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Japan's new standardized university entrance exam to use private English testing

A new standardized academic achievement exam targeting those wishing to enter universities -- set to be introduced in the 2020 academic year -- will incorporate privately run English testing in addition to questions created by the government-sponsored test center, the education ministry announced on Aug. 31.

    The decision is aimed at evaluating test takers' overall English levels in four categories: speaking, listening, reading and writing. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said it is looking to entrust the English exam entirely to private test creators in the future.

    The ministry noted that it is impossible to evaluate English speaking ability in a standardized test taken simultaneously by some 500,000 people across the country. Since a wide population of students and workers already take privately run English assessment tests, the ministry is looking to utilize private test makers' knowhow.

    In the current standardized university entrance exam, known as the National Center Test for University Admissions, test takers' English skills in reading and listening are evaluated in a multiple-choice exam system. As the education ministry has placed importance on improving people's communication skills in English in an age of globalization, the new standardized exam to be launched in the 2020 academic year will test four skill categories, including speaking and writing.

    According to the ministry, in the years when a combination of the new standardized exam and private tests is used, examinees will sit a speaking and writing test provided by private test makers by December. They will then take the new national exam sometime between December and January, which will test candidates' reading and listening abilities -- as is the case in the current national test.

    After the full implementation of privately run English exams, examinees will take a test on the four types of English comprehension skills by December, and the national test will not evaluate English. A senior education ministry official predicts that the combined use of the national exam and privately run tests is likely to continue for at least a few years because the ministry needs to check whether exams provided by private companies can be operated in a stable manner.

    At the same time, the education ministry needs to check that privately run English assessment tests are consistent with high school curriculums, ensure that test fees are low, and make sure that the exams can be taken across the country. It therefore plans to approve only English exams that match the standards set by the National Center for University Entrance Examinations.

    The use of English assessment tests provided by private companies is rapidly spreading in college entrance exams. About 43 percent of national universities, 26 percent of public ones and 46 percent of private ones, or 43 percent overall, used or planned to use privately run exams, such as the Eiken English proficiency test, TOEFL and GTEC, in the 2015 academic year.

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