More than half a million hopefuls began taking university and college entrance exams Saturday at 712 test centers across Japan.

The two days of exams through Sunday, offered by the National Center for University Entrance Examinations, are the last ones held in accordance with the old educational curricula.

The number of applicants taking tests on foreign languages came to 520,940 — 16,000 fewer from last year for the second year of decline, the center said.

Applicants tackled exams Saturday on foreign languages, geography and three different areas of science — physics, chemistry and biology. On Sunday, they were to take exams on Japanese, social studies and two different areas of mathematics.

The applicants are seeking enrollment in 1,628 departments at 83 national universities, 72 public universities and 408 private universities.

The number of participating universities rose by 20 from the previous year, the center said.

According to the center, 74 percent of all applicants are in their final year of high school and 24.8 percent are graduates. The number of female applicants reached a record 40.7 percent.

The number of universities and colleges requiring applicants to pass the center’s exams in seven or more fields in five subjects increased by 14 from last year, from 344 departments at 91 universities to 379 departments at 105 universities.

Many people apply for more than one university.

According to a survey by major preparatory school Yoyogi Seminar that polled about 1,800 applicants in October, 15 percent said they would enroll only at their first choice.

On the other hand, 49 percent said they would accept admission at a school if they are happy with it “to some extent.”

The center will make an interim announcement on the average scores Wednesday before announcing the final results Feb. 3.

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