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?
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?
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.
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
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?
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!
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
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!
The thing about jplt is that it is easier for people like me , whose native language is not english . People who have english as their first language find it a little harder (just my personal opinion). I already knew two languages before i learned english . Japanese is my fourth . It really became a lot easier for me to translate japanese to my native language n learn because i just couldnt directly translate it to english . I guess languages like french n spanish is easier to english speakers:) ( i personally gave up french when i was in 6th standard . Too many verbs ;) . I only did one year of french will get back to it making it my 5th language ;) if ive time . Coming back to the point i dont think jplt has a base time limit . All u need to do is just start . I cleared n5 in 1 n 1/2 year . It took me 2 months to clear n4 . I just couldnt find the timefor n5. One thing i learned is a person knows when he or she is ready . And if you do not have a time limit then i would say retake the test if you pass with a score of 94/180 because a language takes time and should be learnt well :) . I got 122/180 in n5 but 180/180 in n4. Time is not really a factor . Interest is . Im giving n5 again just because im not satisfied with my score . Crazy right. ;) please forgive any grammatical errors here , english is not my mother tongue .
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.
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.
Thanks Mac for sharing what you’ve observed from the JLPT test-takers on your site. And especially thanks for the article that made me realize I wasn’t crazy about those numbers!
How big is the jump from N4-N3? anyone have any horror stories?
My life could use more JALUP / JLPT Bootcamp cross-over.
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!
I think it is possible to pass N1 within an year. The keyword being *pass*.
I was expecting you to take/pass in one year :P
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.
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!
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.
I agree with you Adam. I still don’t understand HOW you can go from ZERO Japanese to passing N1. Let”s do some math here. As some stated b4 you need to learn 2000 kanjis and how to write them, right?; most Kanjis have 2-3 meanings that’s 2000 x 3 is = 6000 ; not to mention that some kanji are very similar, such, to listen and between the difference is stroke in one of the boxes; add another 500 little differences you need to identify plus the pronucciation/how each each kanji sounds; add another 6000 bits of information you need to memorize. So we have 6000 + 6000 + 500 = 12,500 things you need memorize; in regards to kanjis alone. Do the same MATH for 10,000 vocabulary words. Impressive!! I am truely having trouble figuring out this impressive learning skill. 12,500 divided by 6 months = 2083 kanjis per months (including learning to read write pronounce and differentiate from other similar ones) or 69 kanjis his per day. Not to mention all the grammar structure this involves. Please let know how this immense goal is achieved! Willing to know.
As a new student of Japanese (2 months) I’m reading all your comments which I found somewhat helpful but I would like to ask the one who have pass N1 what specific steps you took that you consider where the tools that help you pass the test, for instance, I used this particular prep material naming title, author, I register in this prep class: where is it offered; some mentioned “Anki” what is Anki? Used complete title and author; please more specific when describing tools course, prep available so we beginners can benefits of your most needed expertise. Thank you all
I don’t offer specific guidance for passing the JLPT because I’ve never personally taken it myself. The general consensus here though is in addition to doing normal Jalup type studying, you get JLPT test prep books to prepare several months before a test.
I would some clues of how did a non-native-Japanese student learn 2000 kanjis the 2 types of pronunciation on-Yomi and kin-yomi, 10,000 vocabulary words; the grammar structure from ZERO Japanese to passing N1? Please reply including details of your method: specific prep materials title and author; class or course taken: where are they offered, what school (I’m in New York City) JPLT prep/ practice material name title and author – where can get them? What specific method you used to pass this test? Please provide ample details of your way to get obtain this goal! At this early stage I’m struggling with kanjis the 2 definitions; don’t know a way to clear understand how to tackle in-yomi and kun-yomi. please assist. Anxiously waiting for your comments. Thank you.
Mind if I ask your reason for wanting to learn the on and kun yomis? I use exclusively Japanese in my life offline and I honestly don’t see any real advantage to learning them (I haven’t learned them myself, so maybe I am just ignorant)
As I said b4, I started learning Japanese 2 months have taken about 6 classes altogether and had put in an average of 3 hour daily on my own. So I don’t if I have to learn on-yoni or kin-yoni or both. Thank for your comment at least I know I can survive learning only but don’t if that will affect my Japanese oral comprehension or not. Please list any particular material used that help pass N1. I would like to know about beginners’ easy reading books or mangos, what videos or movies should start watching; add details please
To add to the above.
Studying to pass the JLPT is just a small side addition to the normal study methods found on Jalup. Read through the Walkthrough which will show you how to reach the required kanji, vocab, and grammar. Then just do the small test-prep on the side.
I would not study the on and kun yomi directly, but instead focus on learning these through vocabulary. You will see the same kanji many times in different words and learn them that way. They will be much easier to remember this way because they are learned with context.
Correction: On-yomi and kun-yomi iPhone suggested typos. Also, need some suggestions on magazines, movies, books, articles, printable Japanese newspaper clips. Anything that can get me started in writing, reading and listening comprehension. Thanks
I’m planning on taking the December N1 this year (2018), and there’s about 50 days left to study.
I think I’m alright with dokkai, bunpou etc. but I saw somewhere that apparently the vocabulary “requirement” was increased to around 18000 with the 2009 revisions.
My listening, however is definitely not up to scratch. I struggle with N2 choukai let alone N1…
I’ve seen many people say that your reading needs to be very speedy in the dokkai sections, but I don’t really understand.
Since the entire section is 110 mins, factoring out the short Q’s (45 at 30s) each amounts to around 85 mins for all reading.
There’s about 10 full pages of reading text (not including questions) so around 8 minutes per page (which is not very fast?), and when questions are taken into account maybe around 6 minutes per page, which still isn’t that bad? I dunno, but I’ll still stock up on that reading prowess nevertheless!
I haven’t taken any JLPT before (because expensive), but I really really want to pass this one…
I’m just kind of scared about the choukai because I feel like I haven’t immersed myself enough..
IIRC the Grammar/Vocab parts are scored as one combined section, and the sectional pass mark is lower than the overall pass mark, making it a bit more forgiving if you struggle with one of those two areas. Vocab was rough for me because much of it was business & academic terms I never saw in immersion, but I brushed up on Grammar in the months beforehand and that helped my score a lot.
The Listening section is pretty straightforward in terms of complexity, but it does move at an unforgiving pace, so the more you can build up your listening through immersion between now and then the better off you’ll be on test day.
Any tips for building business and academic terms for vocab? Do you just rote-memorize them? I’m facing the same problem as I almost never encounter them in my immersion (anime/vn).
Would appreciate tips on how to improve Grammar as well. I believe my Grammar is fine for my immersion media, but when I check the N1 grammar list, there’s a bunch of grammar points I have never seen!
I am a Chinese.Actually，most of Chinese students will spend more than 5 hours a day to learn
Japanese ,well,in a very very painful way.If students use mnemonics or And after about 2 or 3 years，they“maybe”pass the N1 exam.I doubt if this is correct.Another person would take advantage of the test only have multiple choice questions to“legal cheat”to pass the exam.
N2-6Months(attended 18Mocka test and passed (Jlpt July 2020 cancelled due to Covid 19)
N1-Planning to take this December 2020