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.


teach yourself japaneseWhat do I need to know to pass JLPT N3?

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.

JLPT N3 Resources exam breakdown

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 700 for N4) – About 2250 NEW words!
– 650 Kanji (including the 103 needed for N5 and 181 for N4) – About 366 NEW kanji (and their vocab)!
– Grammar (varies but another 120+ grammar points including keigo and informal Japanese)
– Reading
– Listening

Nihongo Soumatome (Vocab, Kanji, Grammar, Reading, Listening):

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!)



The best vocabulary books out there (I think) are Nihongo Tango Speed Master. Someone has even put most of the vocabulary from this book on Memrise: JLPT N3 Standard 2400 Part 1! There are of course lots of other vocabulary and kanji courses on Memrise.

Vocabulary is best to study daily alongside kanji. Of course if you come across words you don’t know you should make a note of them and study them alongside other vocabulary.


Kanji:teach yourself japanese

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.

I strongly recommend these apps for kanji: Japanese Kanji Study (for Android) OR Kanji Box (for iOS).



If you choose not to use the Nihongo Soumatome series, or would like something else on top 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 these lack on explanation, and they’re BORING. You could use it in conjunction with Tae Kim’s Guide to Grammar, Maggie Sensei, and JapaneseTest4You 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.

If you’re like me and grammar is your weakest part then buy a grammar drill book! They are great for preparing you for the exam. I explain this more with some book suggestions here: The Best Way to Study Grammar for the JLPT.

[Although J-Talk Online is currently in the process of making an N3 Grammar course on Memrise]



JLPT N3 Shinkanzen master readingIf 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.

JapaneseTest4You even has some practice reading tests (although not many).

The best book to get though is Shinkanzen Master N3 Reading.



Similar to what I mentioned in Passing the JLPT N4 N5 Listening, the listening can be hard if you’re not used to listening to Japanese.

I strongly suggest getting and teacher and/or speaking partner to practice listening to and speaking with. Italki.com is always great for finding people to work with through skype.

As for practice questions you can find some through JapaneseTest4You.

I also suggest watching lots of anime and easy to understand Japanese news so you get listening materials aimed at native Japanese people too.

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. 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.

About a month before you take the test try doing some practice exams! Even if you haven’t covered everything. JLPT Bootcamp has links to practice exams and JLPT website has some example questions.

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.



JLPT N3 – Study Methods and Resources
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