Passing the JLPT N5: what you need to know

By Tao
Reading Time: 6 minutes
JLPT N5 language learning books on a desk.

If you’re learning Japanese, you’ll probably have heard about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). In this five-part series, we will break down each test level, what they test you on, how they’re scored, and how to prepare for taking the exam. This is the first article, looking at the JLPT N5. 

Read on to learn more about what you need to know to pass the JLPT N5 exam!

An introduction to the JLPT

The JLPT has been around since 1984 and it is currently the most widely-taken Japanese language test in the world. 

As well as acting as an indicator of 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 onto the next level i.e. you do not have to have passed N5 before you can do the N4 exam.

Each exam tests 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 N5 exam?

Preparing for, and taking, the JLPT N5 exam is a great learning experience and motivator for beginner Japanese language students. It can be challenging getting your head around a new language, so having an exam to work towards can give you structure and learning goals that help take your language skills to the next level.

The N5 isn’t going to land you a job with a Japanese company, but it does demonstrate your ability to understand the building blocks of the language. This foundation is crucial to the success of your Japanese learning journey. 

Let’s also not downplay the sense of achievement you will feel when you pass the exam. It might be a life-long dream of yours to learn Japanese, or you might have Japanese heritage and want to connect with your roots. Whatever your reason for learning Japanese, passing your first JLPT exam is a significant milestone that shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Image of a JLPT N5 book on a desk in a classroom.

What does the JLPT N5 exam test on?

The N5 tests you on your ability to understand some basic Japanese. What does this mean? You need to be able to:

  • Read hiragana and katakana 
  • Know about 100 kanji – these will be the most fundamental and common kanji, which you will usually study as a beginner Japanese learner
  • Know vocabulary of about 800 words

You should be able to read and understand typical expressions and sentences written in hiragana, katakana, and basic kanji. As well as, be able to listen and understand conversations about regular daily life and classroom situations, and be able to pick up necessary information from short conversations spoken slowly. 

All of this is covered in our Akamonkai Beginner Online Course, which gets you JLPT N5-ready in just 12 weeks.

Structure of the exam

The exam has three sections and a time limit is allocated to each.

Vocabulary (20 minutes)

In the vocabulary section, you will be tested on:

  • The reading of words in kanji
  • Kanji and katakana of words written in hiragana
  • The meaning of words defined by context
  • Words and expressions with similar meanings

Grammar and reading (40 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 easy text of about 80 characters regarding topics and situations relating to study, everyday life, and work
  • Comprehension of easy text of about 250 characters regarding topics about everyday life 
  • Ability to retrieve information from materials, such as notices, of around 250 words

Listening (30 minutes)

You will be tested on:

  • Able to comprehend necessary information to resolve specific issues and understand the appropriate action to take
  • Can narrow down points based on necessary information presented in advance
  • Choosing appropriate verbal expressions by listening and looking at illustrations
  • Ability to choose the right responses by listening to short phrases, such as questions

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

For JLPT N5, the sectional pass marks are as follows:

  • Vocabulary, grammar and reading: 38 points
  • Listening: 19 points

The overall pass mark is 80 points. (max is 180 points)

Registering for the exam

If you’re in Japan and would like to register for the JLPT N5, 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.

Image of a bookshelf with Japanese language study books

Preparing for the JLPT N5 

Whether you are learning Japanese at a language school, taking an online course, or self-learning, the best piece of advice we can give you to pass your JLPT N5 exam is to study, study, and study more. 

How long it takes you to master the requirements of this exam is like asking how long a piece of string is: everyone is different and learns differently. 

Do practice tests

Put the things you learn into practice. Do as many practice tests as you can get your hands on. Some free resources include:

You can buy the official practice book, which is released by the same organization that creates and administers the JLPT. 

Other JLPT N5 prep books, such as those created by the likes of Nihongo Sou Matome, Shin Nihongo, and TRY! will also have practice questions.

Try to mimic the actual exam environment when doing practice tests. This means keeping to the time limit, not getting distracted, and don’t cheat or look things up. Testing like this is also a great way to know where gaps in your knowledge are and where you need to put in more work.

Study Japanese in Japan

Studying Japanese at a language school in Japan is by far one of the best ways to learn the language and prepare for your JLPT exam. If you have the means to, 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 for beginners. Many also support their students in working towards JLPT exams. 

Visit our schools 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

Online courses are a great cost-effective option to prep for JLPT exams for those who aren’t studying at a Japanese language school. 

Go! Go! Nihon’s 12-week beginner course, taught in partnership with Akamonkai Japanese Language School, will help you master all JLPT N5 essentials in around 150 hours of study. This course is designed for complete beginners, you can do it at your own pace, and it costs a fraction of what language school fees in Japan cost. 

Visit the course website for more information and to sign up.

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 will dictate which room you’re in on exam day.

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

There will be 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 will wait until all test papers have been collected before you can leave the room.

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 N5 with Go! Go! Nihon

The JLPT N5 may be the easiest JLPT exam to take, but it’s a great way to drill in those essential basics of the language. Passing the exam is also a nice achievement that you can be proud of.

As mentioned, Go! Go! Nihon offers support for applying to Japanese language schools in 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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