How I take notes (cram) for JLPT N3

So it’s only a few days before the big test, everyone! I made a video yesterday about how I take notes and pretty much cram for the test. I’m not focusing on listening as in all my practice tests, listening is the best aspect, but I really do need to work on vocabulary and Kanji. As I’ve mentioned many times before, just making lists of words won’t help, but learning the vocabulary word or Kanji in context of its meaning is very useful.

For that reason, I’ve made a color coding system for my notebook and it helps me easily distinguish between the words, their meanings, and example sentences.

Notebooks
1. Kakao Friends Neo Garden ring bound notebook (vocabulary)
2. Thin Muji A5 brown notebook (from a pack of 5 with different colored spines)

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The Nihongo 500-mon book, and my Kakao Friends notebook for vocab

Stationery & Color coding system
Black pens (Muji 0.35, 0.5 and Daiso pens) = Kanji and kana
Blue pens (Muji 0.35 and 0.5) = Word meanings
Pink pen (Muji Sarasara click pen) = Example sentences
Yellow marker = Highlighting words I still need to memorize after reviewing once

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Process
1. Do the example test in the 日本語500問 book
2. Turn the page and see if I did it right
3. Check if there are any new words, especially if I got the question wrong
4. Highlight or underline the word in the book
5. If there are grammar explanations, write the grammar in a separate notebook
6. If there are new vocab words, write them using the system above into a larger vocabulary notebook
7. Review regularly and highlight using yellow if I still need to get the word in my long-term memory

Other notes
I mark the pages in my test practice book with sticky notes. One note is for where I need to summarize from (meaning put new words or grammar explanations into my notebooks), and the other note means I still need to highlight words to be put into the book later.

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That’s about it for now, because I should probably get back to studying.
Good luck to all of you taking the exam this Sunday! 🙂

How I’m studying for JLPT N3

こんにちは!
I’m taking the JLPT N3 this December. I’ve never taken a JLPT test before, and I’m not sure if my level is near N3, but I have enough time until then to formulate and stick to a good study plan.

☆ Reading practice

The Japanese novels I have are limited, but I’m going to make use of the few I have in conjunction with online sources.

offline
The first book I’m using is Read Real Japanese (Essays). There is also a version with stories, but I prefer nonfiction. The Japanese page is on one side and the English translation of that page is on the other side. At the back of the book is a dictionary with the words that appear in the book. This book isn’t specifically aimed at any JLPT level, but I appreciate the detail that the notes go into and I love learning words from a variety of sources.

I am also using official JLPT N3 practice books and do the reading tests from them. Reading is challenging to me just because of how much content there is to get through in a limited amount of time. Here’s an example of what an official reading test looks like. I’m a very hands-on learner and like to write, so after I’ve read the piece, I like to write it down.

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reading before bed
I like to read for an hour or so before I sleep. Usually I read books in English. I have quite a few novels and nonfiction books from Japan, so I think now is the perfect time to push myself to read them. I’ll read with a highlighter and highlight the words I don’t know, and look them up in the morning. Currently, I’m reading 考え方のコツ

online
JapaneseTest4You has lots of JLPT activities catered for different levels. I’ll be making use of their N3 Reading practice tests to make sure my level is on par with the standard. I’ve noticed I read rather slowly out loud (much faster in my head), but I’m concerned about my reading speed for the test. It’s important to read fast but retain information so that you’re able to answer the comprehension questions about the section. I need to learn to read faster and more accurately!


☆ Kanji and vocabulary

online & offline
Every time I encounter a word I don’t know, I’ll write it down and make sure I know the correct stroke order. I’ll transfer it into my N3 vocabulary book and review it often. I don’t like flashcards, so I’ll stick to vocab lists on paper. It’s key to remember not to memorize single words. The best way to get Kanji in your memory is to learn it in the context of a sentence. For that reason, I prefer writing longer sentences down than single words when I’m learning new Kanji.

For me, the best way to learn Kanji is to learn it in the context of words and sentences rather than single characters. For this, I like to use jisho.org to look up a character and then see the example words for it. You can see how I use Jisho to practice Kanji in this video:

Then since I love example sentences, after learning the Kanji I will go on either tangorin or weblio and look for sentences that are at my level and one or two above my level. While doing that I’ll often encounter a new vocab word or kanji and then kind of do the same process for that word.

online
One of the best websites I’ve found for Kanji is renshuu.org. I need to make a conscious effort to use it more, though! Renshuu has quizzes, games and goals you can set for your Kanji learning. You can select which level (JLPT or Kanji Kentei) you want to review.

textbook
I am using the textbook called Kanji Isn’t That Hard! which I checked out at the library at my local Japanese Embassy. I can see the book is for beginners as it uses pictures to illustrate how the Kanji is built up, but what I like about it is that it explains the build of the Kanji in both Japanese and English. So just by reading the explanation of the character, I also learn new words. In my Kanji notebook, I write down the character, it’s stroke order, and the kun/on-yomi. I practice writing the character over and over until I don’t have to think about which stroke comes first or last. It should be a natural hand movement without too much thinking. Sometimes this means writing it 5 times, sometimes 50. I make sure to say the pronunciation of the Kanji while I’m writing it.

For other vocabulary acquisition, and since I like to learn through conversations and context, I’m using Japanese For Busy People III. It’s not specifically catered to JLPT N3, and it’s actually a bit easier than N3 would be, I think, but it’s great for a holistic approach to Japanese learning. Each chapter has a main conversation, and then it goes over grammar points with lots of practice exercises. At the end of each chapter is a Kanji section.

☆ Practice and immersion

1. I’ll be using the app Goodnight to practice Japanese, although it’s mainly used by Taiwanese people. Some Taiwanese people on the app speak Japanese too. I found a good friend who lives in Japan and though he’s Taiwanese, he’s on N1 level. We speak Japanese together. Talking to someone on N1 level is great because they’ll use different vocabulary than someone on my own level would.

2. I might also use the app Saito-san to broadcast in Japanese. You can have a little broadcast room and viewers can join while you speak about various topics. I did this a few years ago and you can see my video of it here.

4. Changing my phone, apps and laptop settings
I changed Spotify, Facebook and Instagram to be in Japanese, and I also set my phone language to Japanese. I have a separate Twitter account for tweeting in Japanese and following Japanese accounts too. Finally, I’ve gone as far as labelling all the folders on my laptop in Japanese. This won’t guarantee me passing JLPT N3 of course, but just seeing Japanese and seeing Kanji every day helps remind me what my goals are.

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I’ve labelled my laptop folders in Japanese!

5. My daily planner and shopping lists
My planner notes are all in Japanese, and I often write my shopping lists in Japanese too. This helps me use Kanji I wouldn’t normally write out, and also helps me learn new words when I need to explain something in Japanese.

☆ I don’t have a daily plan

Because I have a fulltime job, and I tutor languages after work, I don’t have enough energy or time to dedicate a specific amount of time to JLPT study each day. In fact, if I tell myself to learn 10 words a day and finish one lesson from a book a week, I’m going to stress myself out a lot more. I prefer a more haphazard approach, studying when I feel up for it, and then giving it my all. Of course, consistency is key, so it’s important that I do something in Japanese each day (like listening to a podcast at work) instead of ignoring the language until I feel like it.

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How to study Japanese grammar

Grammar is either your favorite part of a language, or the most frustrating part of a language. Here’s my guide on how to study Japanese grammar:

1. Take a grammar structure and practice writing it in your own way. Then, get it checked by a native speaker. 
For example, if you have the structure ~てみる which is to “try”, then and your example is 「この本を読んでみてください」 (please try reading this book), then you can take the sentence and replace words to make it your own. e.g.:
このパンを食べてみてください Please try eating this bread
その車を運転してみてください Please try driving that car

2. Don’t just rely on one textbook.
There are great grammar forums that you can use for reference to read more about grammar structures. I suggest the following:
Jgram (so good, even has JLPT level indicators and study lists)
Take Kim’s guide to Japanese
Maggie Sensei

3. Use the structure as soon as, and as much as you can
As soon as you learn something new, don’t just write it down in your notebook and forget about it. You can make an Instagram post using it, write a blog in Japanese using it, or even just talk to yourself or make a video where you use it. The more you say it, even if you just speak to yourself, the more it will become cemented in your memory.

4. Keep listening and reading Japanese
If you constantly listen to Japanese music, TV or radio, you might hear the grammar structure being used and then you’ll say “Oh! I remember that. Now I see how it’s being used in daily conversation”. You’ll feel good about yourself and you’ll be reminded of what you’ve learnt.

5. Get a grammar reference dictionary
My FAVORITE grammar dictionary is A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui. It’s full of examples ❤ There are 3 dictionaries: One for basic, then intermediate, and finally advanced. I use the intermediate one. I kind of use it like a reading book and just look at it for fun, which is super geeky, I know. It’s so beautiful.

6. Don’t focus exclusively on grammar. Learn from daily conversation and remember not to neglect reading, writing, and listening. Think of it as a workout. You can’t go to the gym and just do leg day every day. Your arms won’t be toned and your legs will be insane. You might be excellent at grammar and vocabulary but you may not have confidence to speak because you’ve never practiced speaking. Everything is connected, so by practicing Japanese daily, you’ll be ingraining grammar into your memory too. Just remember, practice makes permanent, not perfect… so make sure you check things with native speakers if you’re unsure.


Header Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash