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Students struggle in new English section of Japan's national achievement exam

Students wearing headsets wait for the start of an English speaking test at a junior high school in Tokyo on April 18, 2019. (Mainichi/Akinori Miyamoto)

TOKYO -- Junior high school students struggled in the English test they sat for the first time as part of Japan's national achievement exam, scoring an average of 56.5%, results released by the education ministry on July 31 show.

The average score for third-year junior high school students was below their scores in math, at 60.3%, and Japanese at 73.2%. The English test consisted of four sections: listening, reading, writing and speaking. The score for the speaking section was 30.8%, considerably lower than for the other skills.

The national achievement exam is taken by students in their sixth year of elementary school and third year of junior high school. All public elementary and junior high schools and 48.5% of private schools that sought to participate joined the test this year. The scores of 2,017,876 sixth-year elementary school students and third-year junior high school students enrolled at 29,405 schools were reflected in the results.

The English test was adopted for the first time this year for junior high school students. In the listening section, students scored an average of 68.3%, compared with 56.2% in reading, 46.4% in writing and 30.8% in speaking. The speaking score was a reference value only, as there were some cases in which schools didn't have the necessary equipment prepared and put off the test. The overall average English test score of 56.5% did not include the speaking result.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology commented that speaking had been perceived as an issue in the past, and that the latest results showed that was indeed the case.

For Japanese, arithmetic and mathematics, tests had been split up into basic knowledge and applied skills in the past, but in this year's exam, which was conducted in April, the questions combined these elements. Among elementary school students, the average score for the Japanese test was 64%, compared with 66.7% for arithmetic.

Since the format of questions changed this year, the average percentage of correct answers for each prefecture in Japan could not easily be compared with those of the previous year, but the ministry said that, as in last year, the lowest scores had risen, reducing the gap between the lower and upper scores. It did not release prefectural averages for the English test because the speaking score was only a reference value.

(Japanese original by Kenichi Mito and Kohei Chiwaki, City News Department)

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