In Japan, the summer testing date for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test has come and gone. This year, I decided to attempt N3, the newest testing level that claims to cover language used in everyday situations. To my surprise, studying for this level of the test was a bit harder than I thought it would be.
After N3 was added to the JLPT roster, tests from previous years stopped being released as study material. This coupled with the fact that N3 is fairly new makes it difficult to find official study materials outside of one textbook and online test. As soon as I realized this, I realized just how much material “everyday situations” could possibly cover, and I was quickly overwhelmed because I didn’t feel like I knew what would be on the test.
After taking the test, however, I think finally have a good idea of what the official study materials were trying to tell me to prepare for. So today, I’m going to talk about my tips for studying for the JLPT N3. If you’re studying for the test date in December or are thinking about taking this level eventually, I hope this can help you!
- Tone and Synonyms
If you look carefully at some of the practice questions in the official study materials for N3, you’ll notice that some questions have two answers that essentially mean the same thing. Often, what makes one answer right and one answer wrong is its tone and level of formality. To prepare yourself for these kinds of questions, make sure you have a good understanding of when certain words or phrases should be used.
Study basic keigo so you have some grasp of formal Japanese.
Study the casual counterparts of the keigo so you have an idea of what language is good for a variety of contexts.
Take note of how grammar and verb forms affect the tone. For example, what’s the difference between ～かもしれない, ～はず, and ～にちがいない? How about the difference between ～てもいいですか and ～たらどうですか? It’s good to know these by heart, and it’s even better to know when and why they’re used.
Take note of how vocabulary fits the tone of a composition or conversation. For example, when would you use したがって over それから? わけover 理由?
On the note of understanding vocabulary, knowing the synonyms of different words could help you. One pair of synonyms that I learned recently was おなかがついた and おなかがへった. Both of these phrases mean, “I’m hungry,” but I had never heard おなかがへった before I moved to Japan and started having conversations with my coworkers.
N3 won’t ask you to do a lot of reading for inference like higher testing levels might, but it will try to test your ability to read context, determine tone, and name synonyms.
- Hiragana and Katakana Vocabulary
If you’re taking N3, you clearly know hiragana and katakana. Make sure your vocabulary of hiragana and katakana words is as strong as your knowledge of kanji. This can help you on almost every section of the test simply by increasing your chances of understanding what’s written in front of you. The last thing you want is to be confronted with a question and not understand some of the content.
Of course, you can never know too many kanji either. Learn as many as you can for the same reasons you should build your hiragana and katakana vocabulary. It can only help you understand more. Just be careful not to focus too much on kanji, because a lot of the more difficult characters throughout the test will actually come with furigana. It’s still worth learning how to read these to understand their meaning, but don’t go overboard on kanji and neglect other parts of your study routine.
Understanding how different grammar forms fit together is essential for understanding the N3. Practicing this can be tricky, so take advantage of what you can find. Finish the exercises in the official study materials and make sure you understand why certain grammar fits together the way it does. Look up different grammar in dictionaries, and read through their rules. If you know someone who speaks a high level of Japanese, ask them what sounds right or wrong in terms of syntax and why.
By now you’re probably noticing that the names of the game in N3 are why and how. Why, why, why, why, why. How, how, how, how, how. This fits back in with my first tip about studying tone. The people who write N3 every year know that you know a decent amount of Japanese. What they want to know now is how well you understand the way this language actually works in everyday usage.
- Recommended Materials
The official N3 textbook and the online tests on the JLPT website are the best starting points for building your study routine. Both of these will give you a good idea of how the test will feel in each section, and what kinds of questions you’ll encounter. Outside of these materials, though, there are plenty of other resources that can help you.
Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui’s A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar was something I couldn’t put down when studying for N3. In addition to being easy to use, it gives great explanations of how the grammar you’re looking up actually works. It has several entries for particles like に so it can properly explain all the different ways this particle fits into Japanese grammar. In certain entries, this dictionary will also tell you phrases similar to the one you’re looking up, and clarify the difference between these similar phrases. Most helpful of all, the phrases in this dictionary are some of the most commonly used in the Japanese language and therefore, they’re things that you’ll likely find on the N3. (Side note, these authors also have dictionaries for intermediate and advanced grammar if you’re interested!)
If you still can’t find the explanations you need, though, asking someone who already speaks Japanese for help is one of the best things you can do. While I was going through the N3 textbook, I marked a few questions I couldn’t understand even after trying to look up the grammar and vocabulary and showed them to some of my coworkers. My coworkers were probably the biggest help to me while I studied.
If you don’t know someone who speaks Japanese, though, you can always try using online Q&A forums, because someone else has probably asked a similar question to yours before. Using Japanese media to study can also help. NHK News, for example, has a free app called NHK Easy Japanese News. This app lets you read daily news in N4 and N3 level Japanese. It also comes with things like furigana, vocabulary lists, videos, and settings where you can hide the furigana or begin looking at the news in more difficult Japanese. Look around for apps like these that expose you to real-world Japanese, and you might end up learning exactly what you need to.
- Before the Test
A friend of mine took the JLPT the same day I did, and he gave me some good advice for what to do the day before the test.
According to him, the day before the test shouldn’t be about studying, it should be about mental preparation. As he puts it, studying up until the last minute probably won’t give you too much more of a chance of remembering your material than if you took a day off. On top of that, getting anxious or frustrated can be really detrimental to you during the test because you might not have a lot of time to spare. You want to be able to focus as clearly as you possibly can, especially since N3 covers a lot of subtle language points.
For all of these reasons, taking a whole day to just relax and not think about the test might be a good way to prepare, too. I can’t speak for you, but it definitely worked for me. I stayed at home and watched movies, did some cleaning, and tried some new recipes for lunch and dinner. By the time that day was over, I felt like I was ready to take the test. The day of the test, I went through my kanji flashcards one last time, but in general, I tried not to stress too much about cramming.
I hope these tips help you get a better idea of what to look for on the N3, and best of luck in all of your studying!