• Kyodo

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The government Tuesday decided against adding open-ended questions for Japanese and math to the country’s new standardized university entrance exams due to start January 2021.

Education minister Koichi Hagiuda said issues such as the potential for errors to be made by private-sector graders, which includes student part-timers, and the difficulty for test-takers to be able to self-assess answers to open-ended questions could not be overcome.

Questions in the current standardized entrance exams are all in multiple-choice format. The scores determine which universities students choose to take further entrance exams.

“We’ve judged it to be difficult to quickly provide a scheme that will alleviate test-takers’ concerns and allow them to sit for exams knowing the process is reliable,” Hagiuda said at a news conference.

However, the minister stressed the importance of including open-ended questions that evaluate logical thinking and a student’s ability to express themselves, and urged universities to put these types of questions on their own entrance exams.

The government has now withdrawn two main features for the new standardized university entrance exams, having put off in November the introduction of private sector-operated English proficiency tests following a gaffe by Hagiuda.

Hagiuda triggered an outcry after he said on TV in October that students should compete for university places “in accordance with their (financial) standing,” remarks interpreted as accepting inequality in education.

The private-sector tests would have checked test-takers’ English writing and speaking skills in addition to the current evaluation of reading and listening skills, assessing students in a more comprehensive manner, but the high cost and lack of accessibility of the test caused concern that it may not be available to all.

The government aims to introduce a new English exam scheme around the 2024 academic year. But as for open-ended questions in Japanese and math, Hagiuda said a review will be conducted “from scratch, without setting a deadline.”

The government handed the job of scoring open-ended questions to the Center for Research on Learning and Educational Assessments, a unit of major education services company Benesse Corp., for ¥6.16 billion for the period through late March 2024.

The organization planned to recruit up to 10,000 graders, including student part-timers, to mark tests over an approximately 20-day period.

Hagiuda expressed concern about the company’s ability to carry out the task as it told the government it would hire the required staff in the fall of 2020 or later.

In a trial Japanese open-ended question exam conducted in November last year, several scoring errors and wide gaps between the actual grades and the grades students considered their tests should have been awarded were found, fueling criticism over the introduction of open-ended questions.

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