How realistic is getting to N1 for a casual learner?

Given your caveats I would say that JLPT is a waste of your time.

If you don’t need to “prove” your Japanese, then JLPT is honestly a waste of time, just like any standardized test. It’s not an accurate measure of Japanese ability, and doesnt even measure conversational ability.

That’s not to discredit people that take an pass these tests, it it is an accomplishment - but even if you do so you have to admit it doesn’t actually mean anything.

Picking up a novel in a foreign language and reading it with comprehension - that means something.
Talking with friends and having fun in a foreign language - that’s worth it to me.


While it’s true that the JLPT is mainly meant for showing you are competent enough to work in Japan I think it can be used as a good motivator along with whatever made you start learning the language in the first place.

I would:

  1. Find previous years’ JLPT tests of various levels online (not the short demo ones on their website, they’re easier than the test actually is)
  2. Look over them and find the lowest level that you find hard and aim for that (Ex: you find N3 too easy but N2 too hard, etc.)
  3. Start studying for the test you find difficult and whenever you feel comfortable with it, even if it takes years then go take that test
  4. If you pass it then congrats! If you fail then that’s okay, you know the test and your own level better, try again next year
  5. Eventually you can pass N1!

Basically it’s just time/effort restricted. If you’re committed to leisurely studying Japanese for years (consistently) you can pass JLPT N1. Maybe instead you take a while to get to N3, N2 or whatever and are satisfied, that’s all that matters.

Good luck!


Obviously that’s true but they just want some goal to work towards for fun/motivation/satisfaction purposes. Speaking with people is great but it’s not something you can do frequently outside of Japan and it’s less of a concrete goal.

Learning a language is endless and this is a good way to gauge progress. I think the JLPT having speaking would help with this but it is what it is haha


I don’t think it’s fair to say it doesn’t mean anything. Someone who passes N1 is clearly farther in their studies than someone who passes the other levels. You can’t fluke your way into passing it. That’s something

Not everyone wants to have conversations or read novels, either.

I like to take the Kanken tests. I doubt I’ll ever be asked to prove my kanji ability in a way that is anything like those tests. But preparing for them has undoubtedly made me better at kanji. I don’t think they’ve been a waste of my time, even if I didn’t just enjoy them for the sake of taking them.


This guy claims to have done it in 75 days. From 0 to N1 that is :smiley:

1 Like

The difference between N1 and N2 is indeed far greater than the gaps between all the other levels.

That said, N1 is far from native level fluency. In particular, it is all passive; there’s no requirement to speak or to write at all.

BTW, I’m planning to take N1 this December. I’m at WK level 52 right now.


You seem to know yourself pretty well, and you know that you need goals and metrics. Two questions you should ask yourself, though are: “How big/small a goal do I need in order to motivate me?” and “How short/long term do I need it to be?”

If you choose a goal that’s too big and too far away, it’ll be hard to see your everyday progress, and that can become really discouraging rather than motivating.

What about aiming for whatever N is just above your current skill (N2? N3?) and then setting a new goal after you reach that? You could even aim for being able to reliably pass a practice test if you don’t want to pay for the real one.


About a year and a half ago, I decided to make a goal to get to N1 by December 2019. Everyone said it was a stupid unreasonable goal and I agreed, but I find that making unreasonable goals pushes me to learn more than I would have otherwise. Since then, I’ve dropped the goal and decided to take N3 this December instead because I want to remain a casual learner and not cram on top of school and other things.

If you feel like you can do it, then yeah, do that >:D As long as you don’t give yourself an impossible timespan or get discouraged if you don’t see progress immediately. It can feel like you’re not learning anything at times but it doesn’t mean you’re not.


If we speak about reaching N1 without going to Japan even once and with just a reasonable studying, then I have an example in front of my eyes basically. That is a friend of mine, whom I met when I first started with Japanese (she as well). So we learned with around the same pace, but she was more dedicated than me all the times, more exploring the language itself outside from the textbooks.
Surfing the net, looking for speaking clubs, finding the penpals - you know, that kind of thing.
All that just along the lines, with no frenzy and in her free time after the job. I cannot say for sure though how much time she invested behind the scenes.
Well, be as it may - in Dec 18 she attempted N1 and missed the passing line for 5 points. As she pointed out, the exam level was tolerable. That sort of feeling when it is hard but still manageable.
So to the point if N1 is doable for a foreigner who never visited Japan and has no regular exposure to the language - yes, that IS doable

Then to the point of having the N1 as a checkpoint in general. I very much support the idea as I like the milestones to be something tangible. Especially when you hit the intermediate plateau, language learning becomes an endless plain (and endless pain). As if you do not progress for even a step regardless of how much you struggle. So passing an exam really makes it an objective proof for yourself and for the others too.

Who are the others if you do not have any special plans? You just never know when your N1 certificate comes into play. It is not something you could get out of the blue afterall. I am working in an international company with English as our internal communication language. So no one bothers what other languages I can speak. Still, a year ago our department head released a search for an EU-based specialist with high level of Japanese (N2 or higher, better N1). We have a Japanese branch too, to share a note. I have no clue what was that about as I had just failed my N2 that time. Still I can’t stop thinking what was the chance that I missed that day. If I had the certificate at hand…you see my line of thought :slight_smile:

So go for it, if you feel like that. It would be a good feat once you get there.


It’s probably much easier if you already know Korean. As far as I know, the grammar is pretty similar and you can do pretty much word by word translations. They also share a lot of words with Chinese origins. More like learning Spanish as an Italian.

1 Like

Thank you everyone for all your input! This was really helpful to read and think through.

Good advice, not just for this topic. I just wanted to avoid aiming for an unrealistic goal and then ending up disappointed but apparently this is, unsurprisingly, nothing that can be answered with a simple yes or no.

Good points… I don’t think I enjoy studying all the time but I enjoy the process in general and many aspects of the language and e.g. how it correlates with people’s way of thinking fascinating.
It is probably like in sport where you enjoy it in general but not every training session is necessarily fun but you do it anyway, for the sake or progress. I definitely do enjoy it, overall.

And there would be worse ways to spend my time. Learning Japanese is taking over time that I would, if I’m being honest, probably spend on reddit or consuming media (can’t work and be productive all day long) so that is at least something.

That’s really the main question in the end and it was brought up by many others too, for a good reason. I might have weak motivations otherwise and the JLPT somehow ended up filling that hole?

I just want to go to Japan once or twice a year and be able to talk to people when I’m there. It is already very exciting to be able to go to a restaurant where there is no English menu, being able to ask how to cook/cut/eat… the dish you are ordering, having a conversation in a bar and seeing that I’m making progress every time I go there is great.
I just want to be able to express myself more properly and hold conversations about various interesting topics. I can already talk about society and politics in a dumbed down way but I want so much more than that out of a good conversation.
So I JUST want to be conversationally fluent in various topics that adults would discuss while only having limited contact with speakers of that language and being a person who prefers to read and listens silently instead of talking. Should be super easy… right? :joy:

EVERYTHING else that I’m doing is sadly just a means to an end: I have no interest in Japanese TV, anime, manga, YouTubers, Twitter, Instagram, not even reading novels… because I barely have any interest in these things in English or my native language. All of the books that I would currently like to read are written in other languages and it will take me some time to get to a point where I’m able to read them in a translated Japanese version if that version even exists. And then I’ll only be reading them in Japanese for the sake of practice, not because they are available only in Japanese.

And this might sound harsh or sad, but I also have no interest in making Japanese friends. I already barely manage to keep in touch with the few family members and friends that I have and love, I don’t really need more people in my life.

So after ruling all these things out as possible motivators, I guess the JLPT as a quantifiable, concrete goal is just a nice motivator for me to have.

That is a very reasonable question (and yes, you are right, I’m only taking N3 in July and am only starting to look into N2 material).
I just have this personal preference of feeling better when I have a rough plan laid out at least for the next 2 or 3 years. Even if it changes further down the road, I feel more relaxed once I decided where I want to go. I can then mark that question as solved and move on.

Oooh, yes, passing with some luck and a bad score would definitely be good enough for me! And thank you for being an inspiring counter example. :smiley:

Thanks to you too, @jneapan what a super inspiring “I was slacking off and then somehow I managed to pass N1 anyway” story. I’ll make sure to add as much extra slacking/fun time with Japanese content as possible and will hope for the same shocking results :wink:

Looking forward to that! :slight_smile:

I was initially planning to go from nothing to N1 in 5 years since that seemed realistic based on what I read. It took me 2 years to get to around N3 where I am now and I would like to get to N2 at some point next year. If I could get to N1 2 years later, that would be very exciting since it would fit my original plan and that is what I’ll work towards for now.

But if it takes me a few years longer then so be it. And if it takes me a decade, I’ll just enjoy being somewhere between N2 and N1 in the meantime. (I do however hope it doesn’t take that long, to be honest.)

Thanks for the link, I’m listening to her while writing this. She makes it sound so easy, I like that…

Hmmm, true. She probably knows that my initial motivation was mostly wanting to be able to talk to people in shops and restaurants and N2 would be good enough to get by.

She might however have underestimated my obsession with randomly made up goals and finishing what I started. Just the thought of stopping at N2 when I know there is one more level left and that that level was where I originally wanted to go… if I have to accept it one day, I’ll manage. But I’m starting to realize that for now, this seems to be important for me for whatever reason.

As a side note, I always wanted to run a marathon when I was younger, before I figured out that my knees are just not made for it. I might just be a sucker for random goals that have no real meaning (completely agree about that fact with you in theory, @virgilmaro; passing the N1 would not have any practical effect on my life if we just look at the hard facts) but give me something to work towards.

Unlike for @Cowman though, running a marathon is now less achievable than learning Japanese. Good luck with both to you!

True, that would be great. But on the other hand also SO much more scary…
And you are completely right about wanting something for “fun/motivation/satisfaction purposes”, all of these are apply.

Yeah, that kind of thing… I get what you mean and I should be getting more into that, that is a great point! And a motivating story and other thoughts, thank you.

That might actually be it, I also just really like taking this test (and tests in general). I don’t enjoy all the aspects of preparing for it but I like being able to see progress in how many words from some list I’ve already memorized, how many kanji I still have left to get through, how many grammar points are left to cover… there is always one more spreadsheet and progress chart I could be making. Optimizing and tracking my studies has become a bit of a meta hobby for me, it’s fun.

I also realized that I’m really looking forward to taking the test every time. I like planning which city I’ll take it in, meeting fellow Japanese learners and even thinking about test strategies - it is fun, with the added benefit of learning Japanese while I’m at it.

Indeed, that seems to be going on, you are completely right. I don’t know if I fully admitted it to myself before. I actively try to stay away from gaming and TV since I know I tend to get too obsessed about these things and have a hard time stopping before I beat a game or finish a TV series (with multiple rewatches, reading up on all possible theories, the whole thing). So apparently, this happened with the JLPT for me – but at least, there are worse things that could happen… :woman_shrugging:

頑張って! :slight_smile:

Edit: holy shit! Sorry for the wall of text.

I might sum it up with: no one knows if the N1 is a realistic goal for me. For now, I’ll take the N3 in July, then focus on N2 in 2020 but I will keep having N1 as a goal in 2022 or 2021 if I’m feeling super ambitious. It seems to be something that brings me joy on its own and as long as I accept failing the test as part of the progress and not forget about actually using and enjoying the language, not much should go wrong.

(I also will try to stress a little less about it once I’m done with N3, that should be better for my long term mental state… )


I believe N1 is mandatory for the medical field and probably it’s expected for technical translation work. Not sure what other fields…is anyone doing it for professional opportunities in/out of Japan?

You get 5 extra points on your preferential point-based immigration!


Linguists say there are not really difficult languages and easy languages. Rather, there are similar and dissimilar languages. Japanese is hard for English speakers because it is so different; English is just as hard for Japanese speakers.

Japanese is “hard” especially because there are few similar languages. There are no extant major languages accepted to be genetically related (1). However, there are similarities with Korea (2) and I have personally experienced studying Japanese in a class with a native Korean speaker who progressed very rapidly.

  1. Japonic languages (wikipedia)
  2. Comparison of Japanese and Korean (wikipedia)

Have a look at the Korean fellow, speaking Japanese. すごい!

1 Like

It’s only half a day since this thread was created and I already feel like I’m late to the party. Anyway, before I keep reading on:

I agree, it was the same for me. The first time I attempted N1, I tried to study, but I really couldn’t get into it and didn’t really fix any of the stuff I read from grammar/vocab books I was using. As expected, I failed that time.
Second time around, I didn’t care. Just before sitting the test the first time, I had started reading novels in Japanese and basically just did that for the 6 months in between tests. (I also started watching YouTube exclusively in Japanese). And that time I passed. So zero real preparation, just doing whatever I wanted to do anyway.


Yeah I get that some people like taking tests, and I’m not arguing that they don’t make you better at the skill. It’s just that you do have to spend extra mental resources in order to get good at each particular test. I don’t like tests, because I’d rather spend that effort and time working with authentic material.

I’m being hyperbolic when I say they don’t mean anything. I can’t pass N1 no matter how well I know the format of JLPT (or can I?)
Also, the JLPT needs a lot of improvement to do what is claims to.

Standardized tests really rub me the wrong way anyway. I see it all as a kind of elaborate scam.

The JLPT should add a speaking section, like the Eiken has, but I don’t really see a way around using standardized tests for large scale, cost-effective proficiency exams. If they made it half essay or prompt writing and half speaking it would become a lot more expensive to conduct it.


This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.