Taking the JLPT in Japan – How to Prepare for Success (日本語能力試験)

What is the JLPT (Japanese Langauge Proficiency Test)?

Are you studying Japanese and looking to test your ability? If so, you are most likely going to take the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) or nihongo nou ryoku shiken (日本語能力試験).

There are several other Japanese language tests (the Jtest) for example, but the JLPT is considered the standard when it comes to Japanese proficiency tests and is the main benchmark that companies and other people use to assess Japanese ability.

Before taking the test, and passing with flying colors (read how to study for the test here), it is important to familiarize yourself with the test procedures and structure. Outside of knowing Japanese, there are several things to keep in mind when signing up for the test and on test day. Continue reading to find out all you need to know about taking the JLPT in Japan!

Signing Up for the JLPT

To start your JLPT journey, you must first sign up for the test. In Japan, the JLPT is offered twice a year (December and July). Outside of Japan, the test may be held during only one of these dates depending on the city. Here is the testing schedule for the cities outside of Japan that host the exam.

brown framed eyeglasses on a calendar

Around four months before the test, you will need to register on the official JLPT website: https://www.jlpt.jp/e/index.html. Important things to note during this process:

  • Be sure to not miss the application deadline! The registration process is very rigid, so stick to the posted deadlines. If not, you run the risk of missing the test and having to wait for the next one.
  • Save your login details somewhere safe as you will need to access this information half a year later when it comes time to check results.
  • Double and triple-check that the information you enter is correct (Passport number, full name, address, photo id. etc).
  • For the registration fee, if you are applying through an institution (like a language school), there is a chance this fee could be waived for you.

Before the Test

JLPT test information letter

A few weeks before the test date, you will receive a pamphlet in the mail that contains your test location and testing number. Make sure that the information is correct and be sure to bring this with you on test day.

JLPT test information card

Test Day

What to Bring:

  • Pamphlet (mailed a few weeks before test date)
  • ID with photograph
  • Snacks
  • Wristwatch (analog)
  • Pencil
  • Eraser

My first piece of advice is to get to your testing location early. Since this test happens only once or twice a year and is an essential element for most school and job applications, you can bet that the trains will be packed with testing participants. Leave yourself plenty of time to arrive at your testing location. If you are late to the test, you will not be able to take it.

The testing room will most likely not have a clock or visible time marker. Since time management during the test is very important and smartwatches and cellphones are a strict no-no, I recommend purchasing a simple analog watch that emits no sounds or alarms. I found a watch at Daiso for ¥110 that worked perfectly during the test.

Daiso ¥110 Analog Watch

In between the sections you will be let out of the room for short breaks. Take this time to go to the bathroom, stretch, and refuel your brain. There were drink vending machines in my testing area, but it is a good idea to bring a few snacks of your own as well.

During the Test

The proctors take the test extremely seriously and all of the rules must be abided by. Phones are to be turned off (not just on silent), erasers need to be taken out of their cases, and facial identification will be verified every time before starting a new section of the test.

JLPT test rules pamphlet

The test rules are written on the pamphlet that is mailed beforehand and are repeated many times on the test day.

In one of my friend’s testing rooms, a phone went off during the listening section, in the last few minutes of the test. Without hesitation, the proctors kicked the owner of the phone out, and their test was forfeited. Don’t let this happen to you! Turn off your phone.

After each section, all of the tests are double counted to make sure none are missing.

JLPT Test Section Structure

The JLPT tests vocabulary (including kanji), grammar, reading, and listening. Levels N5-N3 break the test into three sections, while N2 and N1 are comprised of just 2 sections. The diagram below shows how the tests are divided.

JLPT test sections. Taken from the official JLPT site.

For each section, there are a variety of question types that appear. In order to get familiar with the test structure, I recommend using a test prep book and taking at least one practice test before the real deal. For more details on how to study, check out this post.

While every learner is different, almost everyone I know who has taken the N3 or above, agrees that the reading section is the most difficult and time-consuming. Because of this, the above-mentioned wristwatch can be very helpful.

Different types of test questions for each section. Taken from the official JLPT site

JLPT Scoring and Passing Marks

All of the tests are scored out of 180 points. In order to pass, you must reach a minimum total score and minimum sectional scores. For example, to pass the N3, you need 95/180 points with at least 19 points in each section. This method for scoring is to make sure that Japanese proficiency is balanced across the different language skills.

JLPT passing scores taken from the official JLPT site

Another thing to note is that the questions are scaled differently. Some are worth one point (like picking the right kanji) while others are worth three to four points each (reading section questions). By doing many practice questions and getting familiar with the test pattern, you will be able to learn what to focus on. Don’t be afraid to go out of order and target the questions that are easier for you before circling back to more difficult questions. (Just be sure to keep track of your marks on the answer sheet).

The JLPT does not penalize you for wrong answers, so if you don’t know, just guess! The worst thing you can do is leave a question empty on the test.

It takes about two months to receive the results online. You will need your login credentials in order to view the results. A paper copy of the results is also mailed.

How to Study for the JLPT

Now that you know everything about the test, you’re probably wondering “How do I pass?”, “How do I study?” Not to worry! With all of the test details out of the way, I will cover all the studying aspects of the test in my next blog post, so be sure to read about it here!


If you are interested in reading more about living in Japan and learning Japanese, be sure to check out these other posts!

One thought on “Taking the JLPT in Japan – How to Prepare for Success (日本語能力試験)

Add yours

Share your thoughts here!