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How to Pass JLPT N3?

Updated: Feb 21

Tips for the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (N3)



So, I just got word that I passed my JLPT N3, thank you very much. I didn’t exactly ace the test, but I’d like to think that my study technique saved me rather than hinder my progress. It might not be perfect, but at least it got one struggling Norwegian past the hurdle that is the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test.


To be honest, learning Japanese is one of the hardest things I’ve set out to do in my life. I have studied many subjects and fields, at high school, college and Universities, but nothing comes even close to the challenge of tackling the Japanese language.


JLPT is not just a test, it is a door-opener into Japanese society!


Perhaps I lack a good ear for language. My talent for learning Japanese certainly seems lesser than many of my fellow students. Then again, many seem to struggle just as much as me. This article is for you, the bunch that have been at it for a while, and whose faith are running low. Perhaps this recipe might just help you one step further.


JLPT, or rather Japanese language skills, are a necessity for anyone who hopes to gain a closer understanding of Japanese culture. It is also a requirement for anyone who aspires to get into the Japanese job market. In the words of a proper otaku, JLPT N3 is the boss fight that lets you move on to the next level: Intermediate Japan.



Contents:

  1. JLPT N3 Required Skills and Tools

  2. Recommended Study Supplies for JLPT N3

  3. Recommended Study Progression for JLPT N3

  4. JLPT N3 – Vocabulary and Kanji Studies

  5. Recommended Mobile Apps for JLPT N3 Kanji Studies

  6. JLPT N3 – Listening Comprehension Studies

  7. Recommended TV-Dramas for JLPT N3 Listening Comprehension Studies

  8. JLPT N3 – Grammar Studies

  9. Recommended YouTube Channels for JLPT N3 Grammar Studies

  10. JLPT N3 – Practice Exam Studies

  11. Recommended Books for JLPT N3 Practice Exam Studies



JLPT N3 Required Skills and Tools


The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test is divided into three parts: Vocabulary, Grammar and Listening Comprehension. In order to study all these sections adequately, I split my studies into two different blocks: Intensive Grammar Studies and Intensive JLPT Practice Exam Studies.


I started studying specifically for JLPT N3 about three months before the test day. First, I did a six-week intensive study of Japanese grammar. Then, for the next six weeks I did practice exam after practice exam, for as long as my concentration would allow.


Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary and Kanji studies were also intensified during these three months, but to be honest, these things should be practiced always, as much as you can. I will get back to this in a little bit. Before starting, however, you need to get good tools to help you on the way:


For studying Kanji and Vocabulary, I used two cellphone apps. For Grammar studies, I used two YouTube-channels. For practicing Listening Comprehension, I watched Japanese variety TV-shows and Japanese TV-dramas. Finally, for practicing the test-taking in itself, I went through three books with so called mock exams, or JLPT N3 practice tests.



Recommended Study Supplies for JLPT N3


  • Kanji Flashcards

  • Kanji Tree Cellphone App

  • Takoboto Cellphone App

  • Access to YouTube

  • Access to Japanese TV-shows, Series or Anime

  • JLPT N3 Doriru & Moshi (Drill & Mock Tests)

  • JLPT N3 Official Practice Tests (Japan Foundation)

  • The Best Practice Tests for the JLPT N3 (The Japan Times Publishing)

  • Shogaku 1 Nen no Kanji (Gakken Ban Mainichi no Drill)


The order of your studies might not be so important. I would advise studying in an order that feels natural to you. In my case, I’ve shifted my focus from study term to study term. My tactic is to identify my weak points, and then allot extra time to improve in this particular area.


When taking N4, I noticed that the grammar held me back. So, for N3, I set aside extra time to focus on the grammar. This time, I noticed that my weak point was Kanji. I simply did not remember enough of them to make complete sense of the texts in my exam. Therefore, in preparation for JLPT N2, I will allot more time to Kanji studies.



Recommended Study Progression for JLPT N3


  • Kanji and Vocabulary practice started 5-6 months before the exam date.

  • Listening Comprehension practice started 5-6 months before the exam date.

  • Grammar studies started 3 months before the exam date.

  • Practice Exam studies started 1.5 months before the exam date.



JLPT N3 – Vocabulary and Kanji Studies

(I spent about 30 minutes, 5 days a week, for 5-6 months)


My favorite tools for learning Kanji and Vocabulary are two mobile apps called «Kanji Tree» and «Takoboto Japanese Dictionary».


A great feature about these two apps, is that they are easily connected with each other. If I have a question when practicing Kanji recognition in Kanji Tree, I can just click the Takoboto icon, and will be taken directly to the dictionary entry in the other app.



Recommended Mobile Apps for JLPT N3 Kanji Studies

  • Kanji Tree

  • Takoboto


Kanji tree makes Kanji practice... well... if not fun, at least more interesting :)


Kanji Tree


This nifty little app is divided into three practice modes: Kanji Recognition, Reading Practice and Writing Practice. Each mode lets you practice the specific Kanji, words or writing required of the different JLPT levels.


In addition, the Kanji section is divided into primary and secondary school grades, so that you always know when your Kanji recognition skill is on par with a second grader, third grader, and so on.



Hot tip #1 for anyone about to get started on the JLPT-run:

Don't forget to study radicals!!!

I didn't see the point at first, but it definitely helps in the long run.



The reading section is also divided into blocks that correspond with the different JLPT-levels. Alternatively, you can split your study into eight blocks of «most commonly used words». The first block lists the 1000 most common Japanese words, while the final one lists a whopping 8000 words.


This app is amazing, in the sense that it ables you to study effectively on the go. I used it constantly on the subway, when waiting in line for ramen, before bedtime, or whenever I had five minutes to spare.


Takoboto is your eight-thousand-armed helper on the path towards JLPT success.


Takoboto


Takoboto is a sort of open-source Japanese dictionary, which is to say that users can edit the entries freely. It is not as accurate as an electronic dictionary, but at the same time it is a lot less complicated for beginners.


What I like about Takoboto – aside from the fact that the app-name is an amalgamation of the words «tako» (meaning octopus) and «robotto» (meaning robot) – is the nifty search functions.



I find it rather interesting, though, that many of the example sentences

reflect the rumored negative disposition of the Japanese mind-set.



Takoboto makes it very easy to look up radicals and search for words connected to certain Kanji. In addition, it comes with loads of example sentences and grammar explanations.


Be advised, however, that the open-source format leads to some mistaken explanations, and also for people to add some rather filthy example sentences. Sometimes, it is hilarious, other times it is just offensive.



JLPT N3 – Listening Comprehension Studies

(I spent about 60 minutes every day for 5-6 months)


Let’s be honest, studying Listening Comprehension from abroad is hard. It will take a lot of discipline, and a lot of digging for materiel that suits your skill-level and personal taste. I couldn’t do it before moving to Japan, and even after relocating to Tokyo, it still feels like an uphill battle every day.


That being said, I have found some entertaining TV-dramas that are nicely balanced between intermediate Japanese dialogue and lighthearted comedy. So far, I have watched 6-8 drama series back-to-back, which definitely made my Language Comprehension practice a lot more approachable.


Let me tell you about my favorite shows:



Recommended TV-Dramas for JLPT N3 Listening Comprehension Studies


  • Kino Nani Tabeta / What did you Eat Yesterday? (2019)

  • The Solitary Gourmet / Kodoku no Gurume (2012-2021)

  • Atto Hômu Daddo / At Home Dad (2016)

  • Kekkon Dekinai Otoko / He Who Can’t Marry (Season 1, 2006)


Not sponsored! I just happen to find my J-Dramas at Amazon Prime.


Kino Nani Tabeta / What did you Eat Yesterday? (2019)


What did you Eat Yesterday is by far the best Japanese TV-drama I ever saw. The language is a bit too hard for N3 JLPT-students to grasp all the nuances, but the main story is not too hard to follow. A great thing about this show is that all the actors speak very clearly, which makes it a good choice for practicing Language Comprehension.


What did you Eat Yesterday tells the story of a gay couple in Tokyo. They are both stereotypes, but their daily life still reflects many issues about homosexuality in Japan. Also, each episode has a segment that turns the storytelling into something like a cooking show/food commercial.


That being said, the two main actors are – for lack of a better word – fabulous. The chemistry between the two of them is truly endearing. They perform well and showcase great comedic timing, the filming is sound, and the sound perfectly accentuates the story. All in all, a great show that will both challenge and entertain N3-students.



The Solitary Gourmet / Kodoku no Gurume (2012-2021)


The Solitary Gourmet is my most watched Japanese TV-drama. The laidback atmosphere makes it very easy to digest, and the sparse dialogue is perfectly manageable to follow for N3 JLPT-students.


The premise is simply, yet quite clever. An art-dealer is traveling around the larger Tokyo area on business. Each episode he visits a new train station, and ends up at a new local restaurant.


In essence, the show is nothing else than an elaborate restaurant commercial, camouflaged as a Japanese drama. The featured restaurants are real-life places, some of which became so crowded after the show that they had to be shut down.


Be that as it may, Yutaka Matsushige carries the entire show on his shoulders, and he does it with ease as he chews and gulps his way through the Tokyo restaurant scene. The show never becomes complicated, just like its language. Be prepared for serious munchies, though.



Atto Hômu Daddo / At Home Dad (2016)


At Home Dad provides a good blend of comedy and social commentary. It will definitely challenge N3-students, but I find that a little challenge is better than too easy shows, as long as the story grips me enough to make me want to understand.


At Home Dad is a fairly innocent comment on Japanese gender roles. The protagonist is a typical male-chauvinist executive at an advertising company. He is married to a housewife, and together they have a daughter in elementary school.


When suddenly the father looses his job, and his wife turns out to be a very capable ex-salarywoman, the reversal of the gender roles comes at them like a freight train. From one day to the other, this guy goes from downing whiskey for lunch, to preparing lunch boxes and doing the laundry for a living.


You get the gist. The story is far from surprising, but still amusing. The Japanese dialogue is just hard enough to grasp, though I must admit that it left me dumbfounded at least a few times during each episode.



Kekkon Dekinai Otoko / He Who Cant Marry


He Who Can’t Marry is probably the most advanced of these shows in terms of Japanese language, but for some reason I found it easier to follow than both At Home Dad and What did you Eat Yesterday?


The show is about a very peculiar architect. He is introvert, direct, and sometimes downright rude, which also makes him interesting. Surrounding this strange architect is a strong ensemble cast. The chemistry between the lot of them is quite unique, and makes the show more memorable than most J-Dramas.


As mentioned, the language is rather advanced, but at the same time, the main story is easy to follow, and the pronunciation of the lines are not too hard to grasp for foreign ears. In addition, the topics of discussion are usually rather mundane, which is good when it comes to Language Comprehension practice. The architect-related banter remained an enigma to me throughout the series, but luckily this is just the backdrop for the melodrama between the characters.


Check out my Japanese film blog for more tips about Japanese series and films.

Here are my best Japanese films for beginners to Japanese cinema.



JLPT N3 – Grammar Studies

(I spent about 60 minutes, 5 days a week, for 1.5 months)


Getting through all the required grammar points for JLPT N3 took me six weeks on the dot. I could have done it faster, but for the grammar points to sink in, I took the time to make flashcards with example sentences for each and every grammar point.


I have watched a ton of different YouTube-channels that are teaching Japanese. Over time, two channels stood out by suiting both my pace and needs for explanation better than the others. Both of these channels cover the same grammar points, but one does it in English, and the other in Japanese.


Learn Japanese might not look like much, but it delivers the goods!


Recommended YouTube Channels for JLPT N3 Grammar Studies




Learn Japanese


Learn Japanese is my favorite JLPT-tutoring YouTube-channel. It is nothing fancy at all, and many times the kid teacher is going very fast. But, he also explains the grammar points more effectively than any other resource I’ve found on YouTube.


I much prefer to pause the videos when I need, and just let him go. His formula is to explain the grammar points first, and then follow up with apt example sentences. His presentation is unpretentious, real and sometimes a little nerdy. In other words, he delivers exactly what you came for.



日本語の森 (Nihongo no Mori)


Just like Learn Japanese, 日本語の森 is also very simple and down to earth. It might even be considered a little amateurish, which is exactly why I like it. Also, the teacher explains the grammar points in perfectly understandable Japanese for N3 students.


I guess you could say that 日本語の森 scores higher on pedagogic approach, but lower on production value. Another positive point is the pace, which is slow, yet succinct. The only negative point is that the videos sometimes are disturbed by a very unnecessary soundtrack.



Hot tip #2 for anyone about to get started on the JLPT-run:

Make flashcards!!! Writing the Kanji makes them easier to remember.

(And no, writing on your smartphone doesnt count!)



Flashcards


As you might have noticed, I love flashcards. But I do not use them for single-word study anymore. Instead, I write full sentences in which I make sure to include key Grammar points, key Kanji and key Vocabulary.


It is a hassle to make 200-300 flashcards, for sure. But once the job is done, it is the only tool I need to repeat all the Kanji and Grammar I went over the past 3-6 months before the exam. This study tactic might not suit everyone, but for students who suffer from mild OCD like myself, it can be very helpful.


Flashcards! The perfect outlet for OCD!


JLPT N3 – Practice Exam Studies

(I spent about 60 minutes every day for 1.5 months)


Practice exams are key if you want to pass JLPT. Their goal is not necessarily to make you a better Japanese speaker, just a better test-taker. Time is one of the biggest challenges when taking the JLPT. You have very limited time to complete your tasks, and time wasted on understanding the test format will surely lead to failure.


In other words, study what kind of problems you are expected to solve, and study the test procedures even closer. Take as many practice tests as you can, and time yourself doing so. Learn to decipher the main points of your target text, and then to pair the right question with the right point.



Hot tip #3 for anyone about to get started on the JLPT-run:

Take as many practice exams as you can!

Failing the test for lack of test-taking skills is sooo annoying.



An interesting observation I have made, is that the tests rarely presents trick questions. So, follow your instincts. No one is out to get you. If two answers seem very similar, odds are that both of them are wrong. The test is not designed to make things more difficult than they have to be, at least not very often.


Luckily, there are loads of practice exams available online and in bookstores all over Japan. I have tried a bunch of them, some which felt more constructive than others. Here are the ones I used to pass JLPT N3:



Recommended Books for JLPT N3 Practice Exam Studies



The JLPT-books needed to pass N3.


JLPT N3 Doriru & Moshi (Drill & Mock Tests)


Doriru & Moshi might seem a strange choice when you hear what I am about to say: This book is far from the best one when it comes to making you an effective test-taker. Here is why it still is my favorite book on the list:


Doriru & Moshi probably didn’t make me the best JLPT-test-taker in the world, but it did however, teach me some actual worthwhile and applicable Japanese. In other words, this book will make you a better Japanese-speaker first, a better test-taker second.


Another strong point, is that Doriru & Moshi very effectively makes you aware of your weak points. The second most important aspect of taking test exams is to pinpoint which part of your Japanese understanding that needs to improve the most.



JLPT N3 Official Practice Tests


It goes without saying that the official book from the JLPT test-makers themself should be studied. This is the closest example of a real test you will find anywhere, and it is a great resource for getting insight on what to expect when the test day comes.


I tend to feel that JLPT practice exam books from the Japan Foundation are a little easier than the actual tests. However, this impression might very well connect to the time pressure you are under when sitting with the real thing in front of you.



The Best Practice Tests for the JLPT N3


The Japan Times’ recommended practice test for JLPT was new to me in 2020, but I must say that I liked it a lot. It is the most expensive book on the list, but also the most elaborate one.


Most JLPT practice books are sparse when it comes to explaining the finer points of the Grammar or Vocabulary. I guess the reasoning is that this is test-taking practice. If you want to learn from your mistakes, find out what you did wrong yourself. Or, just buy the Japan Times book. It comes with medium detailed explanations to most sentences.



Hot tip #4 for anyone about to get started on the JLPT-run:

Get your basics in order. They are the foundation

for understanding more difficult Japanese.



Shogaku 1 Nen no Kanji


This last one is not so much a recommendation, as it is a reminder to get your basics in order. Like Onigunso never forgets to remind me, I’ll never get good if my basic level of understanding has as many holes as a five-year-old Japanese kid.


So, she bought me this book, which I am very thankful for today. In my case, there were two main purposes for studying first-grade, elementary school Kanji. Firstly, I needed to learn the correct stroke order of the most elementary Japanese Kanji.


The reason that stroke order is important, is that it makes reading faster, especially if the Kanji are written in an unfamiliar font. If you can identify where the writing of the Kanji started and ended, it is much easier to deduct which Kanji you are actually looking at.


The second reason for practicing elementary school Kanji, is to re-learn the different on-yomi and kun-yomi of the most commonly used Kanji. This proved to be very helpful to me, not just for speeding up my reading for the JLPT, but for getting better at interpreting Kanji-reading in day-to-day life.


I can not underline the last point of my guide for passing JLPT N3 enough: Get your basics in order! Not only will it make you a better test-taker, it will improve your foundation for understanding more complex Japanese and make you an overall better Japanese-speaker.


Now, the time has come for me to get back at it, and prepare for that pesky JLPT N2.


Have a look at the video above to get some of your basics in order ;)

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