This week’s featured article


The education ministry last year announced it would change the common testing system for universities, starting in 2020.

A major change is expected to be made to the English-language component of the exam. Applicants will be asked to take English tests developed by commercial testing companies for the preliminary evaluation.

The main reason for the change is that the ministry wants to emphasize interactive communication, specifically speaking and writing, in the evaluation of students’ English skills. The current English test concentrates on listening and reading.

According to the National Center for University Entrance Examinations, the ministry has selected eight companies whose tests they would accept for university admission purposes, which means applicants will have to pay more money in their quest to gain entrance to national schools, anywhere from about ¥6,000 to more than ¥25,000 for each test they sit.

In June, the Japan Association of National Universities adopted standards for the English examination portion of the testing process, although these standards are not binding. Any university can decide to what degree the new tests will figure in their criteria for allowing applicants to take university entrance tests.

The University of Tokyo, the most prestigious college in the country, subsequently announced in September that it would not require applicants to take the private English tests. The university didn’t state definitively how it will evaluate English ability, but suggested it could look at applicants’ performance in their high school studies.

The decision made by the University of Tokyo calls into question the rationale behind the new testing system, which some say isn’t practical or fair. It has also focused attention on how English is taught in Japanese schools.

Masahiko Abe, a professor at the University of Tokyo who recently published a book deriding the government’s approach to English-language study, said the government’s approach will not accomplish its stated mission, which is to improve students’ abilities to interact with the English-speaking world.

First published in The Japan Times on Nov. 3.

Warm up

One-minute chat about your English ability.


Collect words related to exams, e.g., study, school, score.

New words

1) preliminary: preceding, done before in order to prepare, e.g., “A preliminary draft of the speech must be checked.”

2) criteria: standards by which something is judged, e.g., “My criteria for a good date is that the person should be nice and funny.”

2) rationale: a logical basis for something, e.g., “The law’s rationale makes sense.”

Guess the headline

Testing times for s_ _ _ _ _ _ _’ language a_ _ _ _ _ _ in Japan


1) How will English tests for Japanese university applicants change?

2) Why is the system changing?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What was your English class like when you were at school?

2) What do you think about the change that is being made to the tests?

3) How do you think the decision will change English education in Japan?




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