Passing the JLPT N4: what you need to know

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A person using a tablet to study the JLPT N4.

If you are studying Japanese, chances are that you’ve come across the term JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). The JLPT is a nationwide standardized Japanese test for foreigners and is recognized in all of Japan. We will review the JLPT N4 level in detail and discuss what you need to learn, how to prepare for the exam, and how the test is scored.

Read on if you want to learn more about passing the JLPT N4 exam! 

An Introduction to JLPT

The JLPT foundation was established in 1984 and is responsible for creating the most widely-taken Japanese language test in the world. 

The exam is recognized as an indicator of Japanese language ability for Japanese employers hiring foreign workers. Passing a JLPT exam is also valid for meeting the government’s 150-hour study requirement.

There are five levels of the JLPT, with N5 being the easiest level to pass and N1 being the most difficult. You do not have to pass a certain level before moving on to the next level. I.e. you do not have to pass the N5 before you can do the N4 exam.

Each exam tests you on four things: reading comprehension, grammar, vocabulary, and listening.

In Japan, the exam is normally held twice a year – once in July and once in December. There are many overseas testing sites, but not all of them offer the chance to take the test twice a year.

The official JLPT website has the most updated information on where all the testing sites are and when they offer the chance to take the exam.

Why take the JLPT N4 exam?

The main reason to study for the JLPT N4 exam is that the knowledge you acquire when studying for JLPT N4 is the gateway to becoming conversationally fluent in Japanese. By this, we mean that by mastering the contents of JLPT N4, you gain the theoretical knowledge to participate naturally in everyday conversations. This is because JLPT N4 includes all the basic grammar points, vocabulary, and kanji to allow you to smoothly express yourself.

You will also learn plain Japanese and humble Japanese (keigo, 敬語). This further allows you to be more flexible in conversations in various situations as you learn how to interact more naturally with both Japanese friends and locals on the street.

JLPT N4 may not be enough to get you a job or get you into a college in Japan. But it can be quite difficult to know what order to learn things, and following the JLPT trajectory is helpful because it always tells you what your next objective is.

Someone holding a pen on top of a JLPT N4 study book next to a phone.

What does the JLPT N4 exam test on?

The JLPT N4 tests your knowledge in understanding basic Japanese. This means that in addition to everything you learned in JLPT N5, you can:

  • Understand about 1500 new vocabulary and about 170 new kanji.
  • Read and understand passages on familiar daily topics written in basic vocabulary and kanji.
  • Comprehend verbal conversations encountered in daily life and generally follow their contents, provided that they are spoken slowly.

Structure of the exam

The exam is divided into three sections and a time limit is allocated to each section. Here is a rundown on the structure of each section:

Vocabulary (25 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
  • Words and expressions with similar meanings
  • The correct usage of words in sentences

Grammar and reading (55 minutes)

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 everyday life topics
  • Ability to retrieve information from materials, such as notices

Listening (35 minutes)

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
  • Ability to choose appropriate verbal expressions by listening and looking at illustrations
  • Choosing the right responses by listening to short phrases, such as questions and greetings

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”)

In the case of JLPT N4, you need to achieve a total passing grade of 90/180 points AND score enough points in each section to achieve a passing grade. In order to get a passing mark you need to satisfy the following conditions: 

  • For vocabulary, grammar, and reading you need to achieve 38/90 points.
  • For listening you need to achieve 19/60 points

In total, you need to achieve at least 90/180 points.

Registering for the exam

If you’re in Japan and would like to register for the JLPT N4, you can apply online about three to four months before the scheduled exam date. You can read more about the process in our article here.

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 will differ depending on location and the level you’re taking.

Preparing for the JLPT N4

First things first, if you are still struggling with JLPT N5 we recommend that you learn that before anything else. If you properly understand the fundamentals of Japanese, such as verb conjugation, it will greatly improve your progression when you are studying for JLPT N4.

Regardless if you study at home, in a language school, or through one of our online courses. Practice is what makes perfect. That’s why our next tip is that you spend time outside of studying and try utilizing what you have learned in your daily life. Maybe try using the latest grammar point in a message when you write to a Japanese friend and see if they understand.Another tip is to use flashcards and make a habit of reviewing new words every morning. Also, make a daily habit of taking practice exams so you get familiar with the structure of the test at the same time as you figure out your strengths and weaknesses. When you do practice exams, try having the mindset that each test is the real deal. Namely: keep time, don’t cheat, and don’t neglect to review your mistakes afterward!

Study Japanese in Japan

There is no doubt that the best way of learning a language is through the immersive experience of living in the country where it’s spoken. Not only is it a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but you can also see, hear and interact with the language everywhere you go.

Go! Go! Nihon helps you to apply for language schools in Japan and all our school partners offer courses for beginners. Many also support their students in working toward JLPT exams. 
Visit our schools page to see the institutions we partner with across Japan, and feel free to contact us if you are interested in taking a study trip to Japan!


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 other great online resources to get you started:

  • JLPT sensei (kanji/vocabulary lists)
  • Kanji Study (Android only). A great app for studying kanji with anki-integration and a built-in lexicon.
  • TODAI – easy Japanese if you want to read Japanese news articles rewritten to be easily understandable. There is also a free app for Apple and Android.
  • Japanese Graded reading (reberu betsu nihongo tadoku raiburarii レベル別日本語多読ライブラリー)  try Level 2 for JLPT N4
  • Japanesetest4you quick tests for all the various JLPT levels
  • Kanji123 (focused on testing kanji)

If you prefer physical materials, there are a lot of JLPT N4 preparation books too. Some popular ones are: Nihongo Sou Matome, Shin Nihongo, and TRY!

JLPT N4 Tokyo Galaxy online course displayed on a laptop screen.

Take an online course

If you don’t want to figure out what to learn in which order by yourself, we offer preparatory online JLPT N4 courses in collaboration with some of the best language schools in Japan. If your Japanese understanding is roughly on a JLPT N5 level and you are interested in learning more, feel free to discover our Akamonkai Pre-Intermediate Course.

If you already have some JLPT N4 knowledge and wish to focus more on the JLPT N4 exam itself, we recommend giving our Tokyo Galaxy N4 Exam Prep Course a chance!

What to expect on the day of the exam

Prior to the exam day, you will receive 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 normally 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 watch, 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 drink. 

When the exam is finished, you must wait until all test papers have been collected before you can leave the room. 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. Processes at overseas testing sites may differ.

When to expect your results

If you’re taking the test in Japan, you can expect your results 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 will vary by country.

Ace your JLPT N4 with Go! Go! Nihon

The JLPT N4 is no joke. If you manage to pass it you owe yourself a huge pat on the back. Passing JLPT N4 means that you have opened the gates to Japan and you can now speak enough Japanese to naturally interact with locals and engulf yourself in Japanese society. However, you are still in the early stages when it comes to truly mastering Japanese.

If you want to boost your progress in learning Japanese, we can help you! We offer a completely free service to help you find a language school, accommodation, and guidance through visa paperwork. Contact us today to learn more!

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