02 February 2010

Over half a million take university entrance exams in Japan

Over half a million take university entrance exam in Japan

On the weekend of 16-17 January, the standardized National Center Test for University Admissions was held for this year's 550,000 plus applicants, an increase of around 10,000 from last year (up almost 2%). The most heavily attended session as of the end of 16 January was the foreign language section of the test (usually EFL).

In terms of its importance for university and college admissions, the 'Center Test' (CT) is Japan's counterpart to the US's SAT or ACT.

Some trends and aspects to take note of this year:

1. With the applicant pool increasing by almost 2% (10,000 test applicants), the often predicted collapse in university enrollments has been delayed for another year (2007 was supposed to be the year when it all fell apart).

However, the increase could be due in part to more private universities using the exam to test potential applicants, in addition to the usual national (former national) and public (former public) universities. It could also mean that more applicants (most of them high school seniors or high school graduates attending special cram schools for a year) are choosing to apply for high-ranked national and public universities in order to save costs on tuition and fees, since on average private universities cost almost twice as much. The higher applicant pool could also be due, in part, to students attempting to enter higher-ranked universities because their chances of gaining entrance have increased with the decline in numbers of young people who are university-age. All these could be a factor, so more analysis is needed.

2. These exams are held in the middle of winter, so bad weather and the cold and flu season often affect test takers. This year, because of the swine flu epidemic, participants were given more options in the event of them being taken ill. If they got sick while taking the test but were able to recover, they were given extra time slots to complete the test if they had lost too much time during the regular session. If they got sick before the start of the exam and were unable to attend the first test weekend, there was an alternative test scheduled at the end of January 2010. Around 900 who were ill, injured or otherwise certifiably incapacitated did take advantage of this second test weekend.

3. Universities that use the CT may also give an additional entrance exam, one their own faculty writes, administers and scores. Sometimes institutions and/or departments and/or programs require only certain scores on specified components of the CT. A given institution may allow CT takers at a certain cut-off level to take their own entrance exam (or, if they scored well, to enter through a special recommendation-interview process).

Schools migh combine the two scores, or they might decree that all qualifying applicants to their institution start equally at 'zero' and then use these second exam scores to determine who gets in and who doesn't in. There are more ways to get into universities, four year colleges and their programs than ever before because the competition to get students has indeed increased over the past two decades for the middle-to-lower ranked institutions and programs. Meanwhile, upper-ranked and especially elite universities are enjoying more applicants than ever because of students attempting to take advantage of the better odds for admission. Moreover, around a quarter of a million will enter post-secondary four-year institutions without taking the CT!

To read and learn more about the CT and entrance exams in Japan in general, here is a list of online articles you can read. Links and excerpts are listed below:

1. Japan Times article from last year. Contains solid analysis.



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....

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Center_Test_for_University_Admissions


The National Center Test for University Admissions (大学入試センター試験, Daigaku Ny?shi Sent? Shiken?) is a type of standardized test used by public and some private universities in Japan. It is held annually during a weekend in mid-January over a period of two days.

3. http://www.dnc.ac.jp/center_exam/22exam/shigankaku1.html

Excerpt on this year's and last year's applicant totals.

志願者数 553,368人(543,981人) 対前年度 9,387人増〔1.7%増〕

4. http://www.dnc.ac.jp/dnc/gaiyou/pdf/youran_english.pdf

The organization that runs the CT offers this .pdf in English to explain about the exam.


Our examination, the National Center Test, primarily aims to measure the level of basic academic achievement of students who desire to enter the university. National, local public and private universities use the test results, applying their own criteria to measure the ability and aptitude of each examinee from various aspects. As more and more universities use the National Center Test each year, as well as the increase in the percentage of applicants who are currently high school students and desire to go to the university, the National Center Test is considered to serve an important role. The items have also been highly evaluated. We sincerely appreciate the many years of accumulated cooperation of those on the test planning and assessment committees. The National Center Test is carried out on a co-joint basis with each university. Also, it can be used as a part of the entrance examination for each university, and can aid in university admissions selection along with the individual examination from the university. We appreciate the continued understanding and cooperation of all those involved.

5. http://www.cis.doshisha.ac.jp/kkitao/library/handout/2008/worldcall/exam.pdf

An Analysis of Japanese University Entrance
Exams Using Corpus-Based Tools
S. Kathleen Kitao* and Kenji Kitao**
* Department of English
Doshisha Women's College, Kyotanabe, Kyoto 610-0395, Japan
** Faculty of Culture and Information Science
Doshisha University, Kyotanabe, Kyoto 610-0394, Japan

While many factors go into a valid and reliable test, the foundation for a test is the level of difficulty of the vocabulary used and the readability of the passages used for reading comprehension. In Japan, the majority of students enter universities through written exams which include an English section which primarily tests reading comprehension and knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. Individual universities write exams, and in addition, there is an exam offered throughout Japan by The National Center for University Admissions (Center Exam). In a previous study, we looked at vocabulary frequency and readability of the entrance exams of tests of four major private universities in the Kansai region of Japan as well as the Center Exam. We found that the difficulty of the university entrance exams may have been a problem, although the Center Exam was easier. In this paper, we compared the previous results with those for 2008 exams for the same universities, and found that this continues to be a problem.

6. http://jalt.org/test/gue_1.htm

One can easily find criticisms of Japan's university entrance English exams. Claims of a lack of reliability and/or validity are legion, leading to a widespread view that poorly-designed or ill-considered university entrance exams are to blame for outdated and unproductive pedagogical practices in high schools (McVeigh, 2001; Gorsuch, 1998; Chujo, 2006). Most foundational among the critical research is that of Brown and Yamashita (1995), with follow-up research and proposals from Brown (1996, 2000, 2002), Kikuchi (2006), and Ichige (2006). But could it be that some of these viewpoints and interpretations are based upon notions of validity and reliability that do not do justice to the parameters surrounding university entrance exams in Japan? And could some of these criticisms have failed to note the bigger picture? Are some out of date, missing the point, or even be contradictory? This two-part paper seeks to further re-address the validity and reliability of Japanese university entrance exams by introducing some considerations and variables hitherto unnoted or underappreciated in the critical literature.

Keywords: language testing, test reliability, validity, entrance examinations, Japanese universities

7. http://mainichi.jp/select/today/news/20100117k0000m040079000c.html

The original Mainichi Shimbun (online) article on the CT as it was held this year.
It reports the total number of applicants. As of the evening of the 16th January 2010, the Mainichi reported that 426 were absent due to influenza (that could be seasonal flu or swine flu). It also commented that on the first day 92.8% of the total applicants had taken the foreign language part of the test (this is usually EFL for most applicants), making this session the most heavily attended.


センター試験:インフルで欠席 初日は全国426人

2010年1月16日 22時0分 更新:1月16日 22時30分




Dom said...

Dear Professor

Are there any clear percentages of the foreign languages that students take in the Center Test? Also what would be the reason that you think that the foreign language session was the most attended? Is it because in addition to ESL, which is compulsory for students, the number of students taking Chinese, French etc had made an increase in the percentage of attendees in relation to other subjects?

Thank you


CEJ said...

I think the vast majority of 'foreign language test takers' take the English test. There has, in recent years, been some increase in interest and in taught programs for Chinese, Korean and Russian. French and German were traditionally the other foreign languages (German being linked to 'foreign knowledge' in medicine and science, French to literature, arts, humanities).

I think the biggest reason we see such overwhelming numbers for taking the English test is because most institutions require it. However, that has to be qualified with the practice of lowering minimum acceptable scores or waiving them altogether until admissions quotas have been met.

Another shift came when the Center Test started featuring a listening section. Then, the second round of their own exams given by the universities dropped listening sections (because they hard to construct and hard to administer). But because they dropped their own listening sections, at least certain departments wanted listening scores on record. So the Center Test featuring a listening section seems to have increased the English test portion's popularity.

I will look into this issue to see what I can discover at the Center Exam official site about the stats for other foreign language tests.

Back to top

Back to top
Click on logo to go back to top page.