Earlier in December the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES) released further detail about the New Japanese Language Language Proficiency Test. As has been reported elsewhere this marks the first time the test has been offered with five levels, with a extra level intended to bridge the large gap between the previous 3rd and 2nd levels.
Other bloggers were quick to point out other major departures from the the previous test format, including the intention not to publish test specifications or past tests, and the requirement to pass each section of the test for an overall pass. It seems that the Japan Foundation have moved to modernise the test to measure both “Japanese language knowledge, including vocabulary and grammar,” and “the competence required to perform communicative tasks using language knowledge.”
There are also other small changes to the presentation of test sections, and the types of questions within them. Under development is a 'can-do' list of proficiencies which will be provided to help examinees and other better understand the test in practical terms.
What does this mean for you if you want to take the test in 2010?
Some things never change, like the need to do hour upon hour of mind numbing study, but if you want to know if the test is right for you here are some answers to questions I get asked all the time.
Who is it for? The JLPT was devised in 1984 to respond to a growing demand among students of Japanese to evaluate and certify Japanese language ability. It has grown in to a internationally recognised test the results of which have been used for employment screening and evaluation for pay rises and promotions. In 2008 well over half a million people took the test in centres all over the world.
Why should I do it? You should do it if you want to certify that you have passed a standardised test which measures Japanese language proficiency. The Japan Foundation have expanded the aims to inlcude measuring “the competence required to perform communicative tasks using language knowledge”. I don't think a paper based test will never come close to testing your communicative ability without a spoken section. Having said that though, it's always good to have something to aim for and if you need some reason to break open your text books this is as good as it will ever get.
What does it test? Test levels N5 (beginner) through to N3 (lower intermediate) are broken in to three sections; vocabulary, grammar/reading and listening. Test levels N2 (intermediate) and N1 (advanced) include vocabulary and reading/grammar in the first section, and lsitening in the second. Speaking and writing are not measured directly. Answers are machine scored multi-choice as in the current test. More details are provided in the New Japanese-Language Proficiency Test Guidebook - Executive Summary (pdf).
When is it held? In 2009 the JLPT was held on the first Sunday in July, but the level 1 and level 2 tests were held only in Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan. The first Sunday in December is known to most who have taken the test as a day of dread all over the world. If you plan on taking the test this year, nothing less than your full comittment from day one is needed to pass at the level appropriate to your perceived ability now. There is a handy table in the executive summary (pdf) of linguistic competencies required to pass each level.
Where is it held? The test is held in over 150 locations outside of Japan, however in 2009 the July test was only held in China, Korea, Mongolia and Taiwan. Locations for the test are not normally confirmed until test vouchers are received but you can get a good idea if one is close to you by looking at the list of local host institutions. Application forms are not normally published until a few months before the test date either, and outside of Japan they can be a bit hard to come by. Host institutions are the first place you should ask, their phone numbers are published on the same list. For those of you wanting to take the test in Japan here is the list of test sites, and a link to bookstores where you may purchase the application form.
How should I prepare? The Japan Foundation have determined that it is inappropriate to publish "Test Content Specifications", a major departure from previous years. Their reasoning is that rote memorisation of vocabulary, kanji and grammar does not guarantee you are capable of using Japanese for communication. It does go a long way however. I have written about the best way to prepare for the JLPT, and have run some online training on how Ace the JLPT at any level. I plan to run similar training in 2010 and tailor content for the select group of people that sign up for my newsletter that launches in the new year.
How will I know what is on the test? The executive summary (pdf) contains a “Composition of Test Items” at each level of the test, which is something you can use to structure your study. Other things that could prove useful include the “A Summary of the Linguistic Competence Required for Each Level” found in the executive summary (pdf) and the "New Japanese-Language Proficiency Test Sample Questions" found on the official website of the Japanese-Language Proficiency test.
Which level should I take? Since the new test levels correspond to the past test levels past tests are always going to be the best way of establishing your current level. The only grey area is with N3 where the number of kanji and vocabulary required fall somewhere between the old level 3 and 2. Jonathon Waller has created an excellent comparison of the old versus the new JLPT with descriptions drawn from the JEES to help you decide which test to take.
After all that, if you still want to take it, please read on.
Let there be no illusions.
This test takes a fair commitment of time and energy, you must make sacrifices. There are few excuses on test day if you rock up unprepared, and the pit in your stomach is bottomless when you realise all that time has gone to waste in March when results are released. If you want to know how others who have just taken the test are spending their time right now see my light hearted attempt to infuse some joy in to the long wait for results.
It is also clear from reading the executive summary that you must come to the test a well rounded student with no obvious weaknesses.
"examinees must now exceed the minimum acceptable score for both the total as well as each scoring section. Failure to exceed the minimum acceptable score in any scoring sections will result in a fail for the entire test."
I'll be going into much greater detail about how to prepare for the test for those that sign up for the newsletter. In the meantime check out past posts on preparing for the JLPT, including an hour of exam preparation training on eduFire, and the series 'Ace The Japanese Language Proficiency Test At Any Level'.
- Take the first step to Ace the JLPT - Know yourself
- Take the second step to Ace the JLPT - Know the terrain
- Take the third step to Ace the JLPT - Train your weaknesses
- Take the fourth step to Ace the JLPT - Race your strengths
- Take the fifth step to Ace the JLPT - Stay fresh
5 Steps To Ace The Japanese Language Proficiency Test At Any Level is a Free Online Seminar at eduFire
How will this change your approach in 2010?
Are you taking the test this year? Do you plan to do things differently this time around?