New English test takes on TOEIC

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The Society for Testing English Proficiency Inc. announced Friday a new test for business communications to cash in on the English-learning boom at companies.

The society jointly developed the STEP BULATS test with the University of Cambridge English for Speakers of Other Languages. BULATS is a proficiency test for business English that was designed by the university division and is used mainly in Europe.

Mitsuo Miyata, a senior executive director at STEP, which also conducts the “eiken” exam, said STEP BULATS offers companies a new option to measure employees’ English skills.

The TOEIC proficiency test has dominated the business English test market. According to the Institute for International Business Communication, administrator of the TOEIC test, 1.42 million people in Japan took the exam in fiscal 2003.

STEP has been offering a general English proficiency test for 40 years under the authorization of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry. But the agreement with the ministry is for the test to be held only three times a year.

To gain a share of the business English market, STEP will immediately begin offering the new test to individual companies on demand. It plans to make it available to the general public next year, Miyata said.

The STEP BULATS exam tests listening, reading and language knowledge, including grammar and usage. Speaking and writing sections will be offered as options starting in April, according to STEP.

“A language test can play a role, encouraging learners to focus on particular skills,” said Michael Milanovic, chief executive of the Cambridge ESOL. “So with the focus on speaking and writing, candidates will know that the only way to get a good score is to be able to speak and write.”