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: