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Jul 21, 2011

Should I Take the JLPT?

Welcome to the second article in the JLPT series. Here's a link to the first part What is the JLPT? in case you missed it.

The first thing you should figure out before thinking any more about the JLPT is whether or not you need to take it. As I mentioned in the first article, the test is really only going to help if you need to prove your Japanese ability to others - such as for a job related to Japanese. So unless you are seeking employment in translating or in a Japanese company, there is little need for you to gain a certificate stating you abilities. If, however, you are seeking employment with the language or want to have documentation that proves your abilities, then the JLPT is for you!

The second issue to consider is what your current language level is in Japanese. As I said in the first article, there are five different JLPT levels. While you could certainly begin taking the test immediately after starting to learn Japanese, there would be little point. Even if you passed the easier sections of the test (levels N5, N4, and N3) you would gain very little from it. Companies and universities are really only interested in level N2 and N1, so having certification in level N5 Japanese will not help you at all. Unless you are ready to take on the top levels of the JLPT, levels N1 and N2, don't even bother with it. Save your money to buy more manga or video games and take the test when you can get something worth your time.

The third issue, which is quite similar to the second, is to consider whether or not you can pass the test. This is an obvious question, but it's nevertheless an important one. Before you fork out the money to take the test, be sure that you've built up the skills you need to pass it. As with most standardized tests, sometimes they require you to jump through ridiculous hoops that don't actually serve much purpose at all (except to show that you're good at jumping through hoops). While knowing Japanese is certainly important, knowing how to take the JLPT is crucial to passing it. If you decide that you want to take the JLPT, don't rush into it unprepared - study the test and know it well before you take it. So if you have prepared by reading up on the content and procedures for the test and working through sample questions, you are now ready to take the JLPT.

Hopefully this article has helped you to decide if you should worry about taking the JLPT or not. If you don't need to take it, then don't worry about it and keep focusing your Japanese studies on the things you're interested in. If, on the other hand, you decide it is worth your time and money to take the test, then wait for the next article wherein I address how best to prepare for taking the JLPT.

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  1. I suppose some people might like a certificate for a lower level just to prove to themselves that they're getting somewhere, though it seems like a needlessly expensive way to do it. Thanks for the article though, I was thinking about this recently but I think I'll hold off until I'm good enough to go for level N2.

  2. You make a rational argument. I agree with you for 99% of the population. The vast majority of people who are learning Japanese should definitely not waste money or time on the JLPT lower levels. I won't repeat your arguments as you explained them clearly enough.

    However, I think there is a very small number of people for whom it might be helpful. There are people who have such a handicap in learning languages that achieving even the N5 or N4 would be a monumental accomplishment. I know somebody like that. It is nearly impossible for him to retain even a single word of any foreign language for longer than 10 minutes. He also has some sort of severe impediment with reading his native language, spelling, and so on. Someone like that critically needs any positive reinforcement they can get that they are making any sort of progress at all. I wouldn't have believed such a thing possible before but there really are people for whom passing a lower level JLPT would be like a lifetime achievement. But that is not a normal case. No person with even average language learning abilities should bother with any level below N2. If they need motivation and are depending on the JLPT for that, frankly, they need to do some self reflection about why they need to whip themselves with a meaningless test in order to keep moving forward.