Hi! Anyone studying for the ACTFL OPI?


Long time lurker of WK/Tofugu, coming back for another round of action! Long, long story short, after all these years of on-and-off studying of Japanese since high school, I was given a very random opportunity to teach Japanese at a local public school last year. It went well, I had 3-4 students (very small school), and it was overall a good reboot to my career life.

This opportunity required me to pursue a teaching degree, so here I am in a Masters of Teaching program now. It honestly has been one of the best things for me, and I have learned so much more than just “teaching.” However, one of my state’s requirements to earning my teaching license in Japanese is to pass the ACTFL OPI test at intermediate-high or above. It’s used by a lot of governmental agencies and state licensure programs as a baseline test, but varies greatly from the JLPT in that the focus is completely on oral communication. Comparison article from Simple Gaijin for reference.

My Japanese is so rusty it’s going to take a lot of grease and practice to get it up to par, though I have the confidence I can do it. I’ve hired a language coach and begun the review journey at least! I was wondering if anyone else is aware of, has taken, or is preparing to take the OPI? There is little to no targeted study materials available for the OPI specifically, and ACTFL basically comes out and says “You can’t cram or study for this exam, you just need to know it well.” It would be nice to hear study habits, tips, or just share the experience with others!



Never heard of this. But i am interested in reading about it.


I, too, had not heard of it, though that might be partly because it’s US only. Good luck on your test, and practice writing those kanji!


Keep us updated.
I’m interested to know what you need to learn to be a Japanese teacher.
We need more Japanese teachers!!


ACTFL assessment practices differ to a significant degree from the CEFR and I only have real experience with the latter, but based on the descriptors used in the OPI guides, I don’t think that Simple Gaijin’s assessment that the intermediate high level equals N2 is accurate since N2 is likely to be higher.

It’s difficult to compare because the ACTFL exam tests exactly the competencies the N2 doesn’t test, but at least in theory the level of complexity both at the word and the sentence level of the N2 surpasses the intermediate level as defined by ACTFL.

Other than that, I think the description of the phases gives you the best indication of what to expect, with the level checks and probes being the main means of evaluation for the interviewer.

Level checks
The interviewer engages the speaker in conversation on several topics of interest so that the tasks characterizing any given level can be performed. Level checks are questions that elicit the performance floor, the linguistic tasks, and contexts of a particular level which can be handled successfully.

The purpose of the probes is to discover the ceiling or limits of the speaker’s proficiency, i.e., the patterns of weakness. This is done by raising the level of the interview to the next higher major level in an attempt to discover the level at which the speaker can no longer sustain functional performance.

Interestingly, the guidelines seem to be the same for all languages. As I said, I have no experience with the ACTFL OPI so this is somewhat speculative, but I have administered lots of oral proficiency exams for the Goethe Zertifikat (the JLPT for German as a foreign language if you will), and based on the above description, I’d expect the level checks to consist of open questions on a few more general topics in relatively rapid succession to test the waters.

The interviewer will most likely focus on detail at the word level and complexity at the sentence level to form their hypothesis on your overall level (novice, intermediate, advanced to speak in ACTFL terms). Once that has been established, they can use the probes to delineate the level more accurately (high, low etc.), honing in on specific aspects.

A concrete example, and this is my best guess, would be something like the spontaneous and continuous use of final phrasal and sentence connectors (〜て, 〜ので, 〜から, 〜し, 〜たり etc.) for the high intermediate level as defined by ACTFL (“Intermediate High speakers can narrate and describe in all major time frames using connected discourse of paragraph length, but not all the time.”) since they exhibit a different level of organization setting it apart from lower levels of production, which would overuse initial connectors like そして.


Dear @Otterhead

after seeing your join date, i’m not sure whether to say “welcome” or “welcome back” :sweat_smile: so here’s this


yeah, i think that works

We’re all so glad you’re here (again)!

While you’re here, why not check out the WaniKani Knowledge Base and User Guide? There is lots of good info here!

You’ll want to check out this topic with some information from your omnipresent lord and savior, the all-mighty @crabigator, as well as the community guidelines.

Have any questions? You can post in this topic, or just post something in your own thread. Everybody here is extremely helpful and is more than willing to answer any and all of your questions. If you still need help, send an email to hello@wanikani.com

In addition to WaniKani, there are so many other resources available to help you learn Japanese! You can check out this topic for a wealth of resources to guide the other aspects of your Japanese learning adventure, and this topic for help in starting to read content in Japanese. Consider joining one of the many Book Clubs in the forums for motivation and a good time!

Wanna just hang out in the community with all of your new WaniKani best friends? Hop on over to the POLL thread!

And finally, this is what will happen to you since you paid for a WaniKani membership. (Hopefully it’ll work this time.)


Have fun! Good luck with your kanji-learning endeavors! :grin:


Wondering the same thing, @otterhead. I just signed up for the OPI. I’ve been intending to do it for about two years now (I’d like to take it in both Japanese and French to test my current level) but I just haven’t… I’ll be taking it in February or March (they haven’t accepted the date yet).

I’m not taking it for a specific purpose, but I am still quite nervous about it even though I use my spoken Japanese quite frequently.

Did you wind up taking it, @otterhead? How did it go?

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I haven’t taken it yet - they released the Japanese OPIc (computerized version online) just last year in response to the Covid19 situation, so I am most likely going to go that route, even though it is less interactive.

Planning on taking it in a few months. Continuing study!

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Cool! I looked into the OPIc, too, but I decided my life doesn’t make for a good test by the algorithm… I looked at the background survey questions and was like… :

I’m not employed. I have very little work experience, and certainly nothing I’d like to talk about at length. I’m not in school and it’s been more than 5 years since I last took a single class.
I don’t regularly participate in sports or true hobbies… basically it made me feel like my life is incredibly dull from the outside even though I know I have lots of interests and lead a happy and fulfilling and (I think, interesting) life… I’d like to be able to actually GUIDE the conversation toward topics I sincerely enjoy talking about when possible, rather than responding to an arbitrary prompt from a robot who can’t truly keep up with the hints I’m dropping for further conversation and who knows SO little about me because I apparently don’t fit very well into the initial boxes (who knew?)…

If I answer the initial “tell me a little bit about yourself”-type question well, I’m sure I’ll have a great conversation with lots for the proctor to pick up on that I can talk about at length… hopefully leading me to a better score just by virtue of being a better conversationalist. But who knows…

One thing I also didn’t like much about the OPIc is that they ask you to assess your own skill from the outset… to put yourself in the novice, intermediate, advanced, superior, or distinguished category. Then the prompt can ask you questions based on your supposed level… but I’d MUCH rather have the tester make their initial “hypothesis” and then ask questions accordingly and then do the level checks and probes to see whether THEY were correct. I feel like I don’t want to assume I’m intermediate and hem myself into a largely intermediate test when maybe I’m low advanced (doubt it, but still… let the professionals decide). And since it’s all remote anyway, I didn’t particularly see why it would be worth the $10 difference to NOT take the original OPI, but maybe I’m missing something.

What appeals to you about the OPIc specifically?

I think just ease of being able to do it from home - I am juggling a lot of responsibilities right now and don’t want to deal with doing an in-person or having to travel long distances to a testing facility. Plus I feel like some of the subjective/bias is removed when you are interacting with the computer version? Those who do the evaluation afterwards still have some bias, but there is less in the actual back and forth I think.

Evaluating yourself isn’t that big of a deal. You have to do that in order to pick a level to test at for JLPT, and it is the same as other tests as well, you have to guess at least in general where your skills are at.

Good luck!

That’s part of what I was saying. They are all remote right now. I’m not leaving my house to test. It will be proctored by video cam and then administered by phone.

Thanks for the luck. I need it. I’ve been doing sorta mock OPI with one of my italki tutors for the past couple weeks… I feel the test will be very difficult for me… especially the roleplay…

Less than two weeks left before my test date!

The live video feed is the problem for me right now. Rural internet through a cell phone hotspot is all I have, and lately I suspect the local towers have been under duress because net has slowed down significantly to where even a Skype call is painful at times.
I need to schedule mine here soon as a benchmark. I had trouble with the booking website freezing on me in perpetual load, so I need to go back and try again!

I just finished my OPI about half an hour ago so I thought I’d type out my thoughts while still fresh. Let me know if you have any questions about it, @otterhead!

It both went better than expected and worse than expected. The conversation portions felt natural and unforced, especially considering how many iTalki conversation lessons I’ve taken. It felt a lot like that but with a bit more pressure to remember the actual words I wanted to use instead of circumlocuting (though I obviously did a fair bit of that, too).

When I was practicing with my iTalki tutors for the OPI, though, the role play was definitely the roughest part and that remained true of the test. It was the final portion and it was just so hard for me to think of the right words to explain the situation. I was prompted to act as if “You’re living in Japan and you have contracted a moving company to move your things to your new apartment and set up your furniture for you. However, when you arrive at the apartment you realize that they have left your furniture boxed and you need to speak to the manager to make sure that your contract is honored and you get the assembly service you paid for.” I really struggled… as I would if I were actually living in Japan (though at least I’d use dictionaries to look up the words I don’t know before confronting this situation…). I fumbled a lot and kind of just said the same few things over and over again…

But… I’m still hoping I achieved at least the intermediate-high status. I certainly think I was able to speak in full sentences the entire time, even if they weren’t great sentences.
The results should be available within 20 days from now and I’ll check back in then, but let me know if you have any questions in the meantime… I can’t think what else to say but I could definitely be more detailed if you have a question.


I just realized that I think the tester asked me almost exclusively “Advanced” level questions:

Maybe I was responding better for the majority than I thought I’d do… but I still think I might have sunk myself back down to Intermediate-level with the awful role play…

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I got my results within 24 hours and I’m super happy to say I got “Advanced Low.” I’m super happy with that!! I’ll be back with more on that later.


Your posts are awesome news! Grats on the Advanced Low! I really appreciate you coming back and updating on your experience, it helps the rest of us know what it was like.
You inspired me to stop putting it off, so I’ve scheduled the OPIc for Sunday to find my baseline. I am pretty sure I am going to rate lower, because I haven’t been doing much prep/practice as I should, but it will give me a starting point for the coming year’s study.

Glad to hear that they got back to you so fast with your results too!

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I took it here in Japan 6 years after moving in, because my company asked for it. Got Advanced High.

Like @ganbareniichan, I remember the hardest part for me was by far the role play. On my assessment, the tester said I got my keigo wrong during the role play, but of course I did, lol
We were talking in keigo all the time, and out of a sudden it’s like “now pretend I’m a friend of yours and (…)”. Sure, I noticed it after two or three sentences and fixed it, but it’s really hard to just change a button and get it right from the beginning.

Other than that I remember being asked about social problems in Brazil and possible approaches to them, stuff like that. But it’s already two years ago, so I can’t recall it in much detail.


Yay for finally scheduling it! Please let me know how it goes for you! I’m still super curious about the OPIc experience. When do you have to have your Intermediate-High or higher result by in order to qualify for the teaching positions you’re wanting?

That is awesome to hear! Do you think you’d ever take it again to aim for superior or is it just not even on your radar since you were doing it for work? I’m really hoping I can continually improve my speaking ability. I’d love to be at superior level in 8 years when I plan to move to Japan for a schoolyear with my kids.

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I probably won’t take it again until next year but in the meantime I’ll be setting my sights for Advanced-Mid for next time. From what I can tell from comparing the ACTFL framework with the CEFR that would be the equivalent of going from a high B2 to a low C1… so in other words, FINALLY tackling the hurdle and overcoming the intermediate plateau. I’m looking forward to aiming for it.

I’m honestly SO GLAD I took this test… it is feeling really motivating for me to continue my studies. And makes me really proud to see how far I’ve come from knowing nothing…

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Really not on my radar. After taking N1 and J1 at BJT, the only exam I still would like to take is 2級 at 漢検, other than that I’m fine.

Honestly, I’m not even sure how one is supposed to take OPI in Japan. My company arranged the exam for us, so we just go there and take. But I really can’t find anything on Japanese internet about how to take the exam by yourself. Even the Japanese OPI Study Group webpage has nothing about it on their page…

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