Japanese Language Proficiency Test

The Tale of Genji

When my son signed up to take the SAT test, one of my first thoughts was, “I glad I don’t have to go through that nightmare again.” And yet here I am on December 7, taking the N3 level of the 日本語能力試験 (nihongo noryoku shiken, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test). N3 is the middle of five levels, inconveniently arranged from 5 to 1 based on the difficulty level of the test. This handy list shows you the expectations for each level.

  • N5 — You enjoy the taste of sushi.
  • N4 — You took one semester of college-level Japanese, or nailed that Japanese for Wandering Americans book on the flight east.
  • N3 — You took two or three years of college Japanese.
  • N2 — You spent two or three years running a college in Japan.
  • N1 — You play go with Emperor Akihito.

Clearly, I’m going to stop with N3. I started Japanese studies 25 years ago, but found myself stuck at the same second-college-year level. Taking the JLPT, I hoped, would spur me to study with more rigor. It worked in part. I finally made it through my kanji book with its 2,200 glyphs, and I probably added 1,000 to 2,000 new words to my vocabulary. But I skimped on new grammar points, which is of course the only thing covered by the test.


This year, the test takes place on the campus of California State University Los Angeles (“Motto: No, you want UCLA. Let me get you a map.”) I’ve scheduled this post to appear at the apex of my stress level, just as I sit down to begin the test. If you’re reading this right when it comes out, then you missed your chance to take the once-per-year exam. But if you enjoy Japanese food or are looking for a challenge beyond your weekly go games with the emperor, then this might be the test for you.

[Image Credits: Library of Congress]



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