Is the JLPT Getting Harder, or Are Test Takers Just Not Trying Hard Enough? - Part 1

Updated: Aug 1

UPDATE: Thanks to the overwhelming circulation of this article, this will now be a two part series. I've already gone ahead and did something for the summer JLPT tests as well, and there is something... interesting that I have found.


Will get to writing it when I get home from work tonight (the guys at work still need me to translate those shipping documents from Japanese to English and deal with our Narita or Kansai Branch tonight). But until then, enjoy this article.


PS. Thanks to reddit group "Japan Circle Jerk" for mass circulating this. Thanks to you, I got two new customers! :p Keep circulating my articles! Free press for me!


A while ago, I wrote an article that described the differences between the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and the ACTFL Exam. You can read my original article, A Tale of Two Japanese Tests: JLPT v. ACTFL – Japanese, by clicking on the link.

I was supposed to take the JLPT N2 this past year, but due to my brother’s wedding being the same week (and with me being a groomsman), I have to wait until December 2020 to take the test. Yet with COVID-19 going around, I am pretty sure that this year’s JLPT will be cancelled. Even so, I feel ready to take the test. I know close to 1,500 kanji (You need 1,000 for the N2), am currently studying grammar, and I feel that my vocab and reading skills have improved significantly thanks to my time as an interpreter-translator. And it also helps that my fiancée is Japanese also, and we split our time using English and Japanese well.

Recently I went on the JLPT Website to see if there has been any cancellation news for the December test. Nothing as of yet, but I noticed that the results for the 2019 exam were up. Remembering that in my previous posting I showed the results from the 2016 exam and gave my opinion on it, perhaps now it is time for me to dive a little bit more in depth with this. After all, I still am awaiting work’s orders to get me back to the office, so I got some time to do this.

Now, let’s take a look at the 2016 results from my original article again.

December 2016 JLPT Pass Rates


Perhaps the most damning thing that I see is that the Japanese pass rate is considerably lower than the pass rates overseas. I really have no idea why this is the case. If you are living in the language and the culture, you should be able to pick up the language quickly… that is, if you are not hanging out with other gaijin and/or speaking in your native language all the freaking time…

Another thing from 2016 is that I see is the abysmal pass rates. I know the JLPT, especially the higher-level tests, are not easy. But how is it that only 29.2% of all JLPT N4 test takers…IN JAPAN… pass the test? And how is it possible that the N4 test takers overseas pass the test more than the test takers in Japan?

But surely, this might only be an anomaly. Perhaps 2016 was just an overall bad year for their test takers. I mean, stuff like that can happen… right?


December Test JLPT Overall Results (2013 – 2019)

This table was produced by taking the totals and averages of all December tests. I left the July tests off since the July test is not offered in all parts of the world, so I decided to use the December test as the base data for this "inquiry". I do acknowledge by not having the July test (that is currently only offered in Japan, Korea, China, and other parts of Eurasia), my data probably does not show the entire picture. But, perhaps I could come back and update this once I get time to look at July tests.


December 2013-2019 Results


JLPT Pass Results for the Past 5 Years (
Download • 28KB

If you click on the link above, you can open an Excel file that shows the data from the JLPT website.

Based off the information above, it seems to me that it's a lot worse than I imagined...

Of this, the most damning thing that I see is again, the lower pass rates in Japan as compared to overseas pass rates. Now with the JLPT N5 being at 60% pass rate in Japan as compared to oversea's 47%, I can understand that. But what the hell happened once you go from N4 to N1? The Japanese pass rates are miserable.

What also surprised me was the lack of N5 test takers in Japan. Now I would have expected a lot of exchange students in Japan would go and take the test. But it turns out at more people take the test at the N2 and N1 levels. To me, their pass rates seem to be much more impressive given the amount of people that take the tests as compared to the lower level tests.


But, on the same token, there are much more N5 test takers overseas than there are in Japan, yet their pass rate is app. 13% lower. Why is it that the N5 test takers are struggling overseas as compared to their test takers in Japan counterparts?


Another thing that I have noticed is that close to 1,000,000 test takers gone ahead and taken the N2 exam (myself being one of those test takers, I took it back in 2014, and bombed it because I didn't know how to prepare for it). In addition, I find it intriguing that both the N2 and N3 exams have both the same amount of test takers certified.

Now earlier in my previous article, I dubbed the N5 the "Weeaboo Killer Test" because it normally does have the tendency to separate the men from the boys if they claim they are serious in learning Japanese. And honestly, I don't see a problem in naming the N5 this. And here are a few reasons why I advocate the N5 for being the "Weeaboo Killer"...


  • The test is entirely in basic Japanese. If the test taker believes that the test will use romaji in any form, they are in for a very nasty surprise.

  • You need to know when to use either Hiragana and Katakana. So knowing the entire Hiragana and Katakana "alphabets" is going to be crucial.

  • The Japanese in the listening section of the test is MUCH simpler than the crap most otaku and weebs listen to while watching their fantasy anime. If you really want to improve your listening skills, watch anime that isn't fantasy, sci-fi, or historical (Rurouni Kenshin counts too, since all modern Japanese people don't end their sentences in 〜でござる)

  • Looking at the overseas test takers, it's probable they aren't being taught the proper Japanese grammar and vocabulary one would learn while living overseas. This is why I advocate taking the test in Japan if you are able to. Being able to be assimilated with the language and culture is the fastest way to pick up a language without actually putting your nose into a textbook.


What do you guys see in these results? Let me know at mike@simplegaijin.com or leave a comment!

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