My Experience Taking The JLPT N2

This post originally appeared on in 2014

The JLPT is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and you’ve probably heard about it if you’re learning Japanese. There are now 5 levels – N1 to N5, with 1 being the most difficult, and 5 being the easiest.

It’s held twice a year in Japan and some other countries, once in July and once in December. You sign up a few months in advance, and it costs 5000yen. There are four main components – Grammar, Vocabulary, Reading and Listening. Listening is a separate paper, which you’ll take after the first one. The passing requirements differ based on the level, so check them out here.

I took the JLPT N2 level in December 2013, kind of on a whim (and then later the N1 in 2014); I’d planned to take N3 but my friend talked me into N2 so I thought “YOLO” and went for it.

This is what happened.

Signing up online took a few tries. You need a ‘My JLPT’ account which can be created in advance. The website was iffy and the connection was pretty bad, I assume because the server was backed up due to high traffic. It finally went through, and then I paid for it through the handy dandy conbini.

A course ‘package’ came in the mail – basically just the test card which lists your examinee number, test venue, time etc. The test center will be assigned to you based on level and where you live. I was lucky enough to get my university as the test center!

Then comes the studying – but how?

There are many textbooks specialized just for the JLPT in different levels and you can easily find them in any bookstore in Japan (I think Kinokuniya in Singapore will stock them too). Or, you can do practice papers and use resources from the internet.

Grammar and Vocabulary are always wildcards. Usually only a small percentage of what is covered in textbooks actually comes out, and they’re random so there is no sure way of knowing what will come out. Revising them is great, but don’t kill yourself over it.

Reading is very important. The reading comprehension section is at the end of the paper and it’s pretty long. Try and improve your reading speed. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the yomikata for the words, understanding what the passage says is the most important.

Listening is where you should score points. It’s the easiest section and it is very possible to score full marks for it (myself, and a few friends did). To practice, listen to a lot of Japanese at fast/normal speaking speeds. In dramas and movies, the speech is usually slower than usual, so listening to fast music or variety/game shows would be best. Or, watch your favourite shows on x2 speed. You should also do all the sample listening comprehension exercises from the JLPT site.


Watch (non-digital; in Japan for some reason test venues do not have clocks & they will NOT update the time on the board)
Good eraser

Tips (this is based on my N2 experience, other levels may differ):

    • It’s more important to finish the entire paper so if you’re stuck at the early parts, just make a note and skip ahead.
    • If all else fails and there is no more time – colour in the blanks. You have a 1 in 4 chance of getting the correct answer anyway.
    • Listening. Is. Very. Important. Do NOT lose focus or drift off. Drink coffee or an energy drink or do something to get into the right frame of mind because it would be a waste to lose easy points!
    • Please, please, please have a watch. I didn’t and I spent the paper half panicking thinking I had no time, causing me to rush through to finish everything.
    • Sleep early the night before. I didn’t and I regret it because I was drifting off to sleep and losing focus while doing the paper. Bad idea.
    • Do not panic if you see vocabulary or grammar you have never seen before. The questions are very specific and the answers tend to be tricky (well for N2 anyway). Just choose what you think is right, don’t sweat it, and continue to the next question.
    • Familiarize yourself with the format of the exam. It saves 5 minutes of frantically trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do. The practice papers are online for a reason.
    • Prepare everything in advance. Get your test card, pencils, watch etc. all ready before hand so you don’t have a mini panic attack the night before, or, the morning of.
    • The listening format sometimes causes you to have to listen to a lot of dialogue and then choose the correct option, usually the one the people in the dialogue chose in the end. Sometimes you have to infer as it is not directly said. What I do is scribble each option on the question booklet. They give you a LOT of blank space – USE IT!
    • You have a lot of time from when you sign up to the actual exam so consistent practice is key! Last minute cramming will get you nowhere.

    After the exam, just remember that what is past is past and you can’t change your answers. I personally don’t mind talking about it with peers but if it makes you more nervous just forget about it and go home and relax.

    It takes about almost 2 months before the results are out. You can check them online or wait for the certificate to arrive, which takes even longer. For the December exam, results were out late January and certificates were mailed out in February.

    To everyone taking the JLPT, GOOD LUCK!!!!

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