New JLPT specifications


I read an interesting document about the new JLPT specifications for the test starting in 2010 from the Japan Foundation.

Considering the search terms people use in Google these points are a big departure from the old test:

There are no plans to publish collections of complete copies of tests administered in past years.


The goal of learning Japanese is not to memorize vocabulary, kanji, and grammar, but to become capable of using them as a means of communication. The new test is to measure both “Japanese language knowledge, including vocabulary and grammar,” and “the competence required to perform communicative tasks using language knowledge.” Therefore, we determined that it is not appropriate to publish “Test Content Specifications” which includes the lists of vocabulary, kanji, and grammar.


Failure to exceed the minimum acceptable score in any scoring sections will result in a fail for the entire test, even if your total score is above the minimum acceptable score.

While the old levels 1 through 4 map more or less onto the new N1, N2, N4, and N5, figuring out N3 will be a challenge in the beginning. I wonder if people won’t just study for the old level 2 and take N3 if they don’t feel confident.

I suppose the many and varied JLPT sites with lists of kanji and grammar points will still exist. Maybe many unchanged. Publishing companies may start publishing their own guesses at what material is required or re-jigging their old books in new covers perhaps. I do predict a fair amount of confusion in the short term, until the Japan Foundation starts publishing some example tests or textbooks.

The requirement to pass each section in order to pass overall is new. No longer can your kanji ability carry your weak listening ability. Although the score requirements have yet to be published, I think the pass requirement might be lowered and two pass levels Weak and Good will be introduced from what I see in the booklet.

Overall it’s a more modern sounding test. The emphasis has changed to testing real world abilities rather than memorisation and exam technique. The main guideline is now the “Linguistic Competence Required”.
Ideally an oral exam and written exam would also be offered but within it’s limits (multi-choice and thousands of candidates) JLPT is trying to keep up with modern ideas about language teaching and learning.

I wonder if I’ll attempt N3 this June. I reckon I have “the ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to a certain degree.” What that certain degree is I’m not sure!
I wonder if SOAS will offer it.
In the meantime here’s a link to sample questions on the new JLPT test.

11. December 2009 by ロバート
Categories: 01 news • 新聞, 02 reading • 読む事, 04 listening • 聞く事 | Tags: , | 6 comments

Comments (6)

  1. Wow, glad I read this article now! :) I just bought a bunch of test material for JLPT 2 I may have to shelve. Just kidding. Since the language itself isn’t going to change, I still think there’s much value in memorizing the kanji, vocab and grammar because I am genuinely trying to learn the language and not just get a certificate (which is nice however ;) ). Still, I am worried that with nothing to practice against, I may come to the test in December rather unprepared.

    I agree though, that their efforts to modernize the test and put more emphasis on real-life communication skills is a great idea. It’s frustrating that too often people fail the listening section and still get a certificate. For the record, I put a lot of effort into listening and think I did reasonably well there. I also like the fact they’re insisting people meet the minimum score in each section.

    As for me though, I am pretty nervous now. I think I will still prepare for the JLPT2 as if nothing’s changed (it’s still just one language afterall) and just make sure I am solid in each section. Since I have in-laws, friends and wife who speak Japanese, I have enough reason to keep trying, regardless of the test circumstances.

    Good luck! We’ll all need it. :)

  2. Well, for me it seems the Japanese have fallen to the evils of stupid modern education. It’s all for hippies, seriously. I know my opinion is old-fashioned and unpopular, but still. “Let’s dance in a circle and love each other, rather than encouraging hard work and being rewarded by it”, that’s modern education and it seems, although I haven’t taken a thorough look at the new JLPT format, that this is the route taken.

    Well, I’ll still try and take JLPT 1 next year, but still. Japan, with the best academic results in the world together with Singapore and Korea precisely because they value hard work over socializing (socialism?) in education, should take the European/hippy route, are doomed. Their economy depends a lot of high tech and stuff, and if they just drop to european education levels of laziness and of encouraging socialization over individual hard work, they are doomed. Well, the Chinese will be pleased

  3. Older generations always decry the educational practices of the younger generations and moan about falling standards it seems.

    I think JLPT have actually made it harder at the same time as making it more relevant to actual practical everyday usage. It is not enough to just learn lists by rote, you need to bring other language skills into play.

    Academic results don’t equate with practical ability however. English abilities (or lack thereof) are the stuff of legend in Japan. My Japanese nephew for instance can do quite complex grammar problems (that I need to think twice about) and has learnt vocabulary by rote. BUT he can’t speak English or understand spoken English much, because they are not required of him for his exam. So you can’t really say he is being taught English effectively for the 5 years or so he has to take it. He is being prepped to get a high score in an exam. In the same way that I took Latin, French and Irish at school (the old fashioned way, written translations, rote learning, occasional beatings) but can remember very little now. I was thought Japanese in a communicative way and gained much more rounded abilities as a result.

    JLPT is merely a test.
    It’s setting a required standard of ability, I think it’s an improvement to have it more practical than than a memory test that can be gamed, a hurdle to be jumped to get a piece of paper. It still requires hard work by individuals.
    And nor do I think it represents Japanese educational practices. I doubt changing it will impact on their economy.

    Besides there’s little you or I can (or should) do about Japan’s educational systems. All we can do is look to our own learning and the education of our own children, probably best achieved by instilling a curiosity and joy in learning. And for my children I’d choose dancing and love of fellow humans over jukus, karoshi, hikikomori, and ijime anyday.

  4. @Sergio: Have you actually lived and worked in Europe, or are you surmising this from elsewhere? Speaking from living and working there (from the US), I worked with a lot of smart, talented people, who got the job done when it was needed. These were Europeans who grew up in “socialist” education systems (some from former Eastern Bloc countries), moreover. Your statement seems pretty ill-informed.

    “European/hippy route, are doomed. Their economy depends a lot of high tech and stuff, and if they just drop to european education levels of laziness and of encouraging socialization over individual hard work, they are doomed. Well, the Chinese will be pleased.”

    Seriously, you’re comparing European “socialism” with China, an actual Communist country?

  5. Jeez, I’m still reeling from the Original JLPT 3. Let alone start thinking about JLPT TNG (The Next Generation).

    I’m curious how they expect anything beyond mass hysteria if they don’t publish vocabulary lists, or expectaions on grammar etc….

    —-Does this mean that they will be able to give you your results as you leave the test site…. Or will we still have to wait for 3 months………………


  6. Well, I don’t think JEES will leave us completely in the dark, it’s more they’ve shifted from “you need to know this list of 300 words” to “you need to know enough to book a train ticket, etc”. A bit more vague I know but I’ve seen a similar approach in the A level syllabus in the UK.

    What will probably happen is that lists will be compiled from the memories of people that have sat the exam and the various textbooks that will appear. In fact N3 is a good place to start to crowdsource an old-style syllabus. Everyone sitting it could submit what they remember to a central site. If kanji x is on the paper it is a confirmed N3 level kanji and so on.

    It’s even less likely that you will get immediate results.
    They are going to normalise the results from now on to give a more consistent grade from year to year. I don’t think it was ever feasable to give instant results but it should be faster given that all that needs to be done is bulk scanning of the answer sheets. I think this is done in Japan rather than the exam centres though, it’d be faster if it weren’t centralised. How expensive can those scanners be? Even so the kanken manages to do it more quickly and they give a better response and have to mark by hand as I don’t think they entrust it to OCR.

    Sometime in the future maybe they will have a computer based test which should be fairly instant, by which time we will al probably have passed Grade 1 !!

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