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Test Your Japanese

Ask the next Japanese person you meet what shikaku he or she has, and there’s a good chance you’ll get a list of ten or more qualifications in everything from ikebana and kimono dressing to secretarial skills, English and aromatherapy.

Degrees and licenses often count for a lot more than experience in Japan and everyone seems to be on some sort of paper chase. If you’ve been here for a while and are looking to make something of your time in Japan – and have that nice little piece of paper to show for it — you’ll probably end up taking a language test.

There are four well-known tests and they are, unfortunately, known for being pedantic, impractical and just plain difficult. Some, like the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and the Examination for Japanese University Admission (EJU), are only held once or twice a year, while the J-Test offers six chances a year to feel the pain.

Your individual aims will affect which one you decide to take. Want to study at a Japanese university? Work as a translator? Get a job with a Japanese company? Or just see how much you (don’t) know? There’s invariably one for you.

Just Like Pulling Teeth. Considering its reputation, how geared Japanese language courses are to this test, and how obscure the grammar and vocabulary are, you’d think this institution had been around a lot longer than a mere 20 years. Held every year on the first Sunday in December, if you haven’t started studying yet for this difficult examination, you’re probably too late.

There are four levels (kyuu), ranging from beginner (4) to advanced (1). This very academic test measures your ability to read and understand, but not to speak and write, a source of frustration for people who speak the language very well but are not familiar with the complicated grammar and obscure vocabulary required to pass the test. Even if you have a gift for languages or have lived in Japan forever, you will need to head to your local bookstore and pick up some study materials that will prepare you specifically for the test.

The most valuable levels are the first two: Level 1 used to be a necessary criteria for entrance to Japanese universities and both serve as an important qualification if you want to work at a Japanese company or do translating; having it on your resume will often guarantee that you at least get an interview when you apply for a job.

A lot of people take Levels 3 and 4 just to test their level although there may be better ways to do this than shelling out 6000 yen to take a test that no one except you and your Japanese teacher care about. You can, however, feel proud when you return home that you did something besides entertaining bored eikaiwa students while you were in Japan.

The application deadline is September 12 and forms are available at most major bookstores (ask for the nihongo nouryoku shiken moshikomi-sho). For more information, visit the official JLPT homepage at http://momo.jpf.go.jp/jlpt/e/2003test_info_e.html or www.jees.or.jp/jlpt/index.htm

The EJU is a kinder, gentler Japanese test, and replaced the JLPT as the standard for university admissions in 2002. It tests you on practical situations you might encounter while studying: listening to lectures, following directions to the nurse’s office, signing up for courses and writing essays. There are three sections: writing (20 minutes), reading comprehension (30 minutes), and listening and reading (70 minutes).

It is said to be equal to Level 2 of the JLPT in terms of difficulty, although the time for the reading section is much shorter and you are required to write an essay. As with the JLPT, you can drastically improve your score by doing practice tests, taking preparation courses or buying textbooks written specifically for the test.

The EJU is more than just a Japanese test; most people only take the Japanese section of the test in order to enter a Japanese university. The other subjects include Science, Japan and the World, and Mathematics, and are offered in both English and Japanese.

Held twice a year in June and November, applications must be received by the middle of March for the June test and the end of July for the December test. Forms can be picked up almost anywhere English books are sold and cost ¥5460. Ask for the nihongo ryuugaku shiken moshikomi-sho. You can find more information about the EJU at www2.jasso.go.jp/examination/efjuafis_e.html

If you failed the JLPT and don’t want to wait a whole year to try again, or would like to try something with a less academic bent, go for the J-Test. It’s cheaper, easier, has less trick questions and is offered six times a year. The only problem? It’s far less well known and not nearly as useful for job-hunting (or boasting). There are two levels, beginner and advanced, and you are given a rank based on your score (A to D for the upper-level test and E or F for the beginner level). Held in February, April, June, September and November, it costs ¥2000 for the E-F levels and ¥2500 for A-D levels. For more information, write or call the Association for Testing Japanese / J.Test Office or visit their website at www.jtest.org/jtest/.
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