Passing the JLPT N2: what you need to know

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Person in a black shirt holding a JLPT N2 grammar workbook.

If you are studying Japanese it is highly recommended to aim at passing the JLPT N2. The test is hard, but there are many benefits to passing. Having a JLPT N2 certificate makes you linguistically qualified to get jobs in Japan, and also grants access to enter a Japanese university!

But what do you need to pass the JLPT N2 test? And how can you best prepare for the test? Learn that and more as we take a deep dive into the JLPT N2.

An Introduction to JLPT

The JLPT is a standardized language test in a multiple-choice format and the most widely-taken Japanese language test in the world.

The exam provides an indication of your Japanese language knowledge and is used in screenings by universities, and Japanese employers hiring foreign workers. Passing a JLPT exam is also valid for meeting the government’s 150-hour study requirement.

The JLPT is divided into five levels. N5 is the easiest level, and N1 is the most difficult. You are not required to pass a certain level before moving on to the next level. For example, you do not need to pass the N4 exam before attempting the N3 exam.

Each exam is divided into four sections: reading comprehension, grammar, vocabulary, and listening.

In Japan, the exam is held twice a year – once in July and once in December. There are many testing sites all across the world, but not all of them offer the chance to take the test twice a year. Visit the official JLPT website to learn the latest information on where all the testing sites are and when you can take the exam.

Two JLPT N2 kanji books on a desk.

Why take the JLPT N2 test?

First and foremost, having a JLPT N2 certificate is great because it proves that your Japanese is sufficient to work in a Japanese company. A JLPT N2 certificate also grants you access to universities in Japan if you are pursuing higher education.
Even if you don’t pursue education or employment in Japan, having a passing grade in JLPT N2 on your CV proves that you are proficient at a high level in Japanese, and that should be something many employers find appealing.

Another reason to take the JLPT N2 test is to have a goal to aim for. Especially in the intermediate and advanced levels, it is easy to lose track of what your next objective is. The JLPT provides a clear outline of grammar points, kanji, and vocabulary you need to master, and is very helpful to use as a red line when studying Japanese.

What subjects are on the JLPT N2 exam?

In all honesty, the JLPT N2 is structure-wise not so different from the JLPT N3 test. The main difference is that you need to read between the lines, and understand finer nuances, and in general the texts require less general and more precise knowledge of the language.

One thing that often becomes an issue (especially for people from countries that don’t use kanji) is that you need to read a lot of texts within a narrow timeframe. It is not uncommon that you ace all sections but fail to get sufficient points on the reading section and consequently fail the test. We cannot stress enough how important making a habit of reading is for passing this test.

Another thing worth noting is that the listening section on JLPT N2 is longer, harder, and less straightforward. There is also a new section called integrated comprehension. Especially during this part, it is important to take notes while listening, a not-so-easy task if you aren’t used to it.

To pass the JLPT N2 test, you need to study about as long as it takes you to go from complete beginner to JLPT N3. To pass the JLPT N2 you need to:

  • Understand about 2500 new vocabulary (6000 in total) and about 370 new kanji (1000 in total).
  • Be able to read written materials on general topics and follow their narratives as well as understand the intent of the writers.
  • Be able to comprehend and swiftly read materials written clearly on a wide range of topics, such as articles, commentaries in newspapers, and such.
  • Comprehend oral coherent conversations and news reports in various settings, spoken at nearly natural speed. Furthermore, you must be able to follow their ideas and comprehend their contents, as well as understand the relationships among the people involved.

Structure of the exam

The N2 exam is divided into two sections and a time limit is allocated to each section. Here is what you will be tested on in each section:

Language knowledge – vocabulary, grammar, and reading (105 minutes)

In the vocabulary section you will be tested on:

  • The reading of words in kanji
  • Kanji of words written in hiragana
  • The meaning of words defined by context
  • Word formation (understand which kanji can be added to a certain word)
  • Words and expressions with similar meanings
  • The correct usage of words in sentences

In the grammar and reading section, you will be tested on:

  • Grammar formats that best suit sentences
  • Accurate sentence composition 
  • Suitability of sentences for text flow
  • Comprehension of short and mid-size passages on a range of different topics
  • Integrated comprehension (e.g. understanding things from context such as the author’s intent)
  • Thematic comprehension of long passages
  • Ability to retrieve information from materials, such as notices

Listening (50 minutes)

In the listening section, you will be tested on:

  • Ability to comprehend necessary information to resolve specific issues and understand the appropriate action to take
  • Narrowing down points based on necessary information presented in advance
  • Comprehension of the general outline in longer conversations
  • Ability to choose the right responses by listening to short phrases, such as questions and greetings
  • Integrated comprehension (draw conclusions based on the full contents of the passage) 

Scoring of the exam

To pass any JLPT exam, you need two things:

  1. Your total score needs to be at or above the overall points required to pass (the “overall pass mark”) AND
  2. Your score in each section must be at or above the points required to pass each section (the “sectional pass mark”)

If you fail to achieve a passing mark for any section, then you fail the entire exam even if you have reached the total overall points needed to pass.

For JLPT N2, the sectional pass marks are as follows:

  • Language knowledge (Vocabulary and Grammar): 19/60 points
  • Reading: 19/60 points
  • Listening: 19/60 points
  • In total, you need to achieve 90/180 points

Registering for the exam

In Japan, applying online for the JLPT N2 test about three to four months before the scheduled exam date is possible. You can read more about the process in our article here. If you are studying at one of our language schools, they will be more than happy to help you with an application!

If you’re not in Japan, you will need to find your local test site and register with them directly. You can find a list of overseas test sites on the official JLPT website.

The fee you need to pay differs depending on location and the level you’re taking.

Someone wearing a digital orange wristwatch, typing on a keyboard.

Preparing for the JLPT N2

What defines the JLPT N2 test is that you need to be able to comprehend materials in a wide range of different fields. Newspapers? Yes. Reports? Absolutely. Scientific papers? You know it.

You are no longer being tested on only general understanding, but also precise understanding. So, to prepare for the N2 test you should read a lot but also engage in various fields. The best way to do so is to mix things up and not only use JLPT mock exams and school material for reading, but try reading books, newspapers, visual novels, and be creative in your language learning.

Reading a lot is very important because you need to get accustomed to reading so you can do it almost effortlessly. This is because you don’t have much time during the reading section to stop and think about the meaning of a word. When you read, we recommend alternating between active reading and passive reading. On the one hand, it is important to look up unfamiliar words, but on the other hand, it is also important to practice comprehension speed by reading uninterrupted.  

As usual, kanji and vocabulary are important too. By now you likely have a routine that works for you, but in case you are struggling, we recommend making a habit of writing vocabulary lists or reviewing flashcards every day. Focus on learning words that use the kanji, rather than learning single kanji. By doing so you hit two birds in one stone and learn relevant vocabulary and the kanjis meaning at the same time.

Finally, when you feel you have a shot at passing, it’s time to crunch mock exams. Try doing as many N2 mock exams as you can, and try pretending it’s a real test. E.g. don’t cheat, try to be done within the allotted timeframes, and don’t forget to review afterward! Don’t forget to do the listening part as well, and practice taking notes while listening to further up your chances of passing the test.

Useful materials

First, it’s recommended to download a good flashcard app such as Anki, and a good dictionary app. We recommend Takoboto for Android and imiwa? for Apple.

Here are some useful materials for studying for JLPT N2:

If you don’t like learning with digital materials, there are a lot of JLPT N2 preparation books too. Some popular ones are: Nihongo Sou Matome, Shin Nihongo, and TRY!

Study Japanese in Japan

Studying Japanese at a language school in Japan is probably the most efficient way to learn the language and prepare for the JLPT exam. If you can travel to Japan, nothing beats immersive learning in the country where the language is spoken. Going to class every day and interacting with the language all the time means you will reach learning milestones quickly.

Go! Go! Nihon helps you to apply for language schools in Japan and all our school partners offer courses on various levels. Many also support their students in working toward JLPT exams. Visit our school’s page to see the institutions we partner with across Japan, and get in touch if you would like to begin your application.

Take an online course

Passing the JLPT N2 is a minimum requirement if you want to work at Japanese companies. Consequently, many of the texts and listening comprehension passages test your ability to understand Japanese in a business environment.
For this reason, we want to recommend trying out our Online Business Course Bundle in cooperation with the Intercultural Institute of Japan. By studying business Japanese, not only do you prepare yourself for future employment, but you also learn useful knowledge when taking the N2 exam. Right now, you can try the first three chapters completely for free!

Array of three JLPT N2 workbooks displayed on a table.

What to expect on the day of the exam

Before the exam day, you will get a test voucher from the organizers. This voucher dictates which room you’re in on exam day.

In the exam room, you are only allowed to bring writing utensils. You will typically only be allowed to use a pencil to record your answers. You can also have a watch with you, but it must be analog. We recommend you bring a wristwatch, as there may not be any clocks in the room.

You get short breaks between each section of the exam, which you can use to go to the toilet, go outside for a breather, or have some food and drinks. 

When the exam is over, you must wait until all test papers have been collected from every person in the room before you can leave. When the time is up, you must immediately drop your pen and stop writing. Failing to do so is likely to get you disqualified!

Note that this is just a general overview of the process if you’re taking the JLPT in Japan. The process at overseas testing sites may differ.

When to expect your results

If you’re taking the test in Japan, you will get your certificate issued in about two months. You can view your results through the JLPT online portal.

Those taking the exam outside of Japan can expect results in two to three months, although details vary by country.

Ace your JLPT N2 with Go! Go! Nihon

Just remember, don’t be hasty, learning a language takes time. If you fail the test once or twice, don’t be discouraged! Keep trying, it will all be worth it in the end! If you manage to pass the JLPT N2 you owe yourself a treat. You have reached a high level of Japanese proficiency – enough to get you a job and even into a Japanese university. 

Go! Go! Nihon offers support for applying to various Japanese language schools all across Japan. We can also assist with finding accommodation and guide you through the paperwork. If you can’t travel to Japan, we also offer a range of online courses in partnership with some of the best language schools in Japan.

Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions, or to begin your application!

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