Where to Go After Tobira or An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese

Whether it was Tobira, An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese or another intermediate Japanese resource, congratulations on finishing! This is an exciting place to be because it’s time to move on to the next challenge and head towards advanced Japanese. There is still along way to go to get there, but fortunately there is a clear path to take.

After Tobira, An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese, or another intermediate Japanese textbook, learners should take the JLPT N3 level exam. Thereafter, learners should work towards JLPT N2 and N1 levels to continue directing their Japanese studies and build their abilities to an advanced level.

Cap off your studies with your intermediate Japanese textbook by taking the JLPT N3 level exam. Completing a textbook such as Tobira or An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese (IAIJ) will bring your knowledge and skills to a point that you will be able to pass the N3 level exam. Below are a couple of points mentioned on the JLPT official website regarding the linguistic competence required for the N3 level:

  • One is able to read and understand written materials with specific contents concerning everyday topics.
  • One is able to listen and comprehend coherent conversations in everyday situations, spoken at near-natural speed, and is generally able to follow their contents…

Now it’s starting to sound like we’re able to function in Japanese! You have worked really hard up to this point. Wouldn’t it be great to test out your knowledge and skills? It may interest you to know that according to the official JLPT statistics the biggest reason Japanese learners take the JLPT exams, which accounts for one third of test takers, is to measure their own proficiency. This was my reason for taking the exams too.

Primer on Preparing for the JLPT N3 Level Exam

You have done the heavy lifting at this point by working through your intermediate textbook. But, having a sufficient level of knowledge and ability that matches or exceeds the level of the exam, and actually writing the exam are two different things. You need to be able to demonstrate your knowledge and ability in the way that the exam designers want you to. So, it is important to be ready for the exam itself, i.e., being prepared for the various question formats, getting a feel for the pace of the exam, being able to work within the time limit…

Use a dedicated JLPT exam preparation series to undergo a focused review of the exam material, fill in any knowledge gaps, and get yourself acclimatized to the exam format. For JLPT level N3, I recommend the 総まとめ Sou Matome series. It is designed to be a six-week preparation course for the exam, but you don’t necessarily need to rush through it that fast. Depending on how much time you have prior to the exam, it will be fine to go slower. I worked through it in about 12 or 13 weeks.

There are other options besides Sou Matome, but at your current knowledge and skill level, it will be perfect for N3. It’s not like working through a thick textbook with the aim of learning material for the first time, rather it’s more of a review of the N3 material, and if there are any gaps in your knowledge, you can patch them up. And best of all, there are lots of exam-style drills to get you ready to sit the real exam. I loved that there is an answer key for all the drill questions which contain not just the right answer, but explanations about why the other answer choices are incorrect. This is so helpful for a self-learner!

Sou Matome vs. Shin Kanzen Master for JLPT N3

The main alternative to Sou Matome is Shin Kanzen Master (SKM). I think SKM lies somewhere between a textbook and JLPT prep material. If you have finished Tobira or IAIJ then SKM might be a bit excessive to pass the N3 level exam. Conversely, if you did not use a solid intermediate textbook, then SKM is probably the only way to go to pass N3.

Side Note: If you somehow came to this article without having gone through an intermediate textbook yet, I really like Tobira. I wrote some strategies on how to use it as a self-learner here. If you are interested in how Tobira is structured, I also wrote a review of it here. And for a more detailed look at IAIJ, I wrote a review and how to use it here.

In the weeks prior to the exam, you will want to try a few mock exams which can be found in the Official Practice Workbooks, which are authored by the same organizations that jointly administer the JLPT, The Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services. As of 2018, there are two volumes of these workbooks, which means double the practice! You can check out the workbooks on the official JLPT website.

To register for the exam, have a look at the Test Registration Process tab on the JLPT official website and select whether you will be taking the test in Japan or overseas.

After the JLPT N3 Level Exam

After passing the JLPT N3 level exam, your main resource for learning Japanese will be Shin Kanzen Master, i.e., for N2 and then for N1! As mentioned above, SKM is a more substantial resource. It provides more instruction as opposed to mainly just being for review. And again, it’s somewhat akin to learning from a textbook, but with an even larger focus on practice. And the best part is that the answers are all available.

Apart from the practice, the reasons you would want to use Shin Kanzen Master is for the vocabulary, (grammar too), but especially for the reading. The diversity of topics in the reading exercises will really expand your vocabulary and range of topics on which you can communicate. So, you don’t even have to be using SKM with the intent of writing the JLPT exams, it’s great for just continuing to build out your Japanese repertoire, but you might as well as take the exams anyway as there are several advantages such as those listed out on the JPLT official website.

Let’s consider learning Japanese to be a journey. From this point forward JLPT can be used as your guide. Learning from dedicated JLPT exam prep materials will provide continued structure and a path for your learning. The JLPT exams themselves, N2 and N1, are landmarks you can use to stay on course. And again, it’s all about structure. Lack of structure can cause so much wasted time and effort. Investing in genuinely good resources such as Shin Kanzen Master to provide the needed structure will pay off so much in terms of the time you save and quality of what you learn. All you need to do set aside regular time to work through the material.

Supplementing JLPT and Taking More Control of Your Learning

Passing the N3 level of the JLPT will mark an important turning point in your Japanese studies. Your new mainstay for continuing to learn is Shin Kanzen Master as you work towards N2 and N1, but at this point, you are ready to take more control and be more self-directed with your learning. Your grounding in Japanese is now good enough that so much more material is available to you. What I mean is, more advanced materials are no longer completely beyond your grasp. You don’t need to look at them and say, I’ll understand that one day. You can try tackling them now.

Truly native level materials are still going to be difficult, and you still have a long way to go to get there. But there are things you can do, like start listening to podcasts which are at (or preferably just above) your level, and completely in Japanese. Give Nihongo con Teppei, Hiki Biki, or similar a try. It’s ok to not understand everything 100%. For something more supportive and learner focused, the best resource is JapanesePod101.com’s intermediate and upper intermediate lessons. I personally made big gains with JapanesePod101.com.

Do you like anime? Turn off the English subtitles. You don’t ever need them again. You will not understand everything, and some Anime will be much harder than others. Anime about school/daily life will be easiest. Again, you’re not going for 100% understanding, you just want the native input. For even more reading practice, how about reading the news in Japanese with NHK’s News Web Easy? The articles are all short and written in simplified Japanese.

And finally, speaking practice. Noticeably absent from the JLPT exams is an oral component. If you are learning Japanese, you probably want to speak it. So, if you have not been speaking much yet, now is the time to start doing it. You’re not fluent and it’s still going to be a real struggle, but you can speak at least a little bit. And the only way to get better is to keep speaking. The best option is to work with a private tutor. A free alternative is language exchange.

Colten Dumonceau

My goal is to provide information that will help you learn Japanese as quickly and effectively as possible. I have spent more than ten years learning Japanese, mostly self-taught, from absolute beginner to an advanced level. I believe its possible to go much faster than I did. Please let me share with you the best learning strategies I have uncovered.

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