Universities must explore ways of using privately made English tests
The University of Tokyo and Osaka University have each announced their own plans to utilize English tests prepared by certified private organizations as part of common university entrance tests, which will start from the 2020 academic year.
The announcements of English test plans by many other national universities have been delayed. They should reveal concrete plans as soon as possible to eliminate the anxieties of students preparing for entrance exams.
The Japan Association of National Universities (JANU) has compiled guidelines to make it mandatory for test-takers to take English tests prepared by certified private organizations in addition to tests prepared for common university entrance tests. The association leaves whether to use test results as qualifications to apply for university exams or add them to common test results in the hands of individual universities.
One factor behind the trend of delaying the announcement of how to use results of English tests prepared by private institutions is the impact of the University of Tokyo’s decision, which deviates from the JANU guidelines.
The University of Tokyo does not make it mandatory for test-takers to submit results of privately offered English tests.
The university allows students to apply for admission if their English abilities are certified by high school teachers in school documents submitted to it.
The level of required proficiency has been held to the second from the bottom, called A2, under a certain set of international standards, which is the intermediate level for high school students, or equivalent to Grade Pre-2 of the Eiken Test in Practical English Proficiency. Considering that the university demands B1 or higher to take classes at the University of Tokyo – with B1 being a higher level than A2 – there is no denying that its measure seems incongruous.
There was strong internal opposition to the university’s decision. As a reason for objection, opponents asserted that privately prepared tests such as Eiken and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) tend to produce differences of opportunity for test-takers, who sit for exams according to the financial power of their households and the region where they live. The university’s irregular adoption of privately prepared English tests could be a result of compromise between the JANU guidelines and views of the opponents within the university.
Osaka University, which sets the biggest number of students to be admitted among national universities, differs from the University of Tokyo in that it has made it mandatory for test-takers to submit results of English tests offered by private institutions. This is in line with the JANU guidelines. The university will reportedly set A2 as the grade for students to be able to apply for university exams.
Other than Osaka University, such colleges as Hiroshima University and Tokyo University of Foreign Studies make it mandatory to take privately prepared English tests.
Half of the academic year has passed for current first-year senior high school students, who will become test-takers in fiscal 2020 when the new common entrance test formula is inaugurated. Individual universities are called on to decide independently on the way of using privately produced English tests to befit the selection of students they want to enroll and announce decisions as quickly as possible.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry will make the introduction of privately produced English tests a centerpiece of its university entrance exam reform. The ministry aims to cultivate English speaking and writing skills in addition to reading and listening abilities. Lack of practical use of English has long been pointed out.
The introduction of speaking tests is aimed at reforming university entrance exams and encouraging the improvement of English education at senior high school, which tends to place emphasis on reading ability. The reform drive should not be undermined.
The adoption of privately prepared tests has already prevailed among private universities and has taken hold among senior high school students. From a viewpoint of preventing unfairness, the education ministry is responsible for keeping a watchful eye on the implementation system for privately produced tests.
The ministry must work toward dispelling the anxieties of test-takers by putting forth effective measures, including subsidies for examination fees and giving consideration to regional areas. A total switch to the use of privately produced tests is scheduled for fiscal 2024. Prudent study is called for to examine whether this will bring about confusion again.