Organizational Efficiency

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Many facets of registering for, taking, and getting results for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (日本語能力試験), or JLPT, are bothersome.

80,000 application forms are printed up each year and distributed to various bookstores around the country to be sold starting in early July. If your local bookstore runs out of application forms, you must go hunting. Last year I
went to the next prefecture hunting for a form and came back empty-handed and unable to take the test. Minor additional gripe: application forms cost 500 yen, as opposed to my preferred price – 0 yen.

Testing occurs in early December (only once per year) and applications must be completed and posted by early September. Three or more months prior to the test you need to decide what level you will attempt and commit your 5500 yen. Being on the cusp between level 1 (the top) and level 2, creates a difficult decision for me. The gap between the levels is tremendous so the right decision must be made. FAQ on the official website recommend registering for both levels and only showing up for one test (and forfeiting the extra 6000 yen you sent.) Only one level may be attempted at a time.

Although registration is sent in as early as July, participants receive no acknowledgment of successful registration until early November. FAQ assistance for your uneasiness recommends paying for registered mail; a solution that puts an additional cost burden on the customer, and really doesn’t give knowledge of anything more than whether the package arrived.

The area of knowledge being tested is not consistent with the order that material is taught in Japanese classrooms. Rather, each level contains characters and words from various different grade levels in school. Should a fourth grader take the level 4 test with content from 1st through 3rd grade? Or level 3, with content from 1st through 6th or 7th grade? (I don’t have my notes handy, so this data is not exact, but hopefully gets the idea across.)

Results of the test take two months or so to be returned. This is a pretty minor issue, but it speaks to the efficiency of the organization, JEES, which I will address a little. FAQ respond to concerns about all of these issues with a lengthy, defensive blurb about how difficult it is to properly handle 80,000 applications for more than 20 test facilities.

Now, let’s compare them with the Kanji test (日本漢字能力検定試験) provided by the Kentei Society. This comparison is to let you know that I’m not slamming Japanese efficiency. You will see a distinct difference between the accomplishments of two entities, both Japanese, with similar goals and objectives.


JLPT Kanji test
Applications 80,000 unlimited
Participants ~80,000 >2.5 Million
Tests per Year * 1 3
Test Sites >20 >100
Registration Deadline T – 3 months T – 1 month
Test Results T + 2 months T + 1 month
Levels 4 12
Cost * 6000 yen 2000 yen
Alignment to Class Levels none exact
Simultaneous Testing forbidden allowed
Format bubble sheet handwritten

So, one group complains about how hard it is to provide one test per year for 80,000 people and the other organization quietly offers the test three times a year to ten times as many people each time.

Also, Computer Based Testing is available for the Kanji test, with about a one week turn around, and some locations offer testing everyday.

Perception is really the key here. I think the only factor holding JEES back is their belief that they couldn’t possibly do better.

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6 Responses to “Organizational Efficiency”

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  2. kevenker Says:

    Good enough is the enemy of better. And apparently for JEES, what they do is good enough.

    It seems odd in a way to make it so onerous to see how one is progressing in their Japanese studies..

  3. びっくり Says:

    Perhaps making it difficult to receive official certification is a test of your understanding of Japanese procedures. 😉

  4. Officially Registered « Neo-新びっくりブログ Says:

    […] another post about how the JLPT isn’t so much a test of language ability as it is a test of willingness to follow peculiar procedures; however, today my card finally arrived. Last year the test site was within a short bike ride at […]

  5. Steve Says:

    The differences between the two tests are even greater than you mentioned. Every year, there are 13 unique Kanji Kentei tests prepared for most of the levels. And schools all around Japan are allowed to register as test sites and offer the test inside their school. The 13 dates allows schools flexibility in choosing the day of the week, including weekends, to offer the test. As a result, the actual number of test sites is far more than 100.

    The existence of the Kanji Kentei really helps to emphasize what a joke the JLPT test is.

    I hope the JLPT test soon gets some serious competition to put them in their place. Maybe the group which runs the Kanji Kentei can branch out. They design a great test. And it actually tests core ability, rather than ability to navigate through trick questions.

  6. びっくり Says:

    Well, they are going to have five levels and two tests next year… a small step forward. 😉

    I have taken the KanKen at a junior high school a couple times. The kids get a kick out of it, since I am usually testing at the same level as the lowest student.

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