Everything you need to know about the official Japanese exam (Nōken)

If you are studying Japanese and you are interested in taking the official Japanese language exam, in this article you will find all the information. It will be useful for all students who are going to render Nōken for the first time, or who plan to do so in the future.

What is Nōken?

The Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken is the official exam to evaluate and certify the level of Japanese students. It is administered by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES). Abroad, the exam is organized by the Japan Foundation in conjunction with the Japanese language institutions.

What are the requirements to render it?

The only requirement to register for the exam is that the Japanese language is not your mother tongue.

The merits of Nōken

You get an official certificate indicating your level of language proficiency. For many students, surrendering Nōken is a way to test their knowledge and evaluate their progress in studying Japanese.

Also, the certificate of Nōken helps to improve the curriculum when applying for a job that requires this requirement. In general, this certificate is a reliable test to demonstrate the level of language proficiency.

Different Levels

There are 5 levels through which students’ knowledge is assessed:

  • N5: (Beginner level): The first level that students of Japanese render. There are basic grammar and listening comprehension exercises with simple conversations.
  • N4: (Basic level): A somewhat more difficult level than the N5, with more vocabulary, grammar and readings a little more advanced, but within the parameters of elementary Japanese, with listening exercises in a slow Japanese.
  • N3: (Intermediate Level): This level is assessed with a more advanced Japanese, passing through formal conversation but also emphasizing the more everyday and informal conversation. A lot of vocabulary goes into this level.
  • N2: (Intermediate-Advanced Level): At this level, there are more developed and complex readings, and in hearing compression problems conversations.
  • N1: (Advanced Level): The highest level of Nōken, and as such, this is assessed with an advanced Japanese exposed in a wide variety of circumstances and environments.

Parts of the examination

The test has different sections through which students’ knowledge is tested:

  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar and comprehension of texts
  • Listening Comprehension

For levels N1, N2 and N3 the sections are as follows:

  • Vocabulary and grammar
  • Understanding texts
  • Listening comprehension

For levels N4 and N5 the sections are as follows:

  • Vocabulary / grammar and text comprehension
  • Listening Comprehension

Parts of examination

Appraisal System

In order to pass the exam, there are two criteria: Reach the minimum total score, and have more than the minimum score per section.

The total score is just that, the sum of the points we get in each of the sections of the exam. According to each level, there is a minimum total score.

In addition to achieving the required total score, it is essential to have a minimum number of points in each part of the exam.

How and when do I sign up to give it up?

Nōken is held twice a year (the first Sunday in July and December) around the world. To register you must do so at the Japanese language institution in your country.

It is recommended that you ask them about the deadlines and dates to register. Generally, for the July convocation registrations begin in March, and for the December convocation registrations open in September. In any case, make sure you check with the institution in your country, as in each country the registration date can always vary.

Once you register you will be given a voucher, which is proof of your registration. That same voucher you have to wear on exam day. They’ll probably ask you to wear an I.D., too.

On the other hand, you will be asked to wear a black pencil and an eraser on the day of the exam, and you will be given the address of the place where the exam will be held.

In the classroom

If this is your first time taking Nōken, don’t worry, since in each classroom there are supervisors and collaborators who give them all the indications about how the exam will be and the guidelines for it.

Exam begins

The exam usually begins with the vocabulary and grammar section.

The questions are always multiple choice style, that is to say, before each question there are different answers, among which one chooses the one he considers correct, marking it in the kaitō yōshi.

It is advisable to take into account the length of each section, as it is necessary to get to answer all the questions.

Once the first section is finished, there is usually a break.

Once all students are back in the classroom this next section will begin, which depending on the level may be text comprehension or directly listening comprehension.

The steps to follow are the same, each participant is given another booklet of questions and another sheet to mark the answers.

For all levels, the last section is always “Listening Comprehension”. In this part, they will be given the same brochures, but they will also include in the classroom a player to pass on audio conversations. The exam ends with this section.

Other details to keep in mind

In order not to have any inconvenience or so that our exam is not annulled, it is important to take these things into account as well:

  • Respect the times when each part of the exam begins.
  • Try as much as possible not to be late for class after each break.
  • Answer all questions. You can’t leave questions unanswered, you need to answer them all for the exam to be valid.
  • You can’t skip sections or leave the test early. It is necessary to participate in all the sections that compose it.

What about the results?

The results of the test are announced on the official Nōken website in early September (for those who took the test in July) and early February (for those who took the test in December).

In the following month, they usually mail the formal results to all those who took the exam. Those who pass the exam in addition to the results will also obtain the Certificate of Aptitude.

What about the results

Resources for preparing for the exam


In addition, there are many manuals to prepare the contents of Nōken and practice with exercises similar to those of the exam.

Manuals to prepare the N5:

  • Gokaku dekiru N4-5 (Exhaustive preparation exercise book for levels N5 and N4)
  • Tanki Master Drill N5 (Practice book with exercises)
  • Nihongo Charenji Kanji N4-N5 (Book for practicing Kanji)

Manuals to repair the N4:

  • Gokaku dekiru N4-5 (Exhaustive preparation exercise book for levels N5 and N4)
  • Mimi kara Oboeru Bunpō N4 (Grammar book to assimilate expressions and their uses with audios)

Manuals to prepare the N3:

  • Nihongo So matome N3 (separate books for each section: Bunpō, Dokkai, Kanji, Goi, Chōkai)
  • Mimi kara oboeru N3 Goi (Book to reinforce vocabulary with audios and exercises)

Manuals to prepare the N2:

  • Shin Kanzen Master N2 Bunpō (Grammar book)
  • Nihongo so matome N2 Kanji (Book of Kanji)
  • Shin Kanzen Master N2 Dokkai (Text comprehension book)

Manuals to prepare the N1:

  • Nihongo so matome N1 kanji (Book of kanji)
  • Shin Kanzen Master N1 Dokkai (Text comprehension book)
  • Shin Kanzen Master N1 Bunpō (Book to prepare the grammar section)


A good way to become familiar with the test model or the style of questions that come up in the test is to practice with self-assessments. These are online exercises that are available on different websites and can be useful to test current knowledge and also have an idea of the kind of content that could come out in the exam.

Manuals to prepare the contents

Other recommendations

There are other ways to complement the study, such as practicing reading with articles written in Japanese, news and books or novels. To improve your listening comprehension it is also very good to watch programs, doramas or movies entirely in Japanese. This can help train the ear a little more for the exam. Practicing conversation with fellow students or native speakers also helps to improve our listening comprehension.


Nōken is an objective for many Japanese students, which helps to give more motivation and sense to the learning of the language. Take it easy, step by step.

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