How to Study For (and Crush) the JLPT – 日本語能力試験

Are you studying for the JLPT (Japanese language proficiency test?) If so, you have come to the right place! Here you will find a collection of strategies and resources for your studies.

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alphabet blur books close up

This guide focuses on how to pass the N3 level test. But don’t worry – if you are studying for a different level or aren’t taking the test at all, there are still many useful tips and resources for all Japanese learners!

If you don’t know what the JLPT is or want a refresher on how to sign up, head over to this post first.

Now if you are ready to hit the books and crush the test, let’s go!

Japanese Learning Background and Test Refresher

I took the JLPT N3 test in December 2021, just shy of one year of language school in Japan. (I had studied Japanese before coming to Japan, although I forgot most of it during a 5-year hiatus 😬. To read about my Japanese learning journey see here).

Let's Learn Japanese!
Let’s Learn Japanese!

No matter what level JLPT you take, the topics that are covered are the same: vocabulary (including kanji), grammar, reading, and listening.

The test is timed and graded out of 180 points. You need to meet a minimum score for each section as well as a minimum overall score to pass.

Study Timeline for the JLPT

  • January, 1 year before – Started Language school in Japan which consisted of 20hrs of class/week.
  • August, 4 months before – Signed up for the December JLPT online.
  • Mid October, 6 weeks before – Started to focus more on JLPT studies. Did Wanikani every day, and used another vocab flashcard app (Anki).
  • Early November, 1 month before – Took first mock test. Afterward, ramped up studying. Continued doing Wanikani every day (though dropped Anki after a few weeks), and practiced reading questions.
  • December – Took JLPT N3
  • February, 2 months later – Received passing results!

JLPT Study Materials

I was exposed to a variety of JLPT study materials both in and out of the classroom. Here is a list of everything I used to prepare for the test.

adult blur books close up

Since I studied both at school and in my own time, there was a bit of overlap when it came to prep books. (I used books from two popular series, New Kanzen Master and Soumatome).

Studying multiple prep books of the same theme (vocab, kanji, reading, grammar, listening) isn’t necessary, but depending on your learning style, it can be helpful to try out different ones to see which works best for you.

Vocabulary, Kanji, Grammar ー言語知識(文字、語彙、文法)

Wanikani

In the first part of the JLPT, you are tested on vocabulary, kanji, and grammar. The single most helpful thing I did to prepare for this section was to learn kanji and vocabulary using a flashcard tool called Wanikani. (Learn more about Wanikani here).

WaniKani Kanji Learning

In the months leading up to the test, I made a habit of doing kanji reviews every morning and learning at least 5-10 lessons a day.

I am a huge fan of this app and found it to be an important part of my test preparation as the kanji and vocabulary I learned contributed to success in multiple sections of the test.

WaniKani Dashboard

Before taking the JLPT, I was around level 32 on Wanikani. According to the provided statistics, I had learned 92% of the kanji that appear on the N3 test. Not bad!

Anki

AnkiWeb Flashcards

For a while, I also used another flashcard app called Anki to study pre-made decks of N3 level vocabulary. This worked in the beginning. However, with hundreds of new vocab words to learn with little context, I found the reviews to be more overwhelming than helpful. Eventually, I dropped Anki studies to prioritize Wanikani.

New Kanzen Master 新完全マスター and Soumatome 総まとめ

For dedicated JLPT vocabulary books, I used both New Kanzen Master (新完全マスター) and Soumatome (総まとめ).

New Kanzen Master was nice since it was filled with practice questions and the vocabulary words were written using kanji. (Soumatome didn’t use as much kanji which I found made it more difficult to learn).

Because there is so much content, New Kanzen Master is slow to go through and I didn’t end up finishing the entire book before the test. I recommend this book only if you have a lot of time to study leading up to the test and want the benefit of many practice exercises.

In the classroom, I used Soumatome for both vocabulary and kanji. This series is much quicker to go through, but especially for vocabulary, I felt like it was difficult to learn new words with such little explanation and practice. (The opposite problem to New Kanzen Master).

The Soumatome kanji book wasn’t very necessary and was more of a review book since most of the content was of things I had already learned through Wanikani.

Recommendation for this section:

Prioritizing Wanikani is the most helpful way to prepare. Most Japanese words are made up of kanji, so if you can understand the different character meanings and readings, it becomes so much easier to pick up new and related words.

Get to as high of a level as you can before the test. In the meantime, if you want to fill in your knowledge with more vocabulary, supplement with either Soumatome or New Kanzen Master.

Reading-読解

Reading was by far the hardest section for me (and my other classmates). Before studying for the test, I had very little reading practice and it showed. There was a bunch of vocab and kanji I was unfamiliar with and my reading speed was SLOW.

Aside from Wanikani, most of my studies were spent on improving my reading ability.

New Kanzen Master and Soumatome

While I used both the New Kanzen Master and Soumatome books to study for this section, I preferred New Kanzen Master as the format and difficulty more accurately represented the real test.

If reading is a weak point for you, pick up this book and work slowly through it.

There are many types of reading questions that appear on the test so it is important to get used to the different styles which is why I found this book so helpful.

Study tip:

  • Mark words that are unfamiliar to you as you read.
  • After attempting to answer the question, look up the words.
  • Decide if you want to change your answer with the new knowledge.
  • Check the answer to see if you got it correct.
  • If incorrect, read the answer explanations and passage again.

In the beginning, I had a hard time with the reading questions, but as I made my way through the book, I noticed my improvement and could read more quickly than before.

News Web Easy

Aside from the textbooks, I occasionally read articles on News Web Easy. This site is nice because you can toggle furigana on and off, listen to a reading of the article, and see definitions of keywords as you read.

Web News Easy Japanese NHK

New articles are added daily so there is always fresh content to peruse.

Test Tip

For the N3 test, the first part of the reading section has several grammar questions that aren’t counted towards your reading section score, but actually to the previous vocabulary, kanji, and grammar section.

If grammar isn’t your strong point, these can be a bit tricky. If this is the case, I recommend moving quickly through them as they are only worth one point as opposed to the questions at the end of the reading section which are worth more.

Finally, time management is important to be aware of during this section. Doing mock tests will give you a good idea of how quickly you need to be able to read to complete the readings.

Additionally, as I mention in my JLPT guide, having a simple analog watch with you during the test can be a lifesaver.

Recommendation for this section:

Work through the New Kanzen Master reading book to get familiar with test questions and build up your speed. Purchase an analog watch to bring with you on test day.

Listening – 聴解

The final section of the test is Listening, which for me was my strongest section. I was just one point away from 100%! Listening to Japanese in and out of the classroom every day was very helpful in building my comprehension skills. Aside from talking with Japanese friends, here are a few other tools I used to become more familiar with this portion of the test.

Soumatome

Soumatome’s listening book is good for getting a feel of the test format and question types. Some questions refer to images, while others are based solely on the spoken word. Sometimes the question comes first, while others ask you to just pick the most appropriate reply to a conversation prompt.

Working through this book, you will be able to pick up on the test flow and question patterns.

Japanese Pod 101

JapanesePod 101 is one of my favorite resources for brushing up on listening because of the huge database of lessons available. The podcasts are bite-sized (~15 min) and entertaining with both native Japanese and English hosts. I listened to the upper intermediate series during my free time for extra listening practice.

JapanesePod 101
A great place to listen to Japanese!

NHK らじる らじる | FM Radio

Another good place to hear native Japanese is on the radio! I bought a small FM radio so I could tune into morning news updates and various talk shows.

Radio-level conversation is still a bit advanced for me to understand everything, but I found it an easy way to surround myself with Japanese without having to search through specific podcast lessons.

NHK’s らじるらじる (Rajiru Rajiru) can be accessed from any web browser so you can stream radio on the go as well.

NHK らじるらじる Rajiru Rajiru

Recommendation for this section

Fill your free moments with as much Japanese listening as you can. Doing so is really helpful in becoming accustomed to standard Japanese conversation patterns and intonations.

JLPT Mock Tests

Taking a Mock Test is almost just as important as studying each of the individual sections. Since the JLPT is a standardized test, the structure and types of questions don’t vary much year to year, so the more comfortable you can get with the format, the easier it will be.

You can find practice tests online, in books, and on apps. If you can find a paper version of a test, sit down, time yourself, and take it like it’s the real thing.

After completing the test, grade it and see where you need to focus your studies.

If you want to take free tests on your phone, the app Easy Japanese News offers several practice tests for each JLPT level. (These are very helpful, but I think it’s much better and easier to take mock tests using paper and pencil).

JLPT Listening Sections on Youtube

You can find videos of old listening test sections on Youtube. Watch these to see where you are in your listening ability. For a challenge: play the video at 1.5x or 2x speed.

JLPT N3 Mock Listening Test Youtube

Final Thoughts

The JLPT can be daunting, but it is quite approachable if you break down the test and familiarize yourself with the format. Start your studies early so you have time to gradually learn and build upon the knowledge.

Aside from learning all the test material, there are other test-related logistics and preparations you need to be aware of. Once your study plan is set, head over to my JLPT Guide to make sure that you are ready for test day!

Good luck with your studies!


For more Japanese language learning tips and stories, check out these posts!

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