The Japan News 2014-01-18: The Yomiuri Shimbun

The two-day test organized by the National Center forUniversity Entrance Examinations, which begins Saturday, involves 560,000 students applying to enter 843 universities and junior colleges nationwide. Many students no doubt studied hard day and night in preparation for the tests. We hope they can fully display their abilities. The center and officials concerned at each university need to focus their minds to prevent a recurrence of such trouble as the erroneous distribution of test question papers that happened two… more » (for even more details see also Japan Today’s article Jan 19, 2014 and the Jan 20, 2009 Japan Times articles posted below)

 Follow the above link to the Yomiuri news article which is worth reading if you want to know its background and importance of the center shiken test (as it is popularly known) how the requirements have evolved, and the changes to the test currently under proposal.
This weekend’s Center Shiken test paper has been published in full with answers in yesterday’s issue of the Japanese version of the Yomiuri Shimbun, so if you want to have a look at what the papers are like it’s a good idea to obtain a copy of the paper (they will be available for viewing at local public libraries as well). For a discussion on reforming the exams, see
The Yomiuri Shimbun January 18, 2014

Merits, demerits of natl center test must be examined to promote reform
http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/kiyoshimat2000/38790917.html
2-day college entrance exams held across the nation (Japan Today, Jan 19, 2014 Sources: Japan Today, FNNnewsCH

The National Center for University Entrance Examinations on Saturday began two days of tests across the nation. The center said that 560,672 students are sitting for the exams at 693 test centers nationwide.

On Saturday, students sat for exams in geography, history, civics, Japanese and foreign languages. On Sunday, tests will be held in mathematics and science.

As in previous years, there were a few glitches. Heavy snow made some students late in the Hokuriku region, while a disruption to the JR Tokaido shinkansen caused some students to miss the tests in Shizuoka, TBS reported. Trouble was also reported with audio-visual devices for English exam takers in some centers.

Typically, the test starts and ends at roughly the same time throughout the entire nation. As such, families have been urged to check weather and traffic reports and to ensure that their children arrive at test centers in plenty of time.

The standardized exam is used to grade students applying to public and private universities in Japan. The test results will be used by 843 public universities, private universities and junior colleges to grade applicants.

Last year, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) said it was considering scrapping Japan’s Center Test system.

The ministry wants to scrap the current system in favor of a series of “achievement tests” to be taken through high school. According to MEXT, the new tests would be taken two or three times each year, with the student’s highest grade being accepted for final consideration.

The ministry says the new system is likely to be introduced in four years’ time at the earliest.

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COLLEGE ENTRANCE EXAMS

‘Exam hell’ now not so hot

Student-starved schools lower the bar as pool of applicants dries up

BY SETUKO KAMIYA Jan 20,201

The annual university entrance examination season kicked off Saturday and Sunday as some 540,000 high school students and graduates nationwide took the standardized National Center Test for University Admissions.

The next several weeks will be tense for examinees as they prepare for the individual exams scheduled at public and private universities.

The tough competition used to be known as “examination hell” as applicants crammed with the goal of getting into the best schools to ensure the best career opportunities.

Now that the population is in decline, the competition is changing. Universities are struggling to survive and they need to ensure they enroll enough students to do so.

Following are some facts about the university entrance exams:

What is the National Center Test for University Admissions and how does it function?

Often referred to as the “center test,” it is made up of standardized exams that are required for applicants to the 82 national universities and 74 municipal universities as the first stage of the screening process.

These days, many private institutions also offer the exams.

Applicants are tested on five subjects, as well as subtopics: Japanese, social studies (Japanese history, world history, geography and civics), and foreign language (English, French, German, Chinese and Korean,) science (biology, physics and chemistry) and mathematics.

The tests are multiple choice, but the English exam, which is taken by a large majority of applicants, includes a listening comprehension segment.

According to the National Center for University Entrance Examinations, which arranges the exams, the center test “primarily aims to measure the level of basic academic achievement of prospective students upon concluding their high school education.”

All universities using the center test decide and apply their own criteria to measure the aptitude of examinees. Applicants must make sure they take tests in all the subjects that are required by their targeted institutions.

What happens after the center test?

The answers of the tests are announced by 9 p.m. on exam day on NCUEE’s Web site. Thus examinees already know how well they did.

Examinees afterward apply for individual examinations at public universities by submitting their center test scores as well as their high school records.

The total score of the standardized test is important because many universities set the minimum points necessary to take their individual exams.

The individual tests are no longer simply multiple choice. Some institutions also require applicants to write essays and be interviewed.

Public universities are scheduled to hold their exams on two separate occasions, in late February and early March. Decisions will be based on the combined score of the center test and the exams from the universities.

How do private universities select prospective students? Why are private schools also utilizing the center test?

Private universities, whose student bodies account for more than 70 percent of all Japanese college students, generally screen their applicants through their own exams. A large majority of their prospective students go through this process. If applicants are only interested in private universities, there is no need for them to take the center test.

But with the decline in the number of young people, more private institutions are offering different admission processes to accept students. Utilizing the center test is one such process. It allows private schools to acquire students at an early stage.

This year, 487 private universities are using the center test standardized exams, a record number.

Some schools combine the center test results and their individual exams, or even screen students simply by center test results.

What other ways can a high school student enter a university?

Some universities accept students who make early decisions to apply. Usually, high schools recommend students with good grades and reputations to universities, and the students proceed to take a special exam.

Some institutions also accept students with special talents, including sports or arts.

How much do college entrance exams cost?

University entrance exams come at a price. Applicants for the center test must pay ¥12,000 if they are taking two or fewer subjects. For those taking three or more subjects, the fee is ¥18,000.

For those who apply to public universities, each school will charge ¥17,000 for the individual exams. Students can apply to up to two public institutions.

Private schools charge about ¥30,000 to ¥35,000 for each department to which a student applies, according to Obunsha Co.’s Web site Pass Navi, which provides information on college entrance exams.

Because there is no limit to how many private schools and their departments students can apply to, the cost varies depending on the applicant. A survey by the Tokyo Federation of Private University Faculty and Staff Unions showed that among nearly 4,300 private university students polled in May 2007, the average amount spent on exam-related expenses came to ¥231,900. This included transportation and hotel accommodations.

Japan’s tough college entrance exam competition was once known as “examination hell.” Is it still?

Competition remains fairly stiff for those aiming for top universities, but many schools have become much easier to enter these days, observers say.

The competition intensified between the 1960s and 1980s due to Japan’s high economic growth. During this period, companies, with their lifetime employment system, hired graduates from good schools, which meant one’s future was decided at age 18, according to Koichi Nakai, author of “The History of University Entrance Exams in the Post-World War II Era.”

Because more people wanted to receive higher education, deregulation in the 1990s triggered a rise in new universities.

However, the population of 18-year-olds peaked in 1992 and has been declining since.

At the same time, more than half of 18-year-olds are attending a university or junior college today.

As a consequence, many private schools are starting to suffer student shortages.

A poll released in August by the Promotion and Mutual Aid Corporation for Private Schools of Japan showed that 47 percent of 565 private universities suffered applicant shortages and did not meet their admissions targets in 2008.

Nakai writes that university entrance exams are increasingly becoming easier because many schools need to do whatever they can to acquire enough students to keep them running financially.

If students were willing to attend schools other than their top choices, there are enough places for everyone who applies, he writes.

In other related news:

Japanese history may be required in high school

January 6, 2014 – 22:14
The government is considering making Japanese history a compulsory subject in high school, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. (The Japan News)
Entrance exam change needed (Japan Times, Feb 3, 2013)
The annual ritual of the entrance exam is once again upon Japan. Though the nature of knowledge, skills and social usefulness has changed tremendously over the past decades, Japan’s exam system has scarcely changed at all.

The entrance exam system needs substantial, forward-looking changes before other parts of the education system can be reformed. Without changing these exams, other meaningful reforms are unlikely to take place.

The exams still largely focus on testing what knowledge students have acquired, rather than looking at aptitude and potential. Unfortunately what students can acquire as memorized information and their test-taking skills at the age of 18 will be of little help later in a fast-changing society.

Some universities have started to look at more important skills in their exams, but the ability to think critically, or other such skills, is not a large enough part of exams yet.

The exam’s emphasis on quantity of knowledge rather than deeper comprehension or mastery of broader potential locks much of primary, junior and high school education into a test-preparation agenda. Textbooks, curricula and teaching methods are evaluated not on their ultimate value or how well they develop learners, but on how many students they get into competitive universities. Developing lifelong learners hardly enters the equation.

The knowledge, competency and mind-set needed in the future society and workplace have evolved tremendously in recent years. Memorizing basic information, for example, is no longer needed when most information can be found online. However, Japan’s exams have remained largely the same. A more careful consideration of what knowledge is most valuable and useful would steer the exams in more productive directions.

Alternative methods of evaluating students are desperately needed. Some schools allow interviews, recommendations and submissions of work such as essays or creative projects to give a broader picture of the individual applying. Those methods take time and effort to evaluate, but are more likely to provide a meaningful picture of a student than the ability to sit in a chair for a day and answer multiple-choice questions.

Taking pressure off students by allowing more chances to sit exams would also help immensely.

Moreover, the expectation that all students should enter college at exactly 18 and graduate at 22 also needs to be changed — by employers, schools and parents. Young people mature at different ages and should pursue different experiences, even taking off time or studying other subjects before applying.

Japan’s education system is faltering. To re-strengthen it, changes should start at the center of the system — the university entrance exams. Entrance exams should decide which students are best suited for which university department in new and better ways.

Whether the exam system can be changed will be a test for the entire country.