Preparing for the JLPT N3 Test

  • October 2, 2017 / Lily Cernak

The N3 is the middle level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. It is an upper intermediate level test. To pass the JLPT N3, the recommendation is to know about 650 kanji and about 3,750 vocabulary words.

In this article, we will be discussing resources that you can use to prepare for the N3, including some that may surprise you (have you ever listened to a Japanese-dubbed Disney song?).

Differences between N3 and N4

1. Number of recommended kanji and vocabulary

The recommended number of kanji for the N3 is about 350 more than for the N4, and the recommended number of vocabulary is about 2,250 more. This is a somewhat bigger gap than the gap between the N5 and the N4, and may at first sound like an intimidating quantity.

But when you go through your intermediate/advanced Japanese textbook, you will acquire the needed kanji and much of the needed vocabulary faster than you would think. (See the books discussed in the Resources section below)

You may need to supplement your textbook’s vocabulary with vocabulary from other sources. But either of the intermediate/advanced textbooks discussed below should teach all or most of the kanji you need for the N3.

2. Reading sections

The reading sections of the N3 still include a fair amount of furigana, but they do expect you to read many more kanji without it than the N4 does. This and the higher amount of recommended kanji/vocabulary/grammar pattern knowledge are the primary differences between the N3 and the N4 reading sections.

3. Listening sections

One small change in the listening section is that the narrator speaks a little faster in the N3 than in the N4. But the audio clips themselves in the N3 listening section do not feature faster speech than the audio clips in the N4 listening section.

Similarly to the reading sections, the main differences between the N3 and the N4 listening sections lie in the quantity of vocabulary and grammar patterns used.

Resources for N3 Prep

1) “Tobira: Gateway to Advanced Japanese” or “An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese”

These two textbooks are an especially good investment if you plan to study for the N2 test after passing the N3.

Tobira contains about 800 kanji (around 150 more than you need for the N3, and 200 less than you need for the N2)

An Integrated Approach contains about 1000 kanji (the exact recommended amount for the N2; For N3 you need around 350 more).

If your Japanese studies up until this point have been mostly informal, we recommend using the two “Genki” textbooks before beginning “Tobira” or “An Integrated Approach.”

Though a combination of the “Genki” books with either “Tobira” or “An Integrated Approach” will give you all the kanji you need for the N3. You may need to study additional vocabulary outside of these textbooks.

2) Disney songs and pop music

Believe it or not, J-pop (or J-rock), as well as the Japanese versions of Disney songs, can be quite helpful in your N3 studies!

Once you are familiar with most of the grammar points needed for N3 (which will probably happen before you are comfortable with all of N3’s kanji and vocabulary), you will be able to understand a great deal of the grammar used in popular music.

Vocaloid songs can be especially good because many Vocaloid music videos feature subtitles as part of the animation. If you find a Japanese song that you like that is not a Vocaloid song, a Google search should give you a transcription of the lyrics.

If you look up any unfamiliar words and kanji in those lyrics, you may find yourself remembering those words and phrases much more readily than you otherwise would because of the attached melody of the song! Earworms are not always annoying – sometimes they are a wonderful study aid.

You might be probably very familiar with at least a few Disney songs (a certain lion and ice-powered princess come to mind). And because practically every Disney song has an official Japanese dubbed version, these can also be excellent for affixing vocabulary words to a melody and cementing those words into your memory forever.

3) Additional Textbooks

Both the “Tobira” and “An Integrated Approach” textbooks move through kanji, vocabulary, and grammar points very quickly.

Each of their chapters does include quite a number of examples and a variety of exercises for each new grammar point (and both textbooks have companion workbooks). However, the number of exercises is likely to be insufficient to become fully comfortable with each chapter’s introduced kanji, vocabulary, and grammar.

After completing all or part of “Tobira,” it can be helpful to purchase and complete “An Integrated Approach” (or vice versa). Or to complete another intermediate/advanced level textbook.

Seeing the grammar points, kanji, and vocabulary put forward in different ways and in fresh sentences can help to make their usage and meaning more clear. As well as to solidify them in your memory.

For additional practice and study resources, check out our Intermediate Resources article. And of course, do not forget that Kawa Kawa has lots of free practice materials and resources over in our Library tab. As well as lots of helpful articles on grammar, kanji, and word usage in our Blog tab!

Preparing for the Reading Sections

Regardless of the level of the JLPT you are taking, the question formats stay relatively consistent. Please see the “Preparing for the Reading Sections” portion of our N2 article for a general list of the types of questions you will see in JLPT reading sections.

It is important to find materials to read that are at the correct level and that you enjoy. This goes into preparing for any of the JLPT reading sections. Whether you are studying for the N5, the N3, or the N1.

Just as with learning any language, one of the best ways to truly learn Japanese vocabulary (and kanji) is to see it over and over again.

For the N3, certain genres of manga and comics make for good supplementary reading practice. Be careful of which comics you choose for this. Slice of life stories and human dramas will use vocabulary that you will find on the test. But other genres such as action and science fiction may use a lot of vocabularies that you will not need.

In addition, the dialogue in slice of life stories tends to be both easier to follow (and thus more enjoyable to read for long periods) and more useful for JLPT prep than that in action stories.

Manga such as Yotsubato!” (Japanese title: よつばと!), which is entirely about everyday life, is a good choice for N3 students. If you don’t live near any Japanese bookstores, you can order Japanese comics and other books from Amazon or eBay. They are surprisingly inexpensive.

Preparing for the Listening Section

Similarly to the reading sections, the listening sections of the JLPT are similar in format from level to level. Please see the “Preparing for the Listening Section” portion of our N2 article. It has  for a general list of the types of questions you will hear in JLPT listening sections.

The first step in preparing for the N3 listening sections is to make sure that you are using the listening portions of your textbooks.

Both “Genki” textbooks, “An Integrated Approach” and the “Tobira” textbook, have listening portions either on CDs or online. If you are studying on your own, it can be easy to overlook these listening portions. Especially since if you bought the book used, it may not have come with its CDs.

If you have gone through the listening portions of all your textbooks and are looking for additional audio practice, check out our Podcast and Blog sections. It has podcasts and audio/video lessons all for FREE!

Are you on a long daily commute or frequently go jogging with your phone o/r mp3 player? Podcasts are a good way to make sure you get listening practice in as well as reading practice.

If you have gone through all our resources and still want more, you can also check out websites such as Japanesepod101 for podcasts and audio content. (Although it must be noted that Japanesepod101 charges a subscription fee to access its full contents).

That’s all on the JLPT N3 for now. Did you find this article helpful? Was there information we didn’t include that you wish we had covered? What are your favorite JLPT N3 study materials? Leave us a comment below!



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