Address concerns about new English exams
Japan Times -- Sep 06
It’s not an exaggeration to say many Japanese have a complex about speaking English. Most Japanese study English for three years in junior high school as a requirement, and those who graduate from university will have studied the language for 10 years. Yet many Japanese say they’re not good at speaking English.

The blame in part lies with Japan’s university exam system and high school education program, which put too much emphasis on passing university entrance exams. The current unified English exams use computer-graded answer sheets and mainly measure reading and listening skills, and not speaking or writing.

To nurture students who can communicate better in English, the education ministry will make a drastic shift in Japan’s standardized university admission exam system and utilize tests operated by private institutions starting in fiscal 2020. It’s being questioned, however, whether this decision is wise and feasible.

To test four key English skills — reading, writing, listening and speaking — the ministry has selected seven English proficiency tests operated by private institutions for use in university admissions. They include TOEFL, which is administered by Educational Testing Services of the United States, the Cambridge English test and Japan’s Eiken test.

Students will be able to take any of the private English tests twice between April and December during their final year of high school. Testing companies will send the candidates’ results to the National Center for University Entrance Examinations, which will then forward the test scores to universities on behalf of the students.

The new benchmark is not binding and the degree to which private sector test results are incorporated by universities may vary. In fact, many universities have not yet disclosed whether they will utilize the new tests. Given this situation, it is difficult for high school students to start preparing for the exams, and going ahead with the new system in April appears to be risky and premature.

Growing opposition among education experts is adding fuel to the fire. In June, a group of university professors submitted a request to the Diet not to use the private sector tests for university admissions, saying they have different characteristics and serve different purposes, and therefore they are not appropriate for standardized criteria in university admissions.

Under the new system, the scores of different English proficiency tests will be standardized by the Common European Framework of References for Languages (CEFR), which categorizes results into six different levels. For example, students who scored at least A2 — the second-lowest English proficiency level given by CEFR — should be eligible to apply for national universities. But ways to categorize the different test results into CEFR levels have been criticized for not being based on scientific data.

In July, the operator of the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), which had been designated to be part of the new standardized entrance exam system, announced that it will not participate because the process is too complicated. This decision was a blow to students who were preparing for the new exam system.

News source: Japan Times
Nov 09
The Japanese Prime Minister has apologized for the postponement of the planned introduction of private-sector English tests for university admission. (NHK)
Nov 04
An Ainu indigenous rights association in Hokkaido has filed a lawsuit against the University of Tokyo, seeking the return of remains of their ancestors stored at the university. (Japan Times)
Nov 02
The government decided Friday to put off the planned introduction of private-sector English proficiency tests as part of Japan's standardized university entrance exams due to start next April, the education minister said, following his gaffe over the matter. (Japan Today)
Oct 26
The government will write family names first when using the Roman alphabet for Japanese names on official documents from Jan. 1, the education minister said Friday. (Japan Times)
Oct 26
A record 2,829,416 foreign people were registered as residents at the end of June as more and more technical interns and workers enter Japan amid a severe labor shortage, government data showed Friday. (Japan Times)
Oct 26
Japanese Bonsai Trees have been a part of Japanese culture for over 1000 years going back to the Heian Era. Today, we'll visit the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum 大宮盆栽美術館 in Saitama to see some amazing tree! One in particular is a 1000 year old Ezo Spruce that has a lot of personality. (ONLY in JAPAN)
Oct 24
Fukuoka Prefectural Police have arrested a staff member at a kindergarten in Munakata City over the alleged abuse of a male pupil earlier this year, reports Kyodo News (Oct. 21). (
Oct 24
The number of foreign students who changed their visa status to work in Japan after graduating from universities or vocational schools hit a record high in 2018, immigration authorities said Wednesday, amid a chronic manpower shortage in the nation. (Japan Times)
Oct 20
Bullying cases reported at schools across Japan totaled 543,933 in fiscal 2018, up 31.3 percent from a year earlier and the highest level on record, according to an education ministry survey released Thursday. (Japan Times)
Oct 18
Japanese commercial banks have been snapping up zero-coupon debt issued by a state-backed scholarship body in the latest twist in the the Bank of Japan's negative rate campaign where no-interest loans can be a good deal for lenders. (Nikkei)