A long time ago I talked about taking the JLPT, but I felt like I was a bit vague when it came to beginners as there aren’t actually that many specific text books for the lower levels because there are plenty of others that cover the basics of Japanese.
As a result I wrote this post on taking the JLPT N5 and another for JLPT N4 with what the exam is, resources and study methods (which is why the posts are very similar, and by very similar I mean practically identical but with the links updated and text changed slightly).
This guide is exactly the same expect with JLPT N3, what you need to know, where you can find that information and how you can study for the exam.
The N3 layout is only slightly different from N4 and N5 but it jumps the difficulty up. N3 is considered an intermediate level of Japanese.
The exam is split into 3 sections which look at vocabulary (including kanji), grammar and reading, and listening.
Vocabulary knowledge covers: kanji reading, the kanji for words in hiragana, using the correct word in context, and paraphrases, and usage in sentences.
Grammar knowledge covers: grammar in a sentence, sentence composition, fitting grammar into a text.
Reading knowledge covers: comprehension/understanding of short and mid-length paragraphs, and retrieving information.
Listening covers: task based understanding, key point understanding, verbal expressions and quick responses, retrieving information.
You can see a full list of the breakdown in more detail here.
The following chart also breaks down what is included in all levels of the exam so you can compare.
N3 is marked with the Language Knowledge sections marked between 0~60 points (for vocabulary), the second Language Knowledge is 0~60 points (grammar and reading), and the Listening section is also 0~60 points.
You need to pass each section with at least 19 points (31%). But you need at least a total of 95 out of 180 (53%) (all sections combined) to pass the entire exam. So even if you don’t feel confident about absolutely everything, it’s worth giving it a go as you might surprise yourself.
What you actually need to know:
– 3750 Vocabulary (including the 800 for N5 level and 1500 for N4)
– 650 Kanji (including the 103 needed for N5 and 284 for N4)
Unlike the N4 and N5, there are a lot more books available for the N3 level. When I studied for the exam I used the Nihongo no So-matome series, which I found to be perfect for my learning style and for the N3 level. This series covers vocabulary, kanji, grammar, reading and listening.
What’s great about these books is that they are broken down into easy to digest daily lessons that go over 6 weeks (8 weeks for N2-N1), with the 7th day of each week a practice test similar to the format of the test. Making the information easy to digest and easy to remember (although review is still important).
This series forces you to study every day, which is great, but because of the large number of books it means you’ll be studying for about 2 hours a day, and then an extra hour a day for reviews. So don’t start this books 6 weeks before the exam, start them 6 months beforehand, working on a combination of 3 books a day starting with vocabulary, kanji and grammar, and then going through reading and listening, while reviewing what you learnt in the others. (You will own the exam if you stick with these books studying every day!)
You may have heard of the Basic Kanji Book series as well. This is a really good series to use for studying kanji. The first books cover kanji 1-500 and the kanji based vocabulary they use. If you’ve used this serious and find it suits your learning style I suggest buying book number 3 which covers 501-750.
However, you should try to avoid learning kanji on its own. It’s best to learn it in context through vocabulary, this is because you won’t be tested on the exam for individual kanji, but how they appear in vocabulary and context.
I have a post on methods for Learning Kanji from Beginner to Advance.
If you choose not to use the Nihongo Soumatome series, or would like something else ontop of, then there are not many other choices for grammar. If you’re looking for free resources they are available online, but this takes a lot of work. J-Gram and Tranos has a list of grammar for the exam, but it’s lacking on some explanation points. However, you can use it in conjunction with Tae Kim’s Guide to Grammar to get better explanations.
The problem with this method is you can read the meanings but won’t have any practice using the grammar (whether this is through writing or reading it). Which is why it’s best to invest in a textbook.
The best textbook for Grammar (for all levels) is the Try! JLPT – Studying Japanese from Grammar (which I have a review of here). To sum it up, it is MUCH better at helping you understand and practice the grammar points than the Sometome grammar book, and I strongly recommend it.
[Although J-Talk Online is currently in the process of making an N3 Grammar course on Memrise]
If you do not want to use the Nihongo Somatome, or want to use something else as well as this series then you have a few options.The best way to practice this is actually through past papers, which you may have to invest in buy some official papers, or some made by an external company. You can also try some past papers through Tranos, however, there are not many and you need a variety to help you practice.
JLPT Bootcamp provides a review of the Official N3 Practice Book which covers all sections, not just the reading. This is a great book (I have the N1 version) at not only helping you with reading practice but also exam practice.
How long will it take me to learn everything?
This really does depend on you. It apparently takes about 450 hours to learn all the materials for N3 but this can vary, and as Master Japanese says, if you only study Japanese 1 hour a week it will take you 450 weeks (which is over 9 years). If you do 1 a day that’s only 450 days, which is over a year. I recommend doing two hours a day and then more at the weekend including reviewing.
This should not be a solid 2 hour block though as your brain will get tired after a while, so try and divide this time into 4 manageable 30min chunks throughout the day.
How do I study for the exam?
There are many different methods that vary depending on how you enjoy learning.
If you are not a highly motivated person who aims to study an hour a day but finds themselves not doing anything for several weeks I strongly recommend investing your money into at least 1 hour a week lessons with a private teacher. This will keep you working on your Japanese, and have a native person who can correct basic mistakes. Even if you aren’t a person who get’s distracted easily having someone once a week can really help in the long run.
When you’re studying at home on your own I recommend working through the vocabulary first along side the kanji. Alternating study helps to not bore your brain.
As I mentioned, the more you practice the faster you’ll learn and the more you will remember through regular use. Even if it’s just 20mins a day and then a few hours at the weekend, every little helps! It is also very important to do repetitive and frequent studying (which I’ve previously discussed).
I find it helps to build your own schedule and goals. These might not always go to plan, but it’s not the end of the world and it’s worth trying the test even if you don’t feel very confident. Base the plan on how much time you have before the exam, break it down by what you need to study (giving yourself time to review), how you’re going to study them, and have realistic daily/weekly/monthly goals.
Here’s an example 6 month schedule for N3 JLPT:
- Month 1: Re-cap ALL N5 & N4 vocabulary and kanji (especially those you were stuck on before) This leaves you with 1450 vocabulary and 263 kanji to learn! Yay!
- Month 2: Learn 560 vocabulary (which is 140 a week, or 20 a day) (you don’t have to start learning kanji but it helps to learn the kanji of the vocabulary you’re covering).
- Month 3: Learn 560 vocabulary; learn kanji 131 kanji (32 kanji a week or 4-5 kanji a day) and their vocabulary (even if it’s vocabulary you’ve already covered, study all the vocabulary associated with these kanji); begin going through grammar.
- Month 4: Learn 560 vocabulary; learn kanji 131 kanji (32 kanji a week or 4-5 kanji a day) and their vocabulary; learn 3 new grammar points a day.
- Month 5: Review vocabulary and kanji from scratch (focus on ones you don’t know well); Practice reading; Review and continue grammar.
- Month 6: Practice reading; review vocabulary/kanji/grammar; do one practice exam a week
- EXAM TIME
That might seem daunting and intense, but when you break it down it could just be 30mins four times a day which can really build up.
GOOD LUCK GUYS!