Thoughts on the JLPT

The JLPT can be looked at as a tool, a means to an end – it’s a certification in the same way you need to pass the Bar Exam to become a lawyer, CPA an accountant or Medical License Test to become a doctor – it’s a simple way to show to others what your relative level & related proficiency is at something. Valid criticism on the quality of tests to accurately represent someone’s ability aside (I’ve met plenty of N1 holders who were nearly mute in Japanese), if you have some strong reason for wanting to prove your level of Japanese with a nice little sheet of paper, it can be very useful.

I took the JLPT once in December 2018 – N2 – and passed. I didn’t study much for it truthfully (I was still studying Japanese but didn’t study ‘to the test’), but was certainly happy to have passed. As I was recruiting at the time, it immediately lent me both legitimacy as learner and user of Japanese, as well as validated that I had reached some ‘skill level’.

As such, I recommend the JLPT for 2 reasons:

  1. You have job/work related need/want for the certificate
  2. You want to prove to yourself your own level / self-check

If your answer is purely number 2, I think you can take JLPT N4 and N3, and have it be worthwhile. N5 is simply too simple to bother, N4 is a good stopgap after you complete Genki I & II as a check on progress, and N3 may give you confidence going into N2.

If your answer is purely number 1, I think taking anything other than N2 or N1 is largely a waste of time, as N2 is often considered the bare minimum of ‘proficiency’ in Japanese to work at a company, translate, or work in some way with Japanese. Even as a holder of N2, I felt there was a lot (of especially formal) Japanese that I still had a tenuous grip of at the time. Aim for N1, start with N2.

If your answer is a mix, I think you can decide from your own discretion. It’s not a huge suck of time or resources if the test is offered locally, so why not give it a shot?

Should I study ‘to the test’?

I think it’s definitely possible to pass without having to specially study for the JLPT, depending on your level of skill and immersion. There are a lot of reading comprehension sections, so if you are someone that reads a lot of books in Japanese for example, you will likely find those sections a fair bit easier. 

I think the biggest reason I might deter someone from studying for the JLPT is it will likely distract from your main Japanese studies, which ultimately is a more useful and important use of your time. Learn and know the concepts well, and the knowledge to pass the test will likely follow. If you’d like to do a bit of prep work, there are a few great YouTube channels here and I recommend the official test guide book for Sample Tests, and the New Kanzen master books to study concepts. Separate from studying for the JLPT, I think the New Kanzen Grammar Books also dual-function as a good ‘alternative’ textbook to refresh and drill concepts you’ve previously learned. I do caution that a lot of the more complicated, low-use grammar in the N2 and N1 books is not terribly likely to show up in-mass on the test, or real life for that matter.