JLPT time – Time management for the test

JLPT timeOne of the first times I took the JLPT, it was the old JLPT and I was on the reading section. I was about half way through the grammar questions when they told us stop. I was petrified. How did the time fly by so quickly? It didn’t really seem fair.

I later found out that you need to really gauge your time or else be left with no time. You have to keep yourself well paced or else you might find yourself with a few questions left blank when they tell you to stop.

After all, there is no penalty for wrong answers so you might as well answer all the questions on the test and hope you get some of them right. Better than leaving them blank and knowing you got them all wrong. So, it’s important to keep track of your time.

Each test is broken down a little differently and contains different sections and numbers of questions, so I’m going to try to break down each test individually so you have a good idea of how much time you have for each section of the test. Keep in mind that these are just general estimates and that you might want to adjust them to your particular style and weaknesses.

Since timing isn’t really needed for the listening section, I’m going to go ahead and skip it in this article. If you want a better idea of what the listening sections look like however, by all means check out JLPT listening sections – What are they like?

Also note that each section has about 15 minutes of instruction time before you are actually able to open the test booklet and begin to answer questions. This time is spent on explaining the rules like what the different cards mean (red and yellow). All of these rules are in the application packet, so if you are not sure of what you can and can not do in the test, I encourage you to take a look at the packet before the exam.

JLPT N5 Times

The N5 gives you a lot of time to answer each question on the test. At this level, there is no real need to be rushed when answering questions. However, you still don’t want to get caught up on that one stumper.

The N5 is split into 3 sections, language knowledge (vocabulary), language knowledge(grammar) and reading, and listening. You have 25 minutes for the language knowledge(vocabulary) section and 50 minutes for the language knowledge(grammar) and reading section.

Below is a quick and dirty break down of all the sections and about how much time you should spend on each:

Language Knowledge (Vocabulary) – 25 minutes total, 3 minutes checking time

Kanji Reading (12) Orthography(8) Expressions(10) Paraphrases(5)
6 minutes 4 minutes 7.5 minutes 4.5 minutes

Language Knowledge(Grammar) – 50 minutes total, 2.5 minutes checking time

Grammar Form(16) Sentence Composition(5) Text Grammar(5)
8 minutes 7.5 minutes 9 minutes


Short(3) Mid-sized(2) Information Retrieval(1)
9 minutes 6 minutes 5 minutes

The number in parentheses is the number of questions each section has.  I factored in 3 minutes for the Vocabulary Section for ‘checking’ and 2.5 minutes in the Grammar and Reading Section for the same reason.

JLPT N4 Times

The N4 speeds things up a bit. You will still need to keep things going at a good pace, but probably won’t have to make use of too many skimming or scanning techniques. If you keep yourself paced though, you can go back and check the sections you had a little trouble with.

The N4 is still split into 3 sections, language knowledge (vocabulary), language knowledge(grammar) and reading, and listening. You have 30 minutes for the language knowledge(vocabulary) section and 60 minutes for the language knowledge(grammar) and reading section.

Here is another quick break down of all the sections and about how much time you should spend on each:

Language Knowledge (Vocabulary) – 30 minutes total, 4 minutes checking time

Kanji Reading (9) Orthography(6) Expressions(10) Paraphrases(5) Usage(5)
5 minutes 3 minutes 8 minutes 5 minutes 5 minutes

Language Knowledge(Grammar) – 60 minutes total, 4 minutes checking time

Grammar Form(15) Sentence Composition(5) Text Grammar(5)
7.5 minutes 7.5 minutes 9 minutes


Short(4) Mid-sized(4) Information Retrieval(2)
12 minutes 12 minutes 10 minutes

The number in parentheses is the number of questions each section has.  I factored in 4 minutes for both the Vocabulary Section and the Grammar and Reading Section for ‘checking’.

JLPT N3 Times

Things are going to start speeding up here. This is the last level where there are 3 sections. The essays will be a little bit more logical in nature and you will have to be able to read and answer questions at a good pace. You don’t have to break any records, but just keep a move on.

The N3 still has 3 sections, language knowledge (vocabulary), language knowledge(grammar) and reading, and listening. You have 30 minutes for the language knowledge(vocabulary) section and 70 minutes for the language knowledge(grammar) and reading section.

Again, here is a quick break down for the test:

Language Knowledge (Vocabulary) – 30 minutes total, 4 minutes checking time

Kanji Reading (8) Orthography(6) Expressions(11) Paraphrases(5) Usage(5)
4 minutes 3 minutes 9 minutes 5 minutes 5 minutes

Language Knowledge(Grammar) – 70 minutes total, 4 minutes checking time

Grammar Form(13) Sentence Composition(5) Text Grammar(5)
7 minutes 7 minutes 8 minutes


Short(4) Mid-sized(6) long(4) Information Retrieval(2)
10 minutes 16 minutes 10 minutes 8 minutes

The number in parentheses is the number of questions each section has.  I factored in 4 minutes for both the Vocabulary Section and the Grammar and Reading Section for ‘checking’.

JLPT N2 Times

The biggest complaint about the N2 is that you are not given enough time to answer the reading questions. The test will force you to be a speedy reader. This is where kanji practice is your friend. The ability to quickly and accurately read kanji will help you speed through the vocabulary section and get the reading section faster. You’ll also be able to read the passages faster as well.

The N2 has 2 sections, Language knowledge and reading, and listening. You have a whopping 105 minutes for the Language knowledge and reading section and 50 minutes for the listening. This is where time management really pays off.

Here are the timings by section:

Language Knowledge (Vocabulary) – 105 minutes total, 5 minutes checking time

Kanji Reading (5) Orthography(5) Word Formation(5)
3 minutes 3 minutes 3 minutes
Expressions(7) Paraphrases(5) Usage(5)
8 minutes 3 minutes 5 minutes

Language Knowledge(Grammar)

Grammar Form(12) Sentence Composition(5) Text Grammar(5)
6 minutes 5 minutes 6 minutes


Short(5) Mid-sized(9) Integrated Comprehension(2)
10 minutes 18 minutes 10 minutes
Thematic Comprehension(3) Information Retrieval(2)
10 minutes 10 minutes

The number in parentheses is the number of questions each section has.  I factored in 5 minutes for ‘checking’.

JLPT N1 Times

The N1 is the ultimate test and will stretch your Japanese listening and reading endurance to the limits. You will have to learn how to skim and scan and summarize what you’ve read quickly. Knowing kanji like the back of your hand will really help you out.

The N1 has 2 sections, Language knowledge and reading, and listening. You have a nauseating 110 minutes for the Language knowledge and reading section and 60 minutes for the listening. Time management is really important.

Here are the timings again broken down by section:

Language Knowledge (Vocabulary) – 110 minutes total, 7 minutes checking time

Kanji Reading (6) Orthography(0) Word Formation(0)
3 minutes Not on N1 Not on N1
Expressions(7) Paraphrases(6) Usage(6)
4 minutes 4 minutes 6 minutes

Language Knowledge(Grammar)

Grammar Form(10) Sentence Composition(5) Text Grammar(5)
5 minutes 5 minutes 6 minutes


Short(4) Mid-sized(9) long(4)
8 minutes 18 minutes 12 minutes
Integrated Comprehension(3) Thematic Comprehension(4) Information Retrieval(2)
12 minutes 12 minutes 8 minutes

The number in parentheses is the number of questions each section has.  I factored in 7 minutes for ‘checking’.

Be prepared

If you are taking the two higher levels, N2 and N1, you will want to have a wristwatch handy and be keeping track of your time. I don’t know how many times, I’ve heard them call for booklets closed and someone is frantically trying to write down the last few answers. You don’t want to be that guy/gal.

Keep these numbers in mind as you are taking the test. You may even want to quickly write them down as soon as you are allowed to open your test booklet (in the booklet, NOT on the mark sheet).

Action Steps

Do you use any kind of time management techniques?

Do you think these times are accurate?

Let me know in the comments below!

Photo by Meis Beeder

{ 40 comments… add one }
  • Azanea October 21, 2011, 10:47 am

    In my opinion, there’s too much time alloted to information retrieval. The minutes can be safely halved because the question is straightforward, you don’t have to read the entire thing and all you have to do is look out for exceptions.
    A handy trick is to jump to info retrieval when your concentration starts dipping, say after the mid-sized passages in N2 or after the long passages in N1. This lets our poor fatigued brains get a sort of breather before tackling confusing thematic and integrated comprehensions.

    • Mac October 21, 2011, 2:37 pm

      Yeah, I agree with that actually, for this article I took some numbers from a few practice books, but in reality I spend a lot less time on information retrieval.

      Great tip on jumping to the info retrieval when your attention is dipping. I usually skip forward and do it right before the thematic passage.

  • Rebecca December 3, 2011, 12:12 pm

    I’m taking N2 for the second time tomorrow, and I have to say that time management/test taking skills is even more important than actual Japanese knowledge, especially for the reading section.

    The first time I took the test, I heard them call for 15 minutes left and I hadn’t even started on the reading section. Needless to say that was a disaster. However, I did well on the listening, where the CD paces you through the questions. There’s still not a lot of time to answer or rethink in the listening, so you just have to go with your gut. Nothing is printed anyway so you can’t reread the question.

    This time I bought a watch and focused on timing myself through the different sections of the test, and now I can finish a practice test within the time limit, which is an accomplishment in my opinion. But it wasn’t studying Japanese that sped up my test-taking ability. I cut down a huge chunk of time on the reading section by reading the questions first, then jumping to the underlined sections and reading two sentences before it. For the “Information Search” section, 75% of the information is there /purely to slow you down in reading it/, which is kind of cruel. For the reading section you need to be able to find where the information is located (like the first/last sentences of paragraphs) and then you can take your time reading those.

    That’s what I’ve been doing anyway, and I hope it works out!

    • Mac December 4, 2011, 3:48 pm

      So true Rebecca. I have a question for you. What country are you taking the exam in? Here in Japan, they don’t yell at the time at all. As a matter of fact they don’t even have a clock in the room to give you any kind of indication as to how much time you have (at least at all the facilities I’ve been to). It seems like they are a lot nicer in other countries.

      As for the reading, I think you’ve made some good points. The information retrieval/search questions at the end of reading are definitely questions that you need to skim for to save time and get all the questions answered in time. They have gotten a little tricky lately though. Sometimes you really have to read a lot of the passages to understand what the underlined parts are. The old 二級 tests were a lot easier in this respect. I can usually score 80 ~ 100% on the reading on past 二級 tests, but N2? not even close I’m afraid. Anybody that says the N2 is equivalent to the 二級 (including JEES) is full of it. N2 is really like a 1.5-級, halfway between 二級 and 一級. At least in my experience going over the old 二級 tests.

      • Tai June 20, 2013, 6:42 pm

        Mac, I take the test in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and they indicate us how much time we have. It is usually said when there is 15 and 5 minutes left.

        • Clayton MacKnight June 21, 2013, 2:35 pm

          That’s good to hear. I think they used to do that here in Japan, but not anymore. We just have to guess (at least in the Kansai area).

  • Kaile June 30, 2012, 11:12 pm

    Hi Mac,

    Just thought I would let you know that I am reading this article before the JLPT this afternoon. In case the time of my comment doesn’t show up correctly, yes, today is the day of reckoning (July 1st 2012). I also intend to eat some bananas later to get an energy boost. LOL. Thanks for consolidating all these tips for us; it makes me feel that i have a little bit more control over the fate/outcome of the exam. grin.

    Good luck for JLPT!

    • Mac July 1, 2012, 9:48 am

      No problems Kaile! I hope you did well on the test. I feel like I did better than expected, but I still didn’t pass yet.

  • タカ September 24, 2012, 4:28 pm

    Thank you
    I really searched for a approximate time per section. I am preparing for N5. I could go for N4 or even N3 but is about Kanji. I know a lot but not in order. My target is N3 or N2 if i have time in July next year. What i want to ask. The 15 min of explanation is counted as being part of test round or not.

    • Mac September 30, 2012, 2:41 am

      the 15 minutes of explanation is not counting in these times, but it is counted in the times that are given in the booklet you may or may not get when you sign up for the test.

  • Dustin December 1, 2012, 12:34 pm

    I think the N5 times on this listing need to be updated. The following times are on my voucher…

    Language Knowledge (Vocabulary) 12:30 – 13:10
    Language Knowledge (Grammar) and Reading – 13:40 – 14:45
    Listening – 15:15 – 16:00

    • Mac December 2, 2012, 10:45 am

      Yeah, those times are the ‘test hours’ the times above is the ‘answering time’ the actual time you have to answer the questions on the test.

  • Michael November 29, 2013, 4:37 pm

    Hi Mac,

    I just wanted to thank you for all your help. Your instructions, as well as your tips have been extremely helpful! Also, thanks to you I’ve found the N5 practice workbooks and now I have a pretty good idea of what to expect on Sunday.
    However, since I’m learning japanese all by myself, I’d really appreciate it if you could help me on some details of the test procedure..
    1. Besides my test voucher and pencil/eraser, is there something else I should have with me on Sunday?
    2. Do we get the 3 sections of the test from the start, or each one is given separately right before it starts?
    3. Can we take notes on these booklets or do we have to bring our own notebooks?
    4. What’s this thing about the red and yellow cards? I have absolutely no idea!

    Thank you very much!
    I hope you see my message on time,!

    • Clayton MacKnight December 2, 2013, 10:58 pm

      Sorry Michael that I couldn’t get to your message before the test. I hope you did well.

      This already past the test but it is helpful to bring a wrist watch with you. Some testing facilities don’t have a clock. Be sure to check what kind of watch is allowed though.

      The n5 has 3 sections and they are administered separately, usually with breaks between each one.

      You can mark up your test booklet by making notes and circling things. Extra notebooks are not allowed because of possible cheating.

      The red and yellow cards will be explained at the testing center. Again it depends on where it is being administered.

  • Corvus August 25, 2014, 12:30 pm

    I’m trying to get a tally per section and I am finding a discrepancy in the reading section, you have 6 sections and the JLPT site only has 5 currently https://www.jlpt.jp/guideline/pdf/n2.pdf

    Has the test changed since you wrote this maybe?

    I am trying to make a point tally per section too, it would be nice to break down the listening section by time in the same way. Is each question worth 1 point?

    On that note, I’ve never taken the test and I’m curious whether time is called for each of these sub-sections, or is it merely the suggested time? Seems like from the discussion above, you could do the reading sub sections out of order.

    Much appreciated.

    • Clayton MacKnight August 25, 2014, 2:45 pm

      The breakdown of points is a bit tricky and, anyway, it’s all theoretical because there is no official record of how they score the test. I’ve gone over my best guesses in my JLPT Guide, but basically, the Listening questions are not all worth one point, the quick response questions are worth less, and the final 3 questions are worth more. The times are suggested times.

      In Japan, they never call time, they don’t even give you a 5 minute warning. Maybe somebody complained that it was distracting? Not sure, but they leave you in the dark. They usually don’t even have clocks in the classrooms where you take it because some people complain they can be distracting. I bit odd if you ask me.

  • Corvus August 25, 2014, 12:32 pm

    Oh never mind, I think I was looking at your N1 breakdown thinking it was N2!

  • Ashutosh June 15, 2015, 10:05 am

    Hi ya,

    I did my N3 in December-2015 with score mentioned below.

    I have done 2 years diploma in Japanese from University of Delhi(India).
    In diploma I did roughly 600Hrs of classroom study and around same number of (600)hrs of self study. I did that in part time as I was also preparing for Government Civil Services Exam here in India(that exam is called IAS exam).By profession I was a Computer Engineer(used was because I left my Job for civil services).With around 900 hrs of study(classroom + self study) I cleared N3 and honestly It was a piece of cake.I am studying 8hrs daily for past 3 months to crack N2.There are 20days more days left (tick-tock tick-tock),which is on 5th July 2015.My peers said that it is impossible to get N2 with (just) 3 months of self study even if it is 8hrs a day.I am going for impossible and will be more than happy to inform my N2 JLPT result after 2 months irrespective of success or failure.(though failure is not an option).

    • Clayton MacKnight June 15, 2015, 1:37 pm

      It is a pretty big jump. The biggest difference is the reading section. If you do a lot of reading and drilling with reading passages, you should be able to pass, especially if N3 didn’t seem that bad. Good luck!

      • Ashutosh June 18, 2015, 9:54 am

        Thanks Mac for the prompt reply.

        I also cant thank you enough for explaining the time management points.This has changed my way of preparation and total mindset about this exam which I earlier thought a ‘knowledge oriented exam’ now in the new light shed by you, has turned into exam where one has to balance the knowledge and time.

        I have completed Matome series.currently going on with 実力日本語能力試験文法 and supplementing my reading ability with shinkanzen-masta-N2-Dokkai(this book has about 70 articles).I found NSM Dokkai book bit short for N2 preparation.I wrote earlier comment after finishing my MSM so it may look like little boasting-sorry about that.But I got to keep my feet on the ground and work honestly towards the goal.

    • Richa Sinha June 7, 2019, 10:02 am

      Hi Ashutosh..,
      I am learning Japanese… currently preparing for JLTP N5.. Can you suggest me anything what should i do? like i want to do diploma in Japanese from Delhi university .. Can you tell about the Diploma Course and Certificate course form Delhi University.??

  • Ashutosh August 27, 2015, 6:54 am

    Thanks a ton Mac.I passed my JLPT N2 test.Results are:-
    Language knowledge -33
    Total -92
    This website was a huge help.Especially I read comments of people regarding how they are approaching the test and what to read.Right approach,Right books and luck sailed me across.I consider myself lucky for passing first JLPT N3 and then N2 tests in my maiden attempts.

    Once again thanks you mac for running this portal.Keep up the good work

  • sumit kumat June 19, 2016, 6:42 pm

    actually on 3july ,i will give my jlpt n5 & I haven’t confidence in listening .I am worry about listening…..

    • Clayton MacKnight June 20, 2016, 12:23 pm

      Try to do some more listening at your level. jpod101 has a lot of podcasts that you can listen to for free. With a paid subscription you can focus your studies more and just listen to dialogs.

  • Zeze88 July 4, 2016, 8:51 am

    I took the JLPT N1 yesterday and I am sure that I will pass it. The test is not as difficult as most people will have you believe and I did not encounter a single unknown word in the entire grammar/vocab section (33 pages long). The test is incredibly difficult if you underestimate the complexity of the Japanese language. You will struggle to pass it if you have trouble comprehending random pages on Wikipedia.co.jp or news editorials. In other words – you’ll need a vocabulary covering a variety of subjects and that should really be your priority. Learn in it in context and you’ll also learn the grammar necessary to pass the test.

    Here are some tips:

    1. Wikipedia is your best friend. There are more than 1,000,000 articles on the Japanese site and they cover every single subject imaginable. The language is formal, intended for native speakers and filled with grammar points. So just type in a kanji (煎), a phrase (煎餅) or a grammar point (つまり) and start reading. I am a bit advanced so I typically take the least common kanjis, I select upwards to 10-15 articles and I use the browser search function to highlight every sentence with that particular phrase. This is highly effective: you’ll learn pretty much every way to read the kanji, you’ll acquire an even broader vocabulary and you’ll learn the phrase through being exposed to vast amounts of example sentences.

    2. Do not waste your time translating unless your goal is to become a translator. This will seriously affect your ability to speak fluently at will and your learning curve will become even longer. Use pictures and example sentences instead. The more the better. When I have trouble understanding a particularly challenging phrase/grammar point or a kanji for that matter, I simply add more example sentences (often 100+). After that, I generally remember the phrase and I also get a better understanding of how to use it.

    3. Many words typically written with kana will appear on the JLPT N1 written in kanji and you can prepare for this by always noting the kanji equivalents of that particular phrase. Quite straightforward.

    • Clayton MacKnight July 5, 2016, 2:25 pm

      These are some golden tips! I love the tip about Wikipedia. It is such a great resource for the N1 level. It’s a giant mountain of content you can swim around in and get a lot of exposure to new words and phrases with.

      I also agree about translation. I’m interested and doing some translation and actually find it kind of fun. BUT, it will inhibit your fluency and slow speed is a killer on the test.

  • Nishith S November 15, 2016, 6:26 am

    hello MAC san i found JLPT Boot Camp a very useful site . skimming through the comments given by every one,this really boosted up my confidence in taking up JLPT N3 ,I am giving the exam on december 4th 2016.
    I am thankful to every who shared thier views regarding the exams they have taken
    I am an Indian too . I am really happy to know all your achievements especially the ones who are english natives because mastering SVO pattern is really great though in India the native languages have SOV pattern .
    Website: hochanh.github.io/rtk
    I found this website to be very useful to remember kanji in a very interesting way , this has story written in it , just like heisigs Remember The Kanji,animation of the stroke orders too Also
    Youtube channel: Nihongo No mori
    : masako,
    : Dogen etc has various examples for many grammer patterns
    Hope Japanese learners will find this article useful 🙂

  • Miyuki December 6, 2016, 2:51 am

    Hi Sir Mac! I just want to ask what will happen if you accidentally marked two bubbles in one question? Are you going to fail the whole test?

    • Clayton MacKnight December 6, 2016, 5:34 am

      I’m pretty sure the whole question will just be marked wrong.

      • Miyuki December 6, 2016, 5:38 am

        Thank you for answering Sir Mac! I can finally sleep with peace of mind now! Hahaha!

  • Nicolas March 4, 2019, 4:34 pm

    Thanks for the useful info.
    What is your thought on NHK easy news, does grasping the meaning of their articles and videos correspond to the reading and listening level expected for N3? Several apps gather those news. Among those “Easy Japanese” also adds news from the J version of CNN and a couple more foreign agencies, any thought about their usefulness to prepare JLPT (in the case of someone who prefers reading news than most fiction…)? Are they more N3 or N2? (your guess will be the best I’ll get…)
    Another app, TangoRisto, gathers easy and normal NHK news, and adds the folktales from Hukumusume, sorted by difficulty. Any guess on which tale we should be able to read before attempting N3? Same question for N2.
    I know it’s not the same, because you can usually answer the reading comprehension question of the JLPT while not understanding several words in the texts… but what is your guess? Should one be able to fully understand the normal NHK articles before going for N2?

    • Clayton MacKnight March 7, 2019, 2:57 pm

      The N3 is a bit of an odd one, but if you can understand NHK Web Easy news easily, you should be okay for N3 level. For N2, you should be able to read and kind of understand most native materials. Native news is still a little too high, that’s more like N1. For N2, I read a lot of weekly magazines like easier articles on Aera, or you can get these little magazine / books “PHP” at bookstores.

  • Ella June 18, 2019, 3:48 pm

    Hi do you have some tip about reading comprehension ? For me thats the hardest part. Arigatou

  • Greg Lafrance July 7, 2019, 4:53 am

    I’m taking the N1 test in Edmonton, Alberta Canada tomorrow. I’ve been slacking off on study the last month, but I studied pretty hard for four months before that. I passed N4 in December 2016 and passed N3 in December 2017, each with a score of about 76%. Grammar will be toughest for me, reading might be ok if I can get in the groove in terms of scanning. I think the thing that might save me is I think I’ll pass all the sections, and I should do really well on kanji and listening, so hopefully I’ll pass cause if I don’t I like won’t take the test again till December 2020.

    • Clayton MacKnight July 8, 2019, 2:22 am

      How did you do Greg? The N1 is a beast. How did you prepare? A lot of readers are interested in preparing for the listening specifically. What did you do to be so confident with the listening?

  • Anand wankhade December 24, 2019, 9:08 pm

    I want to crack these exams,
    From n5 and all the up till n1…..
    But i don’t know what to do or from where to do…….
    Can anyone help

  • Khin Sandi Htun May 23, 2020, 3:49 am

    Can you please advise me which is better and more useful,passing from N5 to N1 within a short time(though it will take long) with just pass marks or taking longer time but scoring high marks?Thank you.

    • Clayton MacKnight May 25, 2020, 12:05 am

      It all depends on your goals. If you want to master the language it is important to get high marks on all levels, but if you are looking just to pass for whatever reason, you should just try to pass each level. If you are job hunting, it’s important to have a high score on the higher tests like N1 or N2, but not on the lower ones. It all depends on what you are looking to do with the test.

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