EIKEN: What is it and what is it for?

EIKEN (英検 Eiken) stands for the EIKEN Test in Practical English Proficiency (実用英語技能検定 Jitsuyō Eigo Ginō Kentei), which is Japan’s leading language assessment, and is backed by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT). EIKEN is informally also called STEP EIKEN or the STEP Test.

The EIKEN test is the main product of STEP (The Society for Testing English Proficiency) and is one of the world’s most widely administered language tests. The Society for Testing English Proficiency is Japan’s largest testing body and a leader in international education. Established in 1963 in cooperation with the Japanese education ministry, STEP is a nonprofit foundation with a clear purpose: to advance English learning in Japan by providing accessible, affordable assessment tools for learners at all proficiency levels. 

The EIKEN Test features four skills, with compulsory speaking test. The test assesses a combination of receptive and productive skills. In addition to reading and listening, Eiken Grades 1, Pre-1, 2, Pre-2, and 3 include a speaking test. Grades 1 and Pre-1 include a handwritten composition task. Click here to see a chart on the format, benchmarks and levels.

In its 2003 strategic initiative “Japanese with English Abilities” and 2011 follow-up “Promoting proficiency in English for international communication: five proposals and concrete plan” ( 国際共通語としての英語力向上のための5つの提言と具体的対策?), MEXT designated Eiken Grade 3 as a benchmark proficiency level for junior high school graduates, Grades 2 and Pre-2 for high school graduates, and Grade Pre-1 for English teachers.

Now in its fifth decade, STEP administers a wide range of English tests for education and business, sponsors and conducts research into testing and language acquisition, and plays an active role in international conferences and testing councils.  2.3 million examinees annually take the EIKEN test at 18,000 test sites, has been taken by 80 million examinees since 1963 [ For those interested in becoming examiners, see “So you want to be a test examiner?”

In Japan, Eiken is conducted three times a year: January/February, June/July, and October/November. There are two stages in the test, the first stage (vocabulary, reading, listening, and writing) and the second stage (speaking). Only those who pass the first stage can progress to the second stage. The second stage is conducted about one month after the first stage. Applicants who pass both stages receive certification.

Internationally, a growing number of colleges, universities, and institutes in America, Australia, Canada, and the UK recognize EIKEN test results for international admissions. See the website: http://stepeiken.org/map

To read more about research on EIKEN.


Below is an excerpt from one of our EIJ forum discussions on the difficulty and usefulness of upper levels of EIKEN testing:

“I think only 1 kyu is really beyond the life experience of most upper grade elementary kids who are on grade level for reading and writing”
It was 1 kyu and Jun 1kyu that I was thinking of when I said ‘higher levels’. Looking at a simple picture  and identifying 5 actions using the present progressive (Jun 2kyu), or answering the question ‘how many?’ (3kyu) should in no way be beyond even the worst of test takers, native or otherwise.
“Even so if a kid is in a once a week Eikaiwa program from age 3, I think most can pass silver or even gold by first grade. Certainly our kids could (and I’m talking our once a week kids, not the twice a week)”
In terms of my Eikaiwa classes:
I agree, I have had non-native first grade kids pass the Gold test, but I find that their parents are a bit more conscientious than your average ones. Three years old to six years old is a critical period and alot can be achieved if you have the parents on your side.
I do find that the pace at elementary school age drops off as you start to compete with all the other narai-goto that goes on, and the parents slack off with the English. I am lucky these days if I can get them to open their books or listen to a CD for 30 mins a week outside of class.
In terms of the English program at the school we are looking at for my son next year:
There are 35 kids in a class and so I am sure the pace of learning is slowed down even further.
I really would like to comment on this as someone that could help parents in a similar position to my own (i.e the parent of a bilingual child), but I fear that as an examiner on the test I will cross the line and breach confidentiality. I will however back up J. and L. in terms of what I believe can be achieved at the particular grade levels that they stated. My only concern is that the content of higher levels might go beyond the world experience of a child who would otherwise be able to perform admirably.
— L.

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