How I took the JLPT without studying

So a little while back, before I enrolled into language school, I was learning Japanese on my own using this great resource called the internet. I felt that I was ready to take the first, real life hurdle, so I mustered up the willpower to sign up for the Japanese Language Proficiency test, or more commonly known as the JLPT. For the JLPT, there are 5 levels: 5 being the easiest and 1 being the hardest, with 1 indicating near fluency and having a reputation of being notoriously hard, even for some native Japanese.

Upon taking some quick sample test questions, I assessed that my level fell somewhere between 4 and 5, so I signed up for the JLPT5, which was the easiest test, and assumed that there would be no way that I would fail it. I figured this would be an easy test that only confirmed that I knew the basics, so I didn’t study much outside of watching subtitled anime and casually reading all of my foreign food packages. If coming back from a run around Tokyo with a small amount of Japanese finesse could made me feel like a bilingual superstar, then taking the JLPT5 without much studying definitely taught me a valuable lesson as I scooped up a hot double helping of humble pie off the buffet line.

Here’s what I learned from failing miserably at the only test I ever volunteered to take and even paid money to take, just for fun:

  1. Anticipate Travel:

    There are 16 major cities in the U.S. that you can enroll to take the test in.  There are also 3 in Canada, 6 in Australia, and many more in various other parts of the world. You can find your city here on the official JLPT site if you are considering signing up.  I had to sign up sometime in August for the December test, so be sure to pay attention to deadlines for your selected area! Also, research maps for your destination since many take place on large college campuses, you will need extra time to sign in as well and you aren’t allowed to take the test if you are late. Thankfully we found arriving an hour early gave us adequate time to find where we were going and rest before the test began.

  2. Familiarize Yourself with the Test Format
    This is something I looked over, but did not fully understand the importance enough to commit to memory.  You have a time limit for your test and if you are taking longer than about a minute/minute and a half for each question, you will run out of time.  There are two or three portions of the test (depending on which one you take), and after each portion is finished, you aren’t allowed to go back.  So if you struggle with grammar but breeze through vocabulary, you can’t go back and finish other sections. I ended up with a lot of blanks because of this and if I would have been watching the time I could have probably guessed instead of leaving them blank. Here’s the sections and time breakdown for each test.
  3. Be Prepared to Wait for Everything
    I discovered that this entire experience was not only a test of Japanese, but also a test of patience… Which is pretty Japanese as it stands. There seemed to be endless waiting, before, during, and after the test. Not only do you sign up for the test months before you take it, it also takes about a month or two to see your results.  I received my results in the mail sometime in late January/early February after I took the test in early December.  It was pretty rough! The Japanese are very formal so everything came in very neatly sealed, well packaged envelopes. It’s something I kind of love about Japan, actually!


So what was the consensus of taking the JLPT without studying? Not a wise choice.  I got about 50%, which is not enough to pass. The scoring goes by points, and you can check out what you need to pass here.  Overall I learned a lot from the experience, and I hope if you are thinking about taking the test I could prevent others from making the same mistakes as me.  Ganbatte, and study hard!!




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