JLPT: Is it possible to get full marks without getting all the questions correct?

Hi all,

This post is in response to one of the persons that I have met online. She was saying that she got full marks for N3 and needed help for one of the N2 questions (which was a combination grammar from N4 and N5). Before I start, I want to apologise if my message to her seemed passive-aggressive. I wanted to put an objective view that it is possible to get full marks without getting all the questions correct. I wanted to write this to share what I know based on my 11.5 years of experience and data collected on the new JLPT.

So before we dive in a bit more into what I know, I would like to share the marking of the new system is based on scaled scores.

In the previous system before 2010, JLPT was based on raw scores marking. A raw score is a score that represents the total number of items on an exam that a candidate has answered correctly. In other words, if you get a correct answer, you would be awarded 1 mark/2 marks, etc. based on the question. Raw scores are easily interpreted by candidates and provide clarity, meaningful feedback, and transparency. 

Scaled scores are used to report performance on an exam on a consistent scale. In the JLPT exam, for example, if you have a set of 10 questions, it looks at 1024 answering patterns, divided from 0 to 60 marks to award the marks. For reference, look at page 16 of this document and this document.

An example is shown here.

Based on my observations and trials, it is possible to get wrong answers and you might get marks for it. How I got to know about this was because I did 2 exams to test out my theory. In the first exam (I think it was an N5 paper), I deliberately left 2 blanks and 1 question wrong. When the results came out, I got a full mark for that paper. In the second exam (it was an N4 paper), I deliberately selected 2 wrong answers for listening and got deducted 16-18 marks. I also confirmed the theory with some of my students who did the same thing. Thus, I guess it varies from batch to batch.

Also, because we do not send many students to take the exam, we know every student’s strengths and weaknesses and we collect their scores for the past 11.5 years to come to this conclusion. 

There are a few scholarly papers that I recommend all to check out if you wish to find out more.

Review of the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/02655322221080898

Japanese as a Second Language Assessment in Japan: Current Issues and Future Directions

Analysis of Dialogue Difficulty in Anime Comparing to JLPT Listening Tests

Should I take the JLPT?

My advice to students is that I would encourage students to take JLPT to know where they stand across the whole world. However, in the usual case if before they take the JLPT, I would give them a mock test. If they are able to get a score of 80% for the mock test, I would recommend them to take the JLPT. This also

JLPT, like other tests, is a standardised test and people should be informed of what scaled scores are. Passing or failing does not mean anything. Quoting what Hirosue Ryoko-san (広末涼子さん) said in 「ユニコーンに乗って」、「失敗は終わりじゃなくて、学びよ。」/Failure is not the end. It is a lesson. I think what is more important is the knowledge that will stay with you throughout the rest of your life.

A lot of time and effort is used to set every JLPT paper. I can tell you that because I spend time to analyse every question when I take the paper with my students. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the exam setters for setting every paper.

I hope this article has given you a bit more understanding about how JLPT works.

Good luck and happy learning.

Learning Japanese is not a race, it is a journey.


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