JLPT Listening Sections – What are They Like?

JLPT listening sectionsThere are a total of 6 different types of questions that come up on the JLPT. Each of them tests a different aspect of listening that you will encounter in real life. Different levels have different types of questions and a different number of questions to challenge you.

All of the questions are going to be using spoken Japanese (thank goodness) and of course not written Japanese. These make them slightly easier at least in vocabulary as well as grammar. However, if you aren’t prepared for the different types of questions you are going to see on the test, they might throw you for a loop.

It’s important to know the directions and what is going to happen on the test so you can focus purely on answering the questions. On most of the questions, they don’t give you a whole lot of time to think about it. You have to answer and keep going. If you don’t, you might find yourself halfway through the next question before you realize you haven’t made a decision yet.

So let’s get to it.

1) Task-based comprehension

In this listening section, you’ll be asked to listen to a dialog between two people and solve a particular problem, which is a question they will ask you. You will hear a very brief description of the situation and the question. Then, you’ll hear the dialog and then the question again.

You won’t be given any real time to look at the answers. So, a good idea is during the time they are reading the instructions for this part of the test, skim through all the answers for this particular section and maybe make notes if you can. That way you’ll know what is coming up.

Test N1 N2 N3 N4 N5
# of questions 6 5 6 8 7

2) Point comprehension

In this listening section, you’ll listen to dialog and have to retrieve some points. Again, these are conversations between two people, and you’ll be given a brief description of the situation and question. These descriptions usually only identify the people talking for example a man and a woman and whether they are on the phone or not.

After the description and question, you’ll be given time to read the answers in the test booklet. This is a big help as you don’t have to read the answers while the conversation is taking place.

These questions will mostly have a lot of information in them and your goal is to pull out the one piece of information that applies to the question. They are different from the task-based questions in that you have to listen to the entire conversation for the task-based questions where as for the point comprehension questions the answer could be in one sentence anywhere in the dialog.

Test N1 N2 N3 N4 N5
# of questions 7 6 6 7 6

3) Summary Comprehension

Okay, I’m going to be honest with you on these. These questions are fairly scary. There is nothing written in your test booklet for these questions, so you don’t have anything to go on. You’ll hear a question and then a dialog that can go on for about 1 minute or so.

The main idea behind these questions is for you to get the main idea of the conversation, so you’ll need to take notes! Don’t feel like you need to take notes in Japanese either. This isn’t the time to be showing off your Japanese skills. Play to your strengths and scribble down notes in a way that you will be able to decipher them later for the question.

Test N1 N2 N3 N4 N5
# of questions 6 5 3 X X

4) Utterance Expressions

These are bit like the kid sister to the quick response questions that are in the next section. Here you’ll see a picture with an arrow pointing to the person that is doing the speaking. You’ll hear a one or two sentence explanation of the situation and then a choice of 3 potential phrases that the person could be saying. This is to test your ability to determine what phrase is appropriate in what situation.

Test N1 N2 N3 N4 N5
# of questions X X 4 5 5

5) Quick Response

In this section, you’ll be given a sentence or question and you must choose the correct response out of 3 possible responses. Sounds easy right? Well, not quite. These can be one of the harder questions because they come at you hard and fast. Be sure to answer quick and don’t look back. Try to remain calm and keep focusing.

Test N1 N2 N3 N4 N5
# of questions 14 12 9 8 6

6) Integrated Comprehension

These are by far the grand daddy of them all. Here you’ll be given a description of the conversation and then the dialog begins. These are usually somewhere around 1 and a half minutes long and involve 3 people. To make matters worse the question and the answers are only at the end of the dialog (for the first two questions). For the last two questions, you are luckily given something in your test book, but it usually isn’t much to go by.

You’ll be given two dialogs with two questions each with no answers written in the test book. Then, the last dialog has two questions and the answers are written in the test book. However, the last problem is split into two answering spaces on the answer sheet.

Test N1 N2 N3 N4 N5
# of questions 4 4 X X X

JLPT Listening Can be Easy, Can be Hard

In general, those inside Japan find this to be an easier section of the test for obvious reasons (especially the first two sections), but that doesn’t mean it’ll be a cakewalk. Be sure to stay focused and build up your listening stamina before the exam, so you don’t end up daydreaming during this section.

Action Steps

Are you prepared for the listening section? Have you listened to any native-speed conversations lately?

Let me know in the comments below!

Photo thanks to Travis Isaacs

{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Ioana October 20, 2011, 6:47 am

    One more piece of advice: be prepared to hold in your laughter. During the N5 we had some very ridiculous questions, and one made the whole class burst into laughter at the same time. Aside from the fact that we missed the beginning of the next question, our supervisor said that we could’ve all been disqualified for this…

    The question was among the lines of “You and a friend are crossing the street and a car is heading towards you. What do you say?

    a. Ow!
    b. Watch out!
    c…(dramatic voice)OSOI!”

    I would also recommend practicing with the answer sheet. It’s what almost cost me my JLPT. (I skipped a row half-way through and only realized it during the very last question).

    • Mac October 21, 2011, 2:33 pm

      Hahaha, that does sound hilarious. I’ve heard the N5 listening can be quite laughable. Imagine if you are the one guy/gal that isn’t laughing though. 🙂

      Trust me, the N2 involves no laughing just a lot of hurried marking of your scantron sheet in a desperate attempt to keep up with the audio. 🙂

      • Ioana October 25, 2011, 10:01 pm

        Yes, but I figured this article was mostly aimed at the N5-N4 takers, since most people start off with that.

        But if I recall correctly the N1 had something similar at one point(I think during last year’s exam). They listened to an extract from Evangelion or something. Either way, people found it hilarious.

        • Mac October 26, 2011, 1:08 pm

          Really? I’ve been missing out I guess.:)

    • Sam Jones July 5, 2014, 4:55 am

      Yeah that sounds funny if you’re a beginner.

  • Paulo August 30, 2013, 1:01 pm


    In the listening section, can we hear the audio excerpts several times, or is it totally out of out control? I was expecting we could hear it as many times as we’d like.


    • Clayton MacKnight September 2, 2013, 5:52 am

      You only get to listen to it once. And you have a short period of time before you then have to move on to the next question. Focus is probably the hardest part of the listening section.

  • Paulo September 2, 2013, 9:42 pm

    Ok, thanks. So we have no control at all on that section right? Is it quick to change to the next question or do we have time to think before we choose our answer?

    • Clayton MacKnight September 3, 2013, 2:46 pm

      Depends on the level, but you basically only have a 2 to 3 seconds to circle in your answer before the next one pops up.

  • Steve McClintic November 29, 2015, 1:02 am

    Is the audio loud enough to be clearly heard? What do you recommend for someone who is hard of hearing? Thanks!

    • Clayton MacKnight December 1, 2015, 2:09 pm

      I would say if you are hard of hearing to make that very clear to the proctors as soon as you get there. If you come early, they should be able to seat you in the front, close to the speakers. It really depends on the testing facility if they can accommodate you though. Basically go early and ask.

  • roberto July 4, 2016, 2:25 pm

    I have a question about listening.
    I would like to know if the audio is played on speakers or we have to use headsets.
    I use hearing aids, so the headsets could be a problem.
    Thanks a lot!

    • Clayton MacKnight July 5, 2016, 2:38 pm

      It is usually played on speakers. I’m sure if you let them know about your hearing aids, they might be able to set you up in a special room (that is smaller with less echo maybe?).

  • Jasper November 22, 2016, 3:49 pm

    For those that have any type of hearing disability or impairment, it might be worth applying for an accommodation when you register for the exam. I don’t remember all the things that they offer for it, but I do remember seeing it on the accommodation request form.

    Now I have a question for when you get extended time. I’m taking the N4 and was granted extended time on all the sections. Does anybody know how different the listening section is with extended time?

    • Clayton MacKnight November 23, 2016, 4:28 am

      Out of curiosity, how do you apply for/get extended time?

      • Jasper December 5, 2016, 3:52 pm

        To apply for extended time (or any other accommodation) you first need a letter from your doctor explaining what is wrong with you and why you need these accommodations. Then there is a form you have to fill out which is where you fill out which accommodations you need (enlarged test booklets, extended time, help filling in the bubble sheets, use of personal equipment, listening test exemption, seat position, or other). Lastly, is either a copy of your registration confirmation email or a physical registration form. All of these things must be sent by mail to your “local” organizer before registration closes. Then you wait forever with your fingers crossed, hoping your accommodations get approved.

        So I just took the test yesterday, and I have an answer to my own question and thought I would share it for others in the future. As far as extended time goes, the listening comp is set up just like regular time. What they did to give the extra time was add more time in between each spoken part. So there was a lot of long (sometimes too long) pauses. I hope this helps someone in the future.

  • Nicola June 11, 2018, 7:44 pm


    I’m a few years late to the post so not sure you will see this or not!
    But something is really confusing me with the listening section of the exam.
    I’ll be taking the JLPT N5 this July, and bought a few mock exam papers for practice. I don’t understand how to answer sections 3 and 4 on the paper (Utterance expressions and quick response). It’s not that I don’t understand the aim of the question (to pick the correct response) but how do we answer this? There’s no numbers to circle the correct answer for both of these questions. (3 just providing the pictures with the arrows and 4 being 2 blank pages!) Do we simply just write
    Question (.) answer: (1, 2, or 3)
    Or is there more to it than that? I’m so confused and worried about writing in my answers wrong and not getting the mark for it!

    I realise this question probably sounds really stupid, but i’d really appreciate any help!

    – from someone who worries far too much about everything.

    • Clayton MacKnight June 12, 2018, 12:20 am

      You know about the answer sheet right? There is an extra mark sheet that you put the answers on. Did you take the practice test you can download from this site? There is an extra PDF that is the answer sheet.

      • Nic June 17, 2018, 1:05 am

        I had no idea! I must have missed it. Damn, I feel even more stupid now lol. Thanks for clearing that up though 🙂

  • Kim July 22, 2018, 11:17 am

    How many times do they play the conversation? Is it just once?

  • Allan March 2, 2020, 12:10 pm

    Hi do they talk very fast ??? Or just moderate enough to understand??

    • Clayton MacKnight March 18, 2020, 2:21 pm

      It depends on the level. You should download one of the workbooks or practice tests and try out the listening for yourself. There are links to all the levels at the bottom of this page.

  • idit May 6, 2020, 6:45 am

    Great post, thank you so much!
    That breaks things into pieces, and even if it’s the scariest description I’d ever read about JLPT, that helps a lot!
    Doumo arigato gozaimashita ^_^

    • Clayton MacKnight May 15, 2020, 11:52 pm

      It’s not that scary, just need to practice with it a few times. 🙂

  • Mm December 6, 2020, 3:09 pm

    How are the marks designated for each question? We need to pass each section (task based, quick response etc) or overall pass marks need to be obtained?

    • Clayton MacKnight January 20, 2021, 7:34 am

      You have to score 19/60 for the whole listening part. So you could miss an entire section (like quick response) and still in theory pass that part.

      • Sakshi November 3, 2021, 2:11 am

        Hey! How many total questions are there? And how many should be correct out of it?

        • Clayton MacKnight December 14, 2021, 11:54 pm

          It is based on a curve, but you should try to get 60% at least in each section. 80% is considered a great score.

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