The education ministry said Tuesday that students in their final year of high school largely fell short of government targets in English proficiency in a recent test and had particular difficulty with speaking and writing.

A related survey of the students' attitudes found that nearly 60 percent do not like studying English, the ministry said.

The test, carried out between July and September last year at about 480 randomly chosen public high schools across the country, measured third-year students' English skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing. About 70,000 students took the test, but only 17,000 took the speaking portion.

In each skill section a majority of students scored at or below the equivalent of Grade 3 in the Eiken Test in Practical English Proficiency, a widely administered English test carried out by a ministry-backed foundation — 87.2 percent for speaking, 86.5 percent for writing, 75.9 percent for listening and 72.7 percent for reading.

The results are significantly out of step with a government target aiming to have at least 50 percent of high school graduates holding an English proficiency of Eiken Grade 2 or pre-2, the next two levels above Grade 3.

Of the examinees, 29.2 percent scored zero on the writing section, and 13.3 percent scored zero on the speaking section.

Ministry officials said they want to remedy the situation by improving lessons.

In the accompanying attitude survey, 58.4 percent of students said they either do not like or do not particularly like studying English. Students who got lower scores in the proficiency test were more likely to say they dislike the subject.