JLPT Alternatives to (Still) Test Your Japanese

The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is considered the number one authoritative certification to prove your Japanese language skill, and it’s most recognized, too. Most employers in Japan require N2 or N1 to consider hiring foreigners, but there are other Japanese test alternatives to JLPT.

The Problem With JLPT

First thing’s first: JLPT is only held twice per year. Once in July and once in December, usually in the first week of each month. 

This means a few troubles: the window period for open applications is limited. If you miss a deadline, you will have to wait for another six months to register. This can move all your plans, like finding a job in Japan or applying for university.

Besides that, missing the JLPT itself is another setback. If there’s something urgent you need to attend, you may not be able to reschedule as JLPT applications close a couple of months prior to the test date. Say you have an important business trip set a month before the JLPT. You have to make the ultimate choice: attend this bi-annual proficiency test or risk your employment. 

And then there’s another problem in the unfortunate circumstances where you fail the JLPT. You need the certificate to start your shuukatsu next month. You need it because it helps with your college application. The results of the JLPT take a month or so, too, and you need a language certificate soon. A thousand ways can go wrong, right?

During the peak COVID-19 pandemic, the JLPT was canceled around the world, leaving a lot of students and individuals who want to use JLPT to start their academic life and career practically hopeless.

Finally, the JLPT doesn’t actually assess your oral proficiency.  Because it has no speaking session, it’s not the most reliable means to assess how well you can actually speak the language.

All of these scenarios got us thinking: what are the other JLPT alternatives we could use to officially prove your Japanese level?

List of JLPT Alternatives:

1. J-CAT

We saw a lot of Japanese language schools and universities recommend this test when the JLPT tests were canceled, in or outside of Japan.  Short for the Japanese Computerized Adaptive Test, the J-CAT can be taken online at home, with score sheets with JLPT equivalent. 

The J-CAT is developed by a team at the University of Tsukuba. It uses an anti-cheating design. Once you take the test, exiting the window will log you out. The text is not copiable, and the questions are timed, too. 

The Good: It’s cheaper than JLPT. In 2020, taking the J-CAT costs 3,000 yen (it used to be free before). 

The Bad: The downside is that it’s not that well-known yet, so some companies and institutions might not accept the certification as proof of your Japanese proficiency. Like the JLPT, it doesn’t test speaking ability either — only listening, and reading grammar and vocabulary.

Website: www.j-cat2.org/

2. Kanji Kentei

The Japanese Kanji Aptitude Test, better known as Kanji Kentei (or Kanken for short), is the test that focuses on your kanji skill. It’s made for native Japanese speakers, which makes it especially challenging for non-native speakers. 

The test is divided into 10 levels (unlike JLPT which only has 5), with 10 being the easiest and 1 most difficult. Level 10 only tests around 80 kanji, which is equivalent to the first-grade elementary level of a Japanese student. Level 1, on the other hand, tests 6,000 kanji — which is probably why it only has a pass rate of 15%. 

The paper test takes place 3 times a year, usually in February, June, and October. Registration opens 3 months prior to the test. You can apply for Kanken online through a few simple steps.

The Good: It is more convenient. You will be sitting for Kanken on a computer at a test venue on the date chosen by yourself. There are more than 150 test venues in Japan. Test results are published faster, too — the result slip will be mailed to you about 10 days after the test. 

Website: www.kanken.or.jp

3. Business Japanese Test (BJT)

If you’re in Japan, Business Japanese Test (BJT for short) is another option. It’s run by  Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation, the same one behind Kanji Kentei. It’s a multiple-choice test that assesses your competence in Japanese business situations. Students who passed N1 or have advanced-level Japanese usually aim for BJT. 

The BJT is specifically designed to test a candidate’s skill in Japanese business communication, so it’s widely recognized by companies. There is no pass or fail in the BJT. The points you score (meaning the correct answers you make) in total will determine your business Japanese level.

The Good: You can take the test any day and select a date and time that is convenient for you. There are a lot of testing locations outside Japan, including China, Taiwan, Korea, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Singapore, America, France, England, Germany and Italy

The Bad: At 7,900 JPY, the application fee is relatively expensive. The BJT doesn’t measure any communication skills as it only has listening, listening-reading and reading sections. 

Website: www.kanken.or.jp/bjt/english/

4. J-Test

The J-Test is similar to the JLPT, in terms of how it’s aimed to measure your competency in Japanese. But whereas there are five levels in JLPT (N1 to N5), the J-Test works similar to the BJT: you get the same exam paper, and how much you can answer the test (meaning the overall score) determines your ‘level’ of Japanese proficiency. 

Unlike the JLPT, however, J-Test has a writing section, so it’s a more accurate way to test your communicative ability. 

The Good: It’s available six times a year, which is a good Plan B for anyone who missed the JLPT for whatever reason or fail the test. It’s also cheaper than the JLPT (3,600 JPY compared to 5,500 JPY)

The Bad: It’s not as universally recognized as the JLPT, so a lot of companies might see it as a credible certification. It’s only available in Japan and East/Southeast Asia. 

Website: https://j-test.jp/


The language testing element that’s always missing on all the JLPT alternatives above is the speaking section. Most tests are done in written or in multiple-choice, so it’s not the most reliable means to assess how well you can actually speak Japanese. 

The Japanese ACTFL OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview)  is a 20 to 30-minute one-on-one spoken interview between a certified ACTFL test and you. The whole session is speaker-centered. The tester will adjust the conversations according to how the examinee performed along the way. 

The OPI involves a spontaneous, unrehearsed language, so it assesses your true ability to use Japanese appropriately in real-life situations. Your spoken language ability is evaluated based on the overall performance from a set rubric: function, accuracy, context and more. A ‘proficiency rating’ is awarded based on how all of these factors are combined together.

The Good: The ACTFL OPI is taken over the phone or on your computer, so you don’t have to be in Japan to be eligible for the interview. 

The Bad: The Japanese ACTFL OPI only measures speaking ability, so it’s not as comprehensive as other tests.

Website: www.actfl.org 

The Bottom Line

The JLPT is the ultimate benchmark to gauge your Japanese language competency, and it’s still the highest standard, too. The Japanese government even uses it for its point-based system for highly skilled professionals. For certain requirements, there is no alternative to the JLPT. With that being said, the JLPT does not measure active skills.

JLPT or other language certifications look good on paper, but the important thing is to be able to prove that you can speak Japanese at a certain level during the interview. Many people who don’t have any JLPT certification are fluent in Japanese and able to get work in Japan. Ironically, a lot of N1 or N2 holders can still face challenges during interviews — they might be good at theory, but not in real life.

These JLPT alternatives might not even be recognized for work or school, but it is good to know that there are some other options out there — just in case you’re making Plan B, C, D, E and so forth when you missed the JLPT. 

Is there an alternative to JLPT?

Although JLPT is the most recognized language test, there are other Japanese tests you can take in our outside Japan: J-CAT, J-TEST, Business Japanese Test, Kanji Kentei and ACTFL OPI (oral interview).

What is the Kanji Kentei Test?

The Japanese Kanji Aptitude Test, better known as Kanji Kentei (or Kanken for short), tests your knowledge of kanji. The test is divided into 10 levels (unlike JLPT which only has 5), with 10 being the easiest and 1 most difficult.

Is passing the Business Japanese Test (BJT) hard?

There is no past or failure in taking the BJT. There is only one test. The points you score (meaning the correct answers you make) in total will determine your business Japanese level.

Planning to take a Japanese language test? Start your preparations with Coto Academy

Whether you want extra JLPT preparation or a customized, one-on-one lesson plan for other exams (like Kanji Kentei, BJT or even EJU), Coto Academy offers flexible group and private Japanese courses. Contact us today.

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