How I passed JLPT N3

Hi guys,

Just wanted to outline my journey to passing JLPT N3 this past december to serve as an additional data point for someone else who may be trying to pass.

Summer 2019 - Spring 2022: Took four semesters of Japanese in University. Completed Genki 1 and 2 books

October 2020 - November 2022: Completed up to Level 27 of WK. I reached a point where I felt like kanji was my strongest point over Grammar and Listening/Speaking so towards the JLPT date I prioritized wanikani less.

January 2021 - May 2022: Completed all of the Bunpro grammar points N5-N3. I timed it so that I would have completed the entire stack by July. Then I completely stopped so I could transition to working on Shin Kanzen Master.

May 2022 - December 2022: Completed Shin Kanzen master Listening, Grammar, and Reading. I had planned to complete the other two books but felt like my vocabulary and kanji was pretty strong from WK.

Just learned this week that I passed. The test was more difficult than I expected, especially listening, so I was pretty surprised. I plan to continue self studying and hope to take the JLPT N2 this year.

I may update this post with more details, or maybe not. Happy to answer any questions you might have.

The main takeaway I have for you is that there is no “One best way” to learn a language (Besides being born into society and using it everyday?). The most important thing is finding something that improves an aspect of it for you, and using it consistently. Being able to identify your weak points honestly, and adjusting your strategy and priorities to fix those weak points.

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What resource did you find was most useful? I think a bunch of us are in the same scenario where our Kanji and vocabulary is decent but our listening skills are fairly poor. Do you feel Shin Kanzen was appropriate for that or would you have liked something different?

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I would not say any one resource was more useful, rather, each resource catered to a specific dimension of language learning that the others didn’t work as much.

To create an analogy, it’s like going to the gym, a good routine involves exercising different muscle groups, and maybe you’ll do different workouts on the same muscle group to best results.

In language learning if you want to improve you need to target the different aspects of language

The way I can break it down is this way:

You need to basically have textbook / foundational knowledge in:

  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar

And you need to be able to apply this knowledge in…

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Speaking

You need to find a workout for your language skills that targets vocabulary and grammar across the four application methods, so in theory, you should have four or six different workouts to have a balanced language learning diet

In my case to bridge the gap between N4 and N3, bunpro, Shin Kanzen, Wanikani helped me with the reading and listening dimensions, but I still feel very shake in Writing and Speaking. Looking forward I need to find a new workout to improve those aspects.

Sorry for the runaway riff here hope the info here is useful to someone

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I like your workout analogy, that’s really helpful and puts a positive spin on it for me!

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I think shin kanzen prepared me for the JLPT, but I am not convinced that my Japanese got significantly better

The further into this I get the more I feel like I’m going backwards… maybe this is just part of the learning process?

The weird thing about the listening section is that I can get the correct answer on listening tests, but still don’t feel like I understand what is being said

Like my brain can positively correlate the input and output but somehow the meaning is lost

Anyone else experiencing this?

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(My reply will be rambling/slightly jumbled, sorry.)

I haven’t read the series, but I’ve heard a lot of people on other forums say Shin Kanzen Master isn’t matching up to the JLPT anymore/most of the stuff in it isn’t on the test. So be careful as you go for N2. Personally, I like to use 日本語の森 on YouTube to study grammar, but there are also other channels that teach grammar about Japanese in Japanese (ex: Meshclass 日本語, 八重桜みらい日本語教室). If you can’t understand the explanations, then that’s a warning sign. There are also text websites such as JLPT Sensei and JTest4You which provide tons of example sentences for grammar points.

If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out YouTube for past JLPT audio that people upload, that will make sure you have up-to-date vocab for N2. (Either look for “JLPT N2 listening” or use “聴解”. I’ve taken and passed N5, N4, N3, and N2 and every year I listen to these audio tracks religiously + highlight and make flashcards from the free example test from JLPT Bootcamp. I think it’s normal to feel overwhelmed/confused/bad at the type of vocab/grammar/kanji required for the next JLPT level, so just consider your studies as purposely eliminating your weaknesses before the big day.

The audio for the JLPT is notoriously bad and hard to understand. Not only is it boring/hard to stay engaged with, it’s hard juggling listening and lightnight-fast note-taking, a lot of test rooms have bad acoustics, and you might even have a horrible thing happen like construction going on outside that day.

The gap between N2 and N3 is big (basically the training wheels should be off by now and you will only survive if you’re engaging with native content like YouTube channels, articles, manga, novels, etc). For N5-N3 for me, I would only study like crazy for 3 months before the test and passed each time. But N2 was a lot harder and I wished I had studied the entire year for it instead of only 5 months before (adding 2 extra months wasn’t enough). So if you don’t feel confident in your gap between N4 and N3, please seriously consider taking a year off from the JLPT or studying hard/taking it anyway and being prepared to take it again if you fail.

For me, I failed N2 by about 3 points for a few reasons. The main one was the girl sitting next to me stunk really bad and my nose was running like a faucet the whole time because of it. I wish I would’ve just crammed tissues in my nose instead of wiping it like a polite person because her stench distracted me/took up so much time. If only my reading speed was faster back then, maybe her smell wouldn’t have mattered. Or if I had gotten more points in other areas, I could’ve still passed despite guessing the answers on the last 2 pages during the final seconds of the test. Anyway, I took it again a different year and actually passed, though it felt like dumb luck.

(My listening is better than my reading because I listen to a lot of native content without subtitles and use Japanese TTS like AIVOICE and VOICEPEAK every day. But my reading was horrible because I was avoiding novels and only reading manga and articles. I had to improve my mental stamina and make reading a hobby in both English AND Japanese in order to finally get myself to start reading my 2nd Japanese novel ever this year. Please don’t avoid listening or reading!)

Lastly, N2 uses keigo (ex: ~te itadaku, ~itashimasu, ~sasete itadakimasu), so pay attention while reading + document examples so you have an easier time understanding it.

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Wow you use all of the exact same tools I did!
(Replace Genki with Minna no Nihongo I guess for beginner level)
And you are describing my N3 test exactly. Kanji strong, bunpo solid, listening trash.

Haha, but yeah, the best thing to do is to just finish. 1 full book is worth many times more than 5 books at 20% completion.

I think this perhaps has something to do with the format of the test. On the N3 (and I think the N2 as well, if I’m remembering correctly) most of the answer choices are verbatim quotes from the dialogue. So you can get the right answer without understanding pretty the overall content. For example:

Woman: “Please do A then B.”
Man: “Should I do C first?”
Woman: “No, I’ve already done C and D”
Question: What should the man do first?

As long as you can understand the basic flow, you can get the right answer even if you have no idea what A, B, C, or D mean. It’s imo a basic flaw of the test format. There were definitely times where I was like “yikes, I have no idea what C means” but then they’d just say “not C” in the dialogue and I knew I could eliminate it as an answer choice.

In contrast, tests for other languages (DELE for Spanish and Cambridge for English are the one’s I’ve looked at) will purposely have the answer choices be phrased differently from the dialogue content to make sure they’re testing you’re overall understanding. The JLPT does this a little bit at the N1 level, based off the practice tests I’ve done, but it’s not as common or done as early as in other tests

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Do you think if you had used only Shin Kanzen Master without bunpo that you would still be ready for the Grammar section of the test?

Regarding the listening section, yes, I feel the same way. I scored 60/60 on the listening section of N3 but came out of it feeling like I only understood about half of the conversations in full. I think because I’ve heard a lot of Japanese, many of the answers either feel right or wrong without being able to explain why.

In terms of my N3 journey - I properly started learning Japanese in March 2022 (my base level when I started in March was probably somewhere about half the way through N5). I spent 6 months intensively studying with a tutor and got through Genki 1, 2 and Quartet 1 in that period. It was completely draining (the lessons were 100% conducted in Japanese) and only half of what I learned was sticking from a reading perspective. My method for learning was to fully understand the grammar points (because I was learning in Japanese, I often didn’t fully understand many of the points and had to research various grammar points after my lessons) and to commit as many words to memory by daily practice using Anki etc. I was periodically given tests to do and I scored well, but when it came to speaking, I was awful - I could manage short sentences but couldn’t convey my thoughts at all or maintain a conversation.

After those 6 months (4 hours of tuition, 3 hours of self learning per day) I took a 2 week break to let things settle I then spent 3 months on Wanikani and Kaniwani getting to around level 17 before the exam (which covered around 60% of the Kanji but could half recognise a further 20% of the N3 Kanji). During that time I also bought the Nihongo So-Matome books and worked through those by myself and signed up to Bunpro 4 weeks before the exam itself. During that month I blasted through N3 in Bunpro, whilst collating useful phrases from all that I was reading on a separately sheet and reviewing that sheet regularly. I also spend about 30 minutes each day using the app ‘Todai, Easy Japanese’ to read all the ‘easy’ Japanese news articles from NHK/Asahi/CNN. The app also has many of the past JLPT exams on it which have been really useful. In addition I used the ‘JLPT Test’ app to practice questions in the different areas (vocabulary, grammar, reading and kanji). Where I can I looked for YouTube videos covering N3 material and watched those - I prefer the ones that only or mainly use Japanese to explain the concepts to help improve with my listening. When listening, I upped the speed to 1.5x or 1.75x the normal speed to make it more difficult for myself and ultimately to improve my listening overall. By doing all of the above I covered 100% of the grammar points, probably 75% of the vocabulary, up to 80% of the Kanji and managed to score 80% in the test itself.

It’s only now that I’m finding that I’m able to connect enough together to start speaking somewhat coherent sentences and have somewhat fruitful conversations with people - I’m still rubbish though!

I’m looking to take the N2 in July - if all goes to plan Wanikani should get me to about 85% of the N2 Kanji which I think should be enough. I’m also just starting 中級から上級への日本語 which I believe is a book written by the same people that wrote the Genki/Quartet books. And I’ll continue with Bunpro and the other resources that I mentioned above. Other than vocab/grammar/kanji, I’m going to focus on improving my reading speed which I hope to accomplish by just continuing to read as much as I can. Other than passing the N2, my main goal is get my speaking level up to a decent level.

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