The JLPT & Special Accommodations

Posted: 14th Apr 2023

Thinking of sitting the JLPT but aren't sure whether the test will be accessible for you? The good news is that you can apply for Special Testing Accommodations.

Before we get into today's post, I want to first up say sorry to anyone who has been waiting for this post, as I know I said a wee while back that it was coming "soon". However, now it's here I hope it'll be really useful for anyone sitting the exam, be it in July 2023, December 2023 or beyond.

As with a lot of things related to the JLPT, it can be hard to find reliable info that fully/directly answers the questions many of my students have about the exam. While I've done my best to find good sources to back up this post, please note there are often small administrative differences in how the JLPT is delivered around the world. As such, it is essential that you do your own research to confirm what arrangements are available at your specific test centre at the time you are sitting the exam.

With that disclaimer out the way, feel free to skip ahead to any particular section of this post that tickles your fancy. You can do so by clicking on any of the following links:

  1. What are Special Testing Accommodations and who are they for?
  2. What kinds of accommodations does the JLPT offer?
  3. How often do test centres approve requests for Special Testing Accommodations?
  4. How do I apply for a Special Testing Accommodation for the JLPT?
  5. What if the exam just doesn't seem accessible to me?

1. What are Special Testing Accommodations and who are they for?

Special Testing Accommodations are adjustments that aim to make the JLPT more accessible to those who experience specific barriers in sitting the exams. The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test Guide issued by SOAS (London) for the July 2023 exam, for example, describes these accommodations as being available to those with "a disease, a personal injury, a physical disability or other impairments".

While we'll take a look at precisely what kind of accommodations may be provided in the next section, having looked at the most recent data (at time of writing: July 2022) on JLPT Special Testing Accommodations, these adjustments appear to cater mainly to:

  • Blind people and those who are partially sighted
  • d/Deaf people and those who are hard of hearing
  • Physically disabled people
  • Neurodivergent people (autistic people, ADHD people, those with learning difficulties etc)

Note: I have tried to use language that takes into account the main ways in which people may describe themselves. For example, as an autistic person I know that some people view themselves as disabled and neurodivergent whereas others see themselves as neurodivergent but not disabled. I will attempt to update this list in future if I realise there is more suitable or up-to-date language I could use for any of these items, but in the meantime, do let me know if there's something I could be doing better.

2. What kinds of accommodations does the JLPT offer?

If you fall under one of the categories listed above or think for whatever reason that you may qualify for a Special Testing Accommodation, what kinds of accommodations might be available to you?

In July 2022, JLPT test centres provided the following types of arrangements under Special Testing Accommodations.

Note: in this section, I will give the language used in the JLPT data so as to avoid confusion should anyone want to refer to the official stats.

Visual Disability: Severe Visual Disability

  • Test paper and answer sheets provided in braille
  • Adjustment of the number of braille characters per test hour
  • Separate testing room

Visual Disability: Low Vision

  • Large print test paper
  • Extended test time
  • Answers written in test papers*
  • Use of magnifying glasses
  • Separate testing room

*Note: I assume this means you are given the option to write your answer in the test paper rather than on the usual answer sheet, which can be quite small and fiddly.

Hearing Disability

Note: the subcategory given here is "Exemption from Listening Section". I assume this refers to deaf/Deaf people who would not be able to sit the listening section of the exam even with adjustments. Under this category, the arrangements listed are:

  • Listening section exempted
  • Use of headphones and hearing aid

Presumably this means that d/Deaf candidates can be exempted from the listening section and use headphones or a hearing aid throughout the rest of the exam should they so choose.

Hearing Disability: Hard of Hearing

  • Extended test time
  • Use of headphones and hearing aid
  • Seat positioned in front of audio speakers
  • Separate testing room

Physical Disability

Note: from what I can gather, this appears to cover everyone from long-term wheelchair users to those with temporary injuries, e.g. a broken arm.

  • Large print test paper
  • Extended test time
  • Answers written in test papers*
  • Separate testing room

*See note above under "Visual Disability: Low Vision".

Developmental Disabilities (LD/ADHD/ASD/Others)

  • Large print test paper
  • Extended test time
  • Answers written in test papers*
  • Use of coloured glasses
  • Separate testing room

*See note above under "Visual Disability: Low Vision".

Note: I assume that neurodivergencies such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia would be included under this heading, although it is not clear if specific accommodations are available to test takers who fall into these groups.

Others

The data lists all of the same accommodations given above under the category of "Others", with one just unique addition:

  • Presence of assistant

Whether this may include a scribe or other specific type of assistant is something I recommend checking with your local/chosen test centre.

Other Potential Accommodations

While this concludes the list of different arrangements given in the official JLPT Past Test Data (July 2022), it is worth noting that guidance on individual test centre websites suggest that other accommodations may be available. For example, the University of Alberta (Canada) states that "Use of assistive devices (magnifiers, hearing aids, headphones, etc.)" may be permitted, which I would hope extends to things such as augmentative/alternative communication (AAC) devices.

Details of Extended Timings

For an example of the type of extended timings that may be available, see page 5 of this 2017 Request Form for Special Testing Accommodations (American Association of Teachers of Japanese).

3. How often do test centres approve requests for Special Testing Accommodations?

Now that we have an idea of the kinds of accommodations available, the question is: how often do JLPT test centres actually approve such arrangements?

To try and answer this question, I've gone back through the Past Test Data provided on the official JLPT website and compared stats for five years of July exams. Before we dive in, here are a few notes/qualifiers I'd like to add about this data:

  • The JLPT does not appear to provide official stats on how many Special Testing Accommodations are applied for each year. As such, I can't detail what proportion of requests are approved or denied.
  • I have used the number of "Total Examinees" rather than "Total Applicants". While I realise this may exclude people who applied but were eventually unable to sit the exam due to a lack of accommodations, as the stats don't reflect the number of accommodation applications denied, it seemed fairer to compare the number of accommodations approved with the number of people who actually sat the exam. Please note I'm not a trained statistician so this method may be flawed!
  • As there there was no JLPT exam in July 2020 due to Covid-19, this year is missing from the following stats.

Special Accommodation Stats: Japan

Total ExamineesSpecial Accomms Approved% of Total Examinees
July 2022141,153370.03%
July 2021193,626200.01%
July 2019202,931340.02%
July 2018169,176240.01%
July 2017141,176200.01%

Special Accommodation Stats: Overseas (Outside of Japan)

Total ExamineesSpecial Accomms Approved% of Total Examinees
July 2022215,3521380.07%
July 2021142,289780.05%
July 2019347,5171280.04%
July 2018300,9031030.03%
July 2017262,930880.03%

While making these tables, I was disheartened - if not particularly surprised - by the absolutely miniscule percentage of total examinees who were allowed Special Testing Accommodations.

Although it's hard to say what percentage "should" be getting such accommodations, my suspicion is that many people who require adjustments end up sitting the exam without them. What's more, there are bound to be plenty of people eligible for Special Testing Accommodations who are put off the JLPT due to how applications are handled, with requests for adjustments only being possible once you've applied and paid (more on this in a moment). This, coupled with the lack of transparency around how many requests are approved, is surely a barrier for many people.

While in future I hope to be able to add some direct accounts from applicants to the JLPT describing their experiences of applying for accommodations, for now, this data gives us a general picture of how things are both in Japan and elsewhere. Specifically, while there appears to be a small rise in the number of Special Testing Accommodations being approved (particularly outside Japan), it is clear that this still amounts to a tiny proportion of all test takers.

While it cannot be expected that JLPT examinees will be fully reflective of the global demographic, to give just a couple of examples for comparison, in the US, around 26% of adults are believed to be disabled, while 1% of people in the UK are estimated to be autistic (and autism is just one of the many conditions covered by Special Testing Accommodations!). These figures alone suggest to me that the JLPT has a long way to go in terms of making the exam accessible to all.

4. How do I apply for a Special Testing Accommodation for the JLPT?

Alright: here's the part you've (probably) been waiting for.

Depending on where you're applying for the JLPT, it's likely your test centre will have its own specific application form. While in general the process itself is broadly the same, there may be some small differences.

Before we get into those differences, here's what SOAS (London) has to say about Special Testing Accommodations in its July 2023 Test Guide:

"If you want to be provided for a physical disability or other impairments, please ask your local host institution for a 'Request Form for Special Testing Accommodations' and submit the completed Request Form together with your Application Form before the deadline set by your local host institution. Please make sure to check the box in the upper right corner on your Application Form. If the information provided on the Request Form is not sufficient, applicants may be requested to submit a medical certificate or other such documentations. As preparation takes time, late requests may not be acceptable."

For an example of what a Request From for Special Testing Accommodations may look like, click here (American Association of Teacher of Japanese, 2021). While it's important to remember that different institutions may use different forms, it appears that you can expect to be given the option to request a variety of pre-determined arrangements. These must be requested along with evidence such as medical certificate or doctor's note, with "applications regarding mental disorders" requiring "a diagnosis that conforms to DSM or ICD standards" - in other words, excluding self-diagnosis.

To return to the nitty gritty of how you actual submit this application, some test centres that will ask whether you want to request a Special Testing Accommodation during the application. This is likely to be a yes/no question followed with a text box asking you to give further details. One of the frustrating things about this process is that in order to secure your place on the JLPT, you need to pay for the exam. As such, you're likely to need to cough up the exam fee before you know whether or not you will get the accommodations you require.

This brings me to three key bits of advice I want to offer:

  1. If you intend to apply for accommodation(s), consider contacting your test centre before applications open to see if they can give you an idea of whether your request is likely to be approved. They may not be able to, but it's certainly worth a try. If nothing else, they may be able to share examples of accommodations that have previously been approved.
  2. Whether or not your test centre asks whether you want to apply for Special Testing Accommodations during your application, make sure you follow up with them to obtain a Request Form for Special Testing Accommodations and make sure your request is recorded in writing (i.e. via email). Test centres tend to be somewhat understaffed, and as such the burden may fall on you to make sure you get the form submitted.
  3. Once you have applied, it is essential that you get in touch with the test centre about the official form submission as soon as possible. This includes even if you were already in touch with them prior to applying, as you can't rely on them to get in touch with you.

If you're reading this as someone who's already applied for the test but hasn't yet spoken to your test centre about Special Testing Accommodations, don't lose hope - I still recommend reaching out as soon as you can. Even if the exam is fairly imminent, it's always worth asking, as some test centres may be more flexible than others when it comes to catering to late requests for special arrangements. Don't forget: the worst that can happen is they say no.

5. What if the exam just doesn't seem accessible to me?

Having gone through all of the above, I'm quite aware that for some people, the JLPT may simply not be accessible, be it due to a lack of suitable adjustments available or the financial barrier of paying for the exam, which in 2023 cost:

  • £100 in the UK
  • €94 in Ireland
  • $100 in the US
  • $70 in Canada
  • $95 (N1-N3) or $85 (N4 & N5) in Australia

See a full list of overseas test sites here.

While I unfortunately can't help with the financial side of things, if you find yourself at a bit of a loss when it comes to the question of whether your needs will be accommodated or not, I will again say that it's worth getting in touch with your local test centre regardless of what you may have heard about other people's attempts at getting their accommodations approved, as one person's success or failure does not guarantee the same result for someone else.

If you've already spoken to your test centre without success, it may be worth escalating to your country's Japan Foundation or even the local Japanese embassy/consulate depending on what's available to you. Finally, if you're out of options, give me a shout, as I'd be keen to hear your story and see if there's anything we can do to have the JLPT take greater accountability for how it handles accessibility.

Best of luck with your application and, more importantly, your Japanese learning adventure! As much as it can provide a real boost to things like your CV, don't forget: the JLPT isn't everything when it comes to building genuine, deep understanding and true communication skills in Japanese.

You've reached the end of this post! I hope you enjoyed it.

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