Passing the JLPT N3: what you need to know

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JLPT N3 practice book with two pencils on top of it.

If you’re planning to pursue further education in Japan or if you are in search of employment, having a JLPT (Japanese Language Certificate Test) certificate will come in handy. JLPT N3 is the intermediate-level test and acts as a bridge toward the harder levels of N2 and N1.

This is the third part of five in our JLPT series and today we will focus on JLPT N3. Read on if you want to learn how to best prepare for the JLPT N3 and why studying for JLPT N3 is useful.

An introduction to the JLPT

The JLPT foundation was established in 1984 and has since gone on to create the most widely-taken Japanese language test in the world – the JLPT. 

The exam acts as an indicator of your Japanese language comprehension and is used in screenings by universities, and Japanese employers hiring foreign workers. Passing a JLPT exam is also valid for meeting the government’s 150-hour study requirement.

There are five levels of the JLPT. With N5 being the most basic level and N1 being the most difficult. You do not have to pass a certain level before moving on to the next level. For example, you do not have to pass the N4 before you can attempt the N3 exam.

Each exam tests you on four things: reading comprehension, grammar, vocabulary, and listening.

In Japan, the exam is typically held twice yearly – once in July and once in December. There are many overseas testing sites, but not all of them offer the chance to take the test twice a year. The official JLPT website has the latest information on where the testing sites are and when they offer the chance to take the exam.

Why take the JLPT N3 exam?

Although a JLPT N3 certificate generally isn’t enough to land you a job or get you accepted into a university, there are some exceptions. For example, some vocational schools accept JLPT N3 as their minimum requirement and if you are an engineer or a programmer, chances are that you might land a job with a JLPT N3 certificate due to the high demand in those fields of work.

If you want to work in Japan, it is still recommended to have at least a JLPT N2 to open more doors and increase your chances of finding employment. The JLPT N3 is perfect for that purpose as it trains you toward the harder levels of N2 and N1. The formula is almost the same and you learn how to study efficiently.

Furthermore, when reaching the intermediate range in your Japanese studies, everything becomes kind of fuzzy and it’s hard to know what steps to take next Studying for the JLPT N3 is helpful because it provides you with a clear goal and structure so that you can identify what needs to be studied next.

JLPT N3 study book pulled out on a shelf.

What does the JLPT N3 exam test on?

The main difference from JLPT N4 is that JLPT N3 takes you away from your comfort zone in everyday Japanese and towards more specific and difficult content such as newspaper articles. Not only your comprehension level but your comprehension speed is tested as well. Expect to see texts that are longer and more difficult within a stricter timeframe.

When it comes to the JLPT tests, the difficulty curve is not linear, but exponential. Thus preparing for the JLPT N3 takes roughly as long as it takes for JLPT N5 and N4 together. To pass the JLPT N3 you need to:

  • Understand about 2250 new vocabulary and about 370 new kanji.
  • Grasp summarized information such as newspaper headlines.
  • Be able to somewhat swiftly read and understand slightly difficult texts on specific topics with some aid.
  • With some aid comprehend verbal conversations at near-natural speed on daily life topics and understand the relationships between the people involved.

Structure of the exam

The exam is divided into three sections and a time limit is allocated to each section. Here is a rundown on the structure of each section:

Vocabulary (30 minutes)

In the vocabulary section, you will be tested on:

  • The reading of words in kanji
  • Kanji of words written in hiragana
  • The meaning of words defined by context
  • Words and expressions with similar meanings
  • The correct usage of words in sentences

Grammar and reading (70 minutes)

In the grammar and reading section, you will be tested on:

  • Grammar formats that best suit sentences
  • Accurate sentence composition 
  • Suitability of sentences for text flow
  • Comprehension of short and mid-size passages on a range of different topics
  • Comprehension of long passages in varying topics
  • Ability to retrieve information from materials, such as notices

Listening (40 minutes)

You will be tested on:

  • Ability to comprehend necessary information to resolve specific issues and understand the appropriate action to take
  • Ability to narrow down points based on necessary information presented in advance
  • Comprehension of the general outline in longer conversations
  • Ability to choose appropriate verbal expressions by listening and looking at illustrations
  • Ability to choose the right responses by listening to short phrases, such as questions and greetings

Scoring of the exam

To pass any JLPT exam, you need two things:

  1. Your total score needs to be at or above the overall points required to pass (the “overall pass mark”) AND
  2. Your score in each section must be at or above the points required to pass each section (the “sectional pass mark”)

If you fail to achieve the passing mark for any section, then you fail the entire exam even if you have reached the total overall points needed to pass.

For JLPT N3, the sectional pass marks are as follows:

  • Language knowledge (Vocabulary and Grammar): 19/60 points
  • Reading: 19/60 points
  • Listening: 19/60 points
  • In total, you need to achieve 90/180 points

Registering for the exam

If you’re in Japan and would like to register for the JLPT N3, you can apply online about three to four months before the scheduled exam date. You can read more about the process in our article here.

If you’re not in Japan, you will need to find your local test site and register with them directly. You can find a list of overseas test sites on the official JLPT website.

The fee you need to pay will vary depending on location and the level you’re taking.

JLPT N3 test booklet on a table with two pencils.

Preparing for the JLPT N3

Maybe you’ve heard people saying that they one day realize that they went from really struggling with Japanese to suddenly understanding almost everything. This realization often comes around the time when you study for JLPT N3, and one key ingredient to having this sensation is that you grasp all the basic grammar in the Japanese language.

When studying for the JLPT N3, you should therefore first make sure that you understand all the verb conjugations and grammar points learned in JLPT N4. Once you have done that, the next step will be to use that knowledge and read as much as possible. Read news articles, read light novels, and play games that are text heavy. Do whatever you think is fun. And when you are doing so, make sure to perform what is called active reading. Look up words you don’t know, save them into your flashcard app, and review them the following morning.

Another recommendation is that you make a habit of learning new kanji every day. 370 new kanji is nothing to sneeze at. There are many ways to study kanji, but we suggest focusing on learning words and vocabulary, and sentences that include the kanji in JLPT N3. Solely crunching kanji flashcards is not effective because you miss the context of how the kanji are used.

Finally, when you feel ready it is recommended to crunch mock exams. Try to do as many N3 mock exams as you can, and try pretending it’s a real test. E.g. don’t cheat, try to be done within the allotted timeframes, and don’t forget to review afterward!

Useful materials

First, it’s recommended to download a good flashcard app such as Anki, and a good dictionary app. We recommend Takoboto for Android and imiwa? for Apple.

Here are some useful materials for studying for JLPT N3:

If you don’t like learning with digital materials, there are a lot of JLPT N3 preparation books too. Some popular ones are: Nihongo Sou Matome, Shin Nihongo, and TRY!

Study Japanese in Japan

Studying Japanese at a language school in Japan is by far the best way to learn the language and prepare for the JLPT exam. If you have the means to, nothing beats immersive learning in the country where the language is spoken. Going to class every day and interacting with the language all the time means you will reach learning milestones quickly.

Go! Go! Nihon helps you to apply for language schools in Japan and all our school partners offer courses on various levels. Many also support their students in working toward JLPT exams. Visit our schools page to see the institutions we partner with across Japan, and get in touch if you would like to begin your application.  

Take an online course

If you are unable to travel to Japan but still want to study in a classroom environment we offer online courses to get you prepared for JLPT N3! For example, if you want guidance through the whole process, we recommend our very own intermediate Japanese Course. If you already have some JLPT N3 knowledge and would rather focus on preparing for the exam with mock exams, we recommend checking out our Tokyo Galaxy N3 Exam Prep Course.

Remember that you should be at least on or above the JLPT N4 level before signing up for any of these courses!

What to expect on the day of the exam

Before the exam day, you will receive a test voucher from the organizers. This voucher dictates the location and which room you’re in on exam day.

In the exam room, you are only allowed to bring writing utensils. You will normally only be allowed to use a pencil to record your answers. You can also have a watch with you, but it must be analog. We recommend you bring a watch, as there may not be any clocks in the room.

You get short breaks between each section of the exam, which you can use to go to the toilet, go outside for a breather, or have some food and drinks. 

When the exam is finished, you must wait until all test papers have been collected before you can leave the room. When the time is up, you must immediately drop your pen and stop writing. Failing to do so is likely to get you disqualified!

Note that this is just a general overview of the process if you’re taking the JLPT in Japan. Processes at overseas testing sites may differ.

When to expect your results

If you’re taking the test in Japan, you can expect your results in about two months. You can view your results through the JLPT online portal.

Those taking the exam outside of Japan can expect results in two to three months, although details will vary by country.

Ace your JLPT N3 with Go! Go! Nihon

Having a JLPT N3 certificate will likely be your most significant achievement so far when it comes to learning Japanese. Now that you have all the information you need, go download the materials, sign up for courses, or do whatever you need to get started! We believe in you!

As mentioned, Go! Go! Nihon offers support for applying to Japanese language schools in Japan. We also have a range of online courses in partnership with some of the best language schools in Japan.

Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions, or to begin your application!

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