Let's discuss entrance exam reforms

This week’s featured article


Upcoming changes to Japanese university admissions have students, parents and teachers raising their hands to ask questions. May and June saw the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) announce several details of its 2020 university admission reforms.

Most attention has focused on changes to the National Center Test for University Admissions. Last year 560,672 high school students registered for the exam. In 2020 it will be renamed the Daigaku Nyugaku Kyotsu Test and test-takers will need to write 80-to-120-character answers for the Japanese and mathematics sections. A private company will perform marking duties.

By assessing what it calls the powers of thinking, judgment and expression, MEXT hopes its reformed exam will encourage changes to high school teaching methods.

But MEXT backtracked on its proposal to eliminate the Center Test’s English section entirely, bending to pressure exerted by the Japan Association of National Universities, the Japan Association of Private Universities and Colleges, and the National Association of Upper Secondary School Principals, which all begged MEXT to delay the plan.

From 2020 to 2023, universities can choose to admit applicants based on either the new Common Test’s English section or private-sector English tests that assess speaking, writing, listening and reading — or both. Students will be able to take private English tests twice between April and December during their final year of high school. Testing companies will send candidate results to the National Center for University Entrance Examinations, which will then forward the test scores to universities on behalf of students.

Yet it remains unclear which private tests MEXT will endorse. Proposals and action plans stretching back to 2011 named the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) as the preferred exam, but MEXT’s May 16 proposal listed 10 possible tests, and numerous companies are eager to win ministry approval.

High school students living in rural areas will be at a disadvantage if universities begin requiring TOEFL scores. The internet-based TOEFL is currently offered at only 90 sites in Japan equipped with the required computer labs. In comparison, the Center Test is given in about 700 locations. With only two TOEFL testing sites in Shikoku and nothing outside of Sapporo in Hokkaido or Naha in Okinawa, students living outside major cities will face an increased burden in terms of travel time and costs. Candidates will also have to pay $235 (around ¥27,000) for the TOEFL in addition to the Center Test’s ¥18,000 fee.

First published in The Japan Times on July 5.

Warm up

One-minute chat about English studies.


Collect words related to exams, e.g., school, grade, education.

New words

1) eliminate: to get rid of, e.g., “The goal of the game is to eliminate your opponents.”

2) endorse: to give approval to, e.g., “He endorsed the presidential candidate.”

3) burden: a weight that must be carried, e.g., “Mom had become a burden to the family.”

Guess the headline

Spoken En_ _ _ _ _ tests are among the en_ _ _ _ _ _ exam reforms Japan’s students will face in 2020


1) How will the Center Test change in 2020?

2) Which English test might be an alternative that college applicants can take?

3) What possible drawback might there be if MEXT endorses that test?

Let’s discuss the article

1) Did you take a college entrance exam? If so, how was your experience of studying English for it?

2) What do you think about the planned reforms to the admission exam system?

3) What should be done to improve English education in Japanese schools?





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