What is the level difference between JLPT N1, N2, and N3?

6/29/2021 Updated

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is considered by many companies to be the standard for assessing the level of Japanese when hiring foreigners. Many foreigners who want to work for Japanese companies also take the JLPT every year as a qualification that appeals to them. For employers, the higher the Japanese level of the foreigners they hire, the better, but they may be concerned about the difference between N3, which is the minimum level required for the job, N2, and N1 (the highest level). In this article, we will explain the difference between the N1 and N3 levels.

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is the world’s largest Japanese language test.

The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is one of the world’s largest tests of Japanese language proficiency.
The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is the world’s largest Japanese language test, held twice a year (July and December). The JLPT was started in 1984 with the purpose of “measuring and certifying the Japanese language proficiency of non-native speakers of Japanese. Since then, the test contents have been revised, and the current test contents were newly established in 2010.

There are five levels of the JLPT (N1, N2, N3, N4, and N5). The test is based on a mark-sheet format, and the test subjects are “language knowledge (characters, vocabulary, grammar),” “reading comprehension,” and “listening comprehension.

Examination subjects and time

level Examination subjects <Examination time
N1 Language knowledge (letters, vocabulary, grammar), reading comprehension <110 min>. Listening comprehension <60min>.
N2 Language knowledge (letters, vocabulary, grammar), reading comprehension <105 min>. Listening comprehension <50min>.
N3 Language knowledge (letters, vocabulary) <30 min>. Language knowledge (grammar), reading comprehension <70min>. Listening comprehension <40min>.
N4 Language knowledge (letters, vocabulary) <25 min>. Language knowledge (grammar), reading comprehension <55 min>. Listening comprehension <35 min>.
N5 Language knowledge (letters, vocabulary) <20 min>. Language knowledge (grammar), reading comprehension <40 min>. Listening comprehension <30 min>.
Source: Japanese Language Proficiency Test JLPT
https://www.jlpt.jp/guideline/testsections.html

Differences between JLPT N1, N2, and N3 levels

Of the five levels of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, N1 is the highest, and while N1 is considered to be almost as good as Japanese for communication, many people may be wondering what level N2 and N3 are. Let’s take a look at the differences between N1, N2, and N3.

JLPT N1 (able to interpret)
Able to understand Japanese language used in a wide range of situations.
Reading
ƒ»Reading complex or abstract texts such as editorials and critiques in newspapers, and able to understand the structure and content. ・Reading texts with deep content, and able to understand the intent of detailed expressions and the flow of the story.
ƒ»Be able to read sentences with deep content and understand the intent of detailed expressions and the flow of the story.
Listening
– Understand the flow, content, characters, and logical structure of conversations at a natural speed in a variety of situations (conversations, news, lectures, etc.) in detail.
JLPT N2 (Able to discuss in Japanese)
In addition to understanding Japanese used in everyday situations, be able to understand to some extent Japanese used in a wider range of situations.
Reading
ƒ»Be able to read and understand clearly argued texts such as articles and commentaries in newspapers and magazines, and simple critiques.
ƒ»Be able to read and understand the flow of conversation and the intention of expression in reading materials on general topics.
Listening
ƒ»Listen to conversations and news at a near-natural speed in a variety of situations, and understand the flow of the conversation, its content, and the relationships between characters and their appearances.
JLPT N3 (can work independently)
Able to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to some extent.
Reading
ƒ»Able to understand specific written content on everyday topics. Able to grasp the outline of information from newspaper headlines.
Able to understand the gist of slightly difficult sentences encountered in everyday situations when given paraphrased expressions.
ƒ»Listen to
ƒ»Listen to conversations at a speed somewhat close to natural in everyday situations, and be able to understand most of the specific details of the conversation, including the relationships between the characters.
Source: Japanese Language Proficiency Test JLPT https://www.jlpt.jp/about/levelsummary.html

Sample questions for JLPT N1, N2, and N3

You may be wondering what kind of questions will actually be asked in the JLPT. Listening comprehension involves actually listening to conversations and questions, and selecting appropriate answers. Let’s take a look at some sample questions for “Language Knowledge (Characters, Vocabulary, Grammar),” which are available on the JLPT website.

Examples of N1 questions
Q. _____の言葉の読み方として最もよいものを、1・2・3・4から一つ選びなさい。
彼は今、新薬の研究開発に挑んでいる。
1 はげんで  2 のぞんで
3 からんで  4 いどんでQ. ( )に入れるのに最もよいものを、1・2・3・4から一つ選びなさい。
私の主張は単なる( )ではなく、確たる証拠に基づいている。
1 模索  2 思索
3 推測  4 推移

Examples of N2 questions
Q. _____の言葉の読み方として最もよいものを、1・2・3・4から一つ選びなさい。
この黒い種からどんな花が咲くのだろうか。
1 だね  2 たね
3 じゅ  4 しゅQ. ( )に入れるのに最もよいものを、1・2・3・4から一つ選びなさい。
日本人の平均( )は、男性が79歳、女性が86歳である。
1 生命  2 寿命
3 人生  4 一生

Sample questions for N3
Q. _____のことばの読み方として最もよいものを、1・2・3・4から一つ選びなさい。
山本さんはクラスの代表に選ばれた。
1 たいひょう  2 だいひょ
3 だいひょう  4 たいひょ

Q. ( )に入れるのに最もよいものを、1・2・3・4から一つ選びなさい。
( )寝たので、気持ちがいい。
1 すっかり  2 ぐっすり
3 はっきり  4 ぴったり

出典:日本語能力試験JLPT https://www.jlpt.jp/samples/forlearners.html

The level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is likely to show differences.

Many companies base their judgment of a foreigner’s Japanese level on the results of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, but in reality, there is a great deal of variation among individuals even at the same level. This is because the JLPT does not include a test for conversation, and there are many people who score well on the test but are not very good at conversation.

Just as there are many Japanese people who score high on TOEIC or EIKEN but cannot speak English at all, there are many foreigners who have obtained N3 or N2 but are not necessarily able to speak Japanese. In particular, many foreigners who have never stayed in Japan and have only taken the test are not good at conversation.

When hiring foreign nationals, it is recommended that you check not only the level of their JLPT, but also their ability to communicate in Japanese through actual conversation. Also, be sure to check the “transcript” of the JLPT when hiring. Be careful, as there are cases where some people self-declare their level even though they have not taken the test.

summary

The JLPT is divided into five levels, with N3 being the level at which you can work independently according to a manual, N2 being able to hold discussions in Japanese, and the highest level, N1, being able to interpret. There are many companies that use N1 as a standard for hiring foreigners. As a hiring company, it is understandable that they want the highest level. However, there are many cases where companies insist on N1 even when the job can be done with N2 or N3 level without any problem. What is important when hiring foreigners is whether or not their Japanese language skills meet the required level for the job they are asked to do. Even if the level is not the highest, if there is no problem in performing the job, the secret to success in hiring foreigners is to actively proceed with the hiring.

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