Please Mind the Platform Gap: The Road Less Taken – H1/H2 Japanese

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Zhu Xiuhua (18S06A), with guest contributions by Angelica Ong (18A01C), Kaoru Yap (18A01C) and Sun Shuwei (18A01E)
Photos courtesy of Zhu Xiuhua

This article is the fourth part in Raffles Press’ series, Please Mind the Platform Gap: The Road Less Taken, about non-traditional A-level subjects offered in RI. For our previous feature on H2 German, please click here. For our feature on taking a third language in JC, click here.

This article does not necessarily reflect the views of RI’s academic management and should not be used as a substitute for formal academic counselling.

What is it like to take H2 Japanese? How is it different from Japanese in secondary school? How is it different from taking Japanese at H1 level? If you are considering taking H2 Japanese and would like to know more about it, you have come to the right place.

H2 Japanese: a Humanities subject

Firstly, before diving into the details, it should be noted that H2 Japanese is considered a Humanities subject and can be taken as a contrasting subject for Science stream students, but this is not true for H1 Japanese, as the latter is regarded as a Language subject.


H2 Japanese classes are conducted twice a week from 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm at the Bishan campus of the Ministry of Education Language Centre (MOELC) over two years. The number of students enrolling in the course differs from year to year, but there is usually only one class. The H2 Japanese cohort is also usually larger than the French and German counterparts, with 23 students this year, as opposed to nine and four students respectively. H1 Japanese classes are conducted at the same time (though not necessarily on the same days) and location – the difference is that lessons take place over only one year.


Firstly, an ‘A’ grade for the Japanese O-Level examination is a prerequisite for taking H2 Japanese. In addition, there is also an admission test that assesses your aptitude in the language. Although only those who pass the test will be allowed to take H2 Japanese, you may still appeal to take the course should you fail it. The test is conducted at the end of Year 4. If you have yet to make up your mind about taking H2 Japanese by the time the test rolls around, this author advises you to sit for the test first and take the rest of your December holidays to mull it over. You can always choose to switch over to H1 Japanese during matriculation, as there are generally no prerequisites for H1 Japanese.

Lessons & Curriculum

H2 Japanese is very different from Japanese in secondary school. While the latter focuses on building your foundation of the Japanese language, H2 Japanese places more emphasis on Japanese culture, history, and current affairs. Many H2 Japanese students describe the subject to be similar to H1 General Paper. For example, sample essay questions include ‘家族形態の変化は社会にどのような影響を与えているか。(What kind of influence are changes in family structures having on society?) and ‘日本の地方都市再生に政府からの補助金は役に立つか。’(Are subsidies from the government useful in Japan’s urban revitalisation?). Lessons are largely discussion-based and involve student presentations. Little class time is spent on grammar and vocabulary, which students are expected to self-study.

In contrast, H1 Japanese focuses on advancing language mastery, and is often seen as a continuation of Japanese in secondary school. As for content, H1 Japanese is significantly less rigorous: it is more general and broad-based, without requiring specific knowledge of Japan. Topics for composition essays include ‘外国人に伝えたい自国文化’ (lit. Your country’s culture that you want to tell foreigners about) and ‘地球温暖化を止めるために私たちにできること’ (lit. What we can do to stop global warming).

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Unlike Year 1–4 Japanese papers that test students’ mastery of vocabulary and grammar, H2 Japanese papers are more aptitude-based and similar to secondary school English Language or H1 GP papers. The reading comprehension questions are tougher and most require inferential skills. For the A-Level examination, which is administered at the end of J2, other components of the assessment include Oral, Essay, Listening Comprehension and Coursework, which involves writing research papers on topics about Japan. You may wish to take a look at the 2019 SEAB syllabus for H2 Japanese for reference. While topic areas differ from year to year, the general assessment formats are applicable and largely relevant.

One major difference between H1 and H2 Japanese is that students taking H1 Japanese sit for their A-Level examination at the end of J1. The H1 Japanese syllabus does not have the Coursework component, and the Reading Comprehension is generally easier as answers can often be lifted from the passage, similar to those in secondary school.

Scholarships & Future Prospects

More pragmatic students might be interested in what H2 Japanese has to offer. Firstly, H2 Japanese students may apply for the Language Elective Scholarship (Japanese) (JLES), which provides an allowance of $1,000 per annum. Successful applicants are also required to participate in the Overseas Study cum Immersion Programme held at the end of J1. Unfortunately, JLES is not open to H1 Japanese students. For further studies, undergraduate scholarships are also offered by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Public Service Commission. Many H2 Japanese students enroll in Japanese universities and some have returned to MOELC as Japanese teachers.

So what does it take for one to study H2 Japanese? If you ask any H2 Japanese student, the most common answer would likely be ‘passion’ and ‘discipline’. Indeed, staying back till 7.30pm twice a week is no joke and many have expressed that ‘it does take a toll’. H2 Japanese students must be especially prepared to invest a lot of time in the subject, as students are required to participate in competitions like the Japanese Speech Contest and help organise events such as MOELC’s Japan Day. In addition, your CCA options may be limited since two days of the week will be off-limits, unless special arrangements are made. For example, some students miss part of their CCA sessions and return to school for CCA after their Japanese class.

Although demanding, taking H2 Japanese can be a very rewarding experience. Based on her personal experience, Angelica Ong (18A01C) expressed that it has allowed her to ‘gain access to another treasure trove of information, [opening] many doors and [connecting her] to another part of the world’ as ‘the section of the Internet with exclusively Japanese content, as well as books that are only available in Japanese, are now accessible to [her], and [she is] able to converse with people who only speak Japanese.’

Should you take H2 Japanese? Yes, if you have a deep passion for not only the Japanese language but also Japanese culture, history and current affairs. If you are more keen on polishing your Japanese language skills, H1 Japanese might be more suitable for you. If you are unsure, you can always sign up and sit for the admission test first and decide later.

External Links

For more information about the 2020 H1 Japanese syllabus, visit the SEAB website at

For more information about the 2020 H2 Japanese syllabus, visit the SEAB website at

For more information about the Japanese Language Elective Scholarship, visit the MOE website at

For more information about scholarship opportunities, visit the Japanese Ministry of Culture, Sports, Science and Technology website at

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