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This weekend, I (and many other university teachers) were involved in the administration of the Center Examination. As this is such an important part of the Japanese education system, I thought it would be a good topic to discuss here.

As we all know, Japan is a very “exam-centric” country. People’s “level” in life is largely determined by how good they are at taking tests, and success or failure in the Center Examination has a massive impact on a young person’s future.

As I see it, there are two serious problems with the system. The first of these is the huge pressure that it puts on young people to perform well on a single occasion. It discriminates against people who are intelligent but not necessarily good at taking tests. It also discriminates against those who are late developers and those who, for some reason, do not perform at their maximum level on the day of the test.

The second issue is the question of whether the examination is “fit for purpose.” Is this really an appropriate way to assess young people’s potential? Japan already has a serious human resource problem, partly because of the falling population, and partly because of the tradition of removing women from the workforce when they have children. This makes it even more important for Japan to make the most of the human resources that it does have.

The “fit for purpose” question is one that I think many Japanese people are unaware of. Part of this comes from a misunderstanding of the meaning of “difficult.” I think there is a general feeling that if an exam is difficult, then only the best people will be able to pass it. In other words, a difficult exam is a good exam. I remember being on an English exam committee once where we were arguing about one of the questions. It was a 並び替え question where the candidates had to arrange words in the right order to make a sentence. The problem was that there were about 15-20 words in each question. It was so confusing that even I couldn’t work out the answers. “Ah,” said one of the other teachers, “but there are lots of students who are good at this, so we need to put in this kind of difficult question.”

I agree with the teacher that these types of questions are difficult, and I agree that there are students out there who can answer them. My argument, however, is that this “difficulty” has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s knowledge of English. Questions like that are actually more suited to people who are good at puzzles. I know that there are many exam candidates who are cleverer than I am (probably most of them, actually!), but I don’t believe there are any 18-year-old Japanese high school students who have a higher level of English than I do. If they can answer a question and I cannot, that question is clearly not testing English ability.

To give another example, imagine asking all students who wanted to go to medical school to write their answers while standing on their heads. That would be very difficult. It would also be very silly, because being able to answer exam questions standing on your head has nothing to do with your suitability to the medical profession. That might sound like a stupid comparison, but are multiple choice tests really the best way to choose future doctors? Exams don’t just need to be “difficult,” they need to be the right kind of difficult. If they are not, you will end up choosing the wrong people for the wrong jobs, something that I think happens a lot in Japan.

As for the English exam, I went through it on Saturday evening. My impression was that it was much better than most university entrance exams, but not as good as a professionally produced test like the TOEIC. It took me about 25 minutes to complete the test, so I think the amount was about right for high school students. Some of the questions were quite interesting, but some of them were very poor. Here is my feedback on this year’s test.

第1問: accents
These are interesting questions for a native speaker, but I cannot really see the point in making children who can’t speak English or even pronounce English words memorise lists of word accents, particularly as most of them will forget everything the second the test is over.

第2問A: gap-fill
I don’t like this type of question because you do not need to understand the sentences in order to get the correct answer. All you need is to know the grammar rules and look at the word forms in order to figure out the solution.
第2問B: phrases
This is also just a matter of memorising phrases and meanings. Many of the possible answers are complete gibberish, which should never be the case in a test. (On a good test, all the alternative answers should be plausible and possible.) The English is also very stilted and unnatural.
第2問C:word-order
See my above comments on this. I hate this type of question. It makes my brain go funny.

第3問A:choose the phrase
The first question (exuberant) is quite good because “exuberant” is a very unusual word, so candidates will have to work out the meaning from the context. The second question (cold feet) is not so good. If you have learned this expression, you can answer the question without even reading the conversation. “To get cold feet” could not have any of the alternative meanings in any context, so there is only one possible answer if you know the meaning of the phrase.

第3問B:remove inappropriate sentence
I like this question. It is a proper test of the candidates’ reading ability, and they have to read all of the text in order to answer it. You cannot answer this simply by memorising words and phrases or applying basic grammar rules.

第3問C: conversations
I can see the point of these questions, but the conversations are horribly stilted and unnatural. In addition, some of the answers are nonsensical. For example, option 2 in question 1 is “it’s a disadvantage to use a foreign language in business.” Anyone with any common sense at all would know that could not possibly be the answer, so that leaves a three-in-one chance of guessing correctly even if you cannot understand the conversations at all.

第4問A:American migration
I quite like this question. It was tricky for me, and it is a good test of candidates’ ability to understand the key points of a text. Unfortunately, it also contains the worst question on the whole test. Question 4 asks “What topic might follow the last paragraph?” The correct answer to that is “any of them” because of the word “might.” It should have been something like “Which topic would be most likely to follow the last paragraph.”
第4問:B: The Lakeville Marathon
This question is okay too. It tests candidates’ ability to scan a text and find the relevant information.

第5問: Salvador and Chitose
Another good question. I like the way it makes you combine information from two texts. By the way, one thing that really annoys me about the written English I see in Japan is the 20-years-out-of-date custom of putting two spaces after a period. This is a hangover from the age of the typewriter. It is not necessary with computers because they adjust the spacing according to the letter, so it just looks unnatural and strange. For some reason, however, textbook and test writers in Japan still do it.

第6問: Sound quality
Another reasonable question that tests candidates’ ability to read and understand the key points of a text.

As I said at the beginning, I do not think the Center Examination is as well put together as the TOEIC, so I think it would make much more sense for universities to use TOEIC scores instead. (I know TOEIC is supposed to be for business, but most of the language is really just general English.) If they switched to TOEFL as some have suggested, that would be even better.

Of course, the biggest problem with the English examination is that like the TOEIC, it only tests the receptive skills of listening and reading. Until tests for writing and speaking are added, I don’t think we will see any real changes in English education in Japanese schools.

I know that the Ministry of Education have recently been talking about abolishing the Center Examination and replacing it with a series of achievement tests. If you have any thoughts about the Center Examination, or if you have any other suggestions for improving the system, I would love to hear your ideas.

PS I haven’t done an audio file for this week’s entry because it would take me too long. Sorry about that.

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32 Comments

  1. Kattie on 2014年01月20日 at 21:16

    Hi David and everyone,

    When my eldest daughter Emily went to a college in Spain for 2 weeks, at the beginning of the course the college gave her a multiple choice to assess her Spanish. Unfortunately the test was obviously flawed because, even though her Spanish was very poor, she did extremely well in the test. This meant that she spent the first week in a very advanced group and it was a complete waste of time! A simple oral test would have revealed her true level.

    In the last 20 years our education system has also become much too obsessed with exams – students seem to get better and better at passing the tests but I think most employers will agree that students are not better educated these days. I think students who are forced to focus too much on ‘getting the right answer’ in exams are often too narrow, lack creativity and initiative and expect to be spoonfed (Do you know this expression?)

    Hi Yu,

    > 1 know I was wrong, but reading the part “large numbers of”, I’ve jumped to the conclusion that only schools which have “large numbers of” disadvantaged children can get the pupil premium and others can’t…

    Yes, I realise that what I wrote may have been confusing – I just meant that schools who get a lot of money from pupil premiums will be those where there are large numbers of eligible children but a premium is paid for every child. Actually some schools won’t get any money from pupil premiums because they don’t have any children who are entitled to free school meals.



  2. Tsuneko on 2014年01月20日 at 23:35

    Hi David,

    As for the English exam, I also went through it in newspaper today. It took me quite long to complete it and of course made me exhausted. I couldn’t get right answers at some parts because of carelessnesses. This was the first time I’d tried whole part, so your feedback on the exam was very interesting.

    Hi Kattie,

    I liked your opinion: students who are forced to focus too much on ‘getting the right answer’ in exams are often too narrow, lack creativity, and initiative and expect to be spoonfed. I didn’t know the meaning but I think I can guess it. They are not willing to do themselves but wait for being fed by spoon(someone else).



  3. YU on 2014年01月21日 at 00:51

    Hi Kattie,

    Thank you for your reply.
    Now I got you!
    Anyway, your sentences are always very helpful for me. They include a lot of latest and detailed infomation about the UK, and of course, a lot of useful expressions too. I always enjoy reading your comments. Thank you!

    Hi David and everyone,

    I tried to go through the whole questions too, but I failed it. I stopped with question 46 because I was very exhausted.

    I’ll comment on the topic later.



  4. Anne on 2014年01月21日 at 08:59

    Hi David,

    This week’s topic is very timely(of course!) and is interesting. I haven’t tried the test yet, so I’d like to comment after tackling with it.

    Hi YU,
    > I was very excited about sleeping in the ship!
    –Yeah, sleeping is the ship is also thrilling.
    By the way, as for your question in the last blog, the sentence sounds to be translated literally and unnatural.
    >To think about customers is our business.(sentence you put.)

    I would say….
    *Pleasing our customers is our business.
    *It’s our pleasure to serve you.

    Hi David,
    >One of my dreams is to ride the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia. Maybe you are planning that for your next trip?
    —haha! So, One thing for sure is that we have to save money for the next trip!

    Hi Biwa,
    >I’d like to ride the Galaxy Express some day. Does anyone know how to get the tickets?
    —Me too! Maybe it’s in your mind?

    Hi Tsuneko,
    Long time no see! Glad to see your comment here again^^)



  5. Kattie on 2014年01月21日 at 09:38

    Hi Tsuneko,
    > I didn’t know the meaning but I think I can guess it. They are not willing to do themselves but wait for being fed by spoon(someone else).
    – Exactly!

    Hi Yu
    >I always enjoy reading your comments
    – I enjoy reading everyone’s comments too, it’s better than reading any newspaper/magazine article about Japan.

    Hi Yu and Anne,
    >To think about customers is our business.
    You’re right, this sounds a bit odd! There are so many things you could say, I have seen ‘Our business is your business’ this is pithy but it would be better in a business context, as opposed to a restaurant. Maybe you could say something along the lines of; ‘We want you to enjoy your meal so please let us know if there is anything more we can do to enhance your experience’ I have sometimes seen phrases like this at the bottom of menus, or perhaps you could say ‘Our business is your enjoyment’. A lot of businesses used to tell their staff that ‘The customer is always right’ and sometimes you would see notices in offices etc saying this but I hardly ever see these notices these days.

    Hi David,

    Oh no! I sometimes leave a double space after full stops – these old habits can be hard to shake off!



  6. Biwa on 2014年01月21日 at 10:40

    Hi David,

    Thanks, your feedback on the test was very interesting. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard what native speakers think about these Japanese-styled tests.
    I think all the questions were very typical types except for the one that asked you to remove the inappropriate sentence. I liked that one too, and the one about American migration because the content was new to me(and for most examinees, I think), and thus I had to read through the whole text to answer the questions. Anyway, it took me about 35 minutes to complete the writing test with one error for the grammar phrase. Not bad!

    Hi everyone,

    I totally agree with the two serious problems David has pointed out. Besides, I feel that the system is very university-centered, viewing from an examinee’s side.

    For example, I don’t know why they don’t give out the results(points) until April 16th. No one would need the results at that timing!

    As you might all know, the Center Examination is used as a first-stage exam for many universities. If so, I think the children need to know their grades(points) as soon as possible so that they can decide which secondary-test(university) they should apply for. Some of the universities set certain “passing-marks”, so children need to know if they are eligible for applying. So what they do is, go to school on the next day, self-assess their results by remembering their own answers for each test(subject), write the points(based on their memories) on a paper, send it to big cram schools such as 東進or河合塾(they send you back an estimate based on their data), and children will decide things seeing the estimate.

    Isn’t this system very weird? All the tests adopt マークシート方式(computer scored answer sheets), so I don’t think it would take so much time for scoring and sending the results to each children.

    Besides, if the secondary-exam of your first choice university is set late in the whole exam season, and if you get an admission for your second or third choice before that, you will have to pay the entrance fee(usually no-refund) as a safety measure. Again, I think everything is too university-centered. Would this be the case in the UK, too, Kattie?



  7. YU on 2014年01月21日 at 17:17

    Hi Anne and Kattie,

    Thank you for your comments! I like ‘Our business is your enjoyment’.
    I talked about this with my friends from my English club this morning and one of them said, “How about ‘You are always our first priority.'” I find it quite nice, but does it perhaps sound a bit old-fashioned like ‘The customer is always right’?

    I googled and saw a nice phrase in the home page of a famous hotel group.(Raddison hotel group)

    Here’s the link.

    http://www.radissonblu-edwardian.com/section/aboutus.story/aboutus.sidemenus

    – 100% guest satisfaction is always our first priority.

    Do you think it sounds too formal for a casual Italian restaurant?

    Hi everyone,

    I talked about the jyuken system in Japan with my firends today. Our children are all under 6, so we still can’t think of the exams for universites(!), but we all agreed with that the entrance exams for public high schools should be abolished first and instead, the school district system like public elementary and junior high schools should be adopted.

    With this reform, I guess the academic ability of all public high schools in Japan would be nearly equaled. Then all university applicants should choose the universities of their choice based on their school grades, no entrance exams, but probably they should write about why they want to go to the university or what they want to study there, and submit it along with their school records and applications.
    Universities then screen the documents and select their succesful candidates.

    This is actually how German universities choose their students, and I think it’s much more student-friendly. Their universities are always equal to their real academic ability level because they can’t perform better than their actual level only on the day of the entrance exams and vice versa like you can do it in Japan.

    As David mentioned, it’s nonsense that success or failure in the entrance exams has a massive impact on a young person’s future.



  8. Tamami on 2014年01月21日 at 23:39

    Hi Kattie and Tsuneko. 

    >students seem to get better and better at passing the tests but I think most employers will agree that students are not better educated these days.

    It must be partly because of ゆとり. lol  And these days students study only to get high score at the test and to pass their entrance exams. Even teachers try their best on students’ entrance exam. They want students to go to good high school or university do that the reputation of the school gets better.  I think I can’t be called education anymore because they can get nothing through such a stupid ‘education’. 

    Hi, Biwa. 

    > I feel that the system is very university-centered, viewing from an examinee’s side.

    I totally agree with you. As for receiving the results, students are afraid of applying university without knowing the score of Center Examination. They can mark the exam by themselves, still the score can be different from the real one ( because of マークミス) ! Big cram schools can send the results in 3 or 4 days ! Then examinee absolutely can do that can’t they ?

    Hi, YU.

    > I guess the academic ability of all public high schools in Japan would be nearly equaled.

    No, YU. The academic ability of public high schools differs school to school. Here in Aich at least, some are smart, but some are not. So the level and the speed  at which classes are carried out  are also different. ( The smarter school they go to, the high and the faster classes are. ) And actually in Aichi, students at some public high schools are smarter than those at many private high schools. So I think entrance exams for public high schools are necessary. 
    But the way of German entrance exam (?) is great !



  9. Tamami on 2014年01月22日 at 00:19

    Hi, David and YU. 

    >As David mentioned, it’s nonsense that success or failure in the entrance exams has a massive impact on a young person’s future.

    I really think so. I took Cener Examination last year. It was more difficult than usual ones. I couldn’t get high score, and nor did many of my friends. Fortunately, I could pass my first choice university. (All of my family say it was 奇跡とまぐれと何かの間違い ! lol) However, failure in Center Exam made my friends decide to change their first choice. I was very sad because I knew how hard they studied…

    I think Center Exam is very meaningless. As Biwa mentioned, it is マークシート方式, which means you can choose right answers even if you don’t know them. One of my ex-classmate made a experiment (?) last year. He chose only ③ as answers at 倫理・政経 exam. It was because the subject had nothing to do with his entrance exams and he wanted to know if questions in Center Exam had really four-in-one chances. (本当に4分の1の確率で当たるか)  Surprisingly, his score was just 25 !! He proved it !! lol  What a ridiculous exam Center Exam is !

    My world history teacher hates マークシート方式. He always says, ‘we can’t measure students’ ability through the exam マークシート方式. ‘
    I agree with him and think Center Exam must be abolished as soon as possible.

    As for English exam, I think TOEFL or IELTS is a good alternative.  Though David mentioned TOEIC, I heard a rumour : if you know the tip how to get a good score at TOEIC, you can get it without enough English ability. I just heard it, so I don’t know if it’s true…
    If it’s true (I hope it’s not), students would study the tip instead of English. Then TOEIC might become another meaningless exam which examinees can’t measure their real English ability…



  10. YU on 2014年01月22日 at 01:23

    Hi Tamami,

    Thank you for your comment!

    > No, YU. The academic ability of public high schools differs school to school.

    I know it! Do you know I used to be a public high school student myself too?! 🙂 I’ve studied hard to enter even a little better public high school too, long time ago, though! 🙂

    Anyway, I’m afraid I don’t think you get my point.

    Actually, that is perfectly the reason why I said the entrance exams for high schools should be abolished and the school district system should be introduced instead. If this reform was done, the differnces in academic ability among public schools might disappear or at least decrease because I believe that to begin with, the average of childrens’ natural academic ability itself shouldn’t differ so much from town to town, from city to city or from prefecture to prefecture. In other words, you may say that the differences originally appeared with the entrance exams, so I just thought that if the differences were evened by abolishing the entrance exams, then universities would be able to judge candidates’ academic abilities and other things only by their school records and cover letters without testing them like German universities do.

    However, as Biwa pointed out, I think the current entrance exam system is very university-centered. I’ve heard that the examination fee and the entrance fee(not only for your first choice university, but also for your second, third choice universities(usually no-refund) as a safety measure) often produce their precious income, so I don’t think they’ll agree with the reform so easily.



  11. Biwa on 2014年01月22日 at 09:39

    Hi Tamami,

    >They can mark the exam by themselves, still the score can be different from the real one ( because of マークミス) !

    Thanks! That is exacltly what I wanted to say. And yes, I should have used the word “scores” than “points” in my previous comment.

    Hi YU and everyone,

    Yes, I think the German way is one of the most desirable systems which would lessen the candidates’ stress a lot. The universities would also be able to select students who have various potential that cannot be measured by a single exam.

    Actually, some universities have some(or very little!) quota for students with their high school recommendation.(推薦枠) It depends, but usually, students write an essay and have an interview. Some other universities adopts an admission system called “AO入試.” Some students who have special records in sports or any other field can apply.

    However, the problem is that the universities and faculties which adopt these systems are very limited. I don’t know why, but perhaps because it takes more time to assess students in this way than simply drawing a line by exam scores.

    Anyway, I think universities realize, as much as people do, that admitting students who are just good at taking exams might not be the best way. That’s why they adopt other systems, and try to have a mixture(?) of students with various potential.

    By the way, did you know that Meiji University is always ranked top for the number of exam candidates? The news said that more than 100,000 students apply every year. A teacher from the university was saying that if they have to assess every student by their essays and interviews, it will probably be impossible to maintain the assessing criteria and fairness. I was quite convinced!



  12. YU on 2014年01月22日 at 11:02

    Hi David and everyone,

    > Of course, the biggest problem with the English examination is that like the TOEIC, it only tests the receptive skills of listening and reading.

    I’m afraid, I think TOEIC offers you speaking and writing tests called “The TOEIC SW tests” as well, but you need to pay extra to take them and they’re held on a diffrent day from your reading and listening exams. By the way, I heard that the number of examinees is much fewer than that of reading and listening tests “in Japan”. I suspect it because strangely(!) not so many Japanese companies ask their job applicants to prove their English speaking and writing abilities and tend to asess their total English knowledge only by the score of the TOEIC reading and listening tests on their CVs.

    > I think it would make much more sense for universities to use TOEIC scores instead. (I know TOEIC is supposed to be for business, but most of the language is really just general English.) If they switched to TOEFL as some have suggested, that would be even better.

    I think so too, but TOEIC or TOEFL are just another exams, so I don’t think it should be a single occasion per year like the Center Exam for students. I personally think it wouldn’t really make sense to spend your time and efforts to improve the current Center Exam system, it’s better stop it and start a new one. It would cause a huge chaos in schools and students in the transition period, though.

    > Until tests for writing and speaking are added, I don’t think we will see any real changes in English education in Japanese schools.

    I think so too. As someone pointed out, it’s very interesting that English education in Japanese schools is always set for the entrance exams. Normally it should be the opposite. I mean, exams should be to see your English knowledge you got through your everyday English language learning in school classes and at home, but in reality everyone is eager to teach/learn only things which have a quick effect to get high scores on the entrance exams.
    なかなか上手く言えないな~。



  13. David on 2014年01月22日 at 13:15

    Hi Tamami,

    I’m afraid that any kind of test has tips and tricks, but TOEIC is much better than the centre examination because it is professionally produced. I still don’t like it, but if we are going to have that kind of test, we should at least have a good one. Maybe MEXT should ask ETS to produce the Center Examination!

    Hi YU,

    I am familiar with the TOEIC speaking and writing test, but as companies are not asking for it, nobody is really taking it.

    By the way, I don’t like one-off tests either, but in the UK, the government decided to go the other way and start continuous assessment a few years ago. The problem was that was much easier, so everyone started to get really high grades. Now, they are going to move back to a single test.

    Hi Biwa,

    If Meiji has that many applicants, they need to cut the number by setting application conditions. This would be possible if they used scores from high school tests. I know it would not be possible to interview every candidate, but it would certainly be possible to have better tests than the multiple-choice ones they use at the moment.



  14. Biwa on 2014年01月22日 at 13:48

    Hi David and everyone,

    >If Meiji has that many applicants, they need to cut the number by setting application conditions.

    That’s right. But I think the promlem is that Meiji and many other private universities are all doing business as much as education. It’s simple. If you don’t like that kind of school that admits so many students every year(that’s why they do a computer scored test), you choose another. (Sorry if any of you are from Meiji!)

    >but are multiple choice tests really the best way to choose future doctors? Exams don’t just need to be “difficult,” they need to be the right kind of difficult.

    I know exactly what you mean, and I definitely think there should be some changes in the entrance exam system. However, I have to admit that I have mixed feeling on this.

    For example, I wonder what kind of question or task or interview would be the best to find out students suitable to the medical profession. Perhaps, to see their openness, empathy, perseverance, carefulness and industriousness, and what else? I can’t help thinking that those features are all essential to almost doing anything. More to that, finding a good future doctor might be even easier. I think most 18-year-olds don’t really know what they want to be in the future. Of course, they have a vague idea about what they are interested in, but I guess most of them will decide their profession after they study(if they ever do!) in university.

    Anyway, I think that students who have those features will all success in whatever occupation. And I think it would be extremely difficult to assess this potential equally. Besides, if there was a student with amazing talent, but not very good at essays or interviews, the university will just fail to catch a good future whatever, right?



  15. Biwa on 2014年01月22日 at 13:49

    Sorry, “promlem” should be “problem”!



  16. YU on 2014年01月22日 at 15:36

    Hi David and Biwa,

    >If Meiji has that many applicants, they need to cut the number by setting application conditions.

    I agree, but I suspect they don’t do that by design because they don’t want to adimit the fact that the exam fees and the entrance fees of the 100,000 examinees produce their precious income. I have no idea how many of the 100,000 on earth enter Meiji finally every year, but anyway they can make money from both those who chose better univiersities than Meiji after all and those who failed their exams too.

    >If you don’t like that kind of school that admits so many students every year(that’s why they do a computer scored test), you choose another.

    I guess David is saying that if Meiji complains that it’s too much work for them to assess all the 100,000 candidates every year, they should set some criteria for their applicants from the beginning so that whey would only need to assess good candidates who meet their criteria. And scores from high school tests could be used as the assesment materials.

    > By the way, I don’t like one-off tests either, but in the UK, the government decided to go the other way and start continuous assessment a few years ago.

    Actually, I’m not for either way because they’re both stressful for students anyway, so I think what German universities do is very reasonable.

    By the way, if I remember correctly, I think a friend of mine from my German university told me that each university and department have different criteria for their applicants. For example,

    1. A university, the department of science

    maths : 1- or above
    science : 1- or above
    English : 2+ or above

    2. B university, the department of science

    maths : 2+ or above
    science :2+ or above
    English :2- or above

    3. A university, the department of English

    maths : 2- or above
    science : 2- or above
    English : 1

    *FYI, 1 is the best grade, 1- means between 1 and 2, but better than 2+. 5(6?) is the worst one in Germany.

    That means you don’t always need to be an all round player to enter good universities, of course, you probably need to be at least better than average in all subjects, though.

    The Center Examination started exactly when I was a third year student in high school, it means 25,26 years ago! I myself didn’t take it because I applied only for private universities, but I can’t really remember why it has started in the first place….



  17. Tamami on 2014年01月22日 at 16:30

    Hi, YU. 

    I’m sorry. I didn’t get your point at all. 
    (And I didn’t know that you went to a public high school, either ! Maybe anyone knows what I mentioned. I’m very sorry…)

    >In other words, you may say that the differences originally appeared with the entrance exams

    You’re right. Students going to not smart high schools have few chances to get smarter and to go to good university.  That’s so unfair. At this point, I agree with you. 
    (And it seemed better for students not to be divided classes based on their ability. )

    Hi, David. 

    I know exactly what you mean and that TOEIC is much better. 
    I think no test should be multiple choice test. But if current Center Exam continues, asking ETS is a good idea !

    Well… Reading everyone’s idea, I’m confused… I can understand what you mean. But reading and considering, I can’t understand what is my opinion, and can’t get it in shape well….
    If I can, I’ll write a comment later…



  18. YU on 2014年01月22日 at 17:16

    Hi everyone,

    I’m very sorry, I forgot to mention a very important thing about the entrance exam(?) system in Germany.

    There’re mainly three kinds of high schools in Germany. One of them is called “Gymnasium”. They have something like a graduation exam called “Abitur test” which proves that your academic ability is sufficient to study in university, and if you get the minimum score to pass the test, then “as a rule” you’re entitled to choose any universities in Germany without taking entrance exams. The test can be repeated twice in your life. (I think you can graduate Gymnasium even if you had bad school grades and couldn’t get the passing score with the test.)
    Graduates who passed(?) the graduation test submit the scores of the tests, their school records and others to universities.

    I’m not sure how difficult the test is, but at least I didn’t feel my uni friends were all smart. To tell the truth, some were very slow! So, I don’t think passing the Abitur test is as difficult as you pass the entrance exams for average level universities in Japan or far easier.



  19. amo on 2014年01月22日 at 23:36

    Hi David,

    I’ve never tried the test so maybe I will try it sometime later this weekend. Anyway, I don’t know much about the center exam, so I googled about it and came across an article. According to the article, the center exam will be abolish in 5 or 6 years. Also it mentioned high school and university education should be changed too. It seems that many people think that the center exam is a questionable system.

    Hi Kattie,

    >I liked your opinion: students who are forced to focus too much on ‘getting the right answer’ in exams are often too narrow, lack creativity, and initiative and expect to be spoonfed.

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Hi tsuneko,

    I am so glad to see your comment. hope I could see your comments more often 🙂

    amo



  20. Fumie on 2014年01月23日 at 09:26

    Hi David and everyone,

    This week’s topic is interesting and thought-provoking. I wanted to know how native English speakers think about Japanese English tests. I think they should hear language experts’ opinions (like David’s) about the test and revise it.
    >If they can answer a question and I cannot, that question is clearly not testing English ability.
    – They should omit such nonsense questions.
    I’m also against forcing students to take entrance examination for entering high school and university. They shouldn’t assess students’ abilities just 1 day (1 test.) Besides, it’s a high season of flu and some students have to take test although they are not fine.

    I don’t do the test yet so I will see it from David’s point of view (his feedback of the test) after I do it.



  21. Biwa on 2014年01月23日 at 09:54

    Hi YU,

    >I guess David is saying that if Meiji complains that…

    Thanks, but I don’t exactly get why you say this. I think I got David’s idea correctly, I just wanted to say that those kind of universities do exist. It’s up to you whether you choose it or not. Or, did my sentence sound as if I were saying things to David, maybe? I just meant “people in general” by saying “you.”

    By the way, I’d like to know what German universities do when they have a lot more eligible applicants than their admission quota, especially when it’s difficult to say which applicant is better.

    I’m not opposing to the German system, of course, but I just worry that if we simply adopt their system, it might end up in an “A(good grades) inflation.” I mean, there will be many students with many As that are hardly worth As anymore. Actually, I’ve read somewhere that it’s been a big problem recently in the US.

    Hi everyone,

    I think it’s quite reasonable to have some kind of common test as a first-stage sifter because if universities just assessed students abilities by high school grades, it would be difficult to do it fairly because there’s no common standard among every high school.

    However, I’ve been always thinking that a one-off test puts unnecessary stress on students, and because they need to score more than 560,000 students at once, the test has to be computer-scored, and tends to be a stupid multipul choice. It all made me think that a continuous assessment would be much better. However, what happened in the UK is interesting, and I kind of understand that many countries struggle to assess students fairly and truely.



  22. Kattie on 2014年01月23日 at 09:55

    Hi everyone,

    I’ve been reading your comments and I think I understand the Japanese system a bit better – it sounds very complicated but it’s probably because I’m just unfamiliar with it!

    I think the British system for uni entrance is more similar to the German one. When you are in your last year at school, you decide what subject you would like to study and at which universities and you then apply through a central administrative office listing your 4 favourites. After that, the universities look at all the applications they get, they will consider the results you got in your GCSEs (these are the important exams you take at 16), they will also look at your most recent exam results, your school reference, your predicted A’level grades (these are your final year exams), a personal statement which you have written and sometimes they will interview you. They will then either make an offer or reject you, the offer will say what grades you need in your A’levels. Once you have heard back from all the universities, you then have to conditionally accept one offer and provisionally accept another, if you get any other offers, you must reject them.

    If you get the results for your first choice university, you automatically have a place. If you don’t get them, but you get enough for your second choice, you go there. Sometimes your first choice will accept you anyway, even if your marks are slightly lower, because they liked your overall application.

    If at the end of the process, you haven’t got any offers from your chosen universities, or you didn’t do well enough to get in, you have the choice to go into a system called ‘clearing’ – this means you can apply to any universities who still have places. Obviously the best universities and/or most popular courses are unlikely to have any places at clearing.

    David mentioned that continuous assessment was seen as too easy by the current government and so they are changing back to the old system of exams. Having had two children who have recently gone through the current system, I would say that the problems were more to do with the way continuous assessment was conducted. Schools and teachers did not adopt a consistent approach – for example, Rosie did coursework where she handed in a piece of work, the teacher put comments like ‘develop this argument further’ and things of that nature, she then had a bit of extra time before she handed in the final piece. Whereas Emily did the same subject, at a different school and her teacher gave a lot more guidance and re-marked some papers several times before accepting the final piece. This lack of consistency is unfair and if this type of thing could be sorted out, then I don’t think coursework is a bad thing. Apart from subjects like art, I can’t think of any subjects they took that were entirely coursework, most were about 40% coursework and 60% exams and some, like Politics A’level, were 100% exam based.

    In the UK, multiple choice tests are not a very important element of most exams – I think it’s because you can’t really assess whether someone can present a logical and well reasoned argument, also they can be quite formulaic which makes it easy to do well in them without any real understanding and finally I think it’s much easier to cheat!



  23. YU on 2014年01月23日 at 11:12

    Hi Biwa,

    > By the way, I’d like to know what German universities do when they have a lot more eligible applicants than their admission quota, especially when it’s difficult to say which applicant is better.

    To be honest, I’m not really familiar with it because I was admitted to my German uni as an international student. They chose me in the different way from they do it for German students.

    Of course, they decide it mainly based on applicants’ school records. So as I mentioned a couple of months ago, it doesn’t mean anyone can enter good universities.
    They have another unique system. It’s “waiting time system”. Good universities are always polular and have more applicants than their admission quota. If you apply for a very good university like Tokyo university in Japan, normally you’ll not be admitted to the university so easily unless you’re very very very smart(had very good grades in high school), but if you keep applying for the same department of the same university repeatedly, it is “counted” and you’re given in admission when the university has to decide among more than one applicants who have the same qualification as you. However, many students stop doing that some time later and change their choice because they don’t want to get older.
    So, “theoretically” it’s possiple for even a very dull student to enter a very good university if they were ready to wait for ten years, twenty years or more, but in reality no one does that in Germany.

    > I’m not opposing to the German system, of course,

    I’m not saying that German system is perfect either, but I just feel theirs is better than Japanese one.

    > but I just worry that if we simply adopt their system, it might end up in an “A(good grades) inflation.”

    I’m not absolutely sure what you mean here, but the problem would be solved only if the ratio of each grade was previously fixed, wouldn’t it?



  24. YU on 2014年01月23日 at 11:53

    Hi Biwa,

    One more thing.

    I suspect an entrance exam system like German one might function well only in the countries where entering universities is not so difficult, but graduating from there is very difficult. I mean, countries like Germany open the door to anyone who like to study(When I studied there, the study fee was free, every student received a free commuter pass and other special benefits for uni. students. I don’t think I payed the entrance fee either.) but once you entered, it’s all up to your ability and efforts if you can graduate or drop out. I don’t think you can simply say which is better and which is not, but I personally find German system more desirable.
    By the way, in Germany university graduates are recognized as elites in the society whereas only graduates from brand universities are called elites in Japan.

    FYI, the graduation rate of German universities seems to be quite low in the world. Here’s the link.

    http://gigazine.net/news/20070920_university/



  25. YU on 2014年01月23日 at 12:09

    correction;

    > it is “counted” and you’re given in admission when the university….

    …..you’re given priority in admission…



  26. Anne on 2014年01月23日 at 13:53

    Hi David and everyone,

    It’ been more than 15 years since my sons took the Center Exam, and I’m not sure the recent situation.
    As you know, the government decided to change the present system to another one to compete with other countries. As David mentioned, Japan is a “exam-centric” country. I don’t think even though the new system would be successful without changing this very basic idea.
    I’m not sure which one is better, the present system or the new one. I wonder if the new system will reduce the pressure put on young people. I assume that they will have to study harder to get scores to enter “good” universities.
    Anyway, one thing is for sure, the Center Exam is a kind of business chance to earn the money for private universities as members mentioned.

    >Exams don’t just need to be “difficult,” they need to be the right kind of difficult.
    —-I agree with you, but then how the new system should be chnanged? Do you think the new system that the government have in mind at the moment would work well?

    > one thing that really annoys me about the written English I see in Japan is the 20-years-out-of-date custom of putting two spaces after a period.—Really??? I’m so accustomed to putting two spaces(even unconsciously…)



  27. YU on 2014年01月23日 at 14:29

    Hi Kattie,

    I read your comments about the British system for uni entrance with great interest.

    I have some questions.

    > Once you have heard back from all the universities, you then have to conditionally accept one offer and provisionally accept another, if you get any other offers, you must reject them.

    I looked up “conditionally” and “provisionally” in a dictionary, and it says they mean almost the same. How is your conditionally chosen uni different from your provisionally chosen uni?
    But anyway, that means, you have to choose two offers if you get more than three and your first choice uni isn’t included there?

    > If at the end of the process, you haven’t got any offers from your chosen universities, or you didn’t do well enough to get in, you have the choice to go into a system called ‘clearing’

    Is it possible for those who don’t want to go into the system to apply for the same universities for the next semester/year again? Or the result would be the same however many times you try because your school records are the same?

    In Japan your results are either “passed” or “failed”. If you failed all universties’ exams you took or if you didn’t like to go to your second, third choice university you passed, then you’d just have to study hard for the next year’s exams. I think many high school graduates choose to write next year’s exams again because Japanese major companies prefer brand(good) university graduates to others.

    > Sometimes your first choice will accept you anyway, even if your marks are slightly lower, because they liked your overall application.

    My German uni had an office for applicants from other countries. I often visited there to get some information. When I finally got a place and went there to complete entrance formalities, the staff told me that my personal statement was very convincing and professors liked it. Actually, my German friend wrote it for me, though! Hahaha!
    Anyway, it’s good that universities don’t decide their successful candidates only by their scores or grades.

    > This lack of consistency is unfair and if this type of thing could be sorted out, then I don’t think coursework is a bad thing. Apart from subjects like art, I can’t think of any subjects they took that were entirely coursework, most were about 40% coursework and 60% exams and some, like Politics A’level, were 100% exam based.

    As David mentioned, our government is now talking about abolishing the Center Examination and replacing it with a series of achievement tests in the near future. You could call them “continuous assesment”, but they are again 100% exam based which is Japan’s favorite!



  28. Kattie on 2014年01月24日 at 02:13

    Hi Yu

    >I looked up “conditionally” and “provisionally” in a dictionary, and it says they mean almost the same. How is your conditionally chosen uni different from your provisionally chosen uni?

    Yes, both words pretty much mean the same thing – actually the offers you get are usually conditional upon you achieving certain grades in your final exams – the better the uni and the harder the course, the higher the conditional offer – I should really have said that the 2nd choice uni’s offer is an insurance offer – i.e. you would only go to this uni if you weren’t accepted by your first choice. I used the word provisional because I think I have heard it called that but it is also known as your insurance offer which is a more accurate word for it. By the way, I checked and you apply to 5 universities, not 4!

    >Is it possible for those who don’t want to go into the system to apply for the same universities for the next semester/year again? Or the result would be the same however many times you try because your school records are the same?

    Theoretically you could apply the following year with the same grades but the universities would be unlikely to accept you, if your application is exactly the same. Sometimes people will re-take their A’levels and try again the following year but this is a big risk because universities can sometimes ‘up’ their offers.

    It is hard to get into the best universities and once you’re at university it’s also very important to get a good degree result, especially if you want to be employed by a big company.

    Hi Biwa and Yu,

    >By the way, I’d like to know what German universities do when they have a lot more eligible applicants than their admission quota, especially when it’s difficult to say which applicant is better.

    I don’t know about Germay but I spoke to a university admissions professor recently about this and he told me that (in the UK) they get financially penalised if they exceed their quota, this means that they are very careful not to make too many conditional offers in the first place – after all, they can always accept more people through clearing later on. By the way, UK universities are government funded (bar only one exception, I think)



  29. Biwa on 2014年01月24日 at 08:41

    Hi YU,

    >I’m not absolutely sure what you mean here, but the problem would be solved only if the ratio of each grade was previously fixed, wouldn’t it?

    Really? I would be very angry if I couldn’t get an A even if my work was worth it. If the number of students who can get an A was previously fixed at each school, I think it would cause a real confusion.

    Hi Kattie,

    >By the way, UK universities are government funded (bar only one exception, I think)

    Does “bar” mean law school?
    Anyway, in Japan, 77% of all universities are private, and I think it pretty much makes the difference in the admission system.

    Most universities set their own exam-day, announcement-of-the-result day, limit-date of the payment of the entrance-fee i.e. if you don’t pay this(usually around 250,000 yen!), your admission will expire!

    For example, my elder son is going through this whole farce(?) at the moment, and he’s going to apply to four universities(secondary-exam). First, they charge about 35,000 yen/per school(including national universities) just to take the test. Then, according to your fail or success for each university, most people are forced to pay the entrance-fee for some university as an insurance because your first choice doesn’t always give out the results before you try your second/third.
    Anyway, my son has made a calendar to make sure that what day comes when. We make a plan according to what happens(fail/success) along this calendar. It’s really absurd and confusing!

    It’s a really weird system, but that is the way it is, and no one would have the courage to boycott this whole system. It’s the only way to get into university.



  30. YU on 2014年01月24日 at 10:32

    Hi Biwa,

    >Really?

    No.

    > I would be very angry if I couldn’t get an A even if my work was worth it. If the number of students who can get an A was previously fixed at each school, I think it would cause a real confusion.

    If your grades were decided only based on your exam scores, yes, I would probably feel the same as you, but in reality I’ve never heard that even in Japanese schools, teachers see only your exam scores when they give a grade. Have you?

    So, if your classmate got A, but you got only A’ or B, although your exam scores are perfectly the same, then I would just think your classmate was superior to you in other points(coursework, presentation, etc..) in the subject.

    Sorry, I’m not sure if I get your point because I don’t know what actually happened in schools in the US, but I suspect it’s a matter of if your grades are given by 相対評価(grading on a curve/relative evaluation = the ratio of students who get each grade is previously fixed )or 絶対評価(absolute evaluation = all students who are in the same level get the same grade, no number restriction) after all.

    > If the number of students who can get an A was previously fixed at each school, I think it would cause a real confusion.

    Why? I don’t really think so because in fact it used to be so in Japanese schools just until recently.
    When I was in school(and I guess when you were in school too) your grades used to be given by 相対評価, but somehow it changed to 絶対評価 after ゆとり教育 was introduced.

    Just to remind you, I’m not saying which evaluation system is better and which is worse.



  31. YU on 2014年01月24日 at 11:22

    Hi Biwa and Kattie,

    > It’s a really weird system, but that is the way it is, and no one would have the courage to boycott this whole system. It’s the only way to get into university

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    > I should really have said that the 2nd choice uni’s offer is an insurance offer

    Now I got it!

    As Biwa mentioned, most parents are forced to pay the entrance-fee for some university as insurance. I think it’s the same when you apply only for private universities in this point.

    I guess thanks to this weird system(!), even not really popular(good) universities can survive here!



  32. YU on 2014年01月24日 at 12:31

    Hi David,

    Why don’t you go through the French exam as well?
    I tried the German test and I found it much easier than the English exam and actually, the number of the questions was fewer in the German Exam(English:55, German:50) too! In fact, the average score of the English exam is only around 120, whereas those of other languages(Chinese, Korean, French, German) are between 145 and 162. The number of examinees who wrote the German test this time was only 90, though!

    I heard that when the test scores differ by more than 20 points in the optional subject tests, they would be adjusted, but still I think examinees who have any other language knowledge than English have an advantage in the Center Exam because other language tests are easier.



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