How to Understand Your JLPT Results

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

Passed the JPLT in December 2018? Congrats to you!

If you were one of the few to pass your JLPT tests this past December, congrats! I'm sure my successful American counterparts have already received their certifications in the mail from the University of Colorado by now (or at least... mine came from U of C. Perhaps yours came from somewhere different). But in any case, give yourselves a pat on the back for your hard work and get ready for JLPT 2019 this come December.

But as you look at your score report, you might be a little lost on how to interpret it.

So here is how I interpret it.

First, let's take a look at your old score report. Let's take a look at mine first.

The first three things you want to look at are the section's scores. Here you can see I scored 40, 43, and 43. Then, add them to find your total score. In this case, 126 for me. Sounds simple, is simple.

But what is that percentile rank you see at the bottom right of the page? What the hell is a percentile rank?

In all simplicity, this shows that out of all the people that I took the N3 with this year (and maybe perhaps a few years back as well), only 10.2% of test takers scored better than I did. Meaning, that I scored higher than close to 90% of all other test takers, an absurdly high number.

Now I can hear my haters and naysayers already say "But Gaijin, you've already taken the N3 back in Sapporo in 2014. This shouldn't even count". Perhaps it shouldn't. But the score doesn't lie. I guess my time working in "machine medical school", working in a Japanese auto sales department for 3 months, and working as an interpreter/translator helped me as well. So, yeah, unfair advantage, but I rest my case that I scored pretty close to the 90th percentile. So I'll take it as a compliment.

Now here is the back page.

The only things that are really important here are the Reference Information letters at the top. Here, I scored 2 A's, which means that in both the Vocab and Grammar sections, I scored more than 67% of my answers correctly. I'm not quite sure how the math works out though, but all in all, what's most important here is that you score as highly as you can.

Now here comes an often overlooked piece of paper that came with your certification and score report. I call it the "Understanding Your JLPT Report" Paper.

You know what, maybe this side of the paper ain't really important. But the other side, maybe...

If you read my "A Tale of Two Japanese Tests: JLPT vs. ACTFL - Japanese" blog from a year or so back, it talks about the scores needed to pass the JLPT. With the N3, you need to score a minimum of 95 points with a minimum of 19 points per section. Remember that even if you score the bare minimum 19 in each section, that's still only a total of 57 points, meaning that you still failed the test by 33 points. That in mind, you would have to score around 32 (rounded up from 31.6667) points per section in order to comfortably pass the exam.

Before I finish up here, I also wanna take a minute to talk about the most recent JLPT score release data provided by the JLPT people themselves. You can either follow the link here or take a look at the chart below.

Does something here seem strange?

Now let's compare the numbers to the July 2017 test, one year before the July 2018 Test.

Do you see it yet?

Let's take a look at the percentage certified numbers for both Japan and Overseas Totals from these two years...

2017 2018 Percentage Change

JLPT N1 33.8% 33.3% -0.5%

JLPT N2 43.9% 38.4% -5.5%

JLPT N3 37.6% 38.0% +0.4%

JLPT N4 37.7% 33.0% -4.7%

JLPT N5 54.2% 49.8% -4.4%

Totals 40.1% 37.6% -2.5%

According to the trends here, other than JLPT N3 passing people's percentages increasing by the less than 0.5%, the N2, N4, and N5 have taken a big drop in passing.

My interpretations of this include the following...

  • For the N1, I'm not really surprised that there was such a small percentage change. After all, the N1 is a ****ing monster of a test.

  • For the N2, I'm actually a little surprised. It is definitely not an easy test, but a 5% decrease in the passing rate? Did the test get harder, or are the test takers less prepared or... more stupid (myself included)?

  • My biggest surprise is for the N4 and N5. They are not difficult to pass, especially with the scores needed to pass them (90 for the N4, 80 for the N5). But it also validates my point that the N5 is known as the "Weeaboo Killer Test".

  • But I think probably the biggest shock for me is that for the second year in a row, the scores in Japan were worse than those overseas for the N2, N3, and N4. Why is it that these passing percentiles continue to beat out those taken in Japan? I can't say for sure, but unless this was December's test data, I can't say it has to do with Japanese students overseas doing the test prep concurrently with their own courses in school. Perhaps a little research is necessary for this? I would also love to do this as a data science project to see the correlations for the annual changes of the passing rates, whether they be increases or decreases.

That said, that wraps up this article, and congrats to all those whom passed this time around! If you got any opinions or interpretations, drop me an email at!

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