AP Japanese Language and Culture Exam

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

japanese parasols

Everything You Need to Know to Ace the AP Japanese Language and Culture Exam

For the top students in the United States, one of the subjects that many elect to spend their time trying to master a new language. One of the very best ways to do that within a high school curriculum is to enroll in an AP language course and take the related exam. One of those courses and related exams is the AP Japanese Language and Culture Exam.

Japanese is one of the eight languages that is offered as part of the AP World Languages and Cultures program. The goal of the AP World Languages and Cultures program is to reflect the College Board’s strong belief that competence in more than one’s native language is crucial when it comes to helping students reach their potential in the world’s increasingly global community. In the AP Japanese Language and Culture Exam, and every AP language exam, the goal is to help students learn how to express themselves in another language so that they can gain a better understanding of that language’s history and the culture of the people who speak it.

While the Japanese language and culture is a beautiful and fascinating one to be sure, the  AP Japanese Language and Culture Exam is one of the least popular courses in the entire College Board’s offered curriculum. In fact, on average, less than 2,500 students nationwide take the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam. That accounts for less than .01 percent than the approximate 2.5 million high school students who take AP course exams each year.

Despite that fact, there are major reasons why taking the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam and mastering the Japanese language is very much worth a high school student’s time and energy. Japan currently has the third-largest economy in the world and is a major player in the global economy, especially when it comes to business and technology.

For that reason, even if you’re ultimate interest is not related to the Japanese language per se, but instead, you are committed to one day enrolling in a top undergraduate business program or even an MBA program, then thinking about learning Japanese is certainly worth your while.

If you are interested in learning more about the AP Japanese Language and Culture Exam and how to prepare for it, you have come to the right place!

Let us at AdmissionSight break down the basic information regarding this AP exam as well as the best preparation practice so that you ensure that you will earn a perfect 5 out of 5 scores.

About the AP Japanese Language and Culture Course

While students get the opportunity to take the exam after self-studying or take the exam after learning in the high school course, it is generally recommended that students learn with the course. The course of AP Japanese Language and Culture puts an emphasis on true communication skills, which means putting an emphasis on students being able to express themselves in Japanese and being able to understand what beings aid by others is.

This emphasis is primarily meant to be applied to real-life situations through three primary modes of communication:

  • Interpersonal
  • Interpretive
  • Presentational

Though the curriculum includes usage of vocabulary, language control, and communication strategies, the course does not put an emphasis on grammar at the expense of basic communication.

One very important thing of note is that the majority of the class is actually taught in Japanese.

On top of teaching Japanese communication skills, the AP Japanese Language and Culture course focuses on particular depth on Japanese culture. This means that students will study and be expected to memorize and understand both contemporary and historical contexts along with a deep awareness and appreciation of social, political, and educational issues.

Some specifics include the role that religion plays in Japanese society, the modern gender roles in Japanese culture, and other topics such as history, customs, and art.

The course framework includes the following:

Course framework for exam


It is important to mention that students who take the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam are usually in their fourth year of high school-level Japanese study. With that being said, there are no formal prerequisites for this course and exam. That is because many students who tend to take this course and exam are students who have spent much of their childhood speaking native Japanese with their parents or other relatives.

For that reason, if you are not regularly exposed to the Japanese language outside the classroom, you would be wise to stick to a normal Japanese course in order to master the language itself before you enroll in this course that covers much more than just the language of Japanese itself. Once you have three years of Japanese under your belt, chances are good you will be ready for the arduous task of enrolling in this class and scoring high on the AP exam.

AP Japanese Language and Culture Exam

One very interesting thing that sent the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam apart from many of the AP courses is that it is administered entirely on a computer. Students who take the exam will read the questions on the screen, listen through headphones, use a keyboard to type and speak into a microphone.

All of the Japanese text that is displayed on the screen is in kana and kanji characters. During the exam, students will be required to use Microsoft IME for typing Japanese text.

In all, the exam lasts for two hours and 15 seconds and is made up of two different sections. The first section is multiple choice and is taken first. The second section is a free-response section.

Here is a table breaking down the basic format of the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam.

Basic format of AP Japanese Language Culture exam

Multiple Choice

The multiple-choice section is made up of 70 total questions and students get 90 minutes to answer the full set. The multiple-choice section of the exam makes up 50 percent of the exam score and tests students based on both auditory and written stimulus.

Here is an example of questions students might face in the exam.

Multiple Choice AP Japanese and Culture exam

Free Response

The free-response section of the Japanese Language and Culture exam consists of four tasks. This section of the exam lasts for 45 minutes and will account for the remaining 50 percent of a student’s score.

This section of the exam is meant to test students on their ability in both written and oral Japanese communication.

Here is are two examples of questions that students may find on the free-response section of the exam.

Free Response Questions 1

Free Response Questions 2

In the free-response section of this exam, students will face four questions that each test a unique task. Each question accounts for 12.5 percent of the exam’s total grade. Those tasks include the following:

  • Interpersonal writing task which will ask a student to read and respond to six text-chat prompts.
  • Presentational writing task which will contain a single prompt. Students will be asked to compare and contrast articles in Japanese for a specified purpose and specified audience.
  • An interpersonal speaking task that contains four prompts. This will be a simulated conversation in which students will listen and respond to four questions.
  • Free-response section where students will be asked to display their presentational communication skills in the context of an oral Cultural Perspective Presentation.

When it comes to every AP exam, the scoring distribution is broken down from 1 point to 5 points with a 5-point score being the best a student can earn on a given exam. In order to pass the exam, students must score at least a 3 out of 5. The reason why scoring a great score on an AP exam should be a major goal of any student who is enrolling in an AP course is that scored earn high school students college credits and placement. That means that if you are interested in securing a major or minor in Japanese during your college years scoring a high score on the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam would actually help you earn credits towards that end.

Of course, different colleges and universities have different rules when it comes to how much credit is assigned to an AP course, so it is important for you to make sure you get that information about the schools that you are interested in applying to.

With all that being said, the numbers are certainly in students’ favor when it comes to earning great scores on the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam. In fact, just under 50 percent of students who took the exam last year earned a perfect 5 out 5.

Here is a percentage breakdown of the scores from last year:


Breakdown of scores

How to Prepare for the AP Japanese Language and Culture Exam

Here at AdmissionSight, we believe that one of the very best ways for a high school student to succeed in the tough road ahead when it comes to college admissions is preparation. The same can be said for each and every AP exam. Students who are able to prepare correctly are the students who are most likely to succeed in the related AP exam.

In order to help you prepare, we have broken down the several steps that will help increase your chance of success!

Assess your knowledge

The very first step to preparing for the exam comes through taking a test exam in order to test your skills and mastery of the subject matter that will be covered on the exam itself. One of the best ways to do this is to find practice sets of questions and exams online so that you can see how comfortable you ware with the material that you will be tested on.

Here is a sample of the multiple-choice questions from the 2007 exam. Free-response questions can be found here.

Master the material

The simple truth is that the best way to really learn the material that you will be tested for on the exam, as well as the Japanese language itself if to immerse yourself in it as much as possible. While you may have a tough time surrounding yourself with native Japanese speakers – unless your family is native Japanese, of course – will be very hard to find, you can try many different things.

One great way to immerse yourself is to watching Japanese media. Finding Japanese YouTube channels or news sources is a good place to start, watching popular television shows – either live-action or anime shows – is also a fantastic way to gain great mastery over the nuances of the Japanese language.

Finally, another great way to improve as a Japanese speaker and listener is to set up an after-school group with your fellow students who are hoping to take the exam. You can set up weekly meetings in which you head to cafes and speak in Japanese as much as possible. This is not only a great way to improve your vocabulary and grammar, it is also a great way to find great enjoyment in the way in which you prepare.

Keep in mind that the primary learning objectives for the course require that you:

  • Engage in spoken interpersonal communication;
  • Engage in written interpersonal communication;
  • Synthesize information from a variety of authentic audio, visual, and audiovisual resources;
  • Synthesize information from a variety of authentic written and print resources;
  • Plan, produce, and present has spoken presentational communications; and
  • Plan and produce written presentational communications

In your mastery of communication, you will be required to be able to request and confirm the receipt of information such as asking for directions and responding to invitations. You will also need to make use of your functional foreign language skills, such as comparing and contrasting phenomena, expressing your opinions, discussing past experiences, and more.

Keep in mind that in order to score a 5 out 5 on the exam, you will have to be able to express yourself and understand concepts through Japanese reading and writing. This means that you will want to be efficient at typing in kanji.

With all that being said, it is important to remember that you actually do not need to be an overly advanced communicator in Japanese in order to ace this exam. In fact, you will only need to show proficiency at the intermediate-low to intermediate-mid range in each of the three modes of communication.

Because this course and exam is very rare amongst high schoolers, there are not lots of great study materials for this exam like there are for many of the most popular AP exams. With that being said, there are some great resources that you can take advantage of that re not specifically related to the exam itself but are absolutely related to mastering Japanese.

Practice the exam

When it comes to each and every AP exam, mastering the format of the exam is just as important as mastering the subject matter that you will be tested on during the exam. Well, maybe it’s not as important, but it is still quite important!

In many ways, the AP exams are quite similar to the standardized tests in that way. The more comfortable you are with the format of the exam, the greater the likelihood is that you will get the kind of score that will make you smile!

For that reason, practicing as many multiple-choice questions sets and free-response sets as you can.

As you practice the multiple-choice format questions, make sure to focus on exactly what each question is asking you to do. If it is difficult or you end up getting the answer wrong, you should make note of the question itself and try to classify the question by type. Make sure to take note of whether it was a written question or an auditory one and keep track of specific vocab or grammar that you find yourself tripping on regularly.

If you are able to keep track of these factors, you will be able to identify problem areas that you need to focus on as the exam nears as well as areas that you are particularly strong in.

The same process can be said for the free-response questions and the four tasks that students are tested on in that section. Identify which tasks you have the hardest time with versus which tasks you have gained greatest mastery over.

Take another practice exam

The final step to mastering this exam and every other AP exam for that matter is to take another full practice exam. In fact, the more practice exams that you can take, the better. Just make sure that while you are taking these exams and as the day of the real exam approaches, you being to put yourself under the same time constraints that you will face on the day of the exam itself. This will make sure that you are prepared to for the challenges – both mental and physical – that you will face when you take, and ideally ace, the AP Japanese Language and Culture exam.

Good luck!




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