In this paper the overview of the most important approximate methods for the optical characterization of inhomogeneous thin films is presented. The following approximate methods are introduced: Wentzel–Kramers–Brillouin–Jeffreys approximation, method based on substituting inhomogeneous thin films by multilayer systems, method based on modifying recursive approach and method utilizing multiple-beam interference model. Principles and mathematical formulations of these methods are described. A comparison of these methods is carried out from the practical point of view, ie advantages and disadvantages of individual methods are discussed. Examples of the optical characterization of three inhomogeneous thin films consisting of non-stoichiometric silicon nitride are introduced in order to illustrate efficiency and practical meaning of the presented approximate methods.