Preparing for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test: Creating your own 6-month study plan


Hi everyone! I'm May, and I work as a Japanese language teacher. I will be in charge of writing JLPT-related articles, so please stay tuned for more information!
In my very first article, I would like to talk about how to prepare for the N3-level test, and how to plan out your study schedule right up to the day of the exam.

The JLPT takes place on the first Sunday of July and December each year. As you read this article, you are probably wondering how much time you have before your "big day." Suppose you have half-a-year to prepare for the test; I am sure you all have varying schedules, and the amount of time you can set aside for studying each day should also vary.

Here is an example of two of my students:

・Student A …Works part-time twice a week, and can devote the remaining 5 days to their studies.

・Student B …Works full-time on weekdays, so they can only set aside some time to study on weekday evenings and weekends.

Which student's schedule would you say is closer to yours? For myself, if I were to study a language, I would say that the amount of time I could devote to studying would be similar to student B. The following is a calculation of the time these two have to study, but by no means does this indicate that student B has less time to study. It is solely up to each student to decide how to use their time.

(For example:)
"Student A:
5 hours on weekdays x 5 days + 0 hours on weekends x 2 days
= 25 hours/per week
= 100 hours/per month
= 600 hours/per half a year"

"Student B:
1 hour on weekdays x 5 days + 2 hours on weekends x 2 days
= 9 hours/per week
= 36 hours/per month
= 216 hours/per half a year"
*Calculated as 1 month = 4 weeks (28 days).

6 to 5 months prior to the test: Firstly, understand what you are capable of at this point!

Whether you are taking the N3-level test for the first time or have taken it in the past, you should first figure out what your current score is. I highly recommend that you take a look at the following link: Japanese-Language Proficiency Test Official Practice Workbook

This link contains two official question books by level, "JLPT Official Practice Workbook" (published in 2012) and "JLPT Official Practice Workbook vol. 2" (published in 2018). Please choose one of them (in this case, we will be working on the one published in 2012) and solve the questions as if you were taking the actual test.

The digital version of the workbook can be viewed on your computer/smartphone, but I recommend that you print out a physical copy (from " その( ) (Other)" ➤ "解答( かいとう ) 用紙( ようし ) サンプル (Sample answer sheet)" on the website) so that you can actually practice writing on them, if possible. This is because it can take longer to mark your answers neatly on the mark sheet, compared to just writing down the numbers in your notebook.

N3 consists of "文字( もじ ) 語彙( ごい ) Vocabulary (30 minutes)," "文法( ぶんぽう ) 読解( どっかい ) Grammar & Reading Comprehension (70 minutes)," and "( ちょう ) ( かい ) Listening (40 minutes)." Take a 5 to 10 minute break in between each question, and try solving all of the tests in one going. After marking your answers, check what percentage you got on each section. If you got more than 60% on each section, you are doing great, but do not worry even if you did not do so well on the test at this point. You are only at the starting point, right?

5 to 4 months prior to the test: Work on the "読解( どっかい ) Reading Comprehension" section!

If you scored the highest on the "Reading Comprehension" section, you may be wondering "why are we not focusing on the Vocabulary or Grammar section?". There is actually a reason to why you should focus on the reading comprehension section before moving on to the other sections. This is because reading comprehension contains many kanji characters, vocabulary, grammar, and common expressions, so it is easier to learn them all together. Moreover, it is easier to grasp the amount of time needed for each question in this section.

There is also an order in which I recommend that you work on for this section. N3 reading comprehension consists of the following four components:
1. 4 short passages (approx. 150-200 words): 1 question x 4
2. 6 mid-size passages (approx. 350 characters): 3 questions x 2
3. 4 long passages (approx. 550 characters): 4 questions x 1
4. 2 information retrievall questions: 2 questions x 1

Consider solving them in the following order: 4, 1, 2, and then 3. Question 4, "Information retrieval," asks you to find an answer from an advertisement or notice that matches the condition described in the question. In other words, if you can find the same words or similar expressions, you already have the answer. Once you are familiar with this format, start working on the other questions from shortest to longest.

The two textbooks I typically use in my lessons are "日本語( にほんご ) ( そう ) まとめN3読解( どっかい ) (Japanese General Summary N3 Reading Comprehension)" and "( しん ) 完全( かんぜん ) マスターN3読解( どっかい ) (New Complete Master Series - JLPT N3 Reading Comprehension)." The former textbook is designed so that each section is covered in a single facing page. I believe that this makes it possible to work on each section in a smaller amount of time while achieving satisfaction. The latter has an abundance of example questions. The explanations written in English and Chinese on points to watch out for in the actual test might also be helpful!

4 to 3 months prior to the test: Working on "文字( もじ ) 語彙( ごい ) Vocabulary" and "( ちょう ) ( かい ) Listening comprehension"!

Once you are about halfway through or have almost completed the two textbooks, it is time to move on to the next step. The "Japanese General Summary N3 Reading Comprehension" and "New Complete Master Series - JLPT N3 Reading Comprehension" introduced above all offer multiple series in: vocabulary, kanji characters, grammar, and listening comprehension. I recommend that you use your initial score as a reference, and use the former series of textbooks for areas that you are struggling with, and the later series for areas that you want to further strengthen. Another great way to build your listening skills is to watch Japanese dramas and documentaries.

2 to 1 month prior to the test: Spend your time finalizing and reinforcing your weak points!

It has been a few months since you first started working on this project. Now that you have reached this point, you can do a final check to see how much your skills have improved. Select the second workbook "JLPT Official Practice Workbook Vol. 2" (the one published in 2018) from the first link, and try working on it while timing yourself, like you did before. If you feel more confident solving the questions than you did a few months ago, it is a sure sign that you have improved.

Once you have answered the questions and marked your answers, you should continue to work on strengthening your weak points until the day of the test. Here, let me also introduce another textbook "JLPT直前( ちょくぜん ) 対策( たいさく ) N3 (JLPT N3 Last-Minute Preparation)." This textbook is perfect for reinforcing "vocabulary and grammar" as it contains actual tests and practice questions.

So far, I have briefly explained the general flow on how to prepare for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. In my next article, I plan on providing more detailed information on each of the study methods I introduced today. For copyright reasons, I will not be able to use the actual questions from the textbooks, but I will do my best to explain them by using my own practice questions, so please stay tuned!