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An expert panel set up by the education ministry on Tuesday called it difficult to introduce private-sector English tests and open-ended questions for the country’s unified university entrance examination.

In its draft recommendations, the panel called on universities to promote the use of private-sector English tests for their own entrance exams to assess test takers’ reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, as well as open-ended questions.

Once the panel comes up with final recommendations, the ministry will issue guidelines on university entrance exams for fiscal 2024 as early as this summer.

On the use of private-sector English tests for the unified exam, the panel said it is difficult to resolve in a short time issues such as high fees and regional gaps related to access to exam venues.

The panel rejected a proposal that the National Center for University Entrance Examinations, which is in charge of the unified exam, develops an exam to assess English speaking and writing skills. There is difficulty in guaranteeing accurate marking, it said.

Using private-sector English tests for universities’ own entrance exams is a realistic option, the panel said.

It called on the government, testing agencies, high schools and universities to discuss reducing or exempting exam fees for students from low-income households and expanding exam venues.

The panel said open-ended questions on the unified exam could create problems in terms of marking quality and fairness.

National universities should introduce advanced-level open-ended questions on their own admission tests, the panel said, while urging private universities to increase the number of such questions.

The ministry initially planned to introduce private-sector English tests and open-ended questions for the subjects of Japanese and mathematics in the unified exam, starting in fiscal 2020. But in 2019, it withdrew the plans. The panel had since discussed whether to introduce them in fiscal 2024.

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