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The Test of English for International Communication turns 30 this year. In three decades it has risen from humble beginnings to become one of the best-known tests in Japan. In December 1979, 3,000 people sat the first TOEIC. In 2008, people in Japan took it 1.7 million times. Many were repeat customers; about one-third of Japanese examinees have taken the test three or more times.

In a 1999 newsletter, the Institute for International Business Communication (IIBC), the nonprofit public-interest corporation in charge of administering the TOEIC in Japan, attributed the test’s birth and growth to the sweeping impersonal forces of history, including rises in the yen’s strength, the price of oil, Japan’s economic power, and communicative language teaching methods. This official history ignores the actions of individuals who made history by getting the test off the ground.

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