JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test)

The JLPT, or in full Japanese Language Proficiency Test, is, as the name implies, one of the most famous and widely recognized certificates to measure a peron’s Japanese language proficiency level.

There’s more details on it on its wikipedia page.

Note on proficiency

This is a personal note, but it’s pretty commonly echoed among the Japanese learning community so it’s nothing too controversial.

A big criticism of the JLPT is the fact that it does not test any actual language output proficiency. All its exams are focused on grammar knowledge, reading comprehension, (relatively minor) kanji recognition, and listening comprehension.

It is not uncommon for someone to pass the so-called N1 level (highest JLPT rank) and still be relatively awkward/bad at making conversation or using the language itself. It is apparently extremely common for Chinese native speakers to have a much easier time passing the JLPT due to kanji knowlege and still not be proficient in the language at all.

Advantages of the JLPT

There are only a few reasons I can think of as for why anyone would want to get their hands on a JLPT certificate.

The first and foremost: personal satisfaction. If you just want to have something that attests you achieved something and your studies were not in vain, then this is great and go do it. There’s nothing wrong with that and it can be a good motivator. You have a deadline and something to work towards, sometimes that’s all you need and it makes quite a difference.

This said, there are a couple other possible reasons. Just keep in mind that the following list only applies to N2 and N1 levels. Anything below N2 (N5 through N3) is effectively worthless aside personal pride.

  • Scholarships - Apparently if you have JLPT certifications, some schools and universities in Japan will provide some financial aids which can be quite substantial if you’re a student.
  • HSFP visa points - For the high-skilled foreign professional visa immigration system, the JLPT certification counts as points that can help you achieve a higher level (which is a faster path towards permanent residency status)
  • Employment seeking in Japan - This is not something that I’m familiar with myself, but apparently certain employers in Japan might require proof of Japanese proficiency via JLPT. However, arguably, you should be able to demonstrate that even without a JLPT certificate during an interview anyway.

Alternative tests

There are some alternatives to JLPT that learners might be interested in.

There’s the BJT - Business Japanese Proficiency Test which is significantly harder and higher level than the JLPT and provides a much clearer signal on one’s own actual proficiency. It is however not as widespread in the west as the JLPT so if you do not live in Japan/Asia it might be harder to find a location that tests for it.

There is also the Kanji Kentei kanji aptitude test. This test is not specifically targeted to foreigners and it’s actually mostly taken by Japanese nationals. It varies from relatively easy in the lower levels to insanely hard at the very top. Most Japanese nationals would probably not be able to pass the highest levels, and a foreigner doing that would be something of note for sure. It is a test aimed specifically at kanji and vocabulary. It tests all kinds of kanji knowledge like meanings, usage (including specific nuances), readings, variants, and also handwriting.