Note Taking

During the listening section of the test, you’ll be listening to some sections of dialog and then asked some questions about them. One of the biggest problems people have with this section is listening, staying focused and getting all the details.

This is especially difficult in N3 and above. At those levels the final section of the listening involves listening to a dialog, which is usually quite long somewhere around a minute and a half, and then answering questions about it. The questions for this section are not printed in your question booklet and you do not hear them before the dialog starts.

In other words, you are given a long dialog usually with 3 speakers where you’ll have to take good notes because you’ll be asked about the details afterwords. This is difficult on a lot of different levels. First, you have to focus and take decent notes. The whole time you are doing this, you have to analyze the listening for what are the most important points that the question might ask about. And to top it off you are doing this all at the very end of the listening section when you are probably the most tired.

These questions may seem a bit unfair, but you can imagine this exact same scenario in real life. For example, you attend a meeting that a co-worker wasn’t able to make it to and that co-worker asks you some questions about what went on in the meeting. So, although it is incredibly difficult, it will come in handy in real life.

Just as with most of these other mentally demanding activities I would recommend only doing this 1 or 2 times a week or even 2 or 3 times a month if you don’t have much of a problem with listening.

I occasionally do this in the morning before I head off to work. You can sometimes squeeze it in if you have a few free minutes to spare. What is really good for this is a JapanesePod101 Premium Subscription. With the premium subscription, they separate the dialog out for you so you can listen to just the conversation and take notes on that.


1) Play the listening material.

2) While the CD is playing, think about the following details: What is the relationship of the people in the conversation, are they mother and daughter? Husband and wife? Boss and employees? What are they doing now? What are they (probably) doing next? How do they feel? Happy? Sad? Where are they? Are they at work? At home?

Write all of these details down as fast as you can while still listening. It’s okay (and advisable) to take notes in romaji or whatever you can write fast. For an extra challenge of course, you can take notes in kana or even kanji if you wish, whatever is easiest for you. The point of this exercise is not to make good notes in Japanese though.

Remember it is important to think about context. On the test, there will be little context (usually just a short sentence about the relationship of the two or three speakers), you’ll only be listening to a recording without any images to tell you where they are or give you clues to what is going on in the dialog. You’ll have to imagine it all yourself.

3) After you’ve finished listening, check your notes against the listening script. Be sure to look up any words you don’t know. Were you correct? If you had some problems with listening, check out these listening tips for help on what to improve.

4) Listen to the CD one more time and try to listen for what you missed.

5) Don’t forget to add any new words you didn’t recognize to your flashcard system. Also if you do know the word, but didn’t recognize a particular conjugation of the word make note of the grammar structure. You might want to listen to the CD one more time and listen carefully for the missed conjugation. This will help build the link in your head.