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What is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test?

What is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test?

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test is a test to measure and certify the Japanese language proficiency of non-native speakers of Japanese. It was first conducted in 1984, and in 2019, more than 1.36 million people worldwide applied, making it the world’s largest test for measuring Japanese language proficiency.

Overview of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test

The purpose of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is not to test simple knowledge of the Japanese language, but to measure “Ability to communicate in language to accomplish tasks” The test will ask for the following 3 factors.

  • Linguistic knowledge (Characters, vocabulary and grammar)
  • reading comprehension
  • Listening

The answers are chosen using answer sheets, and there are no examination subjects that directly measure your ability to write or speak Japanese.

Benefits of taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test

For those who do not speak Japanese as their mother tongue, taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and receiving certification for their Japanese language ability have various advantages for working in Japan.

  • One of the conditions for taking the national examination in Japan (Dentists, nurses, pharmacists, etc.)
  • One of the conditions for taking the Japanese Assistant Nursing Examination
  • Exemption from Some Subjects of the Japanese Junior High School Graduation Level Examination
  • One of the conditions for selecting candidates for nurses and care workers based on the EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement)

In order to take the Japanese National Examination and Assistant Nursing Examination, you need to be certified as N1 (the highest level) of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and in order to be exempted from the examination subjects for the junior high school graduation level examination, you need to be certified as N2 or higher. Also, based on the EPA, candidates for nurses and care workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam must pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N5 (Indonesia, Philippines) or N3 (Vietnam) or higher.

Differences between the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and the Japanese Language Test (Nihongo Kentei)

Because the names of the tests are very similar, they are often confused, but there are big differences in the test contents between the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and the Japanese Language Test (Nihongo Kentei). Roughly speaking, the former is for foreigners and the latter is for Japanese.

Of course, some naturalized Japanese take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Similarly, some foreigners who are good at Japanese will take the Japanese Language Test to prove their Japanese ability. However, if you look at the actual examinee data, you can hardly see such people.

Nihongo Kentei is from level 1 to level 7. Level 1 is the highest level and level 7 is the lowest level. However, if you look at the level 7 questions, there are some questions that you might find on the N1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. There is also a question asking the number of strokes in kanji, so it can be said to be a test for Japanese people in terms of content. There are sample questions on the official website for both the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and Nihongo Kentei. If you are interested, please take a look.

Japanese Language Proficiency Test Nihongo Kentei
Who is the examinee? Non-native speakers of Japanese Anyone who uses Japanese
Contents of the examination Language knowledge (Characters, vocabulary and grammar), reading and listening comprehension Kanji, notation, honorific language, meaning of words, vocabulary and grammar

Level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (N-level)

success and failure on the job

The difficulty level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is divided into five levels, N1 to N5, so that examinees can take the test that matches their level. N1 is the most difficult, and the higher the number, the easier it is. Let’s look at the criteria for each level below.

Japanese Language Proficiency Test: N1 level


Those who have passed N1 will be able to understand the Japanese language used in a wide range of situations.

  • Reading:
    It is possible to understand the structure and content of sentences by reading logically rather complicated sentences or highly abstract sentences such as newspaper articles and reviews on a wide range of topics.
    They can read deeply materials on various topics to understand the flow of the story and the detailed intention.
  • Listening:
    It is possible to understand the flow and content of a story, the relationship between characters and the logical structure of the content in detail, and to grasp the gist by listening to coherent conversations, news, and lectures with natural speed in a wide range of situations.

N1 is often referred to as “It is difficult even for Japanese to pass.” by some people, but passing criteria is 55% or more correct answers. Considering that, Japanese will be able to pass it easily. But it might be difficult to get a perfect score.

Also, as it says “… Get the gist.”, it doesn’t mean that a person with N1 can listen to Japanese perfectly.

Japanese Language Proficiency Test: N2 level

Those who pass N2 will be able to understand Japanese used in a wider range of situations to some extent, in addition to understanding Japanese used in everyday situations.

  • Reading:
    They can understand the contents of the text by reading clear sentences such as articles and explanations in newspapers and magazines on a wide range of topics, and simple reviews.
    They can read books on general topics to understand the flow of the story and the intent of the expression.
  • Listening:
    In addition to everyday situations, it is possible to listen to coherent conversations and news at almost natural speed in a wide range of situations to understand the flow and content of the story, the relationships between the characters, and to grasp the gist.

N2 is the goal of many foreigners seeking employment in Japan. Actually, many job advertisements for foreigners set Japanese proficiency at N2 or above. As a result, N2 has the largest number of examinees among the five levels. However, since few people have N2 or higher, some companies seem to hire even N3 or lower.

Japanese Language Proficiency Test: N3 level

Those who pass N3 are said to be able to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to some extent.

  • Reading:
    ● They can read and understand specific sentences written about everyday topics.
    ● They can get an overview of information from newspaper headlines.
    ● A sentence that is a little difficult to read in everyday situations can be understood if paraphrased.
  • Listening:
    ● In everyday situations, you can listen to a conversation that is rather close to natural and coherent, and you can almost understand the specific content of the story together with the relationships among the characters.

The number of examinees is second only to that of N2 among the total number of examinees, and it is the largest in the number of examinees in Japan alone. As mentioned above, it may be because there are many foreigners who think that it is the minimum necessary qualification to get a job in Japan.

Japanese Language Proficiency Test: N4 level

It is said that those who pass M4 can understand basic Japanese.

  • Reading:
    ● They can read and understand sentences written using basic vocabulary and simple kanji that are familiar topics in everyday life.
  • Listening:
    ● If the conversation is a little slow in everyday situations, they can almost understand the content.

Japanese Language Proficiency Test: N5 Level

Those who pass N5 are said to be able to understand basic Japanese to some extent.

  • Reading:
    ● They can read and understand fixed phrases, sentences and sentences written in hiragana, katakana and basic kanji used in everyday life.
  • Listening:
    ● In the classroom, around you, and in other situations that you often encounter in your daily life, if it is a slow and short conversation, they can hear the necessary information.

As for N4 and N5, the number of examinees is small compared to other levels, which indicates that they are not very popular. This may be because the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is recognized as a tool to get a job in Japan. The passing rates for each level are N1 (29.3%), N2 (36.0%), N3 (39.4%), N4 (32.7%), and N5 (47.6%) according to the data conducted in July 2019.

It is difficult to judge human resources only by the Japanese Language Proficiency Test

As explained above, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is graded in detail, and those who pass each level can prove a certain level of Japanese proficiency. For employers it is also a big indicator when hiring foreigners. However, it is difficult to judge who should be hired based only on the results of the examination.

Sometimes they don’t take the exam

Some foreign employees who apply to companies write “Self-described N level” or “estimated N level” even though they have not taken the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Even if a resume says N levels, you’ll need to make sure they’re officially approved. The organizer issues a “Certificate of the results of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test” to those who take the test.

Various proficiency within the same level

Each level has a passing score. N1 requires a score of 100 or more out of 180, and N2 requires a score of 90 or more (However, each category point defined by each element must be passed). In other words, there are some N1 certifiers who got just over 100 points and some who got 180 full points in N1. This also applies to N2.

Because Korean is linguistically similar to Japanese, most Koreans working in Japan have N1. Therefore, it is said that they write how much N1 points they passed on their resume. If they don’t, they won’t stand out from the crowd. This score is also listed on the certificate.

I have an American friend who got N1, but honestly speaking, I don’t think N1 in terms of his communication skill. After all, I think you should consider the results of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test only as a reference, and confirm your Japanese language ability at the interview for actual employment.

Check aspects other than the Japanese Language Proficiency Test

If we judge whether to hire foreign human resources based only on the results of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, there is a possibility that mismatches will occur after hiring. Even when Japanese language ability is important in performing a job, it is essential to check not only the superiority or inferiority of the N-level but also other items.

Japanese level is not job ability

If the interviewee can handle Japanese at a high level or speak fluently, they tend to look excellent human resources. However, Japanese language ability is one of the skills required to perform a job, and the skills required to engage in a job may be other than Japanese language ability. Japanese language ability is also important, but it is also possible to develop Japanese language ability through work after employment.

Consider which of the four skills are important

There are mainly 4 skills: “read”, “write”, “hear”, and “speak” in language ability, and it will be a hint that the recruiter in the company considers which ability is important for the job.

For example, if your job focus is on simple tasks, understanding the manual and being able to follow instructions accurately may reduce the need for advanced communication skills. Such a job would not require a high N1 level of Japanese proficiency. If they have a reading skill, the N level may not be relevant. In that sense, Chinese people easily read Japanese especially written in kanji. Conversely, in occupations such as nursing care and customer service, “speaking” ability may be emphasized. The Japanese Language Proficiency Test does not measure “speaking” ability. You will need to confirm it directly through the interview. In fact, there are some companies that check foreigners’ Japanese ability by phone interview before actual face-to-face interview.

Summary

This time, I explained the outline of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, the difference from the Japanese Language Test (Nihongo Kentei) and the key points when hiring non-Japanese.

  • The Japanese Language Proficiency Test measures and certifies the proficiency of non-Japanese speakers of Japanese. Nihongo Kentei is mainly for people whose native language is Japanese.
  • The Japanese Language Proficiency Test is divided into five levels, N1 to N5, with N1 being the most difficult and N5 the least difficult.
  • It is difficult to judge Japanese language ability only by the N level because the estimated N level is sometimes written in the resume and there is a difference in ability even within the same N level.
  • It is not suitable to judge human resources only by the N level, but it is necessary to confirm the ability required for the job contents and the actual communication ability through interviews.

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test is a very useful test to measure the Japanese language ability of foreigners. There are also tests such as the BJT Business Japanese Proficiency Test and the J.TEST Practical Japanese Proficiency Test, which are not mentioned in this article. Each official website has a comparison table with the N level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, so please refer to it if you are interested.