrassing. They were all like will you retake it? And I was like yeah.. the next level up of course.. since I can’t take it for a whole year. And then the disbelief.. Why wouldn’t you pass the N4 before taking the N3? Because I have to wait a WHOLE FRIKKING YEAR.. duh? If I study a whole year and then pass the N4 I didn’t think it would feel like an achievement.

    Luckily I passed the N3 the next year (only by a few points though). I failed the N2 the following year (no discouragement really since I knew I wasn’t prepared but it was embarrassing to tell people again.. ) and failed it AGAIN the next year which hurt a lot more because I felt I should have passed, and finally kicked its butt 6 months later. I was in Japan at that time and studying but ass off and yes that helps even if you’re not in a language school and self studying.

    I tried to pass the N1 6 months after passing N2 and failed by a good amount. I haven’t retaken the N1 since because I know I would need to really study FOR the test. I don’t think any amount of just studying Japanese in general without studying N1 material will get me to a level where I can pass it.

    It hurts like hell to fail it. I had a friend who aced N3 on his first try but struggled and struggled to pass N2 despite working at a Japanese company in Japan. He could sure speak Japanese really well and Japanese people complimented him to death. I was jealous of him. I would get the compliments like when I was at the store with my Korean friend and I was able to pay for stuff in Japanese.. they’d be like kare ha jouzu desu ne! or something. Ugh.

    When people compliment my Japanese they tend to want to say wow, you’re really good for studying for such a short time! But now it’s 7 years. That’s not short by anyone’s standards lol. I do think it’s good that I’ve been able to consistently improve over those seven years without taking any big breaks though. Not the natural ability kind of wow, but the plugger kind. I guess it’s not as sexy.

    • Hi , your story is awesome , seven years is really good in my terms. I have taken N3 3 times but failed in all those attempts. Now i am trying for the 4th time. So practically i have spent 3 years still un able to clear N3. So please cheer up .

  8. I’ll take the JLPT for the first time this July 7.I made a stupid mistake of jumping right away to N4 instead of N5.I tend to do stupid stuff when I’m too excited or too hook into something. I only took basic Japanese class for 6 months- one class per week. I stopped this year and decided to revert to self-studying. The school where I took class uses Genki book. So the sessions I were able to attend are only until Genki 1.I read in a blog that you can “survive” JLPT N4 by studying Genki 1&2.2 weeks before the exam I just finished Genki 1.I’m also a procrastinator.If I didn’t procrastinate I should have finished Genki 2 by now. I’m a full time employee and for the past few months I’m losing motivation not just in my job but also in my goal to work in Japan. Down moments, you know.I know I set myself to fail. There’s no way for me to pass N4 with only a very basic knowledge. At first, I told myself that I’ll still take the exam so at least I’ll have an idea on how it works and will just take it again by December this year. But the more I think about the stupidities I’ve done and how “blurr” the opportunity for me to work in Japan the more I don’t wanna take the exam. I was also thinking that I should focus first applying for jobs in Japan rather than studying. I tried to google blogs of Japanese learners not taking JLPT even if they’ve registered and that’s when I saw this post. REALLY, this uplifts me. Thanks a lot for writing this.

    • If you think you aren’t ready, and you know that it will damage your confidence by taking a test you aren’t ready for, then I don’t see anything wrong with skipping it.

      Or if you want to go into it knowing that you don’t expect to pass because you haven’t prepared enough for it, but you want the “practice of taking the JLPT,” that would be one approach. It is a chance to see what the test environment is like, what the other people are like who are taking it, what the timing and pressure feels like.

      You have to judge yourself on whether you can take a positive out of the experience or not (and it really depends on you, so there is no right either way).

  9. Next month I’m taking N5. My tutor has been giving me practice booklets and exams that are identical to the actual for 6 months out of the year we’ve been paired. However, I’m barely getting by with these. She’s the only one in my area I can find to study with and the weight of this exam is taking its toll. I appreciate the article!

    • Best of luck on the exam next month :)

      I know a lot of people have had major success with online tutors as well, so that’s an option if you are looking to expand on people you can study with.

  10. Feels like I was mega killed by Japanese Language Test. I took JLPT twice, Japanese Test or JTest twice and JFT another type of Japanese exam just to pass the N4 level and failed. I only passed the N5 level when I took JTest for the 2nd time and I almost hit the required score for N4just to complete all the requirements needed to work using ssw visa in their country. It took me 2years to prepare while having part time job. Should I give up on this? My brains are all out everytime I’ll take the exam. When is the time to give up?

  11. Thank you for sharing. I feel really better now. I failed N4 exam by 1 point. I went to school, where we got prepared for N5 and then “a little bit” for N4. I was learning a lot at home. And then I failed. I know I took a little bit too much at my shoulders. But I am going to Japan next month anyway. And I know, I need to get better. I just need to overcome my bad mood from the “one point fail”, but I guess I just wasn’t good enough with my Japanese. I would definitely pass the N5, but I thought at that time, that it’s too low, when I want to go to Japan. Well.. We all learn from our mistakes and fails teach us to get better.

  12. Hi guys, thanks a lot for sharing your stories! Atleast, now I know I am not alone. I didn’t pass again N1 exam, that was the 3rd time for me. I really feel disappointed in myself. After I saw the results, I felt in prostration, the first thought was: And what should I do, where to move? I prepared hatd during a year (Kanzen master, Sou matome, Try!, ect.). And I really studied kanji, voc, reading, etc. Every day after work just study, study, study…And for now is like my energy is turned off
    May be I can’t clime far with that language anymore?!

    • Some people just aren’t good with the test, which has nothing to do with their Japanese ability. You can always climb further and higher. Your skill will always continue to improve. Never let a test like this define you.

  13. I have failed N2 FIVE times.
    This July will be my 6th attempt.
    I always fail all sections, except listening. It seems to be my strong point. No matter how much I cram that vocabulary and grammar, I always fail it. Passed N3 on my first try, but N2 is a wall.

    There have been others around me who passed it on their first try with less than 6 months of study. While I’ve been over here studying for near 3 years with less than satisfactory results. My scores are always around the same, which doesn’t reflect my study, even though I tend to study harder each time, I just don’t grasp the vocab and grammar. I don’t remember it.

    Lived in Japan 5 years and am starting to think N3 may be my only qualifier. I’m starting to get a bit tired of this test. You would think I’d be able to pass with how many times I’ve taken it, haha. I would have hoped to have had it memorized. Even now, my brain is mush as I just did a few sections and checked my answers, only to have failed the section again.

    But, that’s life, this is life. They’re all life.

    • I’m not an expert on JLPT, but a few things that might or might not help:

      1. Have you specifically tried to study the techniques of the test? It’s unfortunate, but a big part of the test is how well you can take the test, not just the Japanese itself. People often do better or worse based on how well they learn about the test.
      2. Don’t compare yourself to others you read about online. People tend to exaggerate or remember differently their own experiences. Only compare yourself to your previous self.
      3. Some people are not good at standardized tests like this (there are a bunch of studies on this). That doesn’t mean your Japanese is bad. That doesn’t mean you won’t be fluent.
      4. Have you reflected on why you are taking the test? If you need it specifically for employment/residency, that’s one thing. But if you are doing it to prove to yourself that your Japanese is good enough, or that you are making certain milestones – is that reason important enough for you?

      It’s a stressful situation. But don’t let it turn you off from your Japanese path.

  14. I have failed N3 with two subjects, and I couldn’t believe. ONE OF THE SUBJECTS I FAILED WAS MY FAVOURATE AND EVERYONE KNEW I WOULD NEVER FAIL IT, YET I DID. I was at my lowest point, thinking about people and my family.What a family I have, They all supported me and told me how proud they are of me even through failer, I am thankful and God is with me no matter what. I SHALL REPEAT THE CLASS AND I WONT LET PEOPLE BRING ME DOWN.

  15. Hi, i just failed N4 for the second time. The first time i admit i didn’t really prepared it and because i fell sick for a long time … but anyway it was okay i missed it with 13 points. until i fail again, after 6 months of courses with my BF who was my partner during this whole time. I began to learn japanese when i was really young and he began it a year before. he succeed the two first try N5 and N4 .. and i(m kind of jealous because the last time I pass the exams there were a lot of stressing moments (the organization made mistakes, began each exams later and didn’t allow us to go out after each…) and i was really stressed…
    I’m now unable to go back all the way to learn again everything I actually use while talking and all… and i’m fed up to feel so down about it. I’m not ready yet.. in a month i’ll be there for a full year student visa but i’m afraid to be a failure again.

    thanks for the words i read i needed it and i hope i can accept it and make it a positive experience.

  16. Hi, I am a high school student and I had 3 attempts in jlpt n5. And I failed in 2 attempts already. Just now I got my result for my 3rd attempt, and I failed in that too with a difference of 14 marks. I don’t know what to do, should I just quit? Or should I just try again n5? Or should I move on to n4? I just need some advice and help for it

    • If you enjoy learning Japanese don’t quit. Test taking and endurance is a huge part of the JLPT and that has a weak correlation to true proficiency so there is a chance you are just getting in your own way mentally when taking the exam.

      Just move on to N4 material, practice some of your weak points you have now, and enjoy the ride. That advice pretty much applies to all learning.

  17. I took the N5 exam and failed. I took even without having learned any Japanese word. I got a hard time filling in my name. I can’t even read the questions. And during listening exam I don’t even the exam already started. I don’t know what number/question was being asked. But I was glad I took the exam. I now know what to expect in the exam. hahahaha sort of recon mission

    • Might be reading this wrong – but you took the exam without learning any Japanese? That’s an interesting challenge 😁

  18. Hi. I failed the n5 exam during the first try. I know it’s sad because i couldn’t study for the exam and then, when one day was left for the exam, i studied as hard as i can and failed with 22 marks left to pass. In my level, I think I did well, but to honestly say it, I fee like quitting. When I saw my result, I nearly fainted. My mom told me it’s fine, but it really isn’t

    • Don’t give up! I had the same thing when I started, it took me over a year of studying every day to even have a chance at passing the N5. It might feel hopeless, but at a certain point it will just click and you’ll suddenly jump ahead in progress. Just hang in there.

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