Japanese at GCSE and IGCSE level is offered by Edexcel and CIE, but the way the speaking exam is conducted means it is easier to find an exam centre for Edexcel. An alternative qualification is the Japanese Language Proficiency Tests, or JLPT, which is taken at a London test centre. You can also take Japanese A-level as an external candidate, and this is written exams only - no speaking or listening tests.

The Japan Foundation has a page on qualifications in Japanese which are available in the UK. However, note that the WJEC qualification has been removed from the WJEC site, and the OCR vocational qualification is being withdrawn shortly.

Edexcel GCSE Japanese and Short Courses Edit

The current Edexcel GCSE Japanese specification, graded A*-G, is 2JA01. Last exams for this are Summer 2018.

The new GCSE Japanese specification graded 9-1 is 1JA0 , with first exams in Summer 2019.

Information below relates to the current A*-G specification, 2JA01. Edexcel do a Japanese GCSE and Short Courses in Japanese Reading and Writing, and Speaking and Listening. If you want to obtain the full GCSE you have to take all four units in the same exam season. You cannot gain the full GCSE without doing the Speaking and Listening, but you can take the short-course Reading and Writing as a stand-alone qualification. The qualification is available to private candidates and there is no coursework or Controlled Assessment, although the Speaking test poses similar problems to these in that it is difficult to find an exam centre willing to facilitate it.

Each short course is worth half a GCSE - that means it's GCSE standard, but half the content. You can take them separately. However, as modular GCSEs are no longer allowed in the UK, you can no longer add together, say, Speaking and Listening taken one year and Reading and Writing taken the next. Some universities and sixth forms require applicants to have a modern foreign language at GCSE level; if you are relying on this qualification to fulfil that requirement, do check with them whether a Short Course GCSE would be acceptable.  However, universities that require a modern language often offer an alternative way in, for example saying that if you do not have a GCSE in a modern language, you can enrol on language lessons within the university.

The full GCSE Japanese has four assessments:  

  1. Listening and Understanding 
  2. Speaking  
  3. Reading and Understanding 
  4. Writing 

Listening Assessment Edit

A recording is sent to the centre, available as a CD and a download. There is a written paper and students have 5 minutes to read the paper before the track starts. There are pre-recorded pauses and each section is played twice.

Source: Edexcel administrative information for centres

You can download most past listening exercises as MP3 files from the Edexcel GCSE Japanese page - click on "Assessment Materials" then "Listening Examinations MP3s". As with all exams, the most recent exam material will be locked and you cannot obtain these directly from Edexcel yourself. You can, however, usually obtain these by asking your exam centre to download a copy of the latest exam materials and emailing to you. Please ask on the HE Exams yahoogroup first though, in case someone else already has the materials - it saves increasing the workload on your exam centre.

Speaking Assessment Edit

For the Speaking Assessment, a teacher or tutor who can speak the language is needed. They do not have to mark the assessment, but simply ask questions and have a conversation with the candidate, and record it. The recording is sent off to Edexcel for marking.

Edexcel administrative information for centres contains lots of information - the elements which are also of interest to the candidates are copied below, but do look at the original document if you want more guidance.

Extract from Edexcel Information for Centres Edit

Centres must conduct the tests between 07 March and 15 May 2014. (DATES FOR 2015 NOT YET AVAILABLE BUT LIKELY TO BE SIMILAR)

Centres are expected to timetable all speaking tests in any one language on the same day or where numbers are large on consecutive days.

All tests and registers are to be despatched to examiners no later than 15 May 2014.

Structure and Timing of Tests

Students must undertake two separate speaking tasks, each linked to one or more of the prescribed themes:

Media, travel and culture

Sport, leisure and work

Students must include both of the following task types:

Picture-based discussion OR presentation with follow up questions

Students must engage in a discussion related to a picture (or other visual) that they have chosen or give a presentation (1-2 minutes maximum). They then respond to a series of linked follow-up questions and answers. Teachers should ensure that they ask questions which are sufficiently challenging to maximise student performance. However, it is important that teachers do not inform students in advance about the specific questions that they intend to use in the live assessments and do not rehearse specific individual assessments.

General conversation This enables students to demonstrate they can present information and give opinions as well as interact effectively with another target language speaker. Students must be given an opportunity to respond to unpredictable language and it is, therefore, important that teachers do not prepare a specific list of questions with their students in advance.

Accommodation: As quiet a room as possible is required for the tests.

Only one candidate is to be examined at a time. Normally, no other person other than the teacher conducting the test and the candidate should be present in the examination room.


  • Candidates may choose, if they wish, to give a brief introduction to their chosen theme for the general conversation in order to make a confident start. However, candidates must demonstrate the ability to 13 interact with the examiner and should not merely deliver a pre-learnt monologue. The length of the introduction will depend on the ability of the students. However, in no circumstances should it exceed two minutes.
  • Candidates may bring into the examination room brief notes (A5 sheet of paper with bulleted notes – 30 words maximum and up to five small drawings on an A5 sheet of paper) Any notes are a prompt only and should not be read out.
  • Candidates should be discouraged from preparing in advance lists of question and answers in a predetermined order. Such cases are usually obvious to the examiner and may result in adverse marking.
  • Each task should last approximately 4-5 minutes. Teacher-examiners should ensure that this timing is adhered to as the examiner will not credit anything after the 5 minute mark has passed.
  • If a question is not understood after one repetition/rephrasing move on to another question - further attempts may just confuse or discourage the candidate. Try to link questions. Listen carefully to the candidate's answers and relate subsequent questions to the information acquired.
  • Never correct a candidate's language, however inaccurate, during a test.


Reading and Responding Assessment Edit

Use blue or black ink. No dictionaries are allowed in this exam.

Source: Edexcel administrative information for centres

Writing Assessment Edit

You are required to use blue or black ink.

Bilingual dictionaries are permitted.

Source: Edexcel administrative information for centres

How do I find an exam centre for the Speaking Assessment? Edit

Any Edexcel centre can, in theory, take an external candidate for the Reading and Writing papers, but very few will administer the Speaking and Listening tests. The Listening test simply requires a recording to be played, so in theory this, too, could be taken at any centre. However, the Speaking Test requires a Japanese speaker to conduct the test by asking questions. Note that they do not have to mark the Speaking test; they only ask the questions, recording the whole assessment (about 10 minutes) and the recording is sent off to Edexcel for marking. If you have a cooperative exam centre, it may be possible for you to find a Japanese tutor to conduct the speaking assessment there, minimising the extra effort involved for them.

You can take Japanese GCSE Speaking Test in London, at the International Institute of Education in London (IIEL), a Japanese teacher training school in Charlton, SE3 (don't worry, there is an English tab!)

[The Japan Foundation] in London may advise you on where else you might be able to take the exam. An alternative could be to travel to London to take the speaking and listening papers, and then sit the reading and writing papers closer to home; in the past it has been possible to take elements of a language GCSE at different centres, but this can be complicated, and guidelines change, so if you are considering this, do check if it is currently available as an option.

Contact Edexcel, who may be able to help. They have a database of centres which accept external candidates online, but this doesn't tell you which ones will take candidates for Speaking Assessments specifically. However, Edexcel should hold this information as, when a school registers its own candidates for this exam, they ask it to specify if it will also accept private candidates.

If there are no schools near you which offer GCSE Japanese and will accept you for the Speaking Assessment, you can bring in your own tutor to do the Speaking Assessment. This should not require too much effort on the part of the school but you are likely to need to do some persuading to get them to consider the idea.

Alternatively, the private London exam centres Campbell Harris in Kensington or Pascal's College in Beckenham offer oral exams for GCSE foreign languages, and might consider this one if you could locate a Japanese tutor who would go to the exam centre to do the speaking assessment.

CIE IGCSE Japanese Edit

CIE offer IGCSE Japanese - Foreign Language, qualification number 0519.

CIE IGCSE Japanese - Foreign Language syllabus and exam materials

While it is, in theory, available to external candidates, in practice it's difficult to find an exam centre to conduct the Speaking test. This is because CIE language exams have "internal assessment" for speaking tests, ie they require the exam centre to conduct and mark the speaking tests, whereas Edexcel just require them to record the speaking test and send it off to Edexcel for external assessment. However, if you have an approachable centre then you may be able to arrange to provide a Japanese tutor to do this. CIE state that the person conducting the Speaking assessments does not have to be a staff member at the school:

"Ideally, a teacher at the school should conduct the Speaking tests. Where this is not possible and it is necessary to look for someone outside the school, you should look for someone who is fluent in the language, preferably with teaching experience and with experience of conducting other oral examinations. It is important that the person appointed takes the time to familiarise themselves with the requirements of the examination before conducting any 'live' Speaking tests. The examination syllabus for the relevant year and a copy of the Teacher's Notes Booklet and Role Play Cards from a previous examination session should be sent to the examiner to read before the day of the examination so that they can familiarise themselves with the general requirements for the conduct and assessment of the Speaking test. On the day of the examination, you should arrange for the examiner to arrive at the Centre 1-2 hours before conducting and assessing the first Speaking test, in order that they can prepare the role-play situations and read through the instructions contained in the Teachers' Notes Booklet for the live session." (from CIE IGCSE Japanese FAQs

OCR Vocational Qualification - Japanese (Entry Level) Edit

This is not realistically available to private candidates, but is included here so you don't waste time researching it!  It is from the NVQ suite of qualifications but is being withdrawn. See the OCR website. The assessment method means you would be unlikely to find a test centre as an external candidate anyway.

The last date to register candidates is 31/12/2014. Certification is available until 31/12/2015

A- Level Japanese Edit

Edexcel AS- and A-level Japanese is written exam-only, no speaking or listening assessments.

The specification is changing; final exams are stated on the Edexcel site as Summer 2017 for the AS-level and Summer 2018 for the A-level. However, Edexcel has announced that first exams for the new specification will be 2020, so presumably the final assessment for the old specification will be later than that specified on their site - but do check for updates.

CIE AS-level Japanese includes speaking and listening assessments as well as written exams.

Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Edit

The JLPT is offered at five different levels, and these are available to external candidates with Speaking and Listening tests. The test is held twice a year in the UK once in July, and once in December, at SOAS University of London and the University of Edinburgh. More information on the Japan Foundation's JLPT page.

Japanese Resources Edit

Japan Foundation Japanese Teaching and Learning Resources

Language exchange can be arranged free on - you make contact with a Japanese speaker who wants to learn English, and practise with each other via email or skype.

Here are some other resources which have been recommended for Japanese on the HE Exams list:


Tofugu Learn Japanese

Japanese Language Exchange in London organised by IIEL Japanese college in London, where English speakers can practise both English and Japanese with Japanese students who want to improve their English, face-to-face or online.

There are lots of Japanese tutorials on YouTube.

We bought a set of Studio Ghibli films and play them in Japanese with English subtitles.

This site has been recommended for free Japanese resources: