6 Practical Steps to Preparing for the JLPT

A student in a denim jacket carries textbooks in one arm. They're wearing a backpack and listening to something through a set of earphones.

Photo credit: Element5 Digital

Updated: 23rd Nov 2023

Original post: June 2023

As anyone taking the JLPT this winter can (hopefully) tell you, the exam is taking place on the 3rd of December: a little over a week from now!

In 2018, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test was held throughout all 47 prefectures of Japan, as well as in 249 cities spanning 85 countries/areas across the world (click here to view these stats in map form).

The JLPT takes place just twice a year, with a summer exam in July and a winter exam in December, and from 1984 to 2015, the number of learners sitting the test outside of Japan increased from around 0.5 million to over 3.5 million.

If you're one of these people, you'll know that the JLPT is no small undertaking! Personally, I sat the N2 twice during my year abroad in Japan (I failed it the first time!), then took the N1 a year or so later in 2016 after returning to Edinburgh, where I was studying Japanese at university.

While 2016 already feels like lightyears ago, the memory of the nerves running up to the exam has not entirely faded. Now, with students of my own sitting the JLPT, I'm keen to share some tips (including some that I myself didn't think of at the time!) on how to be prepared for the exam day.

Before we begin: this post is about the practicalities of getting ready for the exam day. If you're interested in some handy resources for last-minute study, check out my post on 6 Online Resources to Test Your JLPT Skills.

1. Look for Your Test Centre's Official JLPT Guide

Before going any further in this list of practical tips, make sure you've looked up your test centre's official copy of guidelines for applicants! Depending on your test centre, this may have not been available when you first signed up, but as the date approaches, it should be provided as a PDF on the test centre website. If not, I recommend reaching out to ask when it will made available.

2. Check What You Need to Take With You

If you've been prepping for the JLPT, chances are that your focus for the past few months has been on all the language skills and knowledge needed to pass the exam. However, don't forget that you'll need more than just your knowledge and skills on the day itself!

Assuming you're registered for the exam, you should receive an email prior to the day of the test notifying you of things you need to bring with you. These may include (among other things):

  • ID documents (physical and/or digital)
  • Printed out test voucher with attached photo
  • A black pencil and clean eraser

As the JLPT is computer scored, you are likely to need a black pencil to fill in the answer sheet. My biggest tip? Take multiple (sharp) pencils with you! Pencil problems are not worth risking the exam over.

As for your eraser, make sure this is nice and clean! Again, as the JLPT is computer scored, you need to make sure your answer sheet is filled out nice and clearly, without any dark smudges that may result in a misread answer. Don't let stationery be the reason you miss out on that one crucial mark!

Note: this post is not an official source of info on what to take to the exam! Be sure to check the official information handed out by your test centre.

3. Plan Your Route to the Exam Venue

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Depending where you're sitting the exam, you may be travelling to the test venue by pretty much any mode of transport.

When I sat my exam in Edinburgh, I was lucky enough to be living directly next to the university test centre, meaning I had barely a five minute walk to get there! However, as many test centres remain closed due to the effects of the pandemic, it's likely that many more people than usual will be travelling by public transport or car.

Whatever your mode of transport, be sure to factor in plenty of extra time to make sure you get to the venue in advance. There's nothing worse than having to rush into an exam with barely a minute to spare.

If possible, try to arrive an hour or two in advance, perhaps going for some food or a coffee, or finding somewhere to get some fresh air near the venue to help you relax beforehand.

To those sitting the exam in the UK this year (i.e. in Edinburgh, London or Leicester), be sure to check for any updates on transport strikes or other disruptions that may delay you on the day. If you can, have a backup plan in place for if things go wrong.

4. Plan for Comfort

Back in 2017, I sat the Business Japanese Test (BJT) - an exam somewhat similar to the JLPT, but aimed (you guessed it) at those wanting to learn Japanese for business and workplace settings.

I'd actually already sat the exam once more back in 2015 or so, when it had been held in an old YMCA building somewhere in Osaka. I suppose that the first time round it must have been very hot, because I went to the exam centre wearing the absolute thinnest clothing I owned.

What I hadn't realised was that now the exam was computerised, I'd be sitting in a room that was aggressively airconditioned.

Around two hours later, I clicked the "submit" button, only to find that the system had failed. To my horror, I had to go back through the whole test again! By the end of it, I felt not only deeply unwell, but also disappointed, knowing I'd been too uncomfortable and distracted to perform as well as I could have.

No matter where you're sitting the exam, be aware that the temperature of the room you sit the exam in may be a bit hotter or colder than you expect. As such, it can be a good idea to take layers - and comfy ones at that! Comfort can be the key to concentration.

5. Double Check the Exam Schedule

If you haven't done so already, be sure to check what the exam schedule will be like. Click here to view the standard breakdown of the test sections and timings, and be sure to read through any information sent by the test centre you're registered at.

As there will be a break before the listening section, consider having a rough idea of what you might do during that time.

My advice? Don't attempt any kind of last-minute cramming - just rest up, go to the toilet, get a drink or snack and perhaps sneak a breath of fresh air to help clear your mind before the final stage of the exam. Just make sure you get back to the exam room in plenty of time!

6. Try to Stay Rested, Hydrated and Fed

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When we talk about preparing for the JLPT, the focus tends to be on study, study, study. However, self-care is just as important.

In the run-up to the exam, do what you can to get a good amount of sleep. It may sound obvious, but sleep is massively important when it comes to both memory and mental health. If the choice is between doing one more practice quiz or sleeping an extra half hour, take the extra sleep!

Finally, don't forget that your brain and body need a good amount of fluids to function well. This goes for life in general, but on the day of the exam in particular, don't forget to stay hydrated!

Depending on where you sit the exam, there may or may not be any water fountains available, so I recommend taking your own water bottle or at least having money (potentially coins) with you to buy a drink from a shop or vending machine. It's also a good idea to take some snacks for you that you'll know you'll be able to enjoy without having to go on a last-minute dash to try and find something you like.

Good luck!

I hope this post has helped you to feel a little more prepared for the JLPT.

Best of luck for the day of the exam, and once it's over, don't forget to give yourself a big pat on the back!

がんばれ!!

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