My decision to take the JLPT N3 was a foolish one. It was the end of August and I had just finished Genki II which was a big milestone for me. Studying for the JLPT had always been in the back of my mind as something I would like to do.
Registration would be closing within the next week so I had decide which level to take quickly. Broadly speaking, Genki II would have put me around the N4 level. So logically I should have registered for the N4, but (still riding the thrill of finishing the textbook) I wanted a bit of a challenge… so I signed up for the N3.
Keep in mind the exam was held on the first Sunday of December, which essentially meant I had 3 months to get from where I was up to N3 proficiency. For those who like numbers, that’s 350+ new kanji, and 2000+ new vocabulary compared to N5/N4. Not to mention all the new grammar points.
So started my 3 months of study hell.
Today I’m going to talk about how I managed to (just) cram all the knowledge required for the JLPT N3 in order to pass the exam. Also why you should NOT do this if you value your sanity. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting or maybe even useful!
At the end of this post I’ll link to the Resources that helped me get me through it all!
First I needed a good learning resource specific to the JLPT. There were a few online resources that looked okay, but I prefer learning with physical textbooks (call me old school).
After a bit of research, the books that were best for my learning style seemed to be the Shin Kanzen Master series. At the time I was on a tight budget, so I only got the books I thought I would need. For me that was the Kanji, Grammar, and Reading comprehension books.
While I waited for my textbooks (ordered express from Amazon), I wanted to know how my current skill compared to the N3 exam. Put another way, I wanted to know how screwed I was for the exam. So I found a mock exam available freely online and took it under timed conditions.
Before starting I figured I could at least stumble through it… but I was wrong. I failed in all areas except for the listening component (thank you JapanesePod101)!
It was at that moment I knew it was going to be a very rough 3 months.
My books arrived a few days later so I set about making a study schedule for the next 3 months. As you’re probably aware, the JLPT is split into four sections:
- Kanji and vocabulary
Kanji and vocabulary would be the main bottleneck for my studies due to sheer volume, so that would be my first focus area.
Grammar would be my next focus, followed by reading comprehension using the Shin Kanzen Master books.
If I learnt one thing from the practice exam it would be that listening was my strongest area. Of course I still needed some practice, but I wouldn’t need to allocate as much study time to this area. My plan was to just keep listening to JapanesePod101.
Finally, in order to get as much practice as possible I bought the Official JLPT N3 Exam Workbook and the N3 Tettei Drill book.
- Shin Kanzen Master N3 – Kanji
- Shin Kanzen Master N3 – Grammar
- Shin Kanzen Master N3 – Reading comprehension
- Official JLPT N3 Exam Workbook
- N3 Tettei Drill book
Kanji and Vocabulary
It took a while, but I managed to input all the kanji from the Kanzen Kanji textbook by hand. This included the ~300 kanji from N5/N4 as well as the extra ~350 for N3.
You might be asking why would I do this by hand? Why not just import a deck someone else has already made?
I had two reasons for this.
Firstly, I found it’s easier to learn and remember cards that you create on your own. You also have full control over what cards you create and, more importantly, what ones you don’t need to create.
Secondly, the Shin Kanzen book groups kanji and words based on common characters, compared to many online lists where the kanji is ordered alphabetically or by kana.
I think this was really beneficial because I learnt the different ways a single character is used and build up a “feeling” for what that kanji represents.
I also went through a few N3 vocabulary lists online to add the words I needed to practice or simply didn’t know.
In the end my Anki deck consisted of ~3000 cards! It was rough, but by reviewing pretty much every day I was able to get through the entire deck just in time for the exam day.
Shin Kanzen Master does a good job at grouping the grammar points into related themes like “time” or “comparisons”, and even has a section dedicated to keigo (honourifics).
My general approach to each chapter was to study each point (where and how it is used) and then translate the example sentences as best I could. Most of the book is written in Japanese so it was pretty hard to get through.
After struggling through the first two chapters I signed up to Lang-8 to get help translating those sentences. I can’t overstate how much time and headache this saved me!
After each chapter I would put those sentences into my N3 Sentences Anki deck so I could practice them further.
I’ve reviewed the books in this series:
- A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar
- A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar
- A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar
This was definitely the area I needed to improve the most in based on my mock exam results. The Kanzen Reading book was somewhat useful due the variety of resources it has you read.
I slowly got used to reading different types of written material such as email, posters, and essays. The book also talked about good techniques for reading quickly. Like being able to “approximate” the meaning of a sentence based on the start and the end.
However, the resource that worked the best for me was a free app called TangoRisto. This app pulls articles from NHK News so you can practice reading moderately complex material. You can tap on any of the words or their meaning or kanji for their reading.
For me the biggest selling point is that you can set your JLPT level so the app will hide the furigana for kanji you should know.
In the end I got through the Shin Kanzen Master reading book, but I think I could have done just fine without it.
My Crazy JLPT Study Plan
That’s a lot of study – so you’re probably wondering how I managed to do this all in 3 months before the exam.
The answer is “barely”.
I was working full time so I had to make the time to study during the week – studying only weekends just wouldn’t cut it. I’d need to study at least 3-4 hours on average per day.
I commute by train every day which is 1 hour each way so I used that time to review my Anki decks. I also sacrificed most of my lunch hour to do textbook work or review notes. In addition to that, I would go to the public library occasionally after work to get a good 2-3 hour study session in.
Here’s the overall schedule I followed to get there. Once again I do NOT recommend you do this! It wasn’t easy and many times I just felt like giving up. By the end of it I felt really worn out and, in all seriousness, considered giving Japanese a break for a while.
These are the activities I was doing for the entirety of the 3 months:
- Reviewing Anki decks (~100 cards per day)
- Reading TangoRisto (2-3 articles per day)
- Listening to JapanesePod101 (2-3 lessons per day)
Month 1 (September)
The goal for this month was to build up my Anki deck and study ALL the grammar from the Shin Kanzen Master book.
I was waking up 30-40 minutes earlier every morning and also sacrificing my lunch break to add all the kanji and vocabulary. This took about two weeks in total.
For the remaining two weeks I was averaging 2-3 chapters per day of the Kanzen grammar book.
Month 2 (October)
This month was spent building up my reading comprehension skills.
Using a similar study timetable for month 1, I went through the Kanzen reading book and read as many articles as I could through the TangoRisto app.
Looking back, I could have skipped the book and only used TangoRisto.
Month 3 (November)
The first two weeks of this month were spent revising all the material from the past 2 months.
For the last two weeks I drilled as many practice exams as I could using the Offical JLPT exam book and Tettei-Drill N3.
Here’s a daily breakdown of a typical day during this time:
- 6:30 – 7:00 am: Wake up and review Anki decks
- 7:00 – 7:30 am: Get ready for work
- 7:50 – 8:50 am: Study on train (Anki or TangoRisto)
- 9:00 – 12:00 pm: Work
- 12:00 – 1:00 pm: Study
- 1:00 – 5:30 pm: Work
- 6:00 – 7:00 pm: Study on train (JapanesePod101)
- 7:00 – 8:00 pm: Dinner
- 8:00 – 9:00 pm: Study
Of course there were exceptions to this schedule. Some days I would study less, some days I would study more.
I got there in the end – I was able to revise all the material I needed to and ultimately pass the exam. However I was burnt out. I actually took a month break from the language because of this intense 3 month period.
I want to stress to you again – DO NOT DO THIS! If you want to take the JLPT please have more foresight than I did and give yourself at least 6 months for the N3 and maybe 12 months for N2/N1.
If you find yourself in a similar position where you’ve got a LOT of material to cover in a short period of time, then you need to follow a disciplined approach to studying. 3-4 hours 5 days per week would be my minimum recommendation for such a short time span.
It’s also important to find a good study resource – I used the Shin Kanzen Master series which was very good, but very detailed. I felt I skipped over the explanations a lot just in the interest of time.
Here are the resources I used to study for the JLPT N3.
Full disclosure: These are affiliate links to White Rabbit Japan or Amazon.
Whenever you make a purchase through one of these links you’re directly supporting this blog at no extra cost to you.
White Rabbit Japan
- Shin Kanzen Master N3 – Complete Set (discounted)
- Shin Kanzen Master N3 – Grammar
- Shin Kanzen Master N3 – Listening
- Shin Kanzen Master N3 – Reading
- Shin Kanzen Master N3 – Vocabulary
- Shin Kanzen Master N3 – Kanji