Once you’ve submitted your application for the MEXT Scholarship to the Japanese embassy and passed the document screening, the next step is the MEXT Scholarship exams and the interview. Depending on your embassy, these could be held on different days or on the same day, but in either case, you will need to be present in person at the embassy for both steps.
For those of you living outside of your country when you apply, this means you’ll have to book a trip home to attend these sessions. You might only get 1-2 weeks’ notice of the date after passing the document screening step, so be prepared to travel at short notice!
How Important Are the Exams?
Here’s the famous Japanese answer: It depends.
But, in this case, I can be more specific. It depends on the type of MEXT Scholarship you apply for. In general, I can say that it is “less” important for the MEXT Scholarship for Research Students than it is for any of the other scholarship types.
Research Students only take language proficiency exams, and you only really need to score well in the language that you plan to study in. If you are pursuing a course taught in English, then they are not going to eliminate you from the application because of a poor score on the Japanese language proficiency test. But in the past, they have eliminated applicants for leaving the Japanese test blank, so make sure to take a guess at it, even if you have no hope of scoring high!
If you score poorly on the language proficiency test for the language you plan to study in (typically English) and have not submitted any other proof of language ability, such as test scores, there’s a chance that your exam scores could ruin your application chances. But overall, as long as you show adequate proficiency, you should move on to the next step with no problem.
For Research Students, your undergraduate university performance and especially your Field of Study and Research Program Plan are much more important in your overall score. A few points of difference on the language test is not going to make a difference in your application compared to those other factors.
Undergraduate, College of Technology, Specialized Training College Students
For any of these scholarship categories, the tests are significantly more important!
You will take subject matter tests in different fields (the fields you test in depend on the major you apply for under the scholarship) and that should be an important factor in your selection, since there are few other objective reference points. Yes, the embassy has your high school transcripts, but those aren’t as reliable of a reference as university performance, and you do not really have much of an essay opportunity to show your future goals. So, I can only conclude that these exams will play a significant role in eliminating applicants from contention.
Make sure that you can score well–as close as possible to perfect–on the exams, particularly the content exams for your major, to give yourself the best shot.
To find out what subject matter exams you need to take, refer to the application guidelines.
How to Prepare for the Exams
MEXT has made some past exams available for you to use in practice. So, my recommendation is to try those exams, see where you have any weaknesses, then find your own study resources to improve in those areas.
If you find an area of weakness, chances are good that you can find any number of free online resources to study that particular subject or sub-subject. You could also ask a trusted instructor from your current or previous institution for advice.
Where to find past MEXT Scholarship Exams
Currently, the 2014-2016 exams are available on the official Study in Japan website. In the past, they also made some exams from 2018-2020 available there, but they have since taken those more recent exams down.
Fortunately for you, before they took them down, I downloaded and saved them all! So, you can find the 2014-2016 and 2018-2020 exams at the link below:
You’ll notice that not all of the exams are available on either of the site. As you can see on the official site, some of the exams were never released for study. In particular, many of the language proficiency exams were never released. But if you check 2019, you can find the language proficiency exams for each type of scholarship. That is the only year I am aware of that all of the scholarship types’ language exams were made available for study!
Language exams: In the years that these sample tests come from, there was only one English and Japanese test. According to multiple applicants’ reports from 2023, there are two versions: English/Japanese (A) for Social Sciences and Humanities majors and English/Japanese (B) for Natural Sciences majors.
It’s not exact, but the sample tests should be similar to the (A) tests, which would be the more intensive of the two, since you typically need higher language ability for humanities and social sciences!
I have also heard that the Japanese exam, at least, is no longer split into beginner/immediate/advanced levels, as it was in the past. It is not one single test that has questions of varying difficulty. I recommend that you go through the entire test and try to answer all of the questions within your ability level!
Want to know more?
My book, How to Apply for the MEXT Scholarship describes the scholarship in detail, including the eligibility criteria, purpose and coverage, how to develop a successful applicant mindset, and how to craft your application strategy for the greatest chance of success! Later books in the series also cover How to Write a Scholarship-Winning Field of Study and Research Program Plan and How to Find Your Best Degree Program and Advisor for the MEXT Scholarship.
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